Anatomy of a Steelheader — Wil Flack

Born and raised in British Columbia, steelheading is in Wil Flack’s DNA. Spending the majority of his year guiding for bonefish, permit and tarpon out of the Tres Pescados Fly Shop in San Pedro, Belize, as each summer comes to a close, the jones to swing flies for the big, wild fish of his youth becomes too much. Now acclimatized to the tropics, each fall, Flack eagerly swaps his flip-flops for bootfoots and other G Series gear for a short guide season on his home waters of the Skeena region. With only a small window of time to scratch his steelhead itch, Flack spends virtually every waking moment on the water regardless of the conditions. Read more about Flack, the Skeena region and his undying obsession with what he calls, the permit of freshwater.

Simms: In your mind, what’s so unique about the region you guide for steelhead?
Flack: I guide in the Skeena region of BC, I don’t know, I guess if I had to say what the most unique aspect about this area is, it would be that it’s in my opinion steelhead Mecca. The Skeena is the main vein from the Pacific that feeds all the other fabled rivers in the area.

Simms: What is it about steelhead that make people lose their minds?
Flack: Everyone has their own perspective but for me, it’s the places the fish take you. If you think about it, steelhead require perfect nature to survive and because of that, they live in some of the world’s wildest places.

Simms: What goes through your head when you grab a big, wild steelhead for a client?
Flack: Every steelhead has a story. Everyone, I look at it and think about what it’s gone through to get back in the river. It’s traveled such a long way and made it through everything from nets to seals to killer whales. Even now, every fish blows my mind, it really does.

Simms: If you had to name one key to success for steelhead fishing, what would it be?
Flack: I think the biggest key is understanding the game. If you want numbers, steelheading probably isn’t for you. It’s not about numbers. It’s about being in wild places, hanging out with your buddies, floating a cold river, not feeling your hands all for that one big pull. If you land one fish every day, you are way ahead of the curve. You just have to have realistic expectations and understand that yeah, it does take a lot of work but if you put in the time, you’re dedicated, ti will all come together and every second spent standing in the rain, snow and sleet is completely worth it.

Simms: Everybody we talk to says steelheading isn’t for everybody. Why do you think that is?
Flack: Cold weather. Really, steelheading is kind of a nasty game in terms of the weather. It’s cold, it’s raining, it’s snowing, your guides are icing up, it’s really tough if you aren’t prepared.

Simms: In your opinion, what is it about those conditions that turn the fish on?
Flack: Well, it’s really good and bad. Too much rain and the river blows out and a rising river is never good. But, the right amount of rain puts a little scent in the water and colors it up a bit. Rain makes the water a bit cooler and I feel rain is what triggers the fish to move, especially if it’s been stagnant.

Simms: What’s your ideal stealhead forecast?
Flack: Hmmm, I’d have to say, my ideal steelhead forecast is any time you get the chance to chase steelhead, go. The weather where steelhead live is so unpredictable so if you get the chance to go, just go and be optimistic. Go in, with the right gear, have your equipment dialed and understand, you might only get that one afternoon where the fish are chewing but you never know, that could be that one afternoon you land a 40 incher.