In all the time I have fished in BC there is one river that always leaves me with my tail between my legs and that’s the Kalum River. This fabulous tributary of the world renowned Skeena River has always been somewhat of a nemesis for me as every large fish I have ever hooked on it has beaten me black and blue and then let me go. For some reason the Kalum seems to have the hottest steelhead of any river in the area and they fight like demons.
The Kalum River flows from the mountains north of Terrace into Kalum Lake and into the lower river, which has a turbulent canyon, then on into the Skeena River on the west edge of Terrace. The canyon is a supreme test for the fish with only the biggest and strongest navigating its swift currents. Like many Norwegian rivers this Darwinian effect maybe why the fish are so powerful as only the strongest make it to the spawning grounds. Kalum Lake keeps the Kalum River clearer and warmer than most other rivers making the Kalum an excellent option in the fall and spring. All I know is I have come away from it several times with my head in my hands, although most of my fishing partners have done better!
I remember the last time like it was yesterday, racing up the river with an icy blast making us feel awake and very alive. The first pool we stopped at had an interesting gravel lip at the top which I started on. Almost immediately I caught a small steelhead of about four pounds, followed by a little aggressive Pink salmon. As I worked my way down the pool the fly was grabbed hard followed by some thrashing on the surface and a deep bend in the rod. I had hooked a Chinook salmon, and it was not happy. At that time of year the Chinook were in full spawning regalia. Some of them are vast, 70 lbs plus, and they often porpoise up the river as they go, scary the hell out of you as you wade like a Polaris submarine broaching. It is a little awe inspiring but a brief tussle and a little tail flapping it released itself from me.
We hopped back into the jet boat and carried on upstream to another long run culminating to a wide V. The water was moving fast, and I had switched my tip to a 15 ft lead core with only three feet of leader. I found by throwing the line almost upstream and mending a couple of times I could reach the desired depth. As the fly came around it stopped and I felt a brief shake before something a little like a fridge started pulling. I had hooked another Chinook, but this one was considerably larger. A little more aware this time I began to give it the GT pump and wind procedure, and very soon I had persuaded it to come over to my side of the river. My guide and I looked down at this slab which had to be 40 lbs plus. The fish looked mildly irritated and then then as is from a slumber it awoke. It thrashed wildly and careened across the pool, cart wheeling as it went but barely managing to come out of the water due to its bulk. I can safely say that it the largest fish I have very been attached to in freshwater and as it made a rhinoceros like charge down the river the leader parted and all was quiet.
We pushed on upstream through some stunning scenery with the white capped mountains in the background. A small feed creek entered the run opposite us, and the banks were littered with whole trees ripped up and thrown down the river like twigs when it had been in full spate. I started at the top of the run while Alistair moved in below me. Again, I cast square and threw line upstream to get the orange and pink popsicle down in the water. The line arched round and again was nearly ripped out of my hand. Frantic head shaking and screaming reel led me to believe I had finally hooked a big steelhead, but alas, it was another small Chinook of about 20 lbs. This one I finally managed to land without too much difficulty.
In the afternoon we found a truly lovely spot where the river divides into two currents round an island covered in log debris. We had to fish tight under a bank covered in silver birch trees. I was minding my own business when I heard a shout from above and a large steelhead shot out of the water about five meters away from me… attached to a line! I looked above and watched as Alistair struggled to keep control of this silver torpedo as it tore line from his reel in a tortured screech. This fish was hot and mad and typical of Kalum steelhead. The current here was strong and he had his hands full. After what seemed like an age and several brutal runs later our guide expertly landed it; a lovely doe steelhead of about 14 lbs. She was still very chrome and had probably not been in the system very long. Watching that battle still keeps me awake at night and sums up why these chrome fish are so sought after.
There are a couple of operators we use to fish this legendary tributary, Nicholas Dean and Kalum River Lodge. Kalum River lodge conveniently overlooks the river and still has some openings for the spring and autumn steelhead season. Their 7 night/6 day package is $5400 CAD per person including tax and they have a spring special offer for a 7 night/6 day trip of $5200 CAD per person including tax.
For anyone wishing to tangle with what is possibly the most powerful migratory species then please contact Peter McLeod or Steffan Jones or call our office on +44(0)1980 847389.