About British Columbia Sportfishing
British Columbia is known worldwide as one of the best fishing vacation destinations that can be experienced anywhere on earth.
- There are more than 20,000 km (12,000 mi) of coastline, 25,000 lakes and tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams in BC.
- All five species of Pacific Salmon can be caught in abundance all along the BC coast, as well as Halibut, Ling Cod, Rockfish and more.
- BC’s lakes and streams abound with Rainbow Trout and are renowned for their Steelhead. Both are famed for the fight they put up. Lake Trout or Arctic Char have been known to exceed 100 pounds.
- The prehistoric looking White Sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish species in North America, are plentiful in BC’s rivers. The largest Sturgeon on record was caught in the Fraser River.
What to Catch
The most popular gamefish species in British Columbia are the five pacific Salmon species—Chinook (King), Sockeye (Red), Coho (Silver), Pink (Humpback) and Chum (Dog) salmon. Each return to their natal streams and spawn at different times of the year, depending on how far they have to travel.
- Chinook Salmon has always been BC sportfishing’s crown jewel. This trophy fish can tip the scales at more than 32 kg (70 lb.)
- In addition to Salmon, Halibut fishing is very popular, as are Ling Cod and Rockfish. Between April and October, they are widely fished by both boat and shore anglers from Victoria to Prince Rupert.
- White Sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in North America. These monsters can grow longer than 3 m (12 ft.) and weigh more than 500 kg (1,200 lb.)
- Another iconic BC fish is the Steelhead. Revered by anglers, steelhead are considered one of the hardest-fighting and most elusive game fish in the world.
- Hundreds of lakes and rivers in every region offer excellent freshwater fishing. Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout and Char are found in most waters, along with Dolly Varden.
When to Go
For prime Salmon fishing dates you’re going to want to plan on being in British Columbia between late May and November. Mid-June to mid-September is definitely the timeframe in which you want to be in BC to maximize your fishing success. Generally the season starts earlier on the north/central coast and Haida Gwaii—late May and June is usually an excellent month for Chinook (King) Salmon. During these months, schools of Chinook approach the shelves of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, feeding on herring and other baitfish before travelling back to rivers. These Chinook Salmon, usually between 10 and 30 lbs., are at their prime, so they are the hardest fighting Salmon. Sockeye Salmon are usually targeted in July and August when they are just outside the mouths of rivers. Like Chinook Salmon, they are caught by trolling, except with lighter fishing tackle. If you’re looking for a fishing lodge, early June to early September is prime time for fishing vacations with the weather and scenery being absolutely spectacular.
As August approaches, fishing lodge guides begin concentrating their effort closer to land, where Pink and Coho Salmon gather. Unlike Chinook Salmon, Coho and Pink Salmon tend to feed closer to the surface and closer to kelp beds. They hunt for smaller baitfish such as needlefish that live among kelps.
The south coast of BC and Vancouver Island usually starts seeing the best fishing starting in early July, through to late September. If you’re planning on finding a drive-in destination on Vancouver Island or the mainland, we’d suggest planning your trip for either July, August or September.
Where to Fish
The Best Fishing in BC
There is superb Salmon fishing all along the British Columbia coast. But here are our picks for the “best of the best” in BC.
Fly-in Fishing Lodges
There are some many amazing places in BC but for a fly-in fishing lodge, anywhere along the north/central coast or Haida Gwaii can’t be beat. If Salmon fishing here could be summed up in one word, it would be “abundance”. This abundance of Salmon is due to the geographical location of the islands and rugged coast. Protruding further west into the Pacific than any other land mass on the BC coast and lying 40 miles south of the Alaska panhandle, Haida Gwaii poses a major obstacle that all Salmon must pass along their annual migration route. The rocky shorelines and kelp beds provide excellent feeding grounds for all five species of Pacific Salmon although it is the Chinook and Coho that the islands are renowned for. Chinook Salmon fishing in Haida Gwaii and the north/central coast is considered the pinnacle of saltwater sport fishing in British Columbia.
