Some Thoughts on Fly Fishing

Fishing is nothing more than trying to induce a fish to accept a hook in his mouth. This is attempted through a plethora of offerings using a variety of methods and gear. For the most part, once the “bait” is in the water paradigms tend to equalize. How it gets there is what makes fly fishing special.

The casting of a fly rod is the qualifier that separates fly fishing from other forms of catching fish. A four-year-old can figure out how to cast a traditional fishing rod and operation of the different types of reels is just a formality. The casting of a fly rod is something quite different. It requires skill. Practiced mechanics and muscle memory must combine to produce a cast. This must be learned under ideal conditions and then be adapted to a variety of changing conditions and challenges. High banks, obstructions, the wind, rain, distance, and water conditions are just some of the challenges for the caster.

Manipulating a tiny fly at the end of 30 to 50 feet of line with a long flexible stick to land precisely where desired is the objective. How that happens is a combination of skill and artistry. The mechanics of producing a movement on a 9 foot plus fly rod to influence the placement of a fly on the end of a 30 ft plus weighted line are a study in physics.  Mass, acceleration, force, power, and  speed; the ability to Influence these denominators is fly casting

The same laws of physics that produce a soaring perfectly executed cast are the same ones that will doom it to a fluttering failure. Each movement of the cast must be executed with precision and the correct amount of speed and exact timing. Similar to a golf swing, a fault in these metrics will anger the laws of physics and much like a poorly struck golf ball careening horribly off course a fly line will do the same, resulting in similar nastiness. A well-executed cast delivers the fly to its intended target and lands it on the water in a manner enabling the best chance at enticing a fish to a momentary lapse in judgment. Conversely, when it goes bad any number of repugnant results can occur. Bad casts crash on the water sending fish darting for cover. Flies get stuck in trees or drift poorly in the water alerting fish to their intention. Bad casts can literally tie a line in knots in mid-air requiring vast amounts of patience and dexterity to return to a usable condition.

Power in a cast is produced effortlessly and feeling the rod load and release its energy into the line inflicts a satisfying feeling of mastery.  A perfectly executed cast is a thing of beauty. A synchronization that sends a fly line rocketing through the guides delivering a fly to intercept perfectly with the desired target. Casting creates a rhythm to working a piece of water in search of fish. Cast, drift, mend, drift, repeat. It is a rhythm that begs to be interrupted. Anticipation builds with each cast and when the line comes alive with a fish on the end of it and the rod loads only this time with the object of its intention it’s a feeling that cannot be described. It has to be felt to understand.

Pike on the Fly 2.0

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My new obsession with Pike on the fly brought me to Bearhole Lake. A mapbook gave up a little information and the internet provided the rest. A Google search coughed up a listing on the travel site Tripadvisor.com complete with reviews. The first said, “THERE’S PIKE IN THIS LAKE!” The second complained about the FSR road used to access the lake. Between the two I knew what to expect.

Access to Bearhole Lake is via the Bearhole Lake Forest Service Road just outside Tumbler Ridge off Hwy 52. The Trip Advisor review about the road wasn’t exactly wrong. It’s just most people don’t complain about the quality of forest service roads. The road was fairly rutted and would be interesting, to say the least with a little bit of moisture on it. With the jet sled bouncing back and forth between ruts I slowly picked my way down the road. Around 20k there is a twisted and rusted wreck of a pick-up being consumed by the forest — a testament to someone’s bad driving and even poorer judgment. A few kilometers later I arrived at the lake campground.

The lake is in a Provincial Park. It’s tea colored water shores are surrounded by dense forest of conifer trees typical of the region. There are no reserved campsites and walk-in wilderness camping is allowed. A few 4wd trails meander around the lake leading more campsites. The boat ramp and I use the term “boat ramp” loosely here is currently an undercarriage grinding descent to the water’s edge with no room to turn around. Backing down is not an option. Getting a boat in requires a little creativity but possible

I brought 3 rods with me to experiment with different types of line and tip set ups. What I found I liked best was my 9ft – 9wt GLoomis with a 375-grain OPST commando head and a 10’ floating tip with a 7.5 Rio Pike leader. The Spey rods were fun too but Skagit casting from a boat on stillwater is not ideal. With the single hand rod, it was easier to just pick up line, double haul one stroke and chuck it where you wanted it. The Winston with a 250-grain commando head, no tip, and a 7.5’ Pike leader worked pretty good casting overhead but it was limited to smaller flies. I suspect I would be way under gunned in the event that a monster decided to look me up but it was a blast with the smaller Pike. The Winston microspey if proving to be a very versatile and fun rod.

