Vancouver, Coast and Mountain
Vancouver, with the coastlines and the mountains that surround it, are a powerful magnet for those of us that appreciate wild unspoiled beauty, adventure sports and of course, fishing and catching the many species of hard fighting fish that thrive in these sheltered coastal waters.
If your tastes run toward high mountain lakes and lonely fly fishing, we have that here. Would you like to catch a few of the countless Pacific Salmon that swim along our coastline in search of their birth streams? No problem. How about a 10 foot, thousand-pound fish that is literally a living link to the dinosaurs? We have that too. Trout? Carp? Bass? It's all here and you don't have to search very hard to find what you are looking for.
No matter what you like to catch, or how you like to fish for it, The Vancouver, Coast, Mountain region will scratch your fishing itch. So lets go exploring shall we?
Even from a distance Vancouver is unlike any other city. The mirrored glass towers reach for the sky and reflect the mountains that overshadow downtown like great green gates to the seemingly unexplored wilderness beyond. Frothing mountain streams and huge rivers find their way down to the quiet waters of English Bay, Burrard Inlet and the Georgia Straight and nearly everything wet has fish swimming in it. All five species of Pacific Salmon call this region home as do Ling Cod, Rockfish, Steelhead, Sturgeon and all kinds of Trout to name but a few.
Vancouver’s iconic Stanley Park has a stone seawall ringing it's 10 kilometer circumference and nearly all of it's easily accessible rocky beaches are angler friendly as is evidenced by the dozens of fishermen trying their luck in the quiet surf nearly any day of the year. Likewise the beaches of English Bay are popular with shore casters and you won't have to walk far for a tasty lunch and a hot drink in one of the areas fine cafes after a cool morning fishing.
If fishing from the comfort of a boat is more to your liking and you don't have one of your own, you won't have any trouble renting a boat or hiring a guide. A quick Google search will hep you pick the service you are looking for from the many full service marinas in the greater Vancouver area but Granville Island and Horseshoe Bay are fine places to start. Full and half day charters are available with half day trips being perfect for somebody who just wants a quick taste of salt water fishing. Call ahead to make sure your boat or guide is reserved for you and don't overlook picking up some crabs or a trap full of Prawns. It might be possible to beat a fresh caught feast of crab, prawns and broiled Salmon steaks but if it is, I've never experienced it.
Perhaps a little freshwater Trout fishing is more to your liking? No need to pack up the car and drive out to the middle of nowhere, the Freshwater Fisheries Society runs a popular program known as “Fish in the City” and takes fish from it's Fraser Valley trout hatchery and stocks them in urban lakes, principally Deer Lake in Burnaby, Sasamat and Buntzen Lakes in Port Moody, Rice Lake in North Vancouver, Lafarge and Como Lakes in Coquitlam, Green Timbers in Surrey and Mill Lake in Abotsford. The last four lakes on that list also occasionally receive retired brood-stock from the hatchery so it's not at all unusual for you to suddenly find yourself with a double digit Trout on your line!
The richness and availability of classic sport fish in the Vancouver area can certainly leave you feeling spoiled but don't overlook the opportunity for some of the lively action that is offered by angling for species traditionally thought of as “coarse fish”. Bass, Crappie, Carp, Northern Pike Minnows, Bullheads and Chub all offer great entertainment and can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Use light spinning or fly gear or for something really different, try a traditional Asian “fishing pole” which is just that, a long flexible pole with some line tied to the end.
The Fraser River which runs into the Georgia Straight just South of Vancouver is a first class fishing destination known the world over for the diversity of it's fish species as well as the shear numbers of migratory fish that utilize it to make their way upstream to their spawning gravel each year. From it's headwaters in Northern BC, the Fraser River rushes down almost 1300 kilometers of steep canyons through the Coast Mountains until it gets to Hope where it slows and winds in lazy serpentine channels through the fertile farmland and bustling urban centers of the Lower Mainland.
If you are fishing the Fraser you have probably but not necessarily come for the salmon. All five species of Pacific Salmon travel this river on their way to their spawning grounds and some days they seem so thick you could walk across them. Rainbow Trout, Steelhead, Cutthroat, and their Char cousin, the Dolly Varden are all found in abundance although the coffee colored water makes them hard to see. Not to worry though, they can still see your lure just fine! Bar fishing is popular for these species as is cruising the backwaters by boat to fly fish the hidden spots most fishermen never visit.
