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B.C. Boat and Sportsmen's Show
Flyfishing Destinations of British Columbia

by Mark Pendlington

British Columbians are very fortunate to have some of the the best flyfishing in the world right at their doorsteps. The province is broken down into eight regions: Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland, Okanagan, Kootenay, Thompson-Nicola, Cariboo, Skeena and the Omineca/Peace districts that collectively boast over twenty thousand lakes, rivers and creeks that drain into the five major river systems, the Laird, the Stiking, the Nass, the Peace, Skeena, Columbia/Kootenay and the might Fraser system.

All of these regions have very unique characteristics that create flyfishing opportunities which are unparalleled. Each region's climate and landscape is extremely different.

The single most important ingredient to fly fishing success in British Columbia is ensuring that your trip time matches the productivity periods for the specific species you are targeting. This may seem an obvious statement, however, because of the coastal nature of B.C.; the majority of freshwater and anadromous species rely on the seasonal migration of the five Pacific salmon species for not only the food sources they provide but also the nutrient factors that fertilize the lakes and rivers and streams which in turn support the biodiversity of organisms and insect larvae essential for a prolific lake, river or stream habitat.

Region 1: VANCOUVER ISLAND

Vancouver Island is a fly-fisher's paradise, with over two hundred lakes and rivers, and boasts some of the most legendary steelheading river systems in the province. The Nimpkish, Stamp-Somass, Nitnat, Gold, Moyeha, Bedwell, Kennedy, Campbell, Qualicum, Cowichan and San Jaun rivers are some of the major river systems on the island, keeping in mind that every one of these rivers has many tributaries and streams that offer fly-fishers water that has been seen by very few anglers on a yearly basis.

The island is five hundred kilometers long from the city of Victoria to the southeast and Port Hardy to the northwest. The island has many famous old growth forests and protected parks such as the Caramanah rain forest with its towering thousand year old fir trees, the Westcoast Trail from Port Renfrew to Bamfield, and protected parks like Strathcona, Schoen, Cape Scott and Clayquot Sound Provincial Parks, as well as Pacific Rim National Park.

The saltwater fly-fishing for coho and chinook salmon within the Broken Group of Islands, Clayquot Sound and Tofino provides the sheltered Pacific waters necessary for one of the most adrenaline pumping aspects of fly-fishing the West Coast. Nearly every small river and stream system with ocean estuaries have runs of anadromous cutthroat trout in the river, estuaries and along the nearby beaches, as well as the many lakes on the island.

There are resident rainbow trout in most of the lakes and rivers, large (up to eighteen pounds) brown trout on the Cowichan River, and a world class small mouth bass fishery that remains virtually untouched on Saltspring Island's St. Mary's Lake, as well as Eld Lake - fifteen minutes outside of Victoria.

Region 2: LOWER MAINLAND

The Lower Mainland is the most densely populated fly-fishing region of the province, with over fifty percent of British Columbia's population cradled within fifty miles of the nearby Washington State border. However, the fly-fishing opportunities are wide and varied, mainly for two reasons: first, it boasts the greatest salmon river in the world, the mighty Fraser River, which has all five species of Pacific salmon.

It's waters empty into the Straight of Georgia, which is where the salmon and steelhead begin their seasonal migration. Second, the south coast of the province forms the lower Cascadia range of mountains, whose melting glaciers begin small streams and rivers that hold some unbelievable fly-fishing for rainbow, cutthroat trout, steelhead and dolly varden/bull trout in the rivers such as the Lilloet, Klinakini, Toba, Cheakamus, Mamquam, Stave, Upper Pitt, Squamish, Southgate, Coquihalla, Tulameen, Harrison, Chehalis, Skagit and Chilliwack-Vedder rivers, to name but a few of the famous systems.

