Anatomy of a Steelheader — Todd Scharf

Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Todd Scharf of Upstream Adventures has spent the last 15 years guiding the renowned waters of the Skeena region. With countless days spent on the water as a teen and young adult, Scharf has felt his fair share of grabs. But, even with multiple lifetimes of steelhead under his belt, there’s still nothing he’d rather do on a cold, dreary morning than wake up, throw on the work boots and chase anadromous fish — the most inefficient way possible. Check out this Q&A and learn more about Todd’s home water and the G Series gear he relies on day after day, season after season.

Simms: What is so unique about the area you guide?
Scharf: I guide in the Skeena region. The way I explain it is, the Skeena is like a big superhighway and all the tributaries are the residential streets where the steelhead live. The Skeena can be great but if it’s not rush hour, it can be tough but that’s where the smaller tributaries come in.

Simms: Is your fishery what you would call a year round fishery?
Scharf: In my opinion, we get the best runs of big wild fish and while some months provide better opportunities than others, yes, I’ve caught steelhead every month of the year.

Simms: You literally live in an area that many consider to be steelhead central, do the rivers crowded?
Scharf: Our population is very sparse and we have about 30 steelhead rivers within 100 miles of Terrace. So no, it’s not uncommon to have rivers all to yourself simply because our population is so small.

Simms: How would you describe the weather in your area?
Scharf: I’d say that the only consistency with our weather is that it’s inconsistent. What I mean by that is, you can have sun and blue skies in the morning and in the blink of an eye it can change. I’ve never been anywhere else where the weather changes so fast.

Simms: Tell us about some of the gear you use on a daily basis?
Scharf: We regularly use G Series products because like I say, you just don’t know what could happen through the course of a day. Our water is cold, our terrain is rugged and sunny conditions can turn to rain, wind or snow so fast, you just have to prepare for all of it. If you fish out here you are going to want to either run G4 Pro™ or G4Z® Waders along with outerwear like the G4 Pro™ Jacket, Slick Jacket, G3 Guide™ Jacket or Guide Jacket. When conditions get really chilly and nasty, Simms G3 Guide™ Bootfoot Waders and the new Bulkley Jacket is a pretty unbeatable combo.

Simms: So, what is your ideal forecast for steelhead?
Scharf: You know, so many people want that gloomy day and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all but at the same time, I’m not afraid to fish during sunny days either. For me, I watch the water color. While there are areas that clean water isn’t a huge issue, for us, we like the water to have a bit of color. We like to look for glacial green or what I call “steelhead green.”

Simms: Is your fear of water clarity for all the expected reason, spooky fish and such?
Scharf: For sure, but on top of that, when the water has a bit of color, it just kinda plays towards us fly guys. Fish will sit in skinnier water which caters better to swinging and things like that.

Simms: What is it about steelhead that makes even experienced guides go crazy for them?
Scharf: I think it’s the fact that you think you know everything about these fish but really, you don’t know anything. Sure, there are certain days and certain conditions that you know what to do but then they throw you a complete curve ball. It’s like you have a good day and you’re hitting fastballs but then the next thing you know, they start throwing junk and you swing yourself into the dirt. I think it’s knowing that each day you go out, you stand a good chance of striking out but also know that there’s also slim chance that you could have the most epic day ever — you just don’t know because they are so unpredictable. The reality of it is, George doesn’t live behind that rock and there’s not 2,000 fish per kilometer, every fish you connect with, you had to work for, for the most part. It’s just that steelhead are nomadic, they’re not a numbers fish, it’s kind of like finding a diamond. Every day you get geared up to go steelheading, your putting your work boots on and knocking on doors. If you’re not knocking on doors, you’re not going to catch fish. It’s a grind but it all makes sense on that 998th cast when you feel that grab.

Check out Todd swinging in his home waters:

Simms: We always hear “it’s all about the grab”. For those who have never felt/experienced the grab, why is it so special?
Scharf: It’s just something you can’t put into words. I mean, steelheading comes with so many rewards, they all kind of add up to something you just can’t describe unless you experience it. They take you to the most bad ass places in the world, they are so hard to catch and knowing that each fish is a survivor is completely unique. The saddest part is, when you do finally get that grab, in a strange way it’s almost bitter sweet because you know you’ve worked so hard and so long for it, you’ve got a lot of casts ahead of you to feel it again. But, that’s part of it, after the rush, you’ve just got to put the boots back on and start knocking again.

Simms: You mentioned you started when you were super young chasing steelhead with gear and now you have a ton of steelhead under your belt. What keeps you into it so many years later?
Scharf: Like I say, they are constantly throwing curveballs and while I started with gear, there’s just something that will never get old about the grab on a fly. Honestly, every time I feel the grab or have a client feel that grab, I can’t help but to giggle.

Simms: What is it that makes you laugh with each hookup?
Scharf: If you think about it, the way we’re fishing for these fish is about the most inefficient way to catch them I can imagine. Here we are fishing to this anadromous fish that comes out of the ocean, essentially a bottomless piece of water into a big river and then a smaller river where they’ve got to feel somewhat confined. Then, we chuck a fly of our own creation, swing it in the upper portion of the water column and expect them to move in cold water to grab it — are you kidding me? So, is it the most efficient way to catch them, hahaha, absolutely not. Is it the best way, that’s arguable but for me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.