The Peace River – Hudson’s Hope to Ft St John


FullSizeRender (2)The Peace River is actually a tributary of the Mackenzie river, the 12th largest river in the world, with the Peace being considered it’s headwaters. The Peace River’s headwaters are the Finlay River but due to the construction of the WAC Bennett Dam which creates Williston Lake, and the Peace Canyon Dam which creates Dinosaur Lake, for all intensive purposes the river really starts after the Peace Canyon Dam in Hudson’s Hope. With the completion of the new Site C Dam project in a few years, the river will start in Ft St John. I think this will drastically change the river from a fly fishing point of view. The river is vastly different downstream from Ft St John than it is upstream to Hudson’s Hope. The best opportunities to catch big fish on the fly are upstream of Ft St John.

Right now the section of river from Ft St John to Hudson’s Hope is 80 km of gorgeous river with big water characteristics. It flows through steep banks, islands, and gravel bars. Its bottom is varied but mostly rocky. It contains sections of gravel, to sections of softball size round river rock, to sections of VW bus size boulders and shale ledges. Just below the dam, the shale bottom extends out to the middle of the river where it drops off to an underwater abyss like trench. The river holds an abundance of big fish. Bull Trout, Lake Trout, and Rainbows are the dominant species in this section of river. Other fish that inhabit the river include Pike, Grayling, Burbot, Kokanee, and Whitefish. The Peace isn’t one of those rivers you go and fish to catch a lot of fish. It should be approached with the mindset of going after a few big fish not a lot of fish. There are BIG fish in this river.  2 kg rainbows and 5 kg Bull Trout are common. 

Because it flows out of a series of dams the Peace is tailwater and is open year round making it the only place to fish during the winter with running water in the region. While most days in the winter it is too cold to cast a fly rod for more than a couple of casts until your rod and line are frozen solid, on those rare winter days when the temperature climbs near zero, it is a welcome destination. It is also a good alternative when all the other rivers in the area are blown out during run off.

The waters of the upper section are a gorgeous jade green and visibility can reach 12+ feet. Starting in spring and continuing throughout the rest of the year the lower sections can often be muddied due to muddy creeks and muddy rivers like the Lower Halfway River dumping into it. By August it will clear up a bit until a good rain. Typical of many rivers in Northern BC.

BC Hydro regulates the flows from the Peace Canyon Dam. They can vary greatly through the day from 400cms to 2000cms. The river seems to fish best when flows are averaging 700 to 900cms. The closer you are to the dam the quicker the water will rise and fall and care should be taken when wading to not get stuck somewhere due to rising water. When levels fluctuate quickly, fish will be on the move to find new places to hold. A little patience waiting for them to settle will keep the fishing productive.

Reading the water on the Peace can be challenging. It is a big flat river with very few surface features and the water level fluctuates so features are constantly changing. To find fish Look for what I call heavy dark water; darker water with smooth or boily surface texture. Fish will hold in these seams of slower water in between faster currents or to the inside or outside. The inside is easier for nymphing and an outside current will fish better with a swung streamer.

The Peace like most rivers in the north doesn’t have prolific hatches but they do occasionally happen. Chironomids are abundant year round. In the spring and early summer, you may see a few Caddis and Stoneflies and the occasional mayfly. When they do happen big fish can be found close to shore slurping bugs with reckless abandon.  What the Peace lacks in dry fly action, it makes up for under the water. Leeches, scuds and baitfish, and in the case of the Bull Trout, any fish they can fit in their mouth and then some,  are the main food sources. Bull trout will hit just about anything big but large sculpin like patterns work the best. Things like Zoo Cougars and Sex Dungeons are irresistible to these aggressive fish. Rainbows will hit big streamers too especially in March and early April before they begin to spawn but they seem to prefer big leech patterns and smaller baitfish patterns like bucktails and zonkers.

Swinging streamers on a sinktip through seams and along eddy lines is the most effective way to fly fish the Peace. On big rivers, it is the most effective way to cover a lot of water. The downstream end of islands can have holes and eddy lines that hold big fish. Nymphing scuds and smaller leeches or stonefly patterns through holes and pools with long leaders is also productive. In some sections, the river bottom consists of shale which means sharp edges, so be prepared to lose a lot of flies if you are drifting or swinging too deep. With the fluctuating water levels, constant monitoring of your depth is crucial.

My favorite way of finding fish is to look for what I call “Bull Trout rises.” A “ Bull Trout rise is when a Bull Trout is chasing a meal and the smaller fish breaks the surface in an attempt to escape being that meal. It is usually just a splashy head to tail dive at the surface. Swinging a big streamer that direction will usually wind up in the mouth of a greedy Bull.

The Peace is best accessed with a boat. There are put-ins at Peace Island Park in Taylor. The Halfway R\iver Bridge on Highway 29 and the RV park by Lynx Creek. These three ramps break the river up into thirds.  While a boat is the best way to fish the Peace, there are several places to walk in and wade fish. “The Fingers” just downstream from the Peace Canyon Dam can be accessed by a trail just on the other side of the bridge.  A series of shale “fingers” extend from each shore out towards the middle of the river. They create a pour over with deep pools on the downstream side. When the water is low you can walk out on them almost to the middle of the river. Here is where you really need to watch the water level so as not to get swept over when it rises. There are big fish in the bottom of the pools.

 Alwin Holland Campground also has easy access and good fishing. A couple of huge rock islands and more shale shelves create nice eddies and pools for fish to hold in. Look for the sign on the left outside of Hudson Hope just before the bridge.

DA Thomas rd. is right in Hudson Hope is another choice. As you come down the hill into Hudson Hope from Ft St John turn left at the Sigma Hotel and the next right is DA Thomas rd. It goes right to rivers edge.

 Lynx Creek, Farrell Creek, and the Halfway River along Highway 29 towards Ft St John are all good spots but water can be muddied especially during run-off.

 There are a few places along the highway to park and hike down to the river. Some are easier than others.

 While the Peace River isn’t exactly one of my favorite rivers to fish. It does have a lot to offer. I have never really caught small fish on it. Everything I have caught has been “above average”. It is always fishable. It doesn’t freeze over and it doesn’t get blown out. I have paid money to fish uglier rivers with smaller fish. The valley from Ft St John to Hudson Hope is gorgeous.

 It is a shame that the Site C dam will change all that. The valley will still be there but the character and features of the river will be gone forever. This is all a few years off but it is coming. Until then, the river is there to enjoy and chase big fish. The fish will still be there after the dam but all the information I have just outlined in this post will probably no longer be relevent.


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