Kispiox River, BC. Fishing the Kispiox River, British Columbia

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Kispiox River, BC

Article & photos by Ian Forbes

British Columbia's Kispiox River has had a 50 year history of being home for the largest steelhead in the world.

Prior to that, only local residents knew of these exceptional fish. The rest of the world became aware of the Kispiox steelhead when they took all the top places in Field and Stream Magazine's Contest. That started an annual fall migration of anglers to the whole Skeena watershed.

British Columbia rivers such as the Babine, Sustut and Suskwa in the north, the Thompson in the dry belt country, and the Salmon and Gold rivers on Vancouver Island have had steelhead over 30 pounds. But, not in the numbers produced by the Kispiox River. United States rivers like the Skagit have also had a few monsters, including one measuring almost 48 inches in length. But, it is the Kispiox steelhead's tremendous girth that is remarkable. In the 1960's, I saw a pair of 42 pound steelhead laying on ice in Prince Rupert. Their length was only 43 inches, similar to Chinook salmon of the same weight. Both steelhead had been caught on the same August day in one gill net set at the mouth of the Skeena River.

Certainly, many 40 pound steelhead have been hooked and lost on the Kispiox River. And, a few have possibly been caught and released by modern anglers who have no need for personal glory. They truly value the live wild steelhead. In 1963, the american, Karl Mausser killed the official largest fly caught steelhead in the Kispiox. In those days it was normal for most anglers to keep their limit of steelhead. Since that time, most anglers, including Mr Mausser, have practiced catch and release. Unfortunately, the commercial and native gill nets haven't. Commercial fishing has devastated steelhead throughout the Skeena System.

Although the numbers of steelhead have been drastically reduced since the 1960's, a few still make it through the maze of nets to reach the Kispiox's spawning waters. Unlike commercial fishermen, anglers don't need a bunch of dead fish to make a successful day. A few experiences with one of the Kispiox brutes is enough. By releasing their fish, anglers can have their cake and eat it to. With a bit of care, 95% of released steelhead survive their encounters with anglers, and many are caught several times. When it was legal to do so I kept two summer steelhead on tethers for up to two weeks before releasing them. I subsequently caught those same two fish later in the season and they both had spawned successfully.

For many years, while she was running her steelhead camp on the banks of the Kispiox River, Olga Walker kept an extensive journal of the fishing, the weather and the river conditions. She sent her regular customers an abbreviated copy each year. Her journal reads like a who's who of steelhead fishing, and very few famous anglers aren't mentioned somewhere. The journal is a valuable bit of history showing the decline of a great river. But, it is also an invaluable aid in showing the timing of the Kispiox's steelhead runs and the best methods to catch these fish.

In July, the Kispiox is still running murky with snow melt, but that is the best time for summer run chinook salmon. These bright silver fish average 25 to 30 pounds and will take a fly. But, lures are far more successful. The river gradually clears throughout August and September. Although a few steelhead start appearing in the Kispiox in September (years ago they arrived in late August), October is by far the most important month. Barring an early freeze up or rain storm, November can have great fishing, but that month is notoriously unreliable.

Bad weather is the nemesis of the Kispiox. Any kind of heavy rain will make the river un-fishable. A warm rain on an early snow turns the river into chocolate soup. Unstable soils and extensive logging adds to the problem.

Unlike Bulkley River steelhead, the Kispiox fish are not as responsive to surface flies or lures. It's not that they can't be caught on a dryfly; it's just that deep sunken flies are more effective. Black or purple Wooly Buggers are as reliable as anything. The traditional orange patterns are also good.

My first experience on the Kispiox was electrifying. I had walked into a pool above the Sweetin River. I was float fishing with Jensen eggs and I was using a level wind reel. On the second or third cast my float went down and I struck into something solid. The fish slowly circled the pool while ponderously shaking its head. Then it swam downstream and around a bend in the river, completely emptying my reel filled with 200 yards of line. Bankside trees prevented me from following the fish and it broke off without me seeing it. I reeled on another spool of line and continued fishing. Three casts later my float went down again, and again I set the hook. This time though the steelhead took off so quickly, and with so much strength that my monofilament line buried itself next to the reel plate and broke off. My only option was to cut all the line off the reel. I had hooked two fish and lost two spools of line! I camped there that night and returned to the same pool the next morning. My luck improved and within a few casts I hooked the same fish from the previous night. It turned out to be a thick 39 inch buck steelhead with a broad pink stripe along its side.

Logging roads follow most of the Kispiox River and its tributaries. Much of the river can be drifted in a raft with little danger other than a few sweepers. Boats are not used to fish out of, but are helpful to access more water, and to follow runaway steelhead. There is more than 60 kilometers of river, but don't attempt to drift more that 10 kilometers per day and still expect to have time to fish.

The Kispiox River continues to produce the largest steelhead in the world and the new restrictive commercial fishing regulations could be the rebirth of this great river.

© Copyright Ian Forbes

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BC Rivers
Blackwater River
Bulkley-Morice River
Chilko River
Cowichan River
Elk River
Fraser River - Lower Section
Kispiox River
Skagit River
Squamish River
St. Mary River
Stellako River
Vedder-Chilliwack River

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Ian Forbes
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Kispiox River, BC. Fishing the Kispiox River, British Columbia