Skeena Adventure 2003 [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Skeena Adventure 2003

09-30-2003, 11:31 AM
Or A Long Account of Near Death Experiences in Mecca

(sorry this is long, at least read the bottom if you are headed north)

I figured there are already enough people that know parts of this story that I should take the time to put down my version of it. While I can at least smile and see the entertainment value in it, there is a moral as well and it just might help someone in the future.

Three buddies and myself left on the 20th for 9 days fishing the Skeena Rivers. We each had pontoon boats; two of them with 8’ models and another and myself with 10’ heavier duty boats. I consider myself pretty competent on the sticks and have rowed a decent amount of class 4 and 5 water. My three buddies were experienced rowers but with limited big whitewater experience. That would not be a problem as the rivers we planned to fish were not whitewater rivers.

The first day on the Bulkley was great. After getting our papers in order, we launched onto a river with 5’ of vis. and a lovely green color. After fishing a couple of runs without a hookup, Ray and I came to a lovely run with fishable water on either side of the river. I took the highbank side and pulled my new CND Salar Specialist out so as to reach the seam which was 90’ out. On the first cast, a fish hit hard barely into the swing and was soon peeling line. Just as I was sure it was hooked well, the hook came away. A few minutes later, Ray yells and a fish goes screaming downriver with his fly in its mouth. This one came off as he was bringing it in close. I had one more brief hookup later in the day but that was it for day 1.

That night we went on into New Hazelton for we planned on spending the next 4 days on the Kispiox. A friend had told a friend what he felt the good floats were. I was into the Kispiox two years ago but due to water conditions had not been able to fish it. We arrived at the river to find it high but with 2’-2 ½’ of vis. Based on the report on good floats, we decided to put in at the Rodeo Grounds and float to the bridge at the town of Kispiox. Water conditions were marginal but we fished what water we found hard. Around mid-day, Jeff hooked into a nice fish but as seemed to be the M.O. of the trip, soon LDR’ed it. At the next run, Carl and I both had good grabs in the same spot but neither of us could get a good hookhold.

About 3:30 as we were 6 miles into an approximately 7 mile float, the river headed into a canyon. I was in the lead and motioned for everyone to beach his boat. Before lay the gnarliest rapid you would ever want to see. Now I am sure that at lower water levels this was probably tamer but at this level, this was a class 5 and an especially ugly one at that. The water came off a house-sized rock on the right side and from there dropped about 6’ into a swift shoot. Two teeth guarded the mouth with about 8’ between them. At the bottom of the shoot, a series of rocks and standing waves waited. Just beyond these, most of the flow pushed left up against a cliff and into a large suckhole of spiraling frothy water. Rocks and a 6-8’ standing wave held the middle. There was a slot though on the right that skirted the large wave and fell off gently below the house-sized rock on the right side into a large quiet pool. To mock you, the locals had mounted a diving board on top of the huge rock, hanging out over the deep calm pool.

We were there for two hours; first saying lots of obscenities and remarking how badly we were screwed. Walking out was not an option nor was lining the boats around due to the cliff and suckhole on our side of the river. Ray finally, against everyone’s advice, decided to scale over the top of the cliff and see if he could get to the river on the other side. Somehow he made it without falling into the suckhole. It was decided that we would try and line the boats down to the cliff where he was and then try to row across the suckhole and out. I spent 30 minutes at the top eyeing the rapid and throwing wood in to study the current breaks and timing the distance between maneuvers. To be honest, the suckhole scared the crap out of me and I preferred to take my chances with the rapid. I was convinced if I could just skirt the standing wave, I could slide through into the soft water on the right.

After donning life jackets, cinching up wading belts (Very dumb to keep waders on) and breaking rods down and securing in the rod holders, the other three started the lining process. Convinced that I wanted to be below them should something go wrong and feeling anxiety grow over the rapid, I pushed off into the current.

I had scoped out 5 moves that needed to be made to negotiate the rapid and the first 4 went just as planned. I got into the right side channel and slid between the teeth at the top. Hard on the oars to miss the left side rocks, standing waves and over onto the current seam on the right side. I knew the current would push me towards the large standing wave and the suckhole. There for about two seconds both my buddies and I thought I had it nailed. I still think I missed it my no more than an oar stroke but miss it I did and I caught the right side of the large standing wave. One second I thought I was going to power through it and the next I was looking up at my boat as it came over on top of me.

I came up near the boat and grabbed an oar tower. Luckily, I had been flipped into the soft seam I was heading for. As I rounded the bend I could see some smaller rapids bisected by stretches of flat but swift water. I could hear my rods scraping bottom as the boat raced along. A couple of times I would just about have the boat swam to shore when I would enter the next rapid. These were really nothing more than riffles but still to swift to try and beach the boat. Finally, about 20 minutes and ½ to ¾ of a mile downriver, I got my feet down and flipped the boat onto the bank.

The rest is anti-climactic as I was unhurt, alive and just a little cold. Since it was 44-degree water I was probably more than a little cold but I had enough adrenalin to not notice. I got into my dry bag and into dry clothes. Some chemical hand warmers a co-worker gave me long ago went into my pockets. After about an hour my three buddies came looking for me. They were not sure if I was alive or not and I in turn was scared horribly for them. As it turned out, they were able to find a ledge below water on the cliff and line their boats through the suckhole. They said it took quite a bit of pulling to get the boats through and in hindsight, they didn’t think there was anyway they would have been able to oar through as they originally planned.

