There and Back Again: Exploring Two Incredible Steelhead Lodges

Trip Report and Photos by: Max Saffle, Orvis Travel

A gorgeous Babine steelhead shows off its brilliant colors.

Growing up in Washington State, every great fish story I heard was about steelhead. It took me an entire year to land my first one on the swing, and since then I have been fortunate enough to guide for and chase these amazing creatures all over the Pacific Northwest. Although steelhead used to dominate the rivers of the region, there are unfortunately few strongholds left today. When I started working at Orvis Travel in the fall of 2022, I was immediately attracted to Epic Waters and the steelhead opportunities they offer. What I encountered were some of the most impressive remote steelhead lodges in the world.

In western British Columbia, Babine Steelhead Lodge sits near the headwaters of the famed Babine River, a tributary of the Skeena River, no doubt the world’s most famous and productive steelhead watershed. The Babine is hallowed water, and though it’s been the site of many heartbreaks, even more legends and stories have been written along her banks, as well.

The Babine experience includes a stunning helicopter trip, expert guides, and glorious steelhead.

As if arriving at the lodge via helicopter isn’t cool enough, the “home pools” right at the lodge are some of the best water in the entire river system. Anglers rotate beats for the week, moving between beats via jet sleds. As in most steelhead fisheries, the better your casting, the more chances you have of hooking up, so spending time practicing before your trip will benefit you greatly. However, if you are a beginner with a Spey rod, the guides at Babine Steelhead Lodge are great teachers.

In late October, most of the fishing is done with 7- to 9-weight full-size Spey rods, Skagit heads, and sink tips paired with a light and medium-weighted wet flies, such as Hobo Spey, Reverse Maribou, and Burnt Chicken. Long casts on the Babine don’t equal more hook-ups; expect to make 40-60’ casts. More important to success are your consistency and understanding of swing speed.

The Babine is in the heart of one of the world’s great steelhead watersheds.

Although every fish is special, the Babine offers anglers an opportunity to encounter the “steelhead of a lifetime.” The average fish is in the 8- to 12-pound range, but steelhead over 40 inches are seen every season. The power of the fish on the Babine really impressed me, and landing even a smaller one is task.

Remember that this game is not about numbers, so just keep your head down and you’ll be rewarded. Babine Steelhead Lodge gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t. TV and cell service don’t exist up here, just the anticipation of a grab and a remote steelhead paradise.

The rivers of Haida Gwaii are like stepping back in time.

Copper Bay Lodge is nestled in Haida Gwaii, the archipelago formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of British Columbia. This is one of the most rewarding and challenging steelhead fisheries I’ve ever seen. Before we delve any further, it’s clear that this trip is for seasoned Spey anglers only. Make sure to have a few notches in your belt before arriving, as these rivers require accurate casts, alternating swings, and good mobility. Wading here is not easy, and the overhanging cedars will challenge even the best casters.

However, you will be rewarded by stepping back in time. These rivers are unspoiled, and some of your hookups will come just a few miles from the ocean, where the fish are “black and white” and could easily rival the brilliance of a new coin from the US Mint.

So close to the ocean, these fish can be dime-bright.

Anglers at Copper Bay split up between two separate rivers systems, a short ferry ride or a 10-minute drive away. The river systems are quite different, so it’s important to bring a quiver of full-size Spey rods and short switch sods. Heavy, short sinking tips—such as 7 ½ feet of T-17—are the name of the game.

There are only a few flies that you will need, and as head guide Scottie Morrow would say, those can range in color from “light pink, to hot pink, or dark pink.” Generally, any pattern with lead eyes, such as a Reverse Maribou, in pink, blue, or black will get the job done.

Steelheading is often dependent on great teamwork.

The deeper I have gotten into the steelhead game, the more I realize it has nothing to do with hooking fish. The journey each steelhead endures is remarkable, and therefore seeing just one is equally as memorable.

If you are looking for a challenging adventure, unrivaled scenery, and the opportunity to wrestle with some of the most beautiful trout on the planet, look no further than Copper Bay Lodge.

Max Saffle is a Sporting Travel Planner for Orvis Adventures. For more information on these incredible experiences, call Max at (800) 547-4322 or email orvistravel@orvis.com.

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