The prospect of settling into the river eight hours away from being able to get out again was slightly intimidating, but the idea of “being one” with my pontoon boat, far away from any town and simply drifting with the flowing water was too good to pass up.
I was invited by Lewis Johnson, a former local flyfishing guide and author of The Chronic Flyfisher: Flyfishing in the BC Central Interior (conveniently, also known as my father) to flyfish our way down the Stellako River in Northern BC. The mouth of the Stellako is on Francois Lake, about 10 km from the Highway 16 turnoff near the small community of Fraser Lake – about 70 km east of Burns Lake and 150 km west of Prince George. Each fall, hundreds of thousands of sockeye salmon swim hundreds of kilometres to spawn in this river. Their activity attracts a large amount of rainbow trout