October through April is the time to fish from shore on the Lower Fraser for Dolly Varden and Cutthroat Trout. Try the parks in Richmond wherever they border on the river in the slower water areas with spinners and spoons and if you happen to be there between March and April when the Salmon Fry are making their way downstream, hang on to that rod!
While you are poking around the communities of Delta and Richmond near the mouth of the Fraser, why not make a stop in Steveston? You can fish from a dock here, rent a boat or if you have had enough fishing for one day, some of the best fish and chips on earth are to be found here in the restaurants along the historic wharf. Take a tour through the Cannery Museum and when you are done for the day, walk on down to the docks and buy some fresh off-the-boat fish from the commercial fisherman who moor there.
For many however the “real” fish in the Fraser grow to 12 feet long, can weigh a thousand pounds and will test the resolve and stamina of the strongest fisherman. The fabled White Sturgeon, once at risk in our waters is again providing a robust fishery for locals and tourists alike. You can fish for these relics of an ancient era all year long but the best months are from the early summer after the freshet until late November. Use bait that roughly conforms to the type of fish the Sturgeon have access to at the time. When the chum are in the river, a piece of Chum or some Chum roe is the golden ticket, likewise for the other species of Salmon as they make their annual appearances in the river. Using fin-fish as bait is permitted while fishing for Sturgeon.
In the dark of winter many fishermen like to make their own “stink bait” by aging something until it, uh, stinks, and then plumbing the cold depths with their smelly concoction. If you are fishing the fresh water above the Mission bridge you will need a Sturgeon tag in addition to your freshwater license. As always, check the local regulations and don't forget to go to the Fisheries websites for any last minute changes.
The Fraser river is a large dangerous river, don't let the slow lazy water at the surface lull you into thinking a quick wade is a good idea. The treacherous gravel bottom can give way and drop you into a current much stronger than you expected. Always fish the Fraser with caution and preferably with a guide or some other person with local knowledge. Also remember that anything below the bridge in Mission is considered “tidal” and a salt water fishing license is required for all species of fish.
The upper Fraser River and the surrounding countryside offer more than enough year round fishing to keep even the most obsessed angler busy all year long. In addition to the same fishing opportunities offered in the lower river, the Fraser Valley is blessed with a large number of feeder streams and rivers, clear mountain lakes and interesting backwater sloughs to explore.
Pitt Lake and the Pitt River have good fishing all year round but people new to boating should beware the sudden winds that can turn Pitt Lake into a very unpleasant place to be in a small craft. Fish the larger stream estuaries for Trout and Dolly Varden. To get there watch for access points near Port Coquitlam.
Between Port Coquitlam and Maple Ridge, you will find beautiful Golden Ears Park. The park offers miles of unspoiled hiking and nearby Allouette Lake, a serene place that will make you forget one of Canada’s largest cities is mere kilometers away. Rainbows, Cutthroat, Lake Char and Dolly Varden can all be caught there and some of them are quite large.
The Stave River, just East of Maple Ridge is legendary for it's run of fierce-fighting Chum Salmon. These fish will eagerly take a fly and it's doubtful that any of the other Pacific Salmon could match them in fighting ability. Catch a Chum on a small Streamer and you will feel like you hooked a locomotive as they tail-walk across the pool and test your arm muscles and gear. If they dash for the faster water , you can sometimes do little but watch them disappear into the distance with all your line as you hope the knot on the end of your backing is stronger than the one at your tippet. Bring a stout rod for Chum, you will need it. There are also Coho, Springs and Cutthroat to be caught in this short but productive river.
For something a little quieter, head up the access road from the Stave Lake Dam and you will find a number of high alpine lakes that are managed for a quality fishing experience. The water is clear, the fish can be tricky and the Bears here are in their homes so use your Bear sense and pack out any garbage you bring in. Devil's, Sayers, Morgan and Florence Lakes are all reached by this road.
Continuing East up the North side of the Fraser you come to the many lakes and streams of the Harrison area. The Chehalis river is a rugged stream that provides excellent fishing opportunities for the experienced hiker and wader in it's upper reaches as well as a more sedate but no less spectacular fishery at it's mouth where it spills into the Harrison River. Salmon, Cutthroat and Steelhead can all be caught here.
