From fly fishing to trolling, Chinook salmon to steelhead, fishing in British Columbia is a favourite hobby amongst locals and one of the most popular tourist activities. Surrounded by post-card-like scenery and pure silence, anglers from all over the world flock to the province’s clean waters to embark on a chartered tour or test their luck casting their rods on their own in search of the perfect catch.
The calm water has the boat perfectly still, as you hook your lure and cast your line. Hoping for a nice catch to take home for dinner, you sit and inhale the fresh, clean air as you gaze upon the tree-lined horizon and indulge in the sweet sound of silence. For visitors and travellers alike, British Columbia offers the very best fishing—from salt to freshwater, people travel from afar to embark on a fishing tour, flycast in a quiet stream, or catch a Chinook from their tin boat.
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BC Fishing Industry
With over 25,000 lakes and thousands of miles of rivers and coastlines, it’s no wonder that fishing has become one of the largest industries in British Columbia, both commercially and for sport. Boasting one of the best natural environments in the world, B.C. is home to five different species of famed Pacific salmon and is a great locale for catching giant halibut, an array of shellfish, and bottom fish. This aquaculture has become a significant and vital contributor to the provincial economy not only due to the job creation in coastal communities and its large export business, but also due to the thousands of visitors that travel from out of province to experience these prime fishing waters.
With opportunities for fishing in regions across the province, fishing has become a popular pastime for many residents and has created a knowledgeable and devoted group of enthusiasts eager to share stories of their best catch, insider fishing hot spots, and of course, tricks of the trade.
Where to Fish in BC
Deciding where to anchor your boat depends firstly on your preference of salt versus freshwater fishing, and secondly on the type of experience you would like. Each region in British Columbia offers a unique and varied experiences, so knowing what kind of fishing you would like before you head out, is beneficial.
Vancouver, Coast & Mountains
Vancouver and its accompanying coast and mountains, is known to offer every outdoor activity imaginable, and so it is no surprise that this southwestern region offers the most varied and exciting fishing in all of British Columbia. A spectacular diversity of fish, incredible scenery found only an hour’s drive from the city centre, and the year-round temperate climate, provides easy access and great fishing conditions no matter the season. Anglers can expect to find a spectacular range including Chinook and Sockeye Salmon, Sturgeon, Steelhead, Trout, Rockfish, and Shellfish.
The Fraser Valley between Hope and Vancouver offers a range of fishing options for those who prefer freshwater. The Fraser River, BC’s largest river system, has been known to produce the largest freshwater Sturgeon in the world, some growing to more than 4 metres (13 feet) long and can weigh over 454 kilograms (1,000 pounds), while the Chilliwack River offers over 30 kilometres (19 miles) of riverside fishing of the prominent Steelhead and Salmon. The Harrison River is a major migrating path for five species of salmon and its soft currents make it an ideal spot for fly and spin casting fishing. Lastly but not least, the Skagit River, which flows through Manning and Skagit Provincial parks, is also a well-known spot for fly-fishing.
If you prefer saltwater fishing, the oceanside communities of the Sunshine Coast, such as Gibsons, Powell River, and Sechelt provide many marinas along this stretch of coastline, and several charter-fishing companies to help you get the most out of your experience.
Just north of Vancouver, first-time anglers may also want to try fishing in the Howe Sound with its year-round protected waters making it a hotspot for many locals and visitors.
Vancouver Island & the Gulf Islands
Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver Island is home to both the ‘Salmon Capital of the World’, in Campbell River, and the ‘Fly Fishing Capital of the World’, in Cowichan River. The year-round protected waters in this region make for consistent-fishing, while the many streams and rivers that flow into the ocean make it easy to walk along the river banks or take a drift boat out to find the perfect spot. Some saltwater fishing highlights in this part of the province are the Rivers Inlet, located North of Port Hardy, renown for trophy sized Chinook salmon; the Pacific Rim, located on the West coast of the Vancouver Island, where many charter fleets and fishing lodges are available; and South island, where fishing expeditions can be arranged from marinas in Cowichan Bay, Ladysmith, and Maple Bay.
For freshwater fishing on Vancouver Island, Campbell and Quinsam Rivers are a must-see not only for great fishing, but also to observe salmon in their pristine natural environment. Gold River, on the West coast, is considered one of the premiere rivers for steelhead in the province, Salt Spring Island—one of the Gulf Islands—offers excellent spots for fly-fishing smallmouth bass, rainbow and cutthroat trout.
