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Discussion Starter #1
I'm looking for some help from all you world traveling steelhead fisherman. A few years ago I was planning a trip for my dad as a retirement gift but he decided to postpone his retirement until this coming March.

With that in mind we have decided to take a trip north for steelhead, in 2016. We wanted some extra time to plan. We are both accomplished steelheaders and don't mind tough conditions or fishing by ourselves.

We have narrowed down our choices to the BC West on the Dean, Suskeena on the Sustut, or Silver Hilton (if we can get in) and Norlakes on the Babine. We are really struggling with the options and I plan on talking with Ken at Flywater Travel tomorrow but I thought I would ask everyone hear as well.

Opinions? Recommendations? Advice?

Thanks everyone
 

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If you can get in, and choose the Dean I would see if anything opens up through either Stewart's or Hodson's. Especially if a day or three are available at Hodson's upper camp for your week. I would take the Dean (above the falls) 11 times out of 10 vs. the other destinations IF you can get in. Regardless you can't go wrong whichever way you choose...Dean or Babine or Sustut...
 

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Discussion Starter #4
What makes one an accomplished steelheader?
Accomplished may be the wrong word. We have spent a few decades chasing steelhead. Have you fished any of the places I was asking about?

Inland- I was also thinking about Hodson's on the Dean as well. The upper camp sounds great. Why would you favor Hodson's and Stewarts over BC West? Just curious. I don't care where we go as long as we have a good time and get a shot or two at some fish.

I've heard from more than one source that the run last year was not good, very poor actually, because of the commercial by-catch at the mouth of the Dean.
 

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Discussion Starter #6

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Accomplished may be the wrong word. We have spent a few decades chasing steelhead. Have you fished any of the places I was asking about?

Inland- I was also thinking about Hodson's on the Dean as well. The upper camp sounds great. Why would you favor Hodson's and Stewarts over BC West? Just curious. I don't care where we go as long as we have a good time and get a shot or two at some fish.

I've heard from more than one source that the run last year was not good, very poor actually, because of the commercial by-catch at the mouth of the Dean.
Actually that is false. I was on the Dean in August with April Vokey on the lower section at Blackwell's. While the numbers were not high, they were higher than the previous few years. I think many people who go to the Dean have the assumption that they are going to go up there and have 5-6 fish days of 15-20 lb fish every day. That is not the reality. If you get into 1-2 fish per day, you're doing good. I hooked into 14, landed 11, in 6 days.

The other year, during very high water, those above the canyon were skunked for many weeks because no fish could make it above the canyon in the high water times.

A place I would look at would be the Bulkley with Stevie Morrow. They do a really good 6 day camp trip and always are into very nice fish.

Here is a picture of one I landed on the lower section in August 2014:

 

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Accomplished may be the wrong word. We have spent a few decades chasing steelhead. Have you fished any of the places I was asking about?

Inland- I was also thinking about Hodson's on the Dean as well. The upper camp sounds great. Why would you favor Hodson's and Stewarts over BC West? Just curious. I don't care where we go as long as we have a good time and get a shot or two at some fish.

I've heard from more than one source that the run last year was not good, very poor actually, because of the commercial by-catch at the mouth of the Dean.
Not only has the commercial chum opening hurt the Dean but the severe floods of 2010 and to a lesser extent 2011 negatively impacted returns in 2014 and 2013. 2015 numbers are expected to be depressed too. Not to discourage but these are the facts.
The lower river experience is very different from the fishery above the canyon.
The fish are moving, the runs are bigger, wider with less structure. Fish tend to be less apt to take a surface fly than above the canyon.
The Dean is a wonderful but temperamental river, the fish, in my opinion are second to none.
The guides are all excellent as are their facilities.
 

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Of all the options, I'd throw it out there that the safest option would be Norlakes (and it is BC...all of the options have inherent risk of being blown for your trip). They have fish from August till their close week in mid-Nov, and one hell of a big lake to take in rain-water. IMO, it's the most consistent fishery you mentioned.

If you're looking for an extremely fishy place, the culture of Norlakes is one to experience.
 