Drive-In Fishing Lodges
Many BC fishing lodges and resorts can be reached by car, particularly in the region of southern Vancouver Island, where travellers can fly into Victoria International Airport and rent a car to drive to the lodge. A few are near the BC’s largest city Vancouver, while others on the BC mainland and further north on Vancouver Island are reachable by car, but you’ll have a long (yet very scenic) drive to get there.
While you could technically drive to fishing lodges in the north/central interior and along the north coast (and Haida Gwaii, which does have one ferry to the islands leaving from Prince Rupert), the distance is so far and the roads are often non-paved logging roads only, so these lodges are generally listed as “fly-in”.
Second only to Alaska, the waters of Cartwright Sound are widely considered the most productive Halibut grounds on the BC coast. A series of pinnacles and banks rise up from the edge of the continental shelf where Halibut and other species actively feed. Halibut have been caught here on rod and reel exceeding 400 lb. though the typical size is in the 20 to 120 pound range.
Anglers at Rivers Inlet on the central coast of mainland BC British Columbia have set more records than at any other location. However, there’s a small window of opportunity for the really big fish. For consistent big Tyee-class Chinook, we’d recommend Port Hardy or Kyuquot, both at the north end of Vancouver Island. Both locations have some of the best Chinook (King) salmon fishing in British Columbia, largely due to both the diversity of habitat, cold upwelling currents, and abundant shoals of baitfish such as herring, needlefish and sand lance. Although this area has year round Salmon fishing opportunities, the season peaks from June to September as hungry schools of Salmon migrate through and stop to feed on the abundant food sources. Both Port Hardy and Kyuoquot are situated to perfectly access salmon stocks migrating down the inside and outside of the island. Anglers get to fish the areas of highest mixed stock abundance for all five species of pacific salmon.
If We Had to Choose Just One Place to Fish
Haida Gwaii, hands down. This is the only area on the British Columbia coast that boasts excellent fishing for Chinook Salmon from May all the way through to September. The Chinook here are strong and in the best shape of their lives averaging 20 to 40 pounds. Every single year Chinook Salmon over 50 pounds are landed by lucky anglers on Haida Gwaii’s west coast. The rugged backdrops, pristine natural environment and abundant runs of Chinook and Coho Salmon make this place an angler’s paradise. Nowhere else on the BC coast is Salmon fishing experienced in such a dramatic setting as the west coast of Haida Gwaii.
Northern and Central Interior
Soaring mountains, broad plains, tree-covered hillsides and coastal rainforests lure the adventurous angler to this rich, remote yet easily accessible region of British Columbia. 68 rivers flow through the region, many starting along the interior slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Mountain run-off feeds hundreds of creeks and lakes, home to Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Bull Trout and Lake Trout as well as Arctic Grayling, Northern Pike, Walleye, Yellow Perch, and Whitefish.
Where the rivers meet the Pacific, anglers can fish for Steelhead and some of the largest Dolly Varden found in the province. The Skeena River and its tributaries are a magnet for summer Steelhead anglers. Starting in mid-April through to mid-May there is a run of ocean-run Steelhead that move into the lower sections of the Skeena and Kalum rivers. The upper Skeena is a pristine environment with practically no fishing pressure or environmental disturbance.
Home to the world-famous Bulkley River, the area around Smithers is stunning in the fall, as the hillsides glow in orange and yellow. The Steelhead fishing here is among some of the best in the world; spectacular Steelhead fishing is what the Bulkley River is known for—an easily-waded river with approximately 20,000 returning wild steelhead annually. The Morice River is the main tributary of the Bulkley and also offers some spectacular fishing during the late summer and fall months. The Morice offers easy wading, short casting distances and high numbers of congregating fish.
The Skeena River is the main drainage for northern British Columbia and one of the last strongholds for wild fish anywhere in the world. The Skeena and its tributaries are home to tens of thousands of returning Steelhead and millions of returning Salmon. The first Chinook (King) Salmon begin arriving in mid-May with prime fishing season ranging from mid-June to late July.