Some of the more beautiful parks famous Whistler/Blackcomb mountains), Golden Ears, E.C. Manning, and Cathedral Parks. In addition the region boasts high alpine lakes, which have created a unique B.C. fly-fishing experience: heli-fishing for rainbow trout. This region of the province is under constant threat from urban development and strip logging, which is slowly eroding the precious and diverse ecosystems and streams that sea-going fish depend upon.

Region 3: THOMPSON/NICOLA

This area of the province has some of the best rainbow trout lakes in the world. This is big trout country with nearly three hundred lakes and rivers to choose from. This region has a more arid climate, with gently sloping hills as far as the eye can see, take advantage of this area when you're looking for big blue sky rainbow trout country with little rain.

There are a few unbelievable river systems in this region, such as the famous Thompson River that flows through the city of Kamploops where it meets up with the Fraser River around the town of Lytton. This river is classified summer steelhead river, and a special license is required to fish the huge river. This strain of summer steelhead is one of the biggest and most powerful steelhead in the province, reaching over twenty pounds on average.

Other notable river systems are the Barriere, Coldwater, Eagle, Yalakom, Cayoosh, Nahatlatch, Chilcotin, Bonaparte and the Raft River. These rivers hold world class wild rainbow trout fly-fishing in the fall every year. However, what draws the majority of attention to the area is the famous Kamloops rainbow trout - with many trout in the six to ten pound range, this region is a fly-fishers dream.

Some of the more notable lakes are the Hatheume, Heffley, Lac Le Jeune, Pennask, Roch, Tunkwa and Shuswap. Rainbow trout lake fly-fishing extends from late April through October. This area is not to be missed.

Region 4: KOOTENAYS

To be known as the destination for the largest rainbow trout in North America (the Gerrad Strain, reaching twenty pounds on average at maturity), you would have to be talking about the Kootenay region of b.C. With the state of Montana bordering to the south and province of Alberta to the east, the Kootenays are nestled between three distinct mountain ranges; the Monashees, Selkirds, Purcells and the Rockies.

The largest of the Gerrard strain of rainbows are found in Kootenay, Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes, Revelstoke, Tout and Slocan Lakes. Skipfly and bucktail trolling with big streamer flies is the method of choice. With many other small lakes, such as Premier, Quartz, Whiteswan, Summit, Wilson, Box and Alces, with trout averaging three to five pounds.

There are about thirty high alpine lakes with the vividly-colored cutthroat trout found in the Kokanee Glacir Lakes Provincial Park at about two thousand meters elevation. These lakes are known for their incredible turquoise hue. Magnificent mountain parks such as the Top of the World Provincial Park, Kootenay Provincial Park, the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy and Yoho National Park's Takakkaw Falls are all spectacular and unique.

Another fly f-fishing secret in the Kootenays is the world-class large mouth bass in Wasa, Buick, and Leach Lakes and the Kootenay flats of shallow marshes and sloughs - with bass ranging up to ten pounds. To add to the array of fantastic fly-fishing opportunities, the Columbia River runs through this region beginning at Kinbasket Lake to the north and runs through the entire region with large walleye and wild rainbows in this large river system.

Region 5: CARIBOO/CHILCOTIN

Cariboo country is really two distinct areas separated by the mighty Fraser River. With the Cariboo to the east and the Chilcotins to the west, this wilderness area has the Columbia Mountains and the forested fjords of the Dean and Burke Channels, with a frontier feeling of still being an untamed wilderness.

These two huge regions hold fly-fishing adventures and choices for even the most discriminating fly-fisher. The areas of Bella Coola, Bella Bella, Ocean Falls and Rivers Inlet are on the coast, and hold spectacular salmon fishing. Also, legendary steelhead rivers the Dean, Chilko/Chilcotin, Bella Coola and Atnarko syustems provide the fly-fisher with the utimate in sport and fish that is only rivaled by the spectacular wilderness scenery.