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Hodson's/Stewart's = Access to more water with the high probability of fewer anglers in competition. Upper camp through Hodson's puts you above most of the glacial melt in the event the weather warms. Plus the scenery up there is magical, let alone the fishing. Fish are hotter below the Dean canyon. Water is very limited down there and IMO less interesting (YMMV). More competing pressure is a real possibility on the restricted stretch upstream of the canyon.

As has been mentioned Dean fish are second to none. Combs third book covers everything quite well concerning the differences in the fish themselves between your desired rivers.
 

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We haven't gone (yet). We're saving up our pennies. Granted I think I'd prefer to go to one of the Kola Rivers over the Dean if I had to choose now...simply because we've fished Skeena rivers for 5+ years now and chasing Salar would be a nice change of pace. The thought of playing cards all week, in the event of a blowout after paying $7500, also is a little disconcerning.

Thank you very much, that helped a bunch. I was also getting confused when I started trying to put names I found on fishing sites with the lodges.

Did you end up getting on the Dean? What lodge did you go with?
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Thanks so much everyone, this is exactly the type of information I'm looking for.

Would anyone like to take a guess at the probability of getting a blown out river, Dean vs. Babine? I understand the variables in steelheading, and weather is unpredictable but does one system tend to blow out more often than the other? What about recovery time of a river if it does blow out?

BigBadBrent- I was strongly considering Norlakes when I was researching this a few years ago. For some reason the Babine is drawing my dad's attention it seems more than the Dean. Myself, I would go the Dean route but this trip is about him, not me, and I'll have the chance to do the Dean thing in the future. I would take a few strong, hot fish in a week while my dad is looking for some big bruisers and thinks the Babine would offer a better chance at that.
 

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I think it's more depending on what you want out of the trip. Like you said, if you want super hot fish, you'll go to the Dean (and no, I haven't been. To be bluntly honest, my desire to go to the Dean has decreased dramatically with the constant drama between guided clients and DIY anglers). If you want a chance at a monster, you'll look at the Babine or Sustut. As a purely statistical point, the Babine is gonna give you better odds just due to run size.
 

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Doesn't matter...as long as you take me!!!
 

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If you can tolerate the cold, do the Babine late in the season

If you are concerned about losing all your lunch money at poker, then the second half of Oct on the Babine is going to have a higher probability of fishable water than the other options you mentioned. I don't know the Sustut, but I think they only fish till mid-Oct so the last week in their season might be similarly safe re water levels. You will likely have less crowding.

It being colder, you'll want to be fishing deep. The fish will be more sluggish due to the lower temps, and a high percentage of them will have been caught 1-2x previously.

* * * * *

Having written that, I've been very fortunate in that I've never been blown out for an entire week over the 14 years I've been up to the Skeena & tribs. I have had to change rivers for at least two days to find fishable water about 1 year in 3. The lodges you mention have expert guides who can put you on fish on days with self-guided anglers are sitting in camp tying flies.
Steven Morrow at Frontiers Far West is one such guide.
 

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Hi,

I am the founder of a fishing travel site and a former Skeena/Bulkley Guide. I know most of the operations above, on a basic level all are good options.

Norlakes is the furthest up steam option on the Babine and as mentioned above fishes well for the full season. Billy and Kerry at Norlakes are great people and incredibly good in a professional setting. I worked with the Collingwood's in Spatsizi and you will really never find a better couple to manage a lodge anywhere.

The Silver Hilton is very high end and they run a super tight ship. They have some of the best water on the planet for steelhead and the Babine supports monster fish in good solid numbers. If size of fish is your thing then the Babine or Kispiox are great options. The Babine usually has a dark stain and that makes it a little different from most streams in B.C. It can be cold late season, so if your father is elderly be sure to take this into account. Skeena country generally is below freezing from October 1st onwards in the morning.

In the upper stretches the Babine is high sided and this reduces the sunlight hours still further and keeps it cold. The River is lake fed which really does help to keep the fish good and active into the late season. Other rivers such as the Bulkley get colder water and in turn this slows the fish down.

