Fraser Valley Steelhead
Richard Probert
Outdoors Columnist
  Steelhead trout are one of the finest game fish in the world. British Columbia's heavily fished Fraser Valley has 16 steelhead rivers and streams, most of which have hatchery programs with summer and winter steelhead. Foremost of these steelhead rivers is the Fraser. Virtually all steelhead from every river in the Fraser River watershed pass through this River.
  In the Fraser Valley, the north shore has the most rivers, with a dozen steelhead streams. From the Pitt, Alouette and Stave Rivers in the western valley, to Emory Creek near Yale, anglers can choose to fish in many different steelhead streams.
  Thirty miles east of Stave River, the Harrison River, which drains the Harrison Lake watershed, has several steelhead runs pass through its waters. The Chehalis River, Weaver Creek, Cogbum Creek, Silver River and the Lillooet River, all have steelhead.
  Weaver Creek, which is the site of the Weaver Creek spawning channel in Morris Valley, used to have lots of steelhead. One of my friends once caught a steelhead over 30 pounds in Weaver Creek, but now the fish are fewer and smaller.  A few kilometers from Weaver Creek, the Chehalis River has a fair run of summer steelhead and a large run of winter steelhead. Chehalis summer steelhead average five to 12 pounds. They return to the river in June through to September, averaging 500 to 1000 fish per year, depending on ocean survival. A hatchery program from the Chehalis River hatchery ensures the summer fishery. Winter steelhead are also hatchery dependent, though with many more fish than in summer.
  While the Chehalis River is a favourite for anglers, the Harrison Lake watershed has several creeks and rivers, some of which have steelhead. One of these is Cogbum Creek, on the Harrison East Forest Access Road. Cogbum Creek was a local favourite decades ago, producing some very large steelhead. The Silver River, along Harrison West Forest Access Road also has steelhead, as does the Lillooet River, at the north end of Harrison Lake.
  The Lillooet River is memorable, since I stayed at Spring Creek logging camp several years ago, and followed the Lillooet River every day as I went to work. Some of the loggers fished for winter steelhead, telling stories about monster fish. The Lillooet River rushes down the valley, with fast flowing water interspersed with deep pools and ripple rocks, perfect waters for steelhead. Probably, there are still monster steelhead in the Lillooet.
 Although the Harrison area has the best steelhead fishing on the north shore, three creeks near Yale sometimes have steelhead. Emory Creek, American Creek, and Anderson Creek still have a few steelhead, fished mostly by local anglers.
  While the north shore of the Fraser River has the most steelhead rivers, the south shore has the best steelhead river in the southern mainland, incomparable Vedder. This world- famous steelhead river attracts thousands of anglers, some as far away as Europe and Japan. Every Boxing Day fishing derby, hundreds of anglers try for a prized steelhead. Like the Chehalis, a hatchery program keeps the Vedder fishery sustainable.
  Aside from the Vedder River, the Coquihala, near Hope, was oncelegendary for the quality and quantity of its steelhead fishery. A combination of mine wastes leached into the river and the building of the Coquihala highway, nearly ruined the steelhead; however, nature is resilient. A few steelhead survived and with the release of thousands of fry, the steelhead have returned. Some years the numbers are a few dozen, other years a few hundred. This year was a good year, with the return of about 800 fish. For six weeks in autumn, a catch and release fly fishery opened on the Coquihala. Perhaps one day the Coquihala will once again be a quality steelhead stream.
  Another steelhead River west of Hope has a few steelhead. The Silver-Hope River drains Silver Lake and the surrounding watershed. This used to be an exciting fishery with both summer and winter steelhead. My uncle, Stan Deasty, took me fishing in Silver Lake. Stan caught two of the loveliest summer steelhead I have everseen. One of these fish was six pounds, the other eight pounds. This fishery has since deteriorated and is now catch and release only.
  Steelhead are a seagoing rainbow trout. Whether summer or winter runs, steelhead spawn in late winter to early spring. They stay from one to four years in fresh water, before migrating to the ocean. After spending a few months to three years in the ocean, they return to their birth stream to spawn. Steelhead range in size from 3 to 30 pounds. Unlike pacific salmon, Steelhead can spawn more than once.
  A variety of techniques, tackle, bait, lures and flies are used in Steelhead fishing. Many anglers drift fish, with a ten-foot fishing rod, a float and leader, with a pencil weight to get the bait or lure near the Steelhead. Roe, artificial worms, plastic Jensen eggs, gooey bobs, clusters of artificial eggs, spin and glo lures, brass and silver lures and flies will all catch Steelhead. Since Steelhead are near the river bottom, anglers must present the lure or bait to reach these fish. Experienced Steelhead anglers lose a lot of tackle. If you are not prepared to lose tackle, chances are you won't catch many steelhead.
  Experienced steelhead anglers have their favourite lures, flies and bait for each stream fished. A novice steelhead angler would be wise to observe more experienced anglers to learn their methods and preferred lures or bait. For the truly novice anglers, be patient, for most beginners do not catch a steelhead in their first or even second season. Steelhead fishing really is an art, requiring a lot of knowledge and experience.
  Experienced anglers fishing the Chehalis and other local steelhead rivers, are partial to a variety of lures, including: Blue Fox, Coho, and other personal favourites such as  Crocodile lures and Colorado’s. Fish lures as close to the river bottom as possible, to reach the Steelhead.
  Aside from lures, increasing numbers of anglers are fly-fishing for Steelhead. A lot of skill is needed to catch steelhead on the fly. Some of the flies used on the Chehalis and other Fraser Valley rivers, are: Krystal Egg, Silver and Red Flash Fly, Squamish Poacher, Black Nose Dase, Peter’s Ladybug and Glo Bugs (an egg imitation in any desired colour according to the wool chosen).
  No matter what the methods used to catch Steelhead, these fish face an uncertain future in the increasingly crowded and urban Fraser Valley. Perhaps urban development will not adversely affect Steelhead, but this seems unlikely. Since the entire fishery for steelhead, cutthroat trout and coho and spring salmon in the Fraser Valley has become hatchery dependent, we will have to wait and see if a future fishery is available or sustainable. Hopefully future generations will respect our heritage , so anglers will still be able to enjoy catching Fraser Valley steelhead.
First picture courtesy of NW GUIDES.

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