fishing, summer

Q&A With One of Northern BC’s Most Experienced Fishing Guides

guide Sky Richard

What better way to escape the hectic city lifestyle than to take a fishing trip in the beautiful and tranquil Skeena Mountains near Terrace, BC. Immerse yourself in the perfect combination of calming nature and the sudden action of a giant steelhead or chinook (king salmon) grabbing your line. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced angler, you won’t be bored on your Northern BC fishing trip.

guide Sky Richard

Northern Escape’s Mountain Lodge is conveniently located in the heart of BC’s Skeena Mountains and is surrounded by myriad rivers and glacier-fed lakes. It’s also only a short heli flight away from Prince Rupert – a popular west-coast fishing destination that offers world class ocean fishing experiences. Start your trip with some fly fishing in Treston Lake, right outside the lodge. Next, hop on a helicopter for a day of heli fishing in remote mountain streams accompanied by your own private fishing guide. Finish off your fishing trip with a day on the coast, reeling in salmon and behemoth halibut and maybe even spotting some orcas or humpback whales.

If you’re still in doubt, we have answers to some of your common questions from one of the most experienced fishing guides in Northern BC. We chatted with Sky Richard, a fishing guide at Nicholas Dean Outdoors, Northern Escape’s guiding outfitter for summer fishing adventures. With decades of fishing experience, Sky is one of the most skilled anglers and guides you’ll ever meet.

guide Sky Richard

How long have you been guiding around Terrace?

I’ve been guiding around Terrace for about 21 years now. I started right out of high school when I was 18. I was fortunate, right from grade four I had teachers who were setting me up to be a guide. A part of my daily lessons was fly tying and fly casting from a very young age.

What do you personally love about fishing?

I love to be on the river! I love to be outside – it’s kind of my passion. I love showing people the area and talking about the history, the valley and everything that comes with it. Not just the fishing but checking out the wildlife, exciting jet-boat rides, white-water rafting, and that kind of stuff.

What’s the main attraction there?

We are famous in the Skeena for having some of the largest fish in the world, some of the best returns left in the world and such a variety of rivers! Terrace is located in a great spot for fishing. Within a couple of hours from Terrace, there are about 50 different rivers I can guide on. I think we’ve got some of the best variety of rivers in the world and quite a long season too. I start guiding around mid-March and guide right until November.

What’s the fishing like on Treston Lake (lake in front of Mountain Lodge)?

fishing in Terrace BC

Treston Lake is a part of a neat system called the Kalum River system. It’s called Kitsumkalum, which means “People of the Robin”. There has been quite a large village there for thousands of years. It starts with two rivers, the Beaver River and Cedar River and then it flows into Kalum Lake and then it goes to Red Sand Lake and then into Treston Lake and then back into the Kalum River that feeds into the Skeena and eventually into the ocean.

What makes it special is that Kalum River gets arguably the largest salmon in the world. They found fish on that river over 90 lbs. It’s quite special. There are only a couple of rivers in the world like this. The part of it has to do with the way the system works; it’s quite fast! Fish must get up through a big canyon so only the bigger and stronger fish can make it. Over time it weeded out the weaker ones and left the bigger fish there. To get to the Kalum River, these fish have to pass through Treston Lake – the system is all connected. We guide there for over 200 days a year.

What are some of the biggest fish you’ve caught around the Mountain Lodge?

Steelhead, salmon and trout in our system are some of the largest in the world. Guests have the chance to catch world-record fish every time they fish in our rivers and lakes.

The steelhead is probably the most popular one, even more so than the salmon, as well as the sea-run rainbow trout. Most of the fishermen are most excited to catch steelhead. They are the hardest to catch and there are fewer of them compared to salmon. They get really big, and they fight really hard. It’s just such a beautiful fish that people are most attracted to it. There is quite a big run in the Kalum River; it gets a few thousand every year.

fly fishing in Terrace BC

How would you describe a day of heli fishing to someone who’s never tried it?

It’s different compared to regular fishing because we usually go to the most remote places we can find. We try to get away from everybody and go out to places that don’t get fished as much. A lot of time we go to the coast to fish in rivers that flow directly into the ocean. A lot of times the helicopter will stay with us all day. We’ll just cruise around and land in different spots, fish for a few hours and then hop back on the helicopter, land in another spot and so on. The pilot stays with you all day. A lot of the rivers are within 15-20 minutes flight away. Throughout the day guest have the chance to do 7-8 hours of fishing.

heli fishing in Terrace BC

What are the main fish in the summer and autumn months? How big do they get?