One of the most diverse and productive fishing destinations in BC, the Cariboo region offers anglers thousands of lakes and hundreds of kilometres of rivers and streams. Shallow lakes offer extensive shoals and dense weed mats for the fly fisher, while deeper lakes with steep drop-offs will please those who prefer to troll. Highlights include the Fishing Highway, Highway 24 in the South Cariboo, Quesnel Lake (rainbow trout up to 25 lbs) and the Horsefly and Quesnel Rivers in the Central Cariboo, as well as Dragon Lake and the Nazko area in the North Cariboo.
The Chilcotin is fly-fishing heaven. Sweeping west from the Fraser River to the Coast Mountains this landscape is as diverse as any imaginable. The Chilcotin Plateau is dotted with an incredible number of small lakes where the fishing for Rainbow Trout can be fast and furious. Several of the rivers slicing through the Chilcotin are renowned in angling circles for exceptional trout fishing. Highlights include the Chilko, Chilcotin, Upper Dean and Blackwater Rivers.
British Columbia does not have a shortage of large lakes. Kootenay Lake, Okanagan Lake, Skaha Lake are deep and their residents are the infamous Gerrard Rainbow Trout and Bull Trout. These two predatory species feed on small fish such as Kokanee, so they can grow to a tremendous size. Fish from 10 lb. to 20 lb. are not uncommon. Fishing for them usually requires a larger boat, where you troll plugs and spoons as if you are fishing for Salmon in the ocean.
Fishing BC’s North and Central Interior
The north and central interior of beautiful British Columbia is an immense wilderness that offers countless lakes and rivers filled with a diverse range of fish. The region is vast and varied in landscape, from thick forests and rolling hills to golden plains and rocky peaks. The nutrient-rich ecosystem, crystal clear lakes and plentiful rivers make this region ideal for your BC sportfishing vacation.
The mist-draped coastline of British Columbia’s north/central coast has the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest and is lined with towering, snow-crowned peaks, massive ice fields and some of the world’s longest fjords. Old-growth stands of cedar and spruce cover the land, and rich Salmon streams weave through the valley bottoms, providing food for the magnificent creatures that inhabit the coast—killer whales, eagles, marine wolves and bears, including the mysterious white Spirit Bear, or Kermode.
This coast offers hundreds of kilometres of rivers flowing from the coast mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Highlights include the Lower Dean River which is recognized as one of the world’s finest Steelhead rivers. The Atnarko and Bella Coola Rivers have exceptional winter and spring fishing for resident Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden and Cutthroat Trout, with exhilarating fishing for Chinook during May and June. This region also includes a magnificent, pristine stretch of coast with a rich supply of herring to keep the salmon well-fed and big. Halibut and bottom fish are also excellent in this area.
The fishing season is approximately 8 months, from mid-March to mid-November.
Trophy Chinook Salmon are most abundant in late July and early August. Halibut fishing is very productive in this region. The Coho runs become thick in August with the salmon feeding vigorously and near the surface and averaging 15-18 lb.
Coho will start to arrive in mid-July and will continue through mid-September. Halibut, Ling Cod and Yellow Eye Rockfish (Red Snapper) are also present in great numbers.
There is also some fabulous estuary and saltwater fly fishing, where the day’s highlight can be bear sightings as they come to the water’s edge is search of salmon.
The Islands of Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the “Queen Charlotte Islands” are considered one of the worlds premier fishing destinations. This is especially true on the Island archipelago’s remote west coast. Located on the extreme western shore of British Columbia, the rugged island chain lies on the edge of the continental shelf. Few places on earth play host to a greater variety of living creatures than Haida Gwaii. Whales, especially humpback and killer whales, are the most dramatic of the creatures that can be seen here, and rare is the trip that does not feature several sightings. Dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, bald eagles, and countless other fish, bird and marine mammal species are also commonly seen.
Upwelling ocean currents mix with the cold water of the BC coast to provide a rich feeding ground for Salmon, Halibut and a wide variety of marine life. In a place that has remained unchanged for thousands of years, the west coast of Haida Gwaii provides a fishing experience that is truly unique and can’t be found anywhere else.
