From the airplane window: Remains of British Columbia's estimated 200% snowpack were evident. We expected to see a different river than the low, clear 2006 Skeena...
And we did. First evening at our camp just below Hell's Gate the river gave us a slim bar and opaque water. Nonetheless, several in the group took up stations, commenced casting. Don Nelson and Anne Vitale both hooked large, unstoppable fish. As night fell, we could only wonder what they were.
On our first full day, we explored upriver. Most favorite bars and breaks were covered in the high flows, spreading out the travel lanes and making the task of finding migrating fish difficult. Will Colson photographs guide Dustin Kovacvich and Don Nelson.
Unlike last summer, pink salmon were abundant. Over the course of two weeks untold numbers were hooked and landed, many with sea lice still clinging to their flanks.
Weather, flows and water clarity improved daily and by midweek fishing began to pick up. The host beached this hard-fighting chinook just moments after bringing a steelhead...
to the bank. The steelhead was ENORMOUS! But unfortunately pulled free as it's belly touched the rocks. And how much did it weigh? We'll never know. But we do know Don Nelson, speycasting here, successfully landed a nice 10-pounder from the middle of the long bar.
With pleasant days came beautiful sunsets. Anne Vitale took full advantage, fishing after dinner into last light. Anne and Deidre Moy, both members of the San Francisco Bay Area's Golden West Women Flyfishers club, hooked and landed scores of pinks, sockeye and the occasional coho. However, as it was for the entire group, steelhead were few and far between.
With steelhead numbers low, coho were often the highlight of a day's catch. Fresh from the salt, these acrobatic salmon are as enjoyable to catch as they are to behold!
Late in the week, the sockeye migrating through camp water were noticeably larger and provided exciting sport. Dustin poses a good one for Anne...
Maurice Bales has one on and his fishing partner Keith Cuddeback offers advice. (See Maurice's fish in the marquee photo.)
Will hooks up at the top of the bar, Hell's Gate yawning in the backdrop.
Will was all over. Here, at the bottom end of the long bar, he scraps with another sizeable sockeye.
Kudos to Dustin and crew for putting on a good camp. Not only did Dustin handle half the guide duties but he cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner. Grilled chicken breast sandwiches were the fare on this day. Don Nelson, camp attendant Conner and Deirdre dig in and refuel for the afternoon's fishing.
Last morning and pressure's on. Skeena noteworthy Noel Gyger needs a "photo of the week" for his website (see www.noelgyger.ca). Come on steelhead...BANG! Finally a steelhead on and to the beach. Not a big mid-20s fish, but a clean, bright 8-10 pounder. Who could complain? Not the host. Not about this fish...
Nor this hungry bull trout...
Certainly not about this coho...
And definitely not about this rugged, hard-pulling chinook. A fine cast of characters!
As a bonus, the host fished a half day in between camp weeks with Nicholas Dean's newest staff member, Chad Black. Chad handles guest relations and is not so bad with a fly rod either.
On one of the Copper River's many great runs, Chad caught his first British Columbia summer-run steelhead swinging a black, purple and pink marabou fly of his own design.
A perfect summer steelhead...
Without a doubt, it was a catch (and release) neither Chad nor the photographer will soon forget.