Admit it, either you’ve already been there, or your bucket list includes a British Columbia steelhead trip.
Maybe your budget covers a lodge with jetboats and guides. That’s the most consistent, efficient, and comfortable, way to connect with Canadian steel. But maybe those numbers don’t pencil for you, or maybe you just prefer to figure things out for yourself. You can get into world class fish on your own in BC, if you’re willing to put in some time and effort.
Our friend Tim Peterson makes an annual trek up there after guide season. This year he brought along his buddy Eric Bodine, who had never even fished for steelhead. We sat down to pick their brains about DIY BC steelheading.
Is there a better rig for a DIY steelhead trip to BC?
Distance from Bozeman to Terrace and back
3,300 miles, or 74 hours of driving.
Two dudes, two weeks of fishing, food, and some partying: $2500 plus $1400 in gas.
What to bring
Pack as little as you can—3 base layers from light to heavy, 7-8 good pairs of wools socks, 1 sun shirt,1 puffy jacket, the best waders and rain jacket you can find. Basic camping essentials—beer cooler, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, a very limited cooking set. A 6-gallon water tank. We took my truck with a topper, a rooftop tent, and a dirt bike on a hitch mount off the back. To save space, and optimize mobility we only brought one Water Master raft, and sat back-to-back on a one-man raft. Good thing we like each other.
Costco pack of cup of noodles. That was essential.
Necessary post fishing nourishment, not to mention budget friendly!
Where to stay
Canada has pretty awesome rec (camp) sites. They’re well marked; have fire pits, picnic tables, and outhouses; and are usually within steps of a river. Oh yeah, they’re also free.
Pick your team
I only bring people that are super savvy: You gotta be able to drive in the snow, ride a dirt bike, navigate without service, read rivers, and be independent in the backcountry. No handholding on these trips. Attitude is key. I loved doing this trip with Eric because he’s always positive. Negativity gets old fast. There have been times when I spent 14 days in a car with a couple dudes and was like, “Alright, I'm trying to get home and get outta here.” This, this year was not that.
Expect a good teeth-kicking...or two
It started pouring as soon as we got there. The water had been perfect for nearly a month, and the weather was supposed to be good all week, but we got a really hard shot of rain the night we arrived. We woke up that first morning, started driving up the river in the dark, and as soon as we had enough light we could tell it was completely blown out.
We spent three days getting up in the dark and fishing till last light with a 40-minute midday break for a beer and a cup of noodles, grinding it out with no success.
So, we pulled the plug on our initial plan. When you're already more than 20 hours from home, making the call to drive three hours farther—adding six hours to your trip—feels kind of crazy. But that’s a key component in fishing: How are you gonna play the cards you’re dealt? We played our cards wrong in the beginning of the trip. We kept telling ourselves “It might clear tomorrow, and be fantastic.” It didn’t.
Next morning, got up super early and drove to a different tributary. First couple holes, nothing. Fished this beautiful inside bend, nothing. The doubt started creeping in. Sat down, had a cup of noodles and a little reset. We were like, “The other side looks way better. Let's fish that outside bend instead of this classic inside steelhead water. Rowed across, set up, started swinging, and boom! Hooked two, landed one. We're ecstatic. We’re losing light but wanted to fish one more hole. Bang, another one. All of a sudden, spirits are high; we called an audible and it worked.
The next morning we met a super nice guy from Bozeman who invited us over for cocktails that night and even offered to let us use his other raft.
It's so funny, you go that far away, you're in the middle of nowhere and discover it attracts the same person. The scene up there is definitely hard-ass. But if you’re open and humble, if people get a sense of where you're from, what the deal is, what you're doing, those hard-ass dudes will offer up a lot. This guy saw two young lads from Montana sleeping in the back of their truck, trying to grind it out, and he couldn’t have been nicer.
Follow the rules and use your non-fishing time wisely
Non-residents are not allowed to fish unguided on the weekends, so Friday night we drove back to town. We got a hotel, took showers, got some sleep, did some scouting for new access points.
Hung out at the skate park and watched the locals shred. Met some Austrian dudes at a 90’s themed party who had been fishing that area for like, 30 years. They invited us over for dinner at their cabin Saturday night and fed us fresh lobster and pasta. They even let us fish the same stretch they were planning to fish on Monday and gave us some pointers.
Yeah, they pulled up right after us at the put in and saw us sitting back-to-back on my little Water Master. They started laughing their asses off and yelled, “You guys look like you’re on the Yellow Submarine.” So, now that’s the name of my Water Master.
Be nice to your buddy, and share the love
I think Eric had hooked two fish at this point and hadn’t landed any. Late that day he hooked another really nice one.
Yeah, it was a good fish, and it was flying through the air, blowing my mind, and I thought, I got this one for sure! Nope, sure didn’t have it. It came unbuttoned at the net. I still hadn’t caught a steelhead and losing that one kind of knocked me out of my game for a bit. Of course, Tim comes through behind me, hooks a fish in the exact same spot and lands it. I was genuinely psyched for him.
The sun’s going down, and I said, “There’s a sweet little hole right above the takeout where I caught my first steelhead ever. Let’s go check that out.”
Tim let me go through first, and I end up catching my first steelhead ever from the same spot where he caught his first steelhead ever. Not a huge one, by any means, but got me all jacked up. We were really close to dark at that point, and I was like, “I’m satisfied, that was [freaking] awesome! Let’s go.” Tim said, “No. Throw another one in there. Keep going.” I hooked another one two minutes later, and landed that one too. Touché, Tim.
I hate when you get back to the truck, soaked and exhausted, and you have to struggle to get out of your waders. It’s a miserable, muddy end of a day. But these waders come off effortlessly. Boom, they’re off, you’re in the truck getting warm and dry. They’re just more comfortable. They’re also crazy durable. I actually kicked the dirt bike hitch a bunch of times, which didn’t feel good because it’s got really sharp edges. I thought I was going to rip the waders for sure, but I didn’t. They’re tough.
Long days in the water are a lot more doable when you stay dry and comfortable all day long.
When it’s raining and you’re standing in a run, you put the hood up on the RS jacket, put your hand into your warm wader pocket through the zip access. That's your zone. You lock in and just wait for that grab. Step, cast again, get back into your zone. There's also so much room in the jacket, I didn't need a hip pack. I ended up putting all my stuff for a day in the jacket and ditching the hip pack. It makes a good shuttle jacket too. When it was cold and we were doing 60 on the dirt bike, nothing was getting through.
Make a good plan; make sure your truck's been serviced. Go up there and do it. Meet sweet people. Eventually you'll catch fish. If you're lucky, and they get a good run, you might catch a lot of fish.