Travel savvy fly fishers are beginning to discover what we here in South Western BC have known for years. Fly fishing in the Chilliwack area is as excellent as it is affordable. Located between the Fraser River and the Canada/US border, the city of Chilliwack is split in two by the Trans-Canada Highway. A 25 minute drive from the Abbotsford international airport or an hour and a half from the Vancouver international airport, Chilliwack is easy to reach. No float planes or charter flights necessary. Accomodations range from quaint hotels to riverside lodges, all services are available in town.
Each year the number of fly anglers who plan holidays to the Chilliwack region
continues to grow. Fly fishing was long thought of as a pastime for the wealthy but the masses are now realizing that it is an accessible hobby for any and all. It's now not uncommon to see a family enjoying the outdoors with fly rods in hand, or a group of women spending a day out fishing together on the river.
The Chilliwack region has fly fishing opportunities to suit anglers of all skill
levels and there are plenty of guides available who offer fly casting and fly
fishing instruction to those that want to learn or polish up their technique.
Children pick up the skills of fly casting, fly tying and fly fishing very quickly, then retain them for their entire lives. By doing a little homework it's easy to find a company that offers quality guides who can help in the search for an excellent and memorable fly fishing experience.
What makes Chilliwack the hub of fly fishing in Southwestern BC is its location. Two of the most prolific Salmon bearing tributaries of the Fraser River watershed spill into BC's longest river right in the Chilliwack area. One of these two, the Vedder/Chilliwack River, runs right along the edge of town and is easily accessed on foot. With its mild climate, the Chilliwack area is fishable 365 days a year and there's always something worth catching. In addition to the fisheries right near town, there are close by watersheds and remote rivers that offer world class fly fishing opportunities. This is why serious fly anglers from all parts of the world hire guides here year after year to escort them to the best waters and help them land a fish of their dreams.
THE FRASER RIVER
The Fraser is the longest river system in British Columbia. It begins near the
BC/Alberta border and travels completely across the province before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. More Salmon return to this river on their way upstream to spawn than any other river in BC. Sockeye(Red), Chinook(King), Chum(Dog) and Coho(Silver) Salmon return each season to the river and will all readily take flies. Pink(Humpy) Salmon return every odd numbered year and offer spectacular on light fly tackle. During a Pink year it is possible to get a Salmon Grand Slam, catching all species if Salmon in one day. The Salmon season begins in May and the best time to target them is late August to mid-November. Guides transport anglers to long gravel bars to swing flies to the cruising fish. Casts need not be long as the fish will travel fairly close to shore to avoid the heavier flow of the deeper water. Single hand fly rods work well but anglers with spey rods can fish this large river more thoroughly.
Between the months of December and April, sea-run Cutthroat Trout can be caught in the back channels and sloughs of the Fraser. This is a fishery that gets better by the year as these back waters are being stocked with hatchery trout. Bull Trout can also be caught at any time of year.
THE HARRISON RIVER
The Harrison River should be considered as the most consistent river for fly
fishing success in the Fraser Valley. Even though it is literally across the
Fraser from Chilliwack, the Harrison seems like it is a world away. Difficult to access on foot, the Harrison is best fished by boat. Guides with jet boats
transport anglers up the shallow river to the best fishing grounds. Single and
double handed rods are both effective on this shallow, wide river.
More fish travel through this river than any other in the Fraser system. Like the Fraser itself, this is the best place to get a Salmon Grand Slam as all 5 species of Pacific Salmon return every second season. This is where world record sized Salmon have been caught. Every cast is capable of hooking a monster.
Trout fishing on the Harrison is good throughout the year but December through to June is best. Resident Cutthroat trout frequent the sloughs and creek mouths providing good sport on light fly rods. As the Salmon fry make their journey back towards the ocean each spring, thousands of Sea-run Cutthroat Trout enter the Harrison to feast on them. The trout fishing can be unreal at this time as they devour anything that resembles a smolt. Lucky anglers may encounter winter Steelhead on the Harrison as well during this time.
THE VEDDER/CHILLIWACK RIVER
The Vedder River is a remarkable piece of water. It actually begins in Washington state as the Chilliwack River and heads North across the Canada/US border before entering Chilliwack Lake. After flowing out of the lake it heads west and then north, skirting the edges of the city of Chilliwack. Along the way its name changes to the Vedder River and after a relatively short distance it flows into the Fraser River.
What makes this river special is the fact that, despite it's proximity to the
80,000 plus residents of Chilliwack and its easy foot access, thousands of Salmon and Steelhead return each season. In fact, nearly half a million fish, return to this medium sized river each year. Steelhead begin to filter into the Vedder in December and the run grows throughout the winter, peaking in March and ending in June(the river is closed to all angling for the month of June). These fish can be targeted with flies and there are plenty of good runs for both one and two handed fly fishers. Although an average of 15,000 Steelhead are caught each year, local knowledge is still key in knowing where the best spots are each season. A good guide is easy to find and it's common to see anglers being taught the skills of Steelheading on the water.
The Vedder is the perfect place to learn how to cast. Between July and December, Salmon return to the Vedder. Chinook and Sockeye first
followed by Pinks(in odd numbered years). Coho, Chum and a second run of Chinook keep the river filled with Salmon through the fall. Fly fishers can experience non-stop action at this time of year and multiple species are caught each day. Don't expect to have any water to yourself on the Vedder. It is almost always crowded outside of the "fly fishing only" period in May. For those who don't mind sharing the river with hundreds of other anglers, the vedder is great place to put some time in on the water.
In addition to these top notch fisheries, other nearby waters offer great sport
for fly fishers. Guides whisk clients away to remote, fish filled rivers such as the Lillooet and Upper Pitt. These rivers, only accessible by jet boat or helicopter, offer unbelievable fly fishing with stunning scenery as the backdrop. Relatively few anglers get the opportunity to fish these pristine watersheds each season and the fish are eager to take their flies. Salmon, Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout, plus Char are all caught in these rivers. Few, if any, other anglers are seen during a day.
The Skagit River, famous for its once mighty Steelhead returns in Washington
state, begins on the Canadian side of the border just over an hours drive from
Chilliwack. The river here is a blue ribbon trout fishery. Fly anglers stalk
Rainbow Trout, which eagerly pounce on dry flies, in it's clear shallow runs
while large Bull Trout patrol the deeper pools looking for a quick meal.The
Skagit is an excellent change of pace for those targeting Salmon and other large fish.
Other great fly fishing venues such as the Squamish River, on the way to the
world famous Whistler ski hills, and the interior lakes with their Kamloops Trout
are all within driving distance of Chilliwack. It is truly a destination to put
on any fly angler's bucket list.
When choosing a guide for your fly fishing experience of a lifetime you should do plenty of research. In addition to emailing guide companies, ask them to call you or call their toll free numbers. A phone call is often the best method of
learning everything that you'll want to know about their service and expertise.
You can usually get a good grasp on their knowledge and passion for wanting to make your trip an adventure of a lifetime.
All guides fishing with clients in British Columbia must be licenced by the
Government, it is important to ask questions like this in top of any other
concerns that you as a traveler have. Great guides will make you feel comfortable with their answers and this will lead you and your friends to a trip of a lifetime and have you returning to the Chilliwack area for many years to come. Tell all of your friends and colleagues about what Chilliwack has to offer as a World Class Fly Fishing Destination. The words will roll off your tongue, just like a great fly cast.
Dave Henry – BC Fly Fishing Charters / www.bcflyfishingcharters.com