Legends of the Skeena Region

by John Beath, British Columbia Editor
Rivers Inlet Resort

Monster-sized salmon and steelhead live within the minds of most anglers. These fish routinely entertain countless dreams of angling paradise. Even during conscious times, these mythical fish keep hopes and spirits alive -- until the next fishing trip which usually falls short of expectations.

Far to the north, within a day's hard drive of the US border, the Skeena region of British Columbia produces legendary dream-sized chinook, coho, chum, pink and sockeye salmon. An average-sized chinook could easily be as long as your leg and as big around as your waist. A record-sized chinook might outweigh the biggest dog in your neighborhood or the 90-pound weakling from your school days. The Skeena River held the world record sport-caught chinook until 1985 with an unbelievable 92 & 1/2 pound wall hanger.

Backtrolled plugs make anyone an expert if they put the boat in the right spot.

PHOTO: JOHN BEATH

If hard-fighting, tackle-breaking chinook don't send you north in a hurry, maybe the area's incredible runs of catch-'em-all-day hooknose coho will send you packing with rod and reel at the ready. Since these mature coho return in high numbers, and fewer anglers than southern areas wait for them, anglers experience less-crowded opportunities for more fish.

The Kitimat River has massive runs of pitbull-like chum salmon. Many of the chums reach trophy size and world-record size, but most local anglers don't even consider these fish worthy enough to brag about. Only trophy-minded record seekers bother keeping track of these stubborn fighters.

The Nass River, one of the premier rivers in the Skeena region, has some of the largest sockeye salmon in the world. As countless sockeye migrate toward their birth place, anglers intentionally and accidentally intercept six to 14-pound chrome-sided beauties fresh from the ocean. These fish enjoy the highest table rating of any salmon because of their deep red, rich-flavored fillets.

Throughout the year, bigger than average hatchery and native steelhead push their way inland to numerous fertile spawning beds. Any one of a thousand locations could produce a once-in-a-lifetime steelie like the previous world record 36-pounder. Some locals even claim to have taken or seen 40-pound steelhead, but they don't want official recognition because they wish to keep the area's special water-born gifts a secret from out-of-area anglers. However, once you arrive, the residents and anglers couldn't be friendlier. 

Mention a 50-pound chinook in this region and you won't even bend an eyebrow in recognition. Mention a twenty-pound steelhead at the local angler's pub and you won't even be congratulated. A trophy-sized chum might even bring laughter, considering these folks have cussed these fish as a nuisance in the way of more desirable catches.

Welcome to Skeena Country, where big fish and anglers gather throughout the year. Skeena means "River of Mists" to the area's Nisga'a natives. For those of us who don't speak their native tongue, but fish the area, Skeena quickly and easily translates to "Big Fish Country!"

Legends and dreams come together here, when anglers like yourself come prepared to test wits, strength and endurance with whatever swims! When you come to Skeena country, beware: It will take 1000 lifetimes to explore every river, stream and lake. If you're lucky, you may discover a dozen world-class opportunities, but only if you can pry yourself away from the fish-infested places you've discovered and can't leave. Even the locals don't know most of the fishing holes because it's so difficult to leave their favorite productive places.

Since Skeena country lies within easy reach of Prince Rupert to the west and Kitimat to the southwest, anglers also enjoy phenomenal ocean opportunities from salmon fishing and Dungeness crab to shrimping and halibut fishing. Either locale easily provides unforgettable ocean experiences.

Where to Fish

Jet-boats provide easy access to the Skeena and Kalum Rivers. Both rivers flow through Terrace B.C., the hub for Skeena-bound anglers. Drift boats also provide great access to much of both rivers as well as the Kitimat River to the south. Bank anglers enjoy lots of access throughout the region. Beyond Ferry Island in town, bank anglers will find literally hundreds of miles of shoreline throughout the Skeena and its varied tributaries. 

Other Rivers To Fish

Many other rivers throughout the area, including, the Copper, Kasiks, Exchamsiks, Tseax and Kitimat Rivers, provide top-notch fishing, especially for bank-bound anglers. 

Seasons

Winter: Steelheading on the Kalum and Copper can't be beat. During the months of December, January and February, the region comes alive with steelhead averaging 12 pounds. Twenty pounders aren't uncommon, and neither is icy cold water and snowy river banks.

Spring: Springtime provides the best opportunities to take steelhead on a variety of Skeena region rivers. As water levels drop and clear in March and April, and the weather warms, new runs of fresh-from-the-ocean steelhead arrive in force to provide unbelievable action for bottom-bouncers, plug pullers, float fishermen and yes, fly-anglers.

April also signals migrating chinook to begin their migration up the Skeena and Kalum Rivers. When May arrives, chinook have spread themselves throughout the Skeena and its tributaries in force and provide excellent angling opportunities while still offering the chance at trophy steelhead.

