With 468 species of fish, more than 350,000 lakes, 100 river systems, and 25,725 kilometres (15,985 miles) of coastline, it's no wonder British Columbia has been a major angling destination for over a century. Charter companies, outfitters and guides are all here, as are lodges and resorts from the rustic to the palatial.
Every region of the province has its prime fishing spots.
In the Vancouver, Coast & Mountains region, for example, you can cast a line for fresh or saltwater catches. The Fraser River is famous for huge salmon runs and the largest freshwater fish in North America, the white sturgeon. The Skagit, Harrison and Chilliwack-Vedder rivers are home to salmon, steelhead and trout; lakes and streams near Whistler can offer year-round fishing and the deep fjords of Howe Sound and the Sunshine Coast are the place for chinook and coho salmon.
Heading inland, Merritt and Kamloops, both on Highway 5 in the Thompson Okanagan, make great bases for trout fishing. Hundreds of lakes ("one a day for as long as you stay," quip the locals) are rich with a variety of fish, including the famous Kamloops rainbow trout, prized for its large size and fighting ability. Kokanee, rainbow and lake trout are prolific throughout the region, and some excellent bass fishing can be found in southern Okanagan lakes.
With more than 8,000 lakes, thousands of kilometres of rivers and a huge stretch of wild Pacific coastline, the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region offers an amazing range of fishing experiences. Highway 24, dubbed the Fishing Highway, is a fisherman’s dream: a 97-kilometre (60-mile) route leading to well over a hundred lakes teeming with rainbow trout. Cast a line for steelhead, famous for its fighting ability, on the Atnarko or Lower Dean rivers, or head to the coast for the trophy-sized salmon and halibut of Hakai Pass and Shearwater.
In the Kootenay Rockies, mountain lakes and remote streams are teeming with fish. The Elk, St. Mary and Columbia rivers are renowned fly-fishing locations; expect hard-fighting rainbow, cutthroat and bull trout. Large, deepwater lakes are home to kokanee and the famous Gerrard rainbow trout, which can grow to nine kilograms (20 lbs) or more, while the area's warm water lakes offer some of the best bass fishing in BC.
In Northern British Columbia, the waters around Prince Rupert, Kitimat and Haida Gwaii are world-famous for salmon and halibut — all five salmon species are caught here including chinook that can top 23 kilograms (50 lbs) and massive halibut that will test anglers’ strength and endurance. The Skeena River and its tributaries boast some of the best steelhead fishing in North America, while the region’s many lakes feature healthy stocks of rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and char — try the Lakes District near Burns Lake or the stretch of the Babine River dubbed “Rainbow Alley” for its legendary catches.
From Victoria in the south to Port Hardy in the north, Vancouver Island is an angler’s paradise. Visit any coastal town for a fishing charter that may include salmon, halibut, lingcod, rockcod and shellfish. Hit the salmon-rich offshore waters of the “Big Bank” on a charter from Tofino, Ucluelet, Port Renfrew or Bamfield, or troll the waters off Port Alberni for sockeye or massive fall-run chinooks. The east side of Vancouver Island is no less productive; Campbell River was once dubbed the “Salmon Capital of the World.” To the north, Port McNeil and Port Hardy lie along salmon migration routes and are the gateway to the rich fishing grounds of Queen Charlotte Strait. . Fishing lodges ranging from rustic to luxurious dot the surrounding Island; fly-in lodges in Rivers Inlet are renowned for huge Chinooks up to 27 kilograms (60 lbs). The lakes and rivers provide ample freshwater fishing opportunities: the Cowichan River boasts a 20-kilometre (12-mile) footpath for fishing (including a fly-fishing only section) while the Gold River is famous for its winter steelhead runs.
BC's fishing resources are carefully conserved and catch limits are adjusted to keep the fish populations healthy. In some lakes and rivers only catch-and-release fishing is permitted, but there are also plenty that allow you to keep what you land.
Separate licences are required for tidal (salt) water and freshwater fishing. Tidal water licences can be purchased at many fishing lodges, marinas, sporting goods stores, outfitters and service stations, and also online through Fisheries and Oceans Canada at www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca
For information about freshwater fishing including purchasing a licence online, fishing regulations and a list of licence vendors go to www.fishing.gov.bc.ca