The rugged hillsides above the Harrison River have a number of lakes, large and small. Weaver Lake is popular with campers and is a very pretty place to spend a weekend. Wolfe, Grace and Sunshine Lakes are also in this area and are easily reached. In winter months, check ahead to make sure the gate to Weaver Lake is unlocked as you may have to secure a key at the hatchery.
The Harrison River is home to all the Pacific Salmon as well as Dolly Varden, Cutthroat and Steelhead. The currents in the Harrison tend to be sluggish making this an ideal family fishing location. Campgrounds and parks are common so access is never a problem. Fly fish or spin cast from shore or take a boat out and follow the feeding cutthroat by the tell tale commotion they cause as they slash through the abundant baitfish swiming just under the surface.
Crossing over the river into the Chilliwack-Hope area you are again faced with endless choices. Harrison, Cultus, Silver and Kawkawa Lakes are all great fly fishing and spin casting waters. Many of them offer great Kokanee fishing as well the usual grab bag of Trout. The Chilliwack/Vedder River is legendary not only for the multitudes of migratory fish to be caught there but also for the fact that it remains very productive despite the large number of anglers that fish there. Access points are numerous from the City of Chilliwack and the large population of guides and outfitters in the Chilliwack area will be happy to help you hook just about anything you want to catch, from small trout on a mountain stream to huge Sturgeon in the river.
The Skagit River near Hope is arguably one of the prettiest Trout streams in BC. Tiny dry flies and nymphs are the order of the day during the summer months and while the fish can be abundant, they are no push-overs. Bring your lightest Trout rod, your felt bottomed boots and your biggest jar of insect repellent. The Trout aren't the only voracious feeders in that neck of the woods.
As always, check the regulations for last minute changes before you make the long drive out.
Sea to Sky Country
Just to the North of the City of Vancouver is a sight that is hard to miss, the green hillsides and snowy mountain tops of the North Shore. Although North and West Vancouver serve primarily as bedroom communities for the bustling metropolis across the inlet, there are a few fishing gems to be found among the towering Cedars and emerald oceans of feathery Ferns.
The Seymour River while not what you would call super-productive is still a lovely place to throw a line for Coho in the Summer and Steelhead through the fall and winter. The upper reaches, once blocked off to fishermen due to it's status as a protected watershed is now open to visitors willing to do a little hiking and is accessed by way of the trails in the Seymour Demonstration Forest. This is also where you want to go if you would like to fish Rice Lake, a kid friendly and scenic water with a long wheelchair accessible walkway and plenty of smallish hungry fish thanks to the efforts of the “Fish in the City” program.
The Capilano River, long a favorite of local fishermen, is host to a good population of returning Coho, Chinook and Steelhead. The fishing remains productive despite the angling pressure thanks in part to the ongoing work of the Capilano Fish Hatchery, located in the impressive shadow of the Cleveland dam. Be sure to take a walk through the visitors area of the hatchery as it is open all year and you will always see something swimming around in the glass walled fish ladders.
The Mouth of the Capilano in addition to offering fantastic fishing is a peaceful spot where you can sit across from Stanley Park and watch tug boats guide the giant cruise ships and heavily laden Freighters through the narrow passage on their way to the open sea and parts unknown.
The beginning of the Sea to Sky Highway shares a series of HWY exits with the tiny seaside community of Horseshoe Bay. If you are unfamiliar with this visitor favorite, you might be forgiven for wondering at the bewildering maze of traffic cones and flag persons present almost any Summer weekend on the highway above the village but not to worry, there hasn't been an accident. Horseshoe Bay is the Howe sound terminal for the ferries that cross from the North Shore to Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and the many small islands that dot this part of the world. It is also the home of some very fine saltwater fishing.
Fishing charters, boat rentals and water taxis fight for space with world famous restaurants and trendy shops on the park-like waterfront behind the ferry terminal. From here you have access to the fantastic fishing of the Howe Sound where you can troll or Mooch in the shadow of the surrounding peaks, around islands that rise pillar-like from the sea and protect the fishing waters from the ever present wind. Try around Hutt Island to the West of Bowen or in Tunstall Bay off Bowen Island itself.