The Dean has had good and bad seasons, if your anything like me, steelheading is an experience. It's more than the fish alone, it's about everything which is around you, and if thats the case for you the Upper Dean could be a great option. Im sure you have seen the images but seriously this is the place to fish if you are going on the trip of a lifetime with your father. Even driving around the river is an experience you will never forget. This is wild water and the fish are super charged.

The Bulkley is where I guided and I worked for Bob Hull. Jill is Bob's wife and sister of Danny Hodson. These families are steeped in guiding history and and it shows. Bob Hull is the fishiest guy you will ever meet, hands down. I have no idea how it's possible to catch so many fish, he is a steelhead machine. Bob has such deep knowledge of this river, even if it's high and dirty he continues to pull them out. It's a very relaxed lodge/home, very much a family affair and that might or might not be for you. It's not a heavy drinking lodge and the Hulls are about the kindest people you will meet. The Bulkley has so much variety and Bob shows a different stretch of the river each day. The canyons are quite as the as most will not run the driftwood canyon in jet boats.

I have never fished the Sustan but its has a die hard group that fish and love this stream so I believe it to be great but not something I can comment on.

My advice over all would be early season on any stream. The fish change dramatically during the season and it's like fishing for polar opposite species. Early season is where its at, it's not as safe as late season but one early fish is worth 10 late IMO. Some guys love late season but Steelhead are at their most aggressive with good 45+ water temps.

Sam Franklin
Pesqa
 

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I've been fortunate enough to fish the Sustut (Valhalla) and Babine (Norlakes). Haven't been able to get into the Dean but will do so in 2015. You've got some great advice so far, but one of the things that hasn't been mentioned is that these lodges are very tough to get into, because returning anglers have first priority and return booking rate is generally over 95%. I'd encourage you to call Fly waters And discuss it with them - they have ins with many operations, know them well, and give you the best chance of getting on the river you want, close to when you want (obviously prime time between mid Sept and mid Oct is toughest to get).

Enjoy, any of the 3 will be fantastic if you're looking for a steelhead experience.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
I can't tell you how much I appreciate everyone's thoughts and opinions. I have no doubt that no matter what destination is chosen it will never be forgotten. In reality there is no bad choice here. I received a call back from Ken at FlyWater Travel but haven't had the chance to get back to him yet.

One last thing. On average, in know there are many variables, but what does a week look like on the Dean or Babine in terms of numbers of fish and size? I've read all the info from the different lodges but I want the real scoop from everyone here.

Again, thank you.
 

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i have fished the Dean below the canyon 11 times with Blackwells. Two times with Dick Blewett [in 63 and 64] above the canyon. I usually fished weak 3 in JUL. In that time I never was blown out for a whole day..and only remember 2 days that were partially out.My worst trip was 1 very hot fish…my best trip was forty….my average was mostly in the 20's.Most don't consider it a big fish river. But, my biggest fish have come from the Dean…2 over 40" and 37"s and 38"…and! I have fished a lot of rivers.

I think the best views are on the Dean..I spent a lot of time taking photos and hiking and taking in every thing I could.I spent 3 months one summer on the Dean just hanging out[only could fish one week] and then picked up my Blewett boat on the way to Skeena country.

I have been to Silver Hilton 2 times.Late in the year. That made for fish hanging in the slower water nearer to the banks. I prefer to fish nice longer casts. Don't like that late and fish not as hot!
I like the people that now have Babine Norlakes ..top notch and nice! I have thought for a long time I would prefer that to the Hilton. I would like to go there.

I have fished the Skeena country a lot on my own! I have had a few more blowouts than I would like…mostly in the early beginning season.

I think the Suskeena would maybe make a lot of sense…hard to get to= no crowds ..big fish..! I know Bob Clay and Jeff Bright like it.
I do want to go there!
 

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Average reported catch rate on Babine is just under 1.5 fish per angler day over multiple years. Typical fish in mid October and later is 8-12 lbs (28-32 in), with typically 5+ fish over 20 lbs caught during a week among all guests and many more in high teens.
 
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