Taking fish on the surface is often considered the apex of fly fishing and Pike are no exception. My large mouse patterns got a few looks but no one fell for it. Next year I will invest in some of those traditional Pike streamers that require half a chicken of feathers to construct. I eventually settled on a large black and white bucktail or a smaller perch imitating pattern. Both worked amazingly well, Casting big streamers on still water is audacious. They collide heavily with the water saying I dare you to eat me. Predatory instinct kicks in and Pike dart from their concealment to oblige. Most often it was two or three strips on the line and then a headshake on the other end as a Pike sunk his teeth into the offering. Then all hell breaks loose. These fish fight hard and more with the purpose of keeping what’s in their mouth than escape. Their aggression is endless and it doesn’t end with hooking them. There is still the matter of retrieving the fly.

Pike are voracious predators. If they were Sharks, no one would swim in the ocean. They hit flies with extreme malice. Any disturbance in the water will at the very least be investigated. When they do attack, their toothy jaws clamped shut on whatever is in their mouth and they will not let go for anything. Getting a fly back from a Pike can be a precarious endeavor. Their teeth tangle in the fibers of the artificial prey. As tempting as it may be to use fingers to aid in the extraction, it is a horrible idea. Ask me how I know this. Keep all digits away from the fish’s business end at all times.The delicate hook extractions performed on trout will not work on Pike. Even if all goes well the fly is often mangled beyond fishability. One difficult extraction required the use of both pliers and hemostats simultaneously while holding the leader in my mouth. The fish survived. The $20.00 Polar Bear hair bucktail did not. Once the fish is in the net be prepared for a struggle retrieving flys and use caution… and bring Band-Aids.

Day two was more of the same as I got into a dozen Pike in a couple hours before I was beaten off the lake by a steadily increasing wind. Whitecaps were making the lake treacherous to navigate in a flat-bottomed boat. Ducking and dodging 6-inch flies tied on 0/1 sized hooks made conditions less than appealing and I decided to call it a day. It was only 2 o’clock so I opted to pack up and head home. Loading the boat went well following the unloading sequence in reverse and road in stayed dry so there were no issues getting back to the highway. I took a route home that allowed me to check out conditions on a few of my favorite rivers in the area and as I suspected they looked terrible. I drove the rest of the way home thinking about where to go next week. I had successfully caught Pike on the fly. The total for the weekend was somewhere around 25. As is always the case the next step is now to catch a big one. I will spend the next week researching where the best place for that to happen will be. I may be returning to Bearhole Lake. There have to be bigger ones in there.

Pike on the fly — 0 for 1

Run-off is in full effect and to further enhance the waterworks a low-pressure system has squatted over the Peace region. The system has dumped 120 millimeters of rain on the region in two days pushing the already swollen rivers of liquid muskeg to flood levels. Arduous river conditions have now officially become absurd. It’s time for a new approach.

I did a little bit of research and found that hungry Pike are moving into the shallows after a long winter trapped under the ice to feed and spawn. This sounds interesting. This is a fish that is known to eat ducks. Stillwater fishing isn’t really my thing but any fish capable of eating a duck should at least be investigated. Stalking shallow water with a fly rod in search of a predatory behemoth is definitely in my wheelhouse. Targeted casting and creative stripping to incite a Pike to violence is definitely me.

For my first foray into the world of Pike fishing, I chose Charlie Lake. Charlie Lake is a largish brackish lake to the north of town considered “waterfront” for Ft St John. I’ve heard about and seen pictures of some decent sized Pike in the lake so it seemed like a logical place to start.

