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Relax with Your Horsepower

Jeff Hickman’s Dean River Renewables

Dean River steelhead are legendary, chrome rockets that are the stuff of feverish dreams and sleepless nights. As anyone with a basic understanding of piscine genetics knows, the river makes the fish, and Dean River steelhead are defined by a 1/2-mile long cataract a few miles up from saltwater. The fish are forced to navigate this violently swirling vortex of falls, upwellings and thrashing hydrodynamics. A weaker fish probably isn’t going to make it. There are no weak fish on the Dean.

above Unknown and likely little explored rivers carve dramatic patterns in the landscape, especially noticeable from the Cessna Caravan’s cruising altitude on the way to the legendary Dean River.


Welcome to the Dean. Try not to drool on yourself too much from the views.

The gentle, sweeping, unmistakable curves of the Dean River, seen from a high bank perch.

A common experience on the Dean—especially the lower Dean, where Jeff and Kathryn Hickman operate Kimsquit Bay Lodge and where the fish are mere hours, even minutes, from the salt—involves hooking a fish and then watching first your running line, and then your backing, disappear from the reel. About the time your brain catches up to what is unfolding, you hear a sharp “Plink!”—the sound of backing separating from said reel. This is called “getting Deaned.” Everyone wants to experience it as much as they don’t. 

For Jeff Hickman, the fish are not the only allure of the Dean. The river flows through extraordinarily wild country, and to this day is only accessible by air or water. Alpine peaks rise off the valley floor at such an abrupt angle that looking up at them causes a sort of reverse vertigo. Even in mid-August, the glaciers are just right there, 6500 feet straight up, so seemingly close you are surprised to look down and find yourself sweating in a t-shirt and waders.

above Jeff Hickman, wild steelhead obsessed mastermind and owner/operator of Kimsquit Bay Lodge and Fish The Swing.

When he speaks of his decision to buy the lodge in 2014, Hickman’s voice grows quiet and reverential. “I just wanted to be here,” he says, gazing out at what is possibly one of the best views of any fishing lodge in the world. “I just wanted to find some way to be here as much as possible.”

above John DiFruscia (l) captains the KBL mothership after a town run for supplies. If it doesn’t come on a plane, it’s coming from Bella Coola, a few hours by boat. Jeff Hickman (r) plans accordingly.

Oly Dean Hickman is learning to drive at an early age, helping his dad steer while doing a few chores around the lodge.

Before the Propel powered side-by-sides were used for transportation from Kimsquit Bay Lodge to the river, everybody would pile in this old van. It’s got style, but the side-by-sides are probably a way more enjoyable commute.

above Kimsquit Bay Lodge guide Mike Mclean called this fish a Dean River boot, because it didn’t have any sea lice on it, and had likely been in freshwater longer than 24 hours. A boot we’re happy to see.

Spend enough time with Hickman, and eventually the term “skookum” will come up. The word comes from Chinook Jargon—the trade-language of the many diverse Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest—and means strength, power or ability. It is part and parcel of Hickman’s worldview, a guiding ethos with which he approaches any endeavor—especially and including his project on the Dean.

Kimsquit Bay, the Dean River, the steelhead—they demand respect. Running an off-the-grid fishing lodge is no easy undertaking, and when the Hickmans bought KBL they knew it would need work. The buildings and infrastructure, water and sewer lines, and electrical generators were well-worn from years of hard use. But slowly, over the past five years, the Hickmans and a rotating cast of friends and crew have gradually ticked each to-do item off the list—logistical nightmares be damned.  

above John DiFruscia and Jeff Hickman pour concrete footings for a new building that Jeff plans to live in with his family.

above left to right
Empty fuel barrels are everywhere, and while a bit odd, considering how remote things feel when fishing the Dean, everything needs fuel. One more reason for Jeff Hickman to lower his carbon footprint by making the switch to Propel Diesel HPR, 99% renewable, 80% GHG reduction and 100% skookum.

It was a first, commuting to fish in a side-by-side, and – when combined with the boat rides — almost as much fun as the fishing.

above Jason Rolfe works the high bank in the morning light.

Hickman could have stopped there, having created a world-class fishing lodge. Instead, he created a world-class fishing lodge that takes as one of its central tenets the idea that if we are going to use a place like the Dean, if we are going to insert ourselves into a wilderness and try to touch the wild as it exists there, then we need to do so in the most mindful way possible, to try to give back some of what we take. 

To that end, Hickman’s primary project with the lodge the last couple years has been the introduction of renewable energy. Among the changes he’s most proud of—and which he will happily talk about given any opportunity to do so—is the introduction of renewable diesel fuel. The fuel—Propel Diesel HPR (High Performance Renewable)—powers the lodge’s two generators, three ATV’s, and other vehicles used for transport and chores around the property.

Propel’s Diesel HPR is a fitting addition. Propel was founded in 2004 by Rob Elam—Hickman’s longtime friend and fellow Oregonian. The idea was born on the steelhead rivers of the Pacific Northwest and grounded in the conservation values that Hickman and Elam hold in common. For Hickman, who has used renewable fuels in his own vehicles for years, Diesel HPR turned out to be the answer to his desire to bring KBL closer to his ideals. 

above left to right
Solar power aids in the renewable resources Jeff is striving to incorporate into the daily operations at Kimsquit Bay Lodge.

One of the better satellite dish mounts we’ve ever seen.

A few miles up a gravel two-track through the forest above Kimsquit Bay, a barely discernible trail leads down to the rapids that Dean steelhead must pass in order to reach their spawning grounds in the upper watershed. It’s a sobering sight; even at low water, the rapids move with a pace and power that is breathtaking. That any fish can travel the 1/2-mile long torrent—dotted throughout with short falls that the fish must swim up—seems almost a mystery.

Sit long enough and you’ll eventually catch, out of the corner of your eye, a dark shape holding in the boiling current. It’s gathering strength, teasing out a path of least resistance where no such path can possibly exist. And now it beats its tail against the pounding water. And now it swims up through a solid, sheer cascade of falling water, three times its own length. It traverses the next torrent, and then the next. Power that in turn creates power.

Skookum, indeed. 

above Matt Cox, says goodbye to the Dean River on the flight home. Take outs are the worst.

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