We had the opportunity to sit down with pro snowboarder and avid steelhead fisherman, Eric Jackson. Last fall, he traded in his steelhead rod and targeted trout with Fishing BC in the beautiful waters of Quesnel Lake. It’s the largest freshwater fjord in the world, and its tributaries come into their own during the fall season. A bounty of Sockeye salmon makes their way upstream to spawn in the numerous creeks and rivers that empty into the lake, with large numbers of rainbow trout and char in close pursuit. Both rainbow trout and bull trout wait patiently behind the spawning salmon, capitalizing on the eggs that tumble down the river’s gravel bottom.
Flylords: Being a steelhead fanatic, how did it feel targeting trout?
Eric: I grew up trout fishing, but I’ve been pretty obsessed with steelhead fishing for the last eight years. I haven’t done much trout fishing, but I was pretty excited to go back into it. Kind of like going back to where the roots worked through you know?
It actually worked out really well because I was on my annual pilgrimage steelhead trip up north and it’s right in the middle from Bellingham where I live and up north in B.C. Kind of decompressing from the most epic steelhead trip of all time.
Flylords: What was it like going from swinging heavy lines and two-handed rods, to using a one-handed rod?
Eric: The best thing about this steelhead trip was that we weren’t swinging heavy lines. It’s definitely a different style of fishing obviously, single-handed, overhand casting and what not. It was cool though because we weren’t fishing eggs or indicators under eggs. We were fishing flesh patterns, which is a similar technique. You cast it out there, strip it back, then let it swing across and strip back again. It was a lot more fun than just putting an egg underneath a bobber and setting your hook.
Flylords: Tell us about the lodge you stayed at.
Eric: I didn’t know what to expect. I knew literally nothing about the trip… It was like, be at this lodge at this time and we’ll go from there… I did the omega drive and just showed up. It was dark too so I had no idea where I was. I just woke up and we were at the Northern Lights Lodge.
The owner is such a legend too. He’s older, but the fishiest dude ever. Pretty dry and crusty sense of humor. We’re on this beautiful lake and he’s like, “alright, we’re going to take this boat in this direction, then an hour boat ride to the northeast side, then we’re going to get on another boat, and then we’re going to go up this river.” It was such an epic adventure.Flylords: What was it like seeing all those Sockeye in the river?
Eric: I guess I’ve never really seen the Sockeye migration that thick in my life. It was pretty incredible, the first thing I said was, “Man, this is like some National Geographic stuff right here. This is crazy.” This year was a record sockeye return… You couldn’t even spot trout because there were so many sockeyes.
There’s so much food in the lake because of all the eggs and all the flesh going down that there’s really no reason for the trout to push up into the rivers because one, there was no room for them because there was so many sockeyes, and two, there was so much food just coming down anyway.
Flylords: Was it easy to target other species within the Sockeye?
Eric: No, the sockeyes made it extremely difficult. The first fishery that we went to, the guide talked about how it was some of the worst fishing he’s seen in a long time. Basically, there was no room for the trout to swim, because it’s so thick with Sockeye. Thousands and thousands of Sockeyes, I’ve never seen anything like that.
We got like three trout the first day, which was not normal for that fishery. The next day we started fishing these little tributaries that flow right into the lake and we stood on the shore and casted into the lake.
Flylords: Give us a run through on what the wildlife was like in this area.
Eric: Where we were, you feel very far out. You feel very disconnected from everything, you know? You’re deep, man. There’re eagles flying everywhere feeding on the salmon. We saw lots of grizzly bears, some moose, and it felt very raw out there and very exposed; however, it was beautiful.
The bears weren’t too concerned with us though. They were pretty satisfied with the food that they had. Then to see that whole fish migration, the food chain, and ecosystem was incredible.
Flylords: As a steelhead fisherman, does a trip like this open your eyes to maybe spending more time on different fisheries, besides steelhead?
Eric: I’m never going to love trout fishing as much as I love steelhead fishing, but it’s funny that you forget how an eighteen-inch rainbow fights on a five-weight rod. It’s definitely more fun than people think and that’s exactly what Matt was talking about. He was like, “Man, people just get so blinded by steelhead fishing.” For me, there’s nothing better than steelhead fishing, but it did make me want to trout fish more, for sure.
The thing about trout fishing is that it’s hard. Trout are so picky… You gotta match the hatch and be technical. Steelhead are so easy. You got a pocketful of a couple flies, 15lb maxima, pliers with snippets on it, and you’re good to go. Cast a thousand times and maybe you’ll catch one.
Flylords: Do you bring your banjo everywhere you go and why?
Eric: Yeah, that banjo rarely stays at home. Sometimes it’s annoying when you’re traveling to Europe or Japan, but I love music. It’s a really nice way to kind of disconnect from all the noise that inevitably comes with life. It’s really nice to just kind of lose yourself in music. It’s funny too, because I will get these crazy jolts of inspiration and I’ll be writing songs and be super into it. Then there’s other times where I’m just not that into it and I’m not really playing that much.
Flylords: What was it like working with Koreski up there?
Eric: I obviously know who Jeremy is through his work, mutual friends, and know he is an incredible photographer and fly fisherman. However, I never had the opportunity to work with him until this trip. We got along right away including the rest of the crew. We were all friends, just giving each other shit. I was like pretty into the Smirnoff Icing game. It’s kind of a college thing, but I didn’t even go to college, or high school for that matter haha.
Koreski and I still stay in touch too. I was blown away with some of the photos that he got. The crazy thing is, I was trying to get him to fish, because he’s a great angler. I’ve caught so many fish and felt bad! He’s like, “Nope, I’m working.” So, he has this really strong work ethic.
Pictures courtesy of Jeremy Koreski.