The temperature was just above freezing when I got up Sunday morning and there were hints of rain turned to snow lying about on car windshields and foliage. I decided to wait a few hours for it to warm up and by 11:00 I was in my boat heading north past the waterfront properties on the south end of the lake to find some good “Pikey” looking water.

Being new to this whole lake and Pike thing I wasn’t really sure what I was doing but I looked like the guys catching monsters on YouTube. I anchored the boat off-shore and pounded the banks with a streamer tied to imitate a Perch. After a couple hours and a few different locations, something slashed at my fly as I stripped it back to the boat but it missed and that ended up being the only action for the day.

0 for 1 for Pike on the fly. It will be a month before the rivers clear. In the meantime, I’m going to research out a few more lakes in the area and continue my pursuit of these toothy water wolves.

 

The Flood

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It’s that time of year again. After patiently suffering through the cold dark winter, where fly fishing opportunities are few and far between, the fleeting signs of warming weather are co-dependently latched onto as the frozen landscape begins to transform. I get excited. Time on the water able to feel fingers and toes is almost euphoric. The warming water is clear and soft. Previously ice-bound fish are aggressively feeding. It’s fishing season! And then it happens — The environmental fart known as Run-Off. Pristine ice-free rivers hopelessly morph into raging torrents of chocolate milk. River waters churn with mud and whatever else they can tear from their banks. Trees are snatched from their roots and fired like torpedos downstream crashing into a pile of previous years torpedos. As days become longer and the sun shines warmer the rivers stay angry, violent, and dark. These aquatic avalanches will build and peak in the coming weeks. Anticipation will turn to desperation and before long I will find myself standing in a river the color of a Tim Horton’s Double Double trying to hit a trout in the face with a fly. It’s the act of a hopelessness but something has to give.

It will be over soon. Then it will be a few weeks of studying flows to see which rivers look like they’ve cleared. This year I created a little network to assist in the process. The Facebook Group Northern BC Fly Fishing River Reports will hopefully create a community of northern anglers that can share river information. Summers are short and no one wants to waste a weekend fishing a blown out river. Somebody might have to but at least now they can take one for the team and the rest of us can enjoy some quality time on the water. This is the North. There are no fly shops right on the rivers (no fly shops period) that send out emails with weekly stream reports. Up here it’s DIY so a little collaboration between river junkies will go a long way.

So, here’s the stream report. Rivers are quickly rising and filling with mud. Hunker down or go fish the lakes — if you’re into that sort of thing.

Catch and Release

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Years ago a couple friends and I went up to Elktrout lodge in Kremmling Colorado. The plan was a to fish the Colorado River but run off had come a little early and it was blown out. To counter this annual event Elktrout leases and manages spring fed ponds on ranchlands throughout the area. The ponds range in size and the folks at Elktrout have grown enormous trout in them. With the river unfishable we loaded up and headed to the ponds.

We were having fairly good success catching decent size trout. The weather was taking a turn for the worse when we arrived at the next pond. It was pretty much right in the heart of the ranch compound with corrals and cabins surrounding it. The guide assured us that this one had HUGE trout in it. Soon after we had wet our lines the sky let loose and people went scrambling for cover. Jim and I decided to keep fishing and in one of those iconic fly fishing moments, we both had a fish on the line. The drag on our reels screaming told us they were big. For about 15 minute our lines raced back and forth across the pool and eventually, we landed our fish. Jim released his first as I was tailing mine. I popped the hook out and gently picked up a 30” Rainbow out of the water. Jim quickly snapped a picture and I slipped the fish back into the water and released him. It was at that moment I heard a loud groan and looked behind me to see a couple of guys on the front porch of a cabin eyes wide and their jaws in the mud. One of them stammered, “You let it go? Why would you let it go? You guys just let them go?” Cleary, the concept of catch and release was foreign to these gentlemen. They were in complete shock as to why anyone would catch and release a fish like that. It is an exchange I seem to find myself in a lot.