All five species of Pacific salmon can be found in the waters around Haida Gwaii, in the absolute prime of their life. Thousands of distinct runs of these hard-fighting fish visit during the spring, summer and fall. They gather in Haida Gwaii’s protective waters to feed hungrily on needlefish and herring, before continuing their migration to natal streams throughout BC and the US west coast. The star attraction here is Chinook salmon, ranging from 15 to 70+ lb., and Coho from 7 to 20+ lb. Chum, Sockeye and Pink salmon can also be encountered here. At certain times of the season it is not uncommon to catch 3 or 4 different salmon species in one day. The sheer abundance of Salmon, and many protected bays and kelp beds also allows for exciting ocean fly fishing.
Haida Gwaii and the BC North Coast
Perched off the northwest coast of British Columbia are the “misty isles” of Haida Gwaii, famous as the ancestral homeland of the Haida First Nations.
Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands
Surrounded by the rich waters of the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver Island–recognized by Condé Nast Traveller magazine as the “Top North American Island” for seven years in a row—is known worldwide for its saltwater and freshwater fishing. Fishing on Vancouver Island can best be described with words like “variety”, “quality”, and “accessibility”. From Victoria in the south to Port Hardy in the north and Tofino on the west coast, you are never more than a few minutes away from incredible angling opportunities.
The Vancouver Island fishing season gets going during the early spring when the southern area sees some of its best Halibut fishing. There is also the first pushes of migrating Chinook Salmon during the spring months. As summer begins, salmon fishing really heats up, with excellent fishing for Chinook (King) Salmon and all other species. The fall can also be action-packed with superb Coho (Silver) Salmon fishing and also great Halibut fishing.
Great fishing lodges are available all around Vancouver Island. Hotspots include Port Hardy, Winter Harbour and beautiful and remote Kyuquot at the north end of the island, Tofino, Ucluet, Bamfield, Port Alberni and Campbell River mid-island, and Nanaimo and Sooke at the south, which also offer easy access to the capital city, Victoria.
The west side of the island in particular offers very productive fishing for Chinook Salmon and Halibut. Visitors are always amazed at the consistency of fish sizes and quantity, with multiple fish in the 20 lb.+ range being the norm.
Vancouver Island’s southern peninsula enjoys a long season of Salmon and Halibut fishing. With easy runs to the fishing grounds and consistent fishing nearly all year long, this area has become one of BC’s best-kept Salmon fishing secrets.
In late summer and early fall, inshore boat fishing for Coho, Pink and Chum Salmon are also available. These can be targeted by a variety of techniques, including fly fishing, lure casting, jigging and trolling.
At the Alberni Inlet, July is known for its spectacular Sockeye Salmon return. This fishery requires you to be on the water before dawn, but it rarely disappoints.
For freshwater fishing, hundreds of lakes, streams and rivers offer Steelhead, Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout, Dolly Varden and Kokanee. Gold River, Stamp River and Cowichan River are favourites of anglers. Moderate temperatures mean many of the lakes and rivers never freeze, providing year-round angling, much of it easily accessible.
Sportfishing on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands
Surrounded by the rich waters of the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver Island–recognized by Condé Nast Traveller magazine as the “Top North American Island” for seven years in a row—is known worldwide for its saltwater and freshwater fishing. Fishing can best be described with words like “variety”, “quality”, and “accessibility”.
Southwestern British Columbia would seem an unlikely candidate as a destination as a quality angling location. Its mix of skyscrapers, urban sprawl and associated ‘development’ cloaks the fact another world exists amidst and adjacent to its concrete jungles. Unique in all of urban North America, Vancouver and surrounding area legitimately boost the kind of angling more associated with far-flung destinations. Solid resource management coupled with hatchery and stocking programs ensure reliable angling for all five species of Pacific Salmon, Sturgeon, Cutthroat Trout, Steelhead, Rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden in a diverse range of waters and settings.