40 Plus pound Tyee taken from the Skeena on a Hot Shot.

PHOTO: JOHN BEATH

Summer

 June is the month to focus on chinook in the Kitimat region. Anglers with boats ranging in size from 14 feet and up pursue large runs of 30-plus pound chinook in Douglas Channel. By mid-June and early July, the Kitimat river swells with chinook averaging 35 pounds. Chinook on the Kitimat have reached 69 pounds, more than enough to qualify the river as a world-class trophy chinook river. The Kitimat provides bank-bound or drift-boaters with some of the best chinook fishing imaginable.

As the sun's rays intensify in July, so does the opportunity to take chinook throughout the Skeena region. It's this time of year when anglers from around the world converge on the Skeena, in hopes of nailing a 50-plus pounder. Hogline fishing, where the kalum meets the Skeena's main flow, becomes an enjoyable opportunity to relax with anticipation while soaking up the sun while your S.E. Hotshot or jumbo Spin N Glow twists in the faces of migrating chinook. When the fish hits, look out, a battle will surely send you down river in pursuit of your prized catch.

When the heat of August arrives, the opportunity to take monster chinook in the main Skeena and its tributaries prevails until mid month. After then, anglers switch focus and head to pristine rivers like the Tseax or Nass, where opportunities abound.

Mid August also signals the beginning of summer steelheading and coho fishing on many rivers including the main Skeena. Pink salmon, in numbers only imagined, also keep rods bent with excitement. The ocean at Prince Rupert or Kitimat also provides calm waters, warm weather and lots of bottomfish, crab, shrimp and several species of salmon.

Fall

September reigns supreme as the hooknose coho invade area rivers. Summer steelheading also proves too inviting a proposition to resist, so most anglers come prepared to fish for both, on one or more rivers. 

Hooknose coho in Skeena country routinely push the double digit mark. Tough tackle or light tackle and nerves of steel keep anglers fighting one of the world's toughest strains of coho. Bring a camera and marvel at the coho's numerous acrobatics at the end of your line.

Fly-fishing for steelhead or coho in September couldn't be better. Anglers familiar with the area routinely marvel at the aggressiveness of the fish toward their flies during the fall months. Come prepared with strong arms, and lots of backing on the fly reel -- you won't be sorry!

Lodges and Guides

Northwest Fishing Guides in Terrace, B.C. guides on 14 rivers, 7 lakes and the saltwater out of Prince Rupert. All of their guides have lived and fished the area throughout their lifetimes. While they offer day trips, they also offer affordable package prices in their comfortable lodge. A 6 day/5 night, fully guided stay at their lodge costs $1,375 including meals. For more information call Northwest Fishing Guides at their phone/fax, {604} 635-5295.

Northwest Fishing guides also has several 2-hour "year in review" feature videos from 1987 to present for a cost of $20.00 each.

In Kitimat, Spring King Charters offers once-in-a-lifetime trips aboard their 32-foot, sleep aboard boat. From Kitimat, Spring King Charters cruises throughout the Douglas channel area while fishing, shrimping, crabbing and enjoying the pristine beauty. They can be reached at {604} 632-7431.

Motels In Terrace & Kitimat

  • Northern Motor Inn, 1-800-663-3390
  • Slumber lodge, {604} 635-6302
  • City Centre Motel, {604} 632-4848

Boat Launches In Terrace

  • Fisherman's Park. Located on Hwy 16, this launch provides access to the Skeena and Kalum Rivers.
  • Saltwater Boat Launches & Marinas In Kitimat
  • M.K's, {604} 632-6401
  • Moon Bay, {604} 632-4655

Campgrounds In Terrace

  • Ferry Island, {604} 638-4750. $11.00 per night with hookups, $8.50 without.
  • Furlong Bay 798-2277. $14.50 per night.

Campgrounds In Kitimat

  • Jed Stump's Estates, {RV park} {604} 632-6527.
  • Radley Park, {604} 632-2161

For More Information Call:

  • Terrace Chamber of Commerce, {604} 635-2063
  • Kitimat Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-664-6554
  • Discover B.C. 1-800-663-6000. Call for a free B.C. visitors package and road map.

Getting There

Driving: Anglers should plan on two days leisure travel from Western Washington or one day's hard driving. The trip takes roughly 18 to 20 hours. From the Canadian border, take the Coquihalla Highway north of Hope. Travel toward Kamloops. Take Hwy 97 north all the way to Prince George, the halfway point. From Prince George take Hwy 16 to Terrace. Kitimat-bound anglers travel from Terrace to Kitimat on Hwy 37 for about an hour. Anglers headed toward Prince Rupert travel on Hwy 16 for about 90 minutes. The road is fine and the drive from Terrace to Rupert is noted as one of the ten most scenic drives on earth.

Flying: Several airlines fly directly from Seattle and Vancouver. I recommend Central Mountain Air because their flights are by far the most scenic. Call them at 1-800-663-3905.