In exchange for my life, I was required to make some donations to the river. While I am greatful for the outcome, I am just now coming to grips with the monetary impact of donating a 1509-3 T&T, a CND Salar Specialist, a 12LA Teton with new Grandspey, a 2 piece Carlyle 8’ oar and a digital camera to the river. I was left with the handles and reelseat on the T&T as well as another 12LA. The Salar was now a 7 piece. The lower handle was sheared off as was the reel but as a testament to Nobuo’s engineering, the reel foot was still held firmly in the seat. The screws of the reelseat had been ripped out of the frame. By this time it was dark and we beached the boats and were lucky to find a road to walk out. We retrieved the boats on Tuesday.

Special thanks to Jim Butler at the Nanika Flyshop in Smithers for the use of two oars for the rest of the week! If you are headed that way, I recommend stopping and giving him your business.

The rest of the week was spotty fishwise but we did have a good day on the upper Kispiox before it blew out.

Sorry for the length of this account but I wanted to get my version down before the rumors started flying. Jeff, feel free to chime in with your account.

Regardless of your opinion of my stupidity in this adventure, please do not take the lower Kispiox float unless you are in a large raft and there is low water. While a 20 pound steelhead is a worthy prize, it might not be worth your life.


09-30-2003, 11:41 AM
YIKES!! :eyecrazy:

09-30-2003, 01:36 PM
I think that the account you posted was pretty accurate. Not sure how long it took us to line our boats around but I hope you weren't down there for an hour. He did have it nailed and the thing that got him was the fact that the standing wave folded toward the bank on the right rather then straight down river.

An other moral of the story is don't let your buddies do something when you know it could be dangerous like that. We should have never let you go through that especially since we were able to get the boats around the suck hole and as it turns out the last of the standing waves. It was a great releif to see you pop up and grab a hold of the pontoon.

As it turns out it was my miscommunication that put us going down this float and I feel horrible now that I just found it out this morning. You get to go through everything first for a while.

I will feel bad about this for a long time. I make a public apology to a friend here.


09-30-2003, 01:56 PM

As I told you in private, you have nothing to be sorry for. We were all big boys and just let our excitement to fish get in the way of judgement. Nobody was hurt and tackle can always be replaced.

Of course I will take you up on your first through the run offer though :D Besides I earned that with my "premonition" on Wednesday didn't I or do you think that scotch settled that debt?


09-30-2003, 02:05 PM
Ok so the coolest story of the trip.

Wednesday we are floating a different section of the Kispiox and water is in sweat shape. I am fishing a run near the end and over the radio I hear a flies name and duggan just says he has a premonition so believing that the river speaks to Duggan a little closer then the rest of us after monday. I cut off my fly and put the fly he tells me on. 15 cast later fish on and a bit after that a beautiful 33" buck was to hand.

He had been baptized by the water and the river Gods have a weird connection with him now.


09-30-2003, 02:55 PM
Don't blame yourself Jeff, Sinktip is a big boy. I imagine he is at an age(starting to get old) where he needed an adventure, a challenge, feel life a little out of the ordinary. Just glad he is still around to fish with us all. Why did he wear his wadders though even with a belt??? I hope he is able to replace the two rods soon, it would be a real shame not to.

Speaking of excitment Jeff, did any of you or all of you mix with any of the local color? I know it's hard to do when ya got to hit the sack early so you can put all your energies into the next days fishing, But?

09-30-2003, 03:54 PM

Have we got a bar for you. Oh my the locals are in there and it was interesting to say the least. Can't really say much more then that. :eyecrazy: Saw way more then I ever wanted to but not as much as some.


10-01-2003, 04:55 AM
One and only one thought comes to mind... great relief that you are OK. I think someone was looking out for you a little on that one, all that good living is paying off :)

I look forward to the next time we are fishing a "mild" run somewhere together.

I'll PM you on the Salar Specialist.

10-01-2003, 10:35 AM
Hey Guys,

That's the next marketing gimmick - crossing Steelhead Flyfishing with Fear Factor!!! :devil: :devil:

Then you can take 'em to that Bar and scare 'em even more!:hehe:

All joking aside tho - glad you guys made it out OK. Having seen some scary s#!% on the rivers (and unfortunately participated in a bit myself) - glad your adventure didn't result in serious injury.


10-01-2003, 10:43 AM
Glad you made it OK.

Yeah, I am also "GUILTY" of doing dumb things that "seemed like a good idea at the time". Now, in older age, I find that I still am tempted to do 'em!:hehe:

Despite sayings to the contrary, I guess as we get older, we have more experiences, but we don't really get any smarter!:rolleyes:


10-01-2003, 11:51 PM
holy crap :eyecrazy: and glad you're back!

10-02-2003, 08:55 AM
We have all been tired or distracted and done something, that in retrospect, was a rather bad idea. I'm glad your guardian angel was there.

Now, next time, do not tempt fate.

10-12-2003, 03:50 PM
Sinktip. Such a well-written, exciting post! Damn, it made my hair stand on end just to read it! Your description of the problems involved was such that I could see every obstacle, feel the fear, and suck my breath.
I have been through some gulpers, but I hope to never have to cope with something like that.
And then there is always Monday morning for those who have the opportunity to look at it in retrospect. Much different from actually being there and having to call the shots now.
Recently back from the Kispiox, I saw a couple of spots that I just wondered what might be the solution to the problem presented. I didn't see any.
We are fishermen first with some white water skills second and those damn pontoons are good boats.
But whitewater is something else. To mess with it properly, you need to be crazy, have no equipment on board that you care that much about including the boat, and tons of experience under your belt and under all the belts of everyone in the party.
You guys are older, wiser now, but you gotta never forget that whitewater is not whitewater. It's WhiteFire.
Bob, the So Happy You Made it:)