Jeff Hickman is a former longtime member of the Deneki Outdoors team, having worked as a guide and host at Alaska West and as a manager at Andros South. He continues to be a good friend, and this week he got the opportunity to spend his first week fishing at BC West on the Dean River.
Jeff filed this report on his ‘first’ on the Dean.
You always remember the first one. The first fish of a trip you have been waiting your whole life to take will be ingrained in your memory forever. That is what I will have from this trip I am on right now. I am writing this from BC West on the banks of the famed Dean River, as my trip wraps up much more quickly than I would like it to.
If you have spent much time in steelhead circles, or are one of the many plagued with the swung fly disease, you have heard of the Dean. It is the river on the top of most anadromous junkies life-long list of places to go. I am here and still can’t believe it.
The helicopter ride in alone was worth everything. Unbelievable scenery under the blue bird skies as we skimmed the tops of the razor-edge ridges. Steeper walls than I have ever seen, and blue glaciers running into rapid-strewn wild rivers deep below. When we came across the final ridgeline and I set my eyes on the mouth of the legendary river and the end of the long Dean Channel, I got goose bumps. This is the deep channel which delivers rich saline water to the middle of the impressive British Columbia coast range, which makes for what I think is the most scenic place you could possibly fish. When we landed at the mouth, I was totally speechless.
The Dean is known for having some of the hardest fighting fish on the planet. Just a mile and a half from saltwater the fish are forced to navigate a fierce canyon (waterfall if you ask me) that lasts for a solid half mile on their journey upstream. The fish must be strong to make it through that canyon and reach their wild spawning grounds. To contribute to the hard fighting nature of the fish, they also hold in some of the fastest moving steelhead water I have ever fished.
When you are here, fishing is a real bonus to just being in this amazing landscape, and to witnessing this steelhead graceland. A bonus is exactly what my first afternoon was upon arrival. I fished a few pieces and they were different from the type of water I would normally swing my fly through in search of steelhead. Mostly the water was just moving a lot faster. Then when the boat pulled into the third piece of water I would fish, I could see it. I saw the structure, the seam, and the beautiful speed of the water. I stepped in there knowing this is where it would happen. This is where I would get my first Dean River chromer.
I stepped into the top of the run and worked out line, a few feet at a time, each cast a little longer. I imagined where each fish would sit in the long gorgeous piece. I start shooting line and working my way down through the head of the run, a couple steps each swing. As my fly got midway through the best looking seam it stoppped suddenly with a dull but deliberate pull. There he was, I thought as I lifted my rod to drive my barbless number two home. I did this and expected a blistering run deep into my backing like I have heard all the fish here do. Instead I felt some short headshakes and a chrome slash on the surface followed by more lazy headshakes. I thought well, I guess I will just crank down on this fish and see what happens, surely this will upset it and convince it to run deep into my backing, cart-wheeling the whole way.
Instead the fish just swam right to me in my mid-thigh deep water. I was puzzled. It didn’t feel like a big fish so I lifted it to the surface to get a look at what I have. Out of the glacially tinted green water appeared a chrome fish that I recognized instantly – a 5 pound chrome male pink salmon! Humpies on the Dean?
What a relief. I was horrified that my first Dean River steelhead was going to be the biggest dud ever. But, just like any first fish, this one will be logged deep in the memory bank. Even if it wasn’t the so called “target species”, a tug is a tug, right? I am told the humpies can’t make it through the canyon, and only spawn in the lower mile and a half of the river.
Giggling to myself, I unhook the poor little guy and get my fly right back out in the water I was working through. It wasn’t more than six casts later that, mid swing, WHAM! This time line is instantly melting off my reel and the fish thrashes on the surface as I lose line off my reel at an alarming rate. This time it is no humpy. I drop my rod tip low on the water and the fish slowly comes to a pause a hundred feet into my backing.
Resting for a moment, I presume. I slowly regain line onto my reel like a winch. I bring the fish most of the way back to me, all the way to the Compact Skagit head, a bit closer to me than I would like a still very hot chrome steelhead to be. I try to back towards the shoreline and regain a bit of distance between us. This only triggers another incredible burst, and this time upstream my line melts away with two giant grey-hounding leaps followed by an end-over-end cartwheel. This is it. This is what it is all about. This is the bonus, and sometimes those number two fish of the trip are even more memorable than the first.