For all this variety, river angling is the region’s forte, thanks in no small measure to the Fraser River, North America’s greatest free-flowing producer of Pacific Salmon. Salmon and Steelhead are present in almost every river, stream and slough connected directly or indirectly to tidewater.
One of the area’s most popular rivers for fly fishers is the Skagit River, near Hope. This beautiful mountain stream offers Rainbow and Bull Trout and Dolly Varden.
Acrobatic Kamloops Trout. Huge ocean-run steelhead. Dry, desert-like climate. Hundreds of stocked lakes. The famed Thompson River. No wonder thousands of anglers return year after year to the Southern Interior.
The action starts on most lakes in April. The Nehalliston wilderness lakes on the Bonaparte Plateau are great examples of excellent fishing that stays good all summer. High elevation lakes like Dairy, Taweel and world-famous Lac Le Jeune promise great fishing. Brook, Lake and Bull Trout, Dolly Varden are all caught here.
The Thompson region is British Columbia’s trout fishing heaven. Anglers have been venturing here since the 1800’s, lured by tales of a special breed of trout. The Kamloops Trout and the waters it calls home produce the best small lake angling in the world. The majority of the well-known lakes are stocked with Rainbow Trout on a regular basis.
This region features one of the most famous Steelhead streams in British Columbia—the Thompson River. Renowned for their strength and stamina the Thompson River Steelhead average between 12 and 20 lb. and will readily take a fly. Rainbow Trout also abound in the Thompson River as well as other smaller streams such as the Clearwater, Adams and Mahood.
Fishing Trips in Southern British Columbia
British Columbia’s southern interior regions offer hundreds of spectacular world-class lakes and rivers. The climate is very tolerable year round, so fishing can be enjoyed in all four seasons. Beside salmon fishing in summer and fall, anglers have many opportunities to target steelhead, coastal cutthroat trout, bull trout and dolly varden.
You can keep a total of four (4) non-Chinook (King) salmon per day and have a total possession limit of eight (8) salmon. This generous limit is a big advantage of fishing in British Columbia over anywhere else.
Chinook salmon retention limits were changed on April 16, 2019 by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in order to protect endangered Fraser River chinook salmon runs. The current limits are as follows:
- April 16 – July 15, 2019: No retention of chinook salmon. Catch and release, only.
- July 15 – August 30, 2019: Retention of one chinook salmon per day, per person is allowed. Each person is allowed to retain two chinook salmon, total.
- August 31, 2019 and after: Retention of two chinook salmon per day, per person is allowed. Each person is allowed to retain four chinook salmon, total.
All fishing lodge guests are encouraged to practice conservation and keep only as many fish as you’ll want to eat. Retention limits on other salmon species are unchanged. You can still retain two other salmon species per day, per person up to a total of four per person. These other four can be a combination of any other of the species.
All retained Chinook must measure 45 cm or more from the tip of nose to fork of tail. All Coho, Sockeye, Pink and Chum must measure 30 cm or more.
You can keep one (1) halibut per day and have a total of two (2) possession. This means you can go home with a maximum of two (2) halibut. There are slot limits for halibut in BC—you can keep one halibut over 90 cm but no greater than 133 cm and you can keep one halibut under 90 cm.
When you come Salmon fishing in BC you’ll need a Tidal (saltwater) fishing license. They’re easily purchased online and are quite affordable. If you plan on keeping Salmon then you’ll need to include a Salmon Conservation Stamp, there will be a prompt in the licensing process asking if you’d like to include this. Anglers under the age of 16 can get a free fishing license, but will still have to go online to register and will have to purchase a Salmon Conservation Stamp to keep fish. For more information and pricing on fishing licenses you can visit the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Recreational Fishing License website.
For freshwater fishing, you require a non-tidal/freshwater fishing licence. See http://www.fishing.gov.bc.ca/
Purchase your licence online and print a copy before your trip. You are required to carry a printed and signed version of your licence—remember to bring it with you on every fishing trip!