DIY Remote Steelhead in Haida Gwaii

DIY Haida Gwaii. One of the risks we take when fishing DIY in super-remote areas is losing or breaking an essential piece of gear early in the trip. But there, just outside of Port Clements, I’d cast across the Yakoun River and caught my fly in a birch tree. When I tried to pull it free, my brand-new line snapped where the shooting head met an integrated running line. Sheer luck brought the line and limb out of the tree and into the river. First, Haida Gwaii is a DIY trip that can’t be taken lightly. Early in our trip conditions were ideal, meaning the Yakoun and other streams were dropping after heavy rains. Each of these fish—all wild, because there aren’t any hatchery steelhead on Haida Gwaii—tore up the water. The largest fish (that we landed) weighed perhaps 16 pounds. I don’t know if I’ll ever fish Haida Gwaii from a lodge.
Water on the drop means steelhead on the bite. Here Randy Johnston makes a tough play under overhanging birch limbs, right where we hooked several big, bank-tight metalheads.

One of the risks we take when fishing DIY in super-remote areas is losing or breaking an essential piece of gear early in the trip.

Haida Gwaii

I had prepared for that scenario prior to visiting northern British Columbia’s most remote islands—an archipelago called Haida Gwaii that rests eight hours by ferry from Prince Rupert, a two-hour flight from Vancouver and just several miles south of Alaska—but I hadn’t expected that event to occur just an hour into the trip.

But there, just outside of Port Clements, I’d cast across the Yakoun River and caught my fly in a birch tree. When I tried to pull it free, my brand-new line snapped where the shooting head met an integrated running line. The entire head slingshotted across the river and wound itself around the limbs. With just a quick glance upstream and down, I realized that crossing the river, which was high from recent rains, would be very risky and maybe impossible. And this: If I couldn’t cross and retrieve the shooting head, I’d be down to one outfit for five days of bushwhacking through Haida Gwaii’s notoriously thick rainforest.

Fortunately I was able to tippy-toe across a tail-out, with water almost swamping my waders, and pitch a large branch into the line. Sheer luck brought the line and limb out of the tree and into the river. From there it was a track meet between me and the Yakoun, and this time I won, making it “game-on” again for some of the most remote steelhead on the planet.

Haida Gwaii and its largest river, the Yakoun, don’t rest in the steelheader’s mindset like many of British Columbia’s other fishy offerings, such as the Thompson, Skeena, Kispiox, Sustut, Bulkley, Babine and Dean rivers, to name a few. But the Yakoun provides the same kind of opportunity, with an average fish weighing seven to 12 pounds and many brutes pushing the 20-pound mark. Each year local anglers whisper about 30-pounders.

With a steelhead in his sights, the author carefully works to the water where he’ll cross to the far bank and swing on a 15-pounder.
With a steelhead in his sights, the author carefully works to the water where he’ll cross to the far bank and swing on a 15-pounder.

There are good reasons to keep those voices down. For one, it’s the nature of anglers to want the doors closed behind them. Second, tourism on Haida Gwaii is on the increase. Surfers, bikers, hikers, native-heritage visitors and plenty of anglers are discovering this place and wanting to get at it before it changes. Those factors, coupled with a cult-like surge in West Coast spey-casters, give rightful cause for worry.

Local anglers and the lodge owners who service Haida Gwaii’s waters, however, have a few factors to give them promise. First, Haida Gwaii is a DIY trip that can’t be taken lightly. There are no fly shops on the islands, so you need to bring what you need and hope it lasts. If you break two rods and they are all you brought, that’s all she wrote for your fishing. In addition Haida Gwaii’s largest islands—Graham on the north end and Moresby to the south—have plenty of quaint towns and infrastructure, but getting to some of their streams, including portions of the Yakoun and Mamin rivers, can be daunting. Here’s why: There are several places to rent vehicles, but that opportunity often includes travel restrictions—Haida Gwaii’s labyrinth of forest roads can eat tires, and active logging operations make each bend in the road a potential disaster. Even so, there is plenty of steelhead water available within easy driving of the islands’ three hubs: Masset, Queen Charlotte City

Bring a variety of colors and sizes when fishing steelhead on Haida Gwaii.
Bring a variety of colors and sizes when fishing steelhead on Haida Gwaii.

and Skidegate. But once you reach the river you…

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