With its perfect summer days and more than a thousand lakes, the Thompson Okanagan region provides anglers with many unique fishing opportunities, in particular family-oriented fishing trips, many lakeside campsites and resorts, and other water activities. Every fourth year, Roderick-Haig Brown Provincial Park is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, where millions of salmon return to Adams River. In Kamloops, great fishing can be found at Lac Le Jeune, which has been host to the World Fly Fishing Championships, as well as Roche and Badger Lake. The Clearwater River offers excellent fly fishing for rainbow trout, while Okanagan Lake is better known for trolling this species. Other great fishing spots to check out are Shuswap Lake and the Nicola Valley, where 200 lakes offer ideal places to catch trout, whitefish, and kokanee.
In the Kootenay Rockies, with rivers flowing through glorious mountain scenery and wildlife parks surrounded by calm lakes, freshwater fishing opportunities are plentiful. Kootenay Lake and its accompanying Kootenay River, offers one of the best fishing spots in this region, where it’s best known for its Gerrard trout—the largest rainbow trout in the world—and kokanee, a local name given to BC’s land-locked Sockeye salmon, as well as largemouth bass and cutthroat tours. The Kootenay River is best suited to drift boat fishing due to its fluctuating water levels. You may also want to check out Elk River, a renown fly fishing hotspot, and Trout Lake, located south east of Revelstoke, where Gerrard and bull trout can reach 8 kilograms (20 pounds).
Northern BC, Haida Gwaii, & Cariboo Chilcotin Coast
A more rugged fishing experience can be found in Northern British Columbia, where unspoiled wilderness and rich coastal waters has made this region known for its exceptional inland trout and fly fishing. Unique to the northern part of the province are a handful of fish such as walleye, bull and lake trout, Arctic grayling, and northern pike found in many rivers and lakes in this region. Some saltwater fishing highlights can be found in Prince Rupert—a long time commercial fishing hub and northern getaway, as well as in Kitimat, where the Douglas Channel displays not only picturesque waterfalls and scenery, but amazing opportunities to score that great catch. Of course, Haida Gwaii is considered one of the ultimate fishing destinations of the north, providing anglers with an excellent abundance of salmon and halibut.
Great freshwater fishing in the northern region can be found at the Skeena River, accessible by Prince Rupert and Terrace, where game anglers attempt to catch one of the highly prized steelheads—one of the top game fish in the world. There are many lakes to choose from in the north of the province, about 300 of them to be exact. Communities such as Houston and Smithers are great starting points for your fishing adventure, as well as towns along the Alaska Highway such as Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, and Mackenzie.
The remote and scenic Hakai Pass just off the central BC coast is one the largest protected marine areas where coho, chinook, chum and pink salmon are plentiful, as well as halibut, lingcod and snapper. Further inland in this Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region, you’ll find what is known as the Fishing Highway (Highway 24), where more than 100 lakes are within an hour’s drive of each other and famous for steelhead and rainbow trout fishing.
Whether it’s a yearly trip with the guys, a family reunion, or a getaway for two, fishing expeditions and adventures are a great alternative for those wanting to test the waters or for hobbyists looking to share the excitement with a group and fellow experts. Offering troll, fly, or just your regular sport fishing for a particular species of fish, coastal communities have taken advantage of their surroundings to provide a myriad of fishing charters to help you make the most of your trip. These expeditions can be found at locations all over the province, and come equipped with knowledgeable, certified guides who know all there is to know about the fish and their habitat, and of course, how to get the best catch. Charter boats are fully equipped to provide you with the most comfortable experience you can have on water—top quality gear, washroom facilities, and all the latest in fish-finding gadgets and GPS.
Things to Know Before You Go
The Province of British Columbia treasures its fishing industry to help maintain a stable economy, as well as to continue providing residents and travellers alike with excellent conditions in which they can enjoy a fishing adventure. Fishing licenses are required for both saltwater and freshwater fishing, and are available on the BC Government website and through the local charter company or fishing trip operator. The province has set fair standards and regulations for daily fishing limits on all species of fish and shellfish, for packaging and transporting your catch, and for salmon conservation.
Fishing in BC is more than a livelihood, more than a pastime, and more than an escape from everyday life. It is woven into the diverse cultures, into the communities, and into the lives of the people that live and travel to this beautiful province. From fishing on the banks of a quiet river in the Fraser Valley, to casting your rod far out into a quiet lake in the Okanagan, the opportunities for unique fishing in British Columbia are endless, and are what have kept people coming back for years. Regardless of your next BC destination, make sure to put fishing on your list of things to do—it is one of our most coveted outdoor activities and an experience you won’t soon forget.
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- Hooked on Fishing on Vancouver Island: Freshwater or ocean, trout to Tyee, we've got you covered!
By Tanya Colledge
Photo credits: Fly fishing with mountain views at Spruce Lake (Freshwater Fishing in Cariboo Chilcotin Coast) courtesyTourism BC/Albert Normandin; Salmon fishing on the ocean near Prince Rupert (Saltwater Fishing in Northern BC) courtesy Tourism BC/JF Bergeron
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