I’m getting a little tired of people looking at me sideways when I tell them I don’t keep the fish I catch. This huge look of disbelief or concern appears on their face and it happens so much I feel a little self-conscious about it. In an attempt to neutralize the situation so no one (me) feels awkward I usually offer up some excuses like I don’t like the taste, or the regulations confuse me or my personal favorite; I don’t want to walk around in bear country with a bunch of dead fish on me. Ok, the last one is mostly true but the point is that based on the number of times I have to use these excuses so as not to appear freakish, I appear to be in the minority when it comes to releasing caught fish.

Why is it that people don’t get the concept? Why do people feel the need to enjoy the outdoors by killing its inhabitants? That’s not what this is about. To each his own. I just need to get up on my soapbox through the anonymity of the internet, seeing as how I mostly make up stories to explain why I don’t kill the fish I catch when confronted in the real world. So here it goes.

I like to fish. That may be an understatement. I like to fish a lot. And I do. I like to eat fish too. Of the two, catching and eating, I prefer to catch them… By a wide margin. Oh yeah, the only thing I like more than catching fish is catching big fish. Studies have shown that there are 28 times more trophy-sized trout in catch and release waters than in harvested areas. See where I’m going with this?

Catch and release is one of the single most important practice to improve the quality of a fishery and ensure that there will be lots if big fish to catch now and in the future.There is a reason that the best trout streams in the world are full of big fish – catch and release. The best trout waters in the world all seem to have a culture of conservation. They are fished by anglers that care deeply about these waters. They treat the fish with respect and educate others on how to do likewise. The Elktrout ponds are certainly no wild river ecosystem but they demonstrate the effectiveness of catch and release on a fish population.

A trophy-sized trout is a truly remarkable creature. Big fish are rare. The mortality rate for newly hatched trout in the first year is over 95%. It falls to 40-60% in subsequent years. Do the math. Out of 1000 eggs spawned by one trout after the first year, only 50 fry will survive. After the next year, only 25 fingerlings will have survived and by the next year of 1000 eggs only 12 will have become fish. The chances that one of those 12 will go on to reach trophy size? The odds are staggering. It is truly a numbers game. The more fish that live to spawn the greater the chance that one of their offspring will grow into a trophy sized fish.

If big fish are constantly taken soon the river will be left with little fish that are too small to be taken as well as diminished numbers of fish. So the next consequence of not practicing catch and release is stocking with genetically inferior hatchery fish which eventually breed with the wild population and even further reduce the quality and size of the new resident population.
We are not a part of a river’s natural ecosystem. The less interference and management by humans the more stable that ecosystem and the more it will flourish. We should feel fortunate to be able to interrupt it briefly with our angling pursuits. There are many ways to give back but the easiest is to just simply take care of the fish you catch and release them.

Steelhead Follies

My first experience with the Skeena Valley was on a cross country trip to Vancouver. My dad had taken a job and Vancouver and in Clark Griswold fashion, decided to drive across Canada to our new home. The last leg of the trip would take us through the Skeena Valley to catch the Prince Rupert ferry to Vancouver. I was only 5 or 6 years old but I vividly remember the soaring mountains and the misty turquoise waters of the Skeena. I believe it left a deep impression on not only my memory but my soul. I had no idea at the time what a Steelhead or Salmon was but once living in Vancouver my weekends were spent with my little brothers and father taking trips to the local hatcheries learning about salmon eggs and fish ladders. Of course, we now know the negative effects of hatchery fish on wild populations but It was through these moments I would learn about the lifecycle and epic migrations of salmonoids. It was an impression on me that would spark my love of cold water rivers and the fish that inhabit them.

 It would be many years later before I was able to return to the Skeena – nearly 40 to be exact. In August of 2016, I set off on an epic 10 day off road motorcycle / fishing trip to explore and fish the Skeena. It was a naive attempt on both fronts. I narrowly survived the Telkwa Pass on the bike and didn’t catch any fish. Grossly unprepared for both excursions, I did come away with some hard earned motorcycle skills and an addiction to Steelhead. Of course, this trip left an even more indelible impression than that brief visit as a small boy. Experiences forged from that first trip greatly enhanced the return. To this end, the Skeena Valley is now firmly imprinted on me as one of my most favorite places on the planet.