Most of the lake fly-fishing i the western Chilcotin is best suited to fly-in lake fishing with rainbows providing most of the sport. However, the Chilcotin does offer a full array of lakes beginning from Tweedsmuir Provincial Park to the west and proceeding east. Buckskin, Raven, Beaver, Palmer, Fletcher, Kloacut, Chaunigan, Vedan, Tuzcha and the southeast Chilko and Choelquoit Lakes, Mosley Creek Lakes and to the northwest Nimpo, Hotnarko, Charlotte, and Turner Lakes.

The Cariboo and eastern Chilcotin offer over two hundred premier fly-fishing lakes for rainbow and brook trout. Some of the most noted in the Interlake's District, are Sheridan, Lac Des Roches, Canim and Horsefly. These lakes have good rainbow fly-fishing but are subject to strong wind and storms due to their large size.

Some notable smaller lakes for trophy rainbows are Hihium, Hammer, Watch,Fawn, Crystal, Howard, Taweel, Greenlee, Helena, Big Bar, Dugan, Jackson, Kline and Benny Lakes in the Cariboo region. In Quesnel, the big rainbow lakes are Dragon and Marmot, as well as the Blackwater River Lakes. A fly-fishing option not to be missed would have to be drifting the Blackwater, another world class rainbow river where twenty rainbow days are quite common.

Region 6: THE SKEENA

Among the finest wild steelhead rivers in B.C. are the Babine, Morice, Skeena, Bulkley, Copper and Kispiox. This region truly has a multitude of undiscovered by-fishing experiences to choose form. Freshwater fly-fishing for rainbow, cutthroat, dolly varden, lake trout, northern pike in every water imaginable from lakes, rivers and pristine streams to saltwater fishing for chinook and coho in the nearby Queen Charlotte Islands.

The parks in this area, such as the famous Tatshenshini (check out floatplane fly-fishing from the town of Atlin), Tweedsmuir and Spatsizi are among some of the most beautiful and precious watershed on the planet. In this untamed world of snowcapped mountain wilderness and primordial rainforests, this area offers the fly-angler the ultimate opportunity to hook good numbers of many species of B.C.'s finest game fish.

The Skeena coastal lakes are not to be missed for cutthroat trout. Lakes such as Takysie, Eutsuk, and Babine Lakes (home of rainbow alley), as well as the Spatsizi Park Lakes all offer above-average fly-fishing for rainbow trout.

Region 7: OMINECA-PEACE

This area is most famous for earning the distinct recognition of "Mile O" of the Alaska Highway. Each year, thousands of tourists begin their journey down the 2400 km highway through wild and very dramatic terrain. This area is well known for its alpine meadow trails, glacial lakes and huge scenic valleys that contain such main river systems as the Liard to the north and Peace River to the east of the region.

As well, it boasts prolific medium size rivers such as the Kechika, Muskwa, Pine, Toad, Sukunka to name a few other options for unparalleled remote wilderness fly-fishing for rainbows, dolly varden, bull trout and the exotic arctic grayling. Every one of these larger river systems have tributaries that multiply this region's rivers into the hundreds. Drifting rivers like the Blackwater offer fly-anglers high numbers of rainbows in incredible wilderness settings.

The major lake in this region is Williston, the largest man-made reservoir in North America. The many smaller streams that drain into the lake are a great place ot start for some of the best dolly barden and bull trout fly-fishing in the world. The lakes of Tatlatui Provincial Park and Spatsizi Park are a good bet for large rainbow trout. The fly-fishing in the many small and medium sized lakes of the Omineca Peace region is excellent, most lakes have rainbow and lake trout as well as dolly varden.

Other lakes in this area have northern pike, walleye, brook trout, bull trout and the exotic inconnu, arctic grayling and yellowstone cutthroat. The lakes in the Fort St. James area are best suited to a 4x4 or fly-in-trip. Camsell and Grassham Lakes near Fort St. James are good bets. Vanerhoof lakes such as Tachick and Hallett are good rainbow trout lakes. Prince George's thousands of lakes make a trip to the regional fisheries branch worth its weight in gold for the producing lakes in the area.