The fishing in the area is good all year round but beware the ferries, they are much bigger than you and they have the right of way. Pay heed to small craft warnings and as always, check the regulations before you go, there are several water parks in the area that are closed to all fishing.
Once you are done exploring Horseshoe Bay, head North up the Sea to Sky highway through the fishing friendly communities of Lions Bay, Britannia Beach, and Furry Creek until you arrive at the end of the Howe Sound and the city of Squamish.
The Squamish River is 80 KM long from it's headwaters in the Elaho Valley to it's outlet in the city of Squamish. While fishing these days is a shadow of it's formal self due to deforestation in the hillsides above, there is still fine fishing to be found for Coho, Chum, Chinnook and Pink Salmon as well as Cutthroat, Dolly Varden and Steelhead. The Steelhead are late running so Spring is the best time if you want to try for these hard fighting, hard to catch fish. Standing on the shore of the upper Squamish River it is easy to convince yourself you are on a remote Alaskan fly-in stream and not an hour and a half away from downtown Vancouver!
The regulations change frequently in this system so ask at one of the many local fishing shops for the latest updates and a tip or two on where to fish.
Lakes in the Squamish area include Alice lake with it's large campsite, Browning in Murrin Park, Edith and Brohm.
Just up the road from Squamish is the resort town of Whistler. If it involves the outdoors, you can find it in Whistler. Fishing, skiing, hiking, golf, mountain biking, zipline tours, heli and float plane fishing, ice fishing, it's all here and it's not hard to find. Stop in the local Flyshop and you will be on your way to whatever you have an inkling to try.
For lake fishing and surprisingly large fish, try Alta Lake, Garabaldi, Green, Cheakamus or Callaghan.
Further North is the community of Pemberton which sits in idyllic farmland on the edge of true BC wilderness. There is plenty of year round fishing to be had here although Spring is probably best for Cutthroat, Bull Trout, Rainbow, Dolly Varden and Rocky Mountain Whitefish. In the Summer, fish for Sockeye and when fall comes, try your hand on the Chum and Coho Salmon.
Just a few of the productive lakes in the area are Lillouette, Anderson and Carpenter but if you are willing to put in a few miles on your legs, there are some Alpine walk-in lakes that offer the sort of scenery only secluded alpine lakes can! Tenquille, Ogre, Owl, Fowl, Chain and Ivey are a few worth the walk. The short growing season at those altitudes results in a smaller fish but the breathtaking vistas make it all worthwhile.
Some great waters for fly fishing in the fall are Mosquitto, Gates, Blackwater and Joffrre for fish that can be a much better size.
The friendly proprietors of the local fishing shops are always willing to help out newcomers to the area, so drop in and have a chat.
The Sunshine Coast
A 45 minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay is all that separates the bustle of the lower mainland from the cornucopia of salt and freshwater fishing waiting to be sampled west of Howe sound. With 86 kilometers of relatively sheltered coastline, the long narrow peninsula we know of as the Sunshine Coast is actually divided into two parts. The Sechelt peninsula and the Malaspina Peninsula which are separated from each other by Jervis Inlet.
The Sunshine Coast, despite being solidly connected to the mainland has the definite feel of a West coast island due to it's generally artsy atmosphere, the focus on the outdoors for recreational activity and the funky individualism of the people that live there. Hip-booted fishermen with salt oozing from every pore rub shoulders with aging hippies who came here to camp on the beach and never left. They in turn stand next to First Nations people who have called this area home since long before there was anybody else around to visit it. The Sunshine Coast should be on everybody’s bucket list of places to visit before they move on from this life and anybody who passes up the opportunity will be poorer for the loss.
After you disembark from the ferry, hopefully after sighting one of the pods of Pacific White Sided Dolphin that haunt the area or perhaps a playful Sea Otter or two, drive North a few kilometers to the historic village of Gibsons. Fans of iconic Canadian TV shows will immediately recognize the waterfront as the location for the long running “Beachcombers” television series and in fact the focal location, Molly's Reach is still open and serving customers today.
The salt water fishing off the Sechelt Peninsula is everything any fisherman could ask for and don't worry about what time of year it is, there is something to be caught just about anytime you feel the need to go catch it.