 Hardly 8 weeks later my burgeoning obsession with Steelhead would lead me back to the Skeena River drainage to catch the end of the summer run on the Morice River. Armed with faith and a  new fly rod, ( A 13’ – 7wt Loop Spey rod) I spent 5 days fishing the Morice. Sadly it was 5 days of Spey casting practice and not fishing, as recent heavy rains had transformed the Morice into a swift flowing torrent of chocolate whitewater. The river was completely blown out and offered little hope of catching fish. My Skagit casting greatly improved after 5 days of cast, swing, and step through the muddy waters of the Morice. Skunked again but at least I didn’t feel like such a neophyte. Reading the water made more sense. Learning how to cast and work a fly through the swift current, while fishless, was a valuable experience.

 All winter long I’ve been scheming and dreaming about the Spring Steelhead run on the Skeena. I poured myself into researching and reading everything I could find on Steelhead and the Skeena Drainage. I studied maps and purchased equipment to aid in my quest. I’ve braved some pretty cold days fishing on the Peace River at home to keep my casting and angling skills honed. I crammed in hours preparing the boat for the river. The end of March arrived and I cleared my schedule for a 5 day trip to Terrace. And so it begins

I left Ft St John for the 10 hour trip to Terrace, BC. This time of year Mother Nature can be a bit on the bi-polar side but weather and road reports suggested agreeable conditions for the trip. 3 hours into the drive an oncoming tanker truck hurled a rock at my windshield and the heavy impact generated a softball size crack resembling an ampersand squarely in the middle of it. The collision was startling and made me question my sanity of riding a motorcycle again this summer.The rest of the 10-hour trip was uneventful. It was getting dark by the time I reached the short backroad and impromptu campsite by Little Oliver Creek 30 kilometers north of Terrace. I had planned on camping there overnight but the snow melt had created a slushy swamp that I’m sure would have over-ridden the 4wd capabilities of my Tahoe. I opted for a hotel room just up the road from the boat ramp in Terrace instead.

 In the morning after gassing up the boat and paying a small fortune for some flies and a couple sink tips at the convenient gas station / fly shop, I decided to fish the Skeena’s little sister, the Kalum river. Both rivers can be accessed from the boat ramp. Water levels on both were low. With perhaps a few regretful decisions I charged upstream through several dicey sections that in the back of my mind terrified me for the return but at the moment it was about finding Steelhead. I bumped my way about 12 kilometers upstream before a shallow river wide rocky section halted my progress. I found some nice runs and a good place to camp, so this was home for the night.

 After several hours of fishing it happened – sort of. I was lazily swinging a fly and all to quickly came that unmistakable tugging of the line. I was patient and let him have it. I expected him to make his run downstream which he did for an instant before changing his mind breaking the surface and charging towards me. I fumbled the line and when I regained tension he was gone. I stood there dejectedly with my hand and rod at my sides and head low pondering this epic failure; no one around to commiserate with. So after what I estimate to be a couple thousand casts, I had now managed to get one of these elusive fish on the end of my line but not in my hands. I figure this puts me way behind the curve in the quest for “the fish of a thousand casts” but it’s progress. I got over it. It wasn’t the first time I lost a fish and I won’t be the last.

 I made my way back to the boat, happy with the events of the day only to find that I had cracked a weld in the hull on one of those “bumps” upstream and the boat was now taking on water. It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong. I hauled the boat out of the water, set up camp for the night and then went about trying to figure out how to repair the leak so I could at least get back to the boat ramp. Off- road motorcycling taught me to be prepared for failure so I was happy to discover some marine sealant instinctively packed away on the boat. I used some Gorilla tape and the sealant to make a patch and hoped it would hold? I would have to wait until morning to find out. I made a fire and cooked dinner then spent the rest of the night reading in my hammock tent by the glow of the fire listening to the river.

 In the morning I pondered my options over coffee and breakfast. Would the patch in the hull work? I decided to fish the previous evening’s run first (priorities) and then see if the boat would float. I pulled the boat back into the river and as it settled in the water with the sealant not fully cured I could detect no water violating the hull. My fix was working, no water was getting in – for now.

