Bulkley River, B.C.

Every year I try to take some kind of big steelhead trip in the fall. Usually that means the rivers of the Skeena system in northern British Columbia. This year I went up there with buddies Christian and Nic and we had planned on fishing for a total of six days straight.

We headed out of town on Monday night with a plan to arrive in the town of Smithers around 11:00 a.m. and be fishing by noon or 1:00. In normal conditions, Smithers is about a 15 hour drive from Mill Creek. Unfortunately, on this trip it would take a lot longer to get up there.

As we were about to find out, apparently you cannot get gas at night between the towns of Hope and Cache Creek. None. Zero. Zip. That is nearly 200 km or about 125 miles without a gas station that is open at night! What’s that? You can get gas in Spences Bridge you say? Well, you used to be able to get gas in Spences Bridge… now there isn’t a single gas station in Spences Bridge. They are gone.

So we found ourselves stuck in Spences Bridge with enough gas to go 10 miles and we needed to go about 30 miles to get to Cache Creek. We found a quiet street to park the RV trailer and sleep until morning when we could figure out how to get some gas. We snuggled into our sleeping bags and just about got to sleep…. and that’s when the first train went by. We had managed to park the trailer right next to railroad tracks! That first train sounded like it was going right through the trailer as we rocked back and forth in our little sleeping bags laughing at how loud it was. The next forty trains that went by were less and less entertaining.

Morning came and we got to know about half the locals of Spences Bridge while on our quest for gas. We met a Woody, a Harry, Harold and Andy. We were referred to each of these gentlemen by another local that thought they might have some gas (diesel, actually) that we could buy off of them. Eventually, we hit the jackpot and actually got permission to siphon gas from a tractor to get the three or four gallons we needed to get to Cache Creek. Thanks to Nic for volunteering to siphon the diesel!! Lets just say it did not look tasty at all.

Eventually we made it to Smithers after 23 hours of road tripping. We were beat tired and I think Christian was about to loose it (he did almost all of the driving). We pushed ourselves, though, because tomorrow would be the big first day on the river… and the reports were that the fishing was HOT on the Bulkley.

It has been a couple years since I was last on the Bulkley. Lots of the favorite runs that Mason and I fished in previous years are no longer there or have changed like all rivers do. Our first day of fishing this year, we found a couple good spots and hooked five fish between the three of us, landing only two of them.

Day two on the Bulkley. The fishing was on FIRE. We missed a lot of fish that seemed to be masters at ripping three or four feet of line off the reel and then coming off. By mid-day we’d had 21 fish grab the fly! All of these fish came to swinging flies on floating lines. The floating line can often be more productive than sink-tips and this day was a prime example. For flies, we caught fish on Morejohn’s Bantam in Black and Blue, and the MVP of the day was a pattern of mine called, Bennett's Halo. The highlight of the day, however, was when Nic encountered a pod of rising steelhead. He quickly changed to a Strung Out Skater and hooked three fish, one after another, landing one of them… his first steelhead on the skater. By day’s end, we had landed eight fish for the day. Not too shabby and a great day I won’t soon forget.

Day three started out every bit as good as day two. We hooked a lot of fish, eventually landing five between the three of us. It rained like crazy, though. We were wet and cold and the fishing got tougher and tougher throughout the day. By the end of the float, the river was beginning to rise and we worked hard to pullout one more fish on a sink-tip at the end of the day. It didn’t look good for day four. 

Day four. The rain continued throughout the night. Our original plan was to fish the Bulkley until the rain came, and then move to the Kispiox which was running incredibly low. Unfortunately, though, TOO MUCH rain came and it not only blew out the Kispiox, but also every other river for miles and miles. The upper Bulkley doesn’t get dirty very easily but by 10:00 a.m. the river was loosing visibility by the minute. It was chocolate brown by noon. First thing in the morning we were able to get a couple fish to half-heartedly grab the fly but we couldn’t stick ‘em and the river was just too dirty to hope for anything beyond that. Day four was pretty much a complete loss.

Since we had to leave in two days, we couldn’t wait for the rivers to come back into shape. We had no other choice but to come home early. Nic and I were kicking ourselves for not having any trout gear with us as we were driving right by Dragon Lake, one of the premier lake fishing opportunities in B.C. and a place where the trout don’t turn any heads until they’re over ten pounds.

We packed up camp the next day, said good-bye to our gracious host, Gary, of Fort Telkwa RV campground, and hit the road. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only thing we hit that day. While driving along the Fraser River Valley, a small black bear sprinted into the road in front of the truck. Christian barely had time to get his foot on the breaks and it was already too late. Poor little guy. I hope he is in a place where the salmon swim slow and the berries hang low. 

That’s it. Nine fish total landed for me in the three days when the river was in shape. That’s great steelheading any way you slice it. It was a bummer to have those great days suddenly come to an end, but if steelheading was easy… it wouldn’t be steelheading.

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