We have so many different timings and every river is a little different. In the spring, in March, is a steelhead fishery and then in April and the first week of May we get very special runs of Chinook (king) Salmon that are probably the rarest on the planet. They come through Kalum River through Treston Lake and up into the mountains. There are only about three rivers in the world that get them in the spring.

Then we take a little break because the high water comes as the snow starts to melt. When rivers start to drop again, at the end of May and beginning of June, we start fishing for Chinook Salmon, the biggest ones through most of June. Then in July, we get the Chums and the Pinks and Coho showing up. Steelhead start showing up in August again, so we’ll switch back to steelhead for August and September. Then we have Coho that shows up in September – so guests can do a bit of steelhead and Coho through the fall right until November. We have to move around from river to river and try to time it right for the time of the year and the conditions.

The Steelhead in the Skeena system have been caught up to 40 lbs, the world record is about 43 lbs. Every year, I see a couple of the really big ones caught. Steelhead don’t die like salmon (after spawning), so they have the opportunity to go back to the ocean and get bigger and bigger. A giant steelhead would be in the 30 lbs range.

Chinook is a big type of salmon, the biggest ones come in June and July and those can hit 90 – 100 lbs. They found a dead one once on the Kalum River that was 103 lbs. They figured it was much bigger and heavier when it was alive – it would have been a world-record fish.

When you hook one of them it’s really up to the fish whether or not you’re going to land it, whether they show you mercy or not. We hope when we’re guiding that we catch small ones so that we can bring them in a reasonable amount of time.

What type of equipment do you typically use?

The more experienced guests will bring their own waders, fishing rods and flies. We can also provide all that for our guests. We typically supply beginners with fly rods and waders. Really good rain gear is important as it rains a lot up here, so you want to make sure you are warm. It seems that our weather is so unpredictable these days that you have to be prepared for hot and cold weather.

We try to figure out what our guests want before they come. If they wish to experience fly fishing, we’ll do that but we can do quite a variety of types of fishing for experienced fishermen or beginners. If you’ve never touched a fly fishing rod we’ll have to spend a day or two to learn how to cast.

fishing flies, Terrace BC

What is the ocean fishing like? What species and when do you go to the coast?

The ocean fishing is more of a summer activity. June and July are the peak season for ocean fishing. We do some ocean guiding as well. We have some guides that specialize in the ocean. We troll for the Chinook salmon and for Coho and we also do a bunch of bottom fishing for halibut, lingcod and rock fish, as well as some crabbing too. Sometimes we just light a fire, cook a bunch of crab up and hang out by the ocean.

What’s the main difference between river fishing and ocean fishing?

When you do fly fishing in the rivers and lakes it’s a little more technical. It takes a bit more of a skill to figure out how to cast and how to catch fish, whereas the ocean can be a little more predictable. You don’t change your techniques a lot. You might change your location depending on the weather, but it mostly stays the same all the time.

What other wildlife do you see while out fishing?

We see a lot of bears. We saw quite a few wolves this past year. We got to the point where I knew where they are going to be hanging out and some of the guests were like: “Oh, I’d love to see a wolf.” So we got our cameras ready and took some amazing pictures. Also, we see lots of eagles and a variety of birds. You can typically see a lot of grizzly bears in April. They are waking up, and they’re hanging out in the estuaries.

grizzly bear, Terrace BC

Anything else special about fishing in the area?

The variety of rivers we have is pretty special! We have the opportunity to go somewhere different every single day and show our guests something new every day, which is pretty rare. In many locations, you’re stuck on the same river or the same section of the river the whole week. Here, we can constantly move around and have the opportunity to see so many different things. We have the Copper River right next to Terrace. It’s world-famous for dry fly fishing for steelhead – the ultimate way to catch one is on the dry fly off the surface. We have some of the best opportunities to do that only 10 minutes from town.

What would be a good fishing trip for April in combination with heli skiing?

The conditions for heli-skiing are still pretty good in April, and it’s one of our peak times of the year for steelhead fishing. I’ve had guys who wanted to do a couple of days of heli-skiing and then take a break and go fishing. We would do steelhead fishing on the Skeena or the Kalum or I can take them rafting down the Kitimat River. There is quite a variety of things to do in the spring. In fact, there are way more rivers that get steelhead in the spring than they do in the summer. Hundreds of them only get steelhead in April. So you have this little window of opportunity that is perfect for heli fishing as a lot of these rivers are quite remote. They are just a beautiful place to go with a nice rain forest. A lot of times we’ll land and we’ll hike up these valleys and it’s just gorgeous. It’s a beautiful time of the year to go for a heli fishing trip.