 I knew going downstream was going to be difficult. I am not an experienced jet boat operator but I have spent enough time paddling rivers in a kayak (class II to class IV) to know that there was no way to make it back downstream in a 14’ jet sled under power without the very good chance of disaster. Narrow 90 degree bends through rapids with log jams on one side and a sharp hull tearing boulder on the inside left me scratching my head as to how I had managed to navigate it on the way up. I fished my way back downstream, motoring where I could and swinging my boat via long line through the un-navigable sections just like swinging flies for steelhead. It was work and at about the halfway point little trickles of Kalum river were pooling inside the boat. The patch was starting to fail. Fortunately, I had pushed, pulled, and swung the boat through the worst of it and I could now motor back to the ramp.

 Back at the boat ramp, I began to weigh my options. Load up and go home or try to get a more permanent fix for the hole and head on to the Skeena and keep fishing. Maybe “weigh my options” is a little to drastic a description. I promptly headed to Canadian Tire and bought some Water Weld Epoxy putty. Sets up underwater in 25 minutes. Perfect, back in business and off to steelhead in the channels around the maze of islands on the lower Skeena.

 The water levels on the Skeena were low to but it rolls at a lesser gradient than the Kalum, so easier to navigate. The Skeena is a massive river. It can be intimidating to fish just because of the sheer size of it. So much water, so many currents, so many changing depths and bottom featues. It is overwhelming. My “home” river, the Peace is no Skeena but fishing it has taught me how to fish big rivers and I soon I settle into a my habitual  search for fishable water. I eventually reconnoitre my way about 12 kiliometers downstream and find some promising looking runs to fish. The last run for the day comes complete with a decent place to camp.

 I covered a fair amount of water but the Steelhead eluded me again. What i di have to show for my effort was a near soleless wading boot and leaky waders. After 7 years my wading boots had finally blown out and my new Patagonia waders had developed a leak on the right side leaving my  right foot cold and squishy.  I fished till noon and then decided that I didn’t want to spend another night on the river with a cold wet foot and then have to navigate back upstream to the boatramp in the dark hours of Sunday morning to get home late anyways. I packed it in, made my way back to the boat ramp in and headed out of Terrace. My spring Steelhead season was over. To stay awake for the journey home I scarfed down two bags of sunflower seeds and made convient stops to fuel up on coffee and sugar as well as put more gas in the Tahoe. Aside from a blinding blizzard going over the Pine Pass the drive  wasn’t to bad and I arriverd home at 1 am in need of a shower and sleep.

 I returned home with a bustred windshield, leaky waders, blown out wading boots, a hole in my boat, and no picture of me holding a Steelhead. It was a great trip. It’s an experience most people don’t understand and I’m not going to try to explain it. You either get it or you don’t. Being in that environment and being a part, even if it is just a small disruption in the miracle that is the lifecycle of a Steelhead, is special. There is something about the Skeena that is magical. The Steelhead is an almost mythical creature and as such should not be easy to catch. The challenge and environment make Steelheading the curiously rewarding pursuit that it is. While the juice has eluded me I’m sure it’s worth the squeeze.

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.

 

Customizing a Jet Sled for Fly Fishing

IMG_1301   I wanted to really get serious with my river exploits this year so I decided the best way to do that was to get a boat. After mulling over all my watercraft options I decided on a jet sled. I wanted something light and maneuverable that afforded me lots of options for fishing. The jet sled allows me to fish up and down rivers or it can be fished out of like a drift boat. With the jet motor, they easily run in very shallow water and are easy to get unstuck if you do run aground. I had a great transaction with the folks at NR Motors in Prince George and picked up a 1448MT Lowe jon boat outfitted with a 25hp Mercury jet motor.

  Jon boats are basically a reinforced aluminum cans with bench seats so to get it river ready, I made a few customizations. The first thing I did was install a floor. This makes standing in the boat and placing things like coolers on the much more functional. It also covers up all the little edges and bumps that will snag or cut you fly line when fishing out of the boat. It also helps keep stuff dry that is stored on the floor.

