Fishing the Yakoun River on Haida Gwaii
The Yakoun River flows north for approximately 60 km from its source in Yakoun Lake to its entry into Massett Inlet, near Port Clements, Graham Island, Q.C.I. Masset inlet is a surprisingly large inlet in which many rivers flow into. The Yakoun river is by far the most unique west coast rainforest river you have ever seen. It is a perfect spey casting river to swing for steelhead which is rare in such environments.
If you have fished coastal rainforest rivers in Oregon you will be familiar with the look of these rivers, but I can assure you that you have never seen one like this. One reason is that the river is of generally low gradient (Yakoun Lake’s elevation is only 100 m). It is fairly long and wide with a low gradient compared to most coastal streams, and thus provides endless spey fishable water. Almost every inch of the Yakoun will kick out a fish the odd time.
One thing you will notice the second you see the Yakoun is that it is heavily “tea— stained”, which is typical of most streams that drain the bogs and rain—saturated spruce forests of the North coast. Although the valley through which the Yakoun flows has been heavily logged, it still has beautiful portions of old growth spattered throughout.
Since the logging industry is progressively slowing down on Haida Gwaii the access to the Yakoun is dwindling. It still has plenty of water to fish though and certainly has a cult following among a small group of anglers. This is winter steelhead fishing though and the Yakoun is susceptible to wild fluctuations in weather which greatly effect your chances of hooking up.
If you come to Haida Gwaii and the Yakoun blows out (which is almost a certainty) you will find the rest of the islands waters very difficult to navigate. This is where a knowledgable guide will really pay off. There are enough rivers on Haida Gwaii that we can find fishable water under the most difficult weather conditions.
One fact you must consider when fishing the islands is that many of these streams are closed for fishing in the headwaters.
During the 1972-73 season 13 km of the upper Yakoun were closed, by regulation, to angling. The closure was instituted to provide a sanctuary for steelhead (and other spawning salmon). The closure presently encompasses the period from October 1 to April 30. Since the lower 16 km of the river are virtually inaccessible to anglers, the sport fishery is confined to the middle sections of the river, approximately 33 km in total length. I believe this regulation may change in time but for now it certainly limits the pressure to a certain section of river.
If you are considering a trip steelhead fishing in Haida Gwaii be ready for ever condition, every scenario, because over 1 week you may see it all. Here are a few things to help in different conditions.
Low water can be very tricky as fish will slow down and be extra cautious when moving around the river. Fish will stack up in certain pools but will not be very aggressive to the fly. I will target specific runs that will hold fish and work them very hard. Often working multiple swings with different styles between each step. Smaller flies, with less shine is a must.
High water often scares many people off the river, but if you know where they like to go under these circumstances the fish will still be quite aggressive. Fish shallow and tight to the bank with large flies just off the bottom. Slow down as you work through a run, with at least 2 swings per step. Hang down fish are very common in these conditions so fish your fly as long as you can stand it, and then a little longer.
Extreme cold is the most frustrating condition to fish in as your guides constantly ice up and casting is a nightmare. As things freeze up the rivers shrink so this is usually combined with low water. I like to get rid of my skagit set up and go to a longer bellied line so I don’t have to rely on shooting line. Work out a reasonable distance of line that you can work with and stick to it for the most part. Looks for slower water with good depth and skip fast, shallow runs. Fish will be complacent and grabs are almost laborious. They wont hang onto your fly for long so set the hook quicker than you normally would. Hang down fish are a rarity so give up on the swing quickly, and pound the water.
Winter steelhead are for the hard core anglers who revel in a little pain. You don’t have to be crazy to be a steelheader, but it sure does help.