In the winter you can fish for feeder Chinook until the migratory fish start arriving in late spring. The best Chinook fishing takes place from June through September which is also when the Coho show up. August to September will see the Pinks and Sockeye moving in which will keep you busy until the Chum make their annual appearance in September. Don't give up on the Coho when the air starts getting chilly as the Northern variety share water with the Chum in September and October.
Most of the salt water fishing along the Sunshine Coast is done by Mooching as opposed to the traditional trolling methods found elsewhere but anything is possible, from dragging big spoons and cut plugs through the depths of the underwater shelves between Gibsons and Roberts Creek to fly fishing from a sturdy pontoon boat or floatube off the mouth of Chapman Creek.
Other local favorites include Halfmoon Bay, Buccaneer Bay, Secret Cove, Lasqueti Island, Texada Island, Seal Reef, Bejji Shoals, Bargain Harbour, A-Frame and Quarry Bay.
Remember Salmon aren't the only thing swimming around in these fertile waters. Red Snapper, Rock Cod, Tommy Cod and Flounder are plentiful and can be caught all year. Ling Cod are present as well but are closed to fishing from October until May. Prawns and Crabs are available all year and a variety of shellfish are there for the taking as well from Mussels and Oysters in Roberts Creek to Clams in Davis Bay. Of course you absolutely must check for closures and Red Tide alerts.
There is plenty of fresh water Trout fishing to be experienced as well. Garden Bay Lake, Hotel Lake and Mixal Lake are just West of HWY 101 and Trout Lake, a popular heavily stocked vacation spot, is right beside HWY 101 just 10 kilometers North of Sechelt. Sakinaw and Ruby Lakes are large lakes where Coho, Sockeye, Rainbow, Cutthroat and Kokanee are all caught.
Before you take the 40 minute ferry and cross over to the Malaspina Peninsula, take an hour or two off from the fantastic fishing and go for a hike through spectacular old growth Cedar to the skookumchuck Narrows. These turbulent waters which sometimes rush through the narrow passage at speeds up to 30 KMH are famous for their huge whirlpools and foaming rapids due to the sometimes two meter difference in water levels from one end to the other. Don't forget to stop at the coffee shop near the head of the trail for a muffin or scone in unforgettable surroundings.
Once you are on the other side of Jervis Inlet, the communities of Powell River and Lund await you. Like it's Southern neighbor, fresh and saltwater opportunities abound on the Malaspina. Powell River is renowned for the Trout fishing to be enjoyed in the more than 30 lakes found nearby. Powell Lake, Goat and Inland lakes are all home to huge Cutthroat and are not to be missed.
For the adventurous types, the Powell Forest Canoe Route is 80 kilometers of intertwined waterways, peppered with lakes and dozens of creeks. The routes are well signed and recreation campsites are plentiful. There are several access points but a good place to start would be at the Canoe Main logging road just East of the Lois River near Lang Bay. Follow the signs to the Lois Lake recreation site.
Be aware that you are traveling active logging roads and check before you leave for road closures and notices. Think of logging trucks as land-bound ferries and try not to get in their way as they travel the working forest. Maps of the canoe routes are available online and of course, the local shops will be more than happy to help you plan your trip.
The salt water fishing off the Malaspina peninsula is if anything, more wild and scenic than that found further South. For some great beach fishing go to the Lang Creek estuary and toss spoons and spinners for Salmon weighing up to 20 pounds! Fish off the coast near Lund for Ling Cod and Salmon.
Desolation Sound is BC's largest marine park. You are on your own for transportation into this rugged piece of the BC coast but whether you Kayak, take a float plane or rent a boat, you will be awed by the experience of traveling through and fishing one of British Columbia’s greatest treasures.
As you might imagine, there are far more incredible fishing opportunities to be had in the Vancouver Coast and Mountain region than it was possible to list in this relatively short magazine article. In fact, it's hardly possible to trip over your feet on the West Coast without falling into something fishable. Use this guide as a starting point and with a little local advice solicited from the many knowledgeable fishing guides and tackle shop owners you are sure to find more than enough to keep you busy for the next lifetime or two.
Vancouver, Coast, Mountain will never leave you wanting more. As long as you have the time and the energy, it has the fish.