For pike and walleye on the fly, Swan, Moverly, Maxhamish and Charlie Lakes, all in relative close proximity to Dawson Creek and Fort St. John have the potential of ;ike in the ten to fifteen pound class and walleye to the six pounds.

Region 8: THE OKANOGAN

The Okanagan-Similkameen region is without a doubt the holiday region, with over seven provincial beach parks. This is B.C.'s warm water destination, with Canada's warmest fresh water lake - Osoyoos (and also the home of our version of the Loch Ness monster, the Ogopogo). Although this region does have some wild rainbow trout rivers, such as the Similkameen and a few rainbow trout lakes, the region is best known for a world class largemouth bass fishery, producing fish up to ten pounds, with average bass in the five to six pound range. The two lakes of choice are Vaseux and Osoyoos.

As you can see, British Columbia's fly-fishing opportunities are wide and varied. I hope you enjoy your fly-fishing season as much as I will.

FRASER RIVER SOCKEYE PRIMER

Get out your drift rods, Sockeye season is upon us once again. With over 18 million fish returning to the Fraser system this year, this promises to be a great season. As of August 1/98, you can officially fish the Fraser for sockeye salmon and keep a limit of 2 fish per day. Now the tough part is, what part of the Fraser do you fish for these chrome acrobats.

Although it is not a scientific fact, most good sockeye fishermen will tell you that sockeye seem to avoid parts of the river with sandy bottoms. There preference seems to be course gravel, or rocky bottom sections of the river. As well, the south side of the Fraser seems to be the route most traveled by these fish. Also, you will find these silver rockets traveling through the quicker stretches of a particular run, usually found at the head or tail out of any good holding water. Now, what to use for gear?

If you already have a good coho rod, this is the perfect rode for these sockeye, but any good quality 9' and up drift rod will do the job. A level wind reel seems to be the reel of choice, but if using one of these is not your forte' you will find that a good quality "coffee grinder" (spinning reel) will ge the job done.

Add to this some good quality line, (Berkley's new 12 lb Big Game Inshore is my line of choice) but don't use anything lighter than 12 lb. test, these are smaller fish but scrappier than you thing. As well, chinook are always moving through the system and you don't have a hope of holding one close with line lighter than 12 lb. test.

The preferred method of choice is bottom bouncing, (no float, just pencil lead or slinky or Big Poly weight with your lure attached on a 5-8 ft. leader. Floats are also used with the same gear when a rocky river bottom dictates the use of one to save on gear. Also, if you are in a crowd of bottom bouncers, there's no better way to be sent swimming than if you put on a float and start hauling in lines from all around you.

Lures are another matter. The type of lure you use can depend on a number of things. Water conditions, time of day, and of course, what seems to be working for the majority. Wool and Spin n glos's seem to be the popular attractors, with any color working as long as it is GREEN!

If you are fishing during the early morning hours, use lighter shades. When fishing darker waters or on dimmer days, use darker shades. It's a good idea to run a small spin n glo, cheater, or corkie above your wool, chinook will always take a spin n glo when its run past their once, so don't waste the opportunity.

Long leaders seem to be the key when sockeye fishing. Lengths of 5-8 ft. seem to be the norm, but don't be afraid to experiment if you aren't having any success. Many an angler has gone home skunked by not being persistent enough to be experimental with equipment and method.

You should use just enough weight that you can feel it lightly ticking the bottom, sockeye have soft mouths and you must be able to feel the difference between banging on the rocks and a strike.

Remember, this is a great opportunity to get anyone you know involved in sportfishing, when running in large numbers, sockeye are fairly easy to catch so kids especially will have a ball with these fish and might possibly become future stewards of our waters.

Limit your catch, don't catch your limit. As much fun as it is playing out 20-30 sockeye in an afternoon, these fish are very shock sensitive. If you are going to catch and release any number of fish, please play them in a quick and gentle manner without removing the fish from the water when releasing.

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