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  A lot of guys used ¾ plywood and outdoor carpet to make a floor. It’s sturdy and you can attach things like a chair to it but the drawback with plywood is it’s heavy and it will get moldy and eventually rot. I wanted something light weight and more permanent. I used 1-½ rigid foam insulation to fill in the space between the hull support ribs and then fit ¼ inch rubber matting on top. It’s lighter than plywood; it won’t rot and the foam quiets the hull noise.

 

 

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FullSizeRender (1)  The next project was a place to store rods in the boat. A place to store strung, ready to fish fly rods is a really nice feature to have. Throwing a loose fly rod into an aluminum boat is just asking for damage and abuse. Having to restring rods every time you get to a new spot is just a big pain in the ass. Horizontal tubes like you see in some drift boats work pretty good for one or two 9’ rod single handed rods, but they don’t work very well for longer two handed rods. A 13’ Spey rod doesn’t fit very well in a 14’ boat unless you break it down into two pieces and then it is really tough to fit in a tube. The solution I came up with was to do what Adipose BoatWorks does in their drift boats and make a tray the length of the boat to lay the rods in. The tray has raised sides to keep the rods secure and prevent contact from above. I used two 3-⅝  – 20 gauge metal studs. I covered the outside with gorilla tape to take away the sharp edge of the metal stud and then lined the inside with outdoor carpet. The trays are attached to the rear seat and to the platform in the bow and the transom.This system will hold 4+ rods, either full length 9’ or 10’ and up to an 18’ Spey rod in two pieces. The tray can also be a handy place to store smaller items that get used often in the boat.

IMG_1304  I put an anchor system on my boat for mooring and anchoring in soft shallow water. It is great to have when operating the boat by yourself so you can beach the boat by yourself without having to get in too shallow of water and risk the pump sucking up debris and clogging the impeller on the pump. I installed a Scotty anchor pulley with 50’ of 3/8 braided nylon rope and made a chain anchor out of ½ inch chain and an eye bolt. It’s a 30-pound anchor and will hold in most bottoms.

I did couple other things to make a jon boat river ready like reinforcing the transom at the motor mounts and a tiller extension to move the most likely heaviest thing in the boat (you) a little more forward to help get the boat on step a little quicker. And lastly to help with storage for things like spare paddles and nets: some bungee cord on the inside of the hull.

I’m going to get some drift boat oars later in the season I’ll probably come up with a few more tweaks but the sled is definitely river ready. Come on Spring time!

 

Winter

    Yes, it’s still winter here in northern BC and she ‘s upped her game all this week with a nice dose of snow and a high of -20 for the week. I’ve been steadily preparing myself for fishing season all winter with, new flies, new lines, new rods… Oh, and a new boat. When I can’t fish I’m surfing Youtube watching fly fishing. I’m ready. So I’m a little perturbed with Mother Nature’s decision to revisit the height of the season. Have I mentioned I work outside? Maybe Global warming really isn’t such a bad thing. 

I’ve read that trout thrive in harsh conditions. Surviving winter isn’t easy. Just ask the Grasshopper. And unlike what happened in that story, in nature; no one is going to take you in, feed you, and keep you warm. In order to survive the winter in a frozen river, trout spend the warm months feeding voraciously on anything that resembles a food source. For a trout in Northern BC aquatic insects are cool but once they are big enough, they prefer things like fish and small mamals.  Bull Trout will eat whatever they can fit in their mouths. I once saw a guy catch a 24″ Bull Trout on a 12″ plastic fishlike lure; gut the thing on shore only to find a 12″ inch rainbow in its belly it ate an hour prior. ( I know they are catch and release and maybe this guy did too, but I don’t think he cared) The point is, to be a fish up here you gotta be tough. So when It’s freezing cold out and I start whining I just tell myself if old mister Rainbow can get through the winter at the bottom of a frozen river I don’t have it so bad and when it gets warm out I’m gonna try to set a hook in his lip while he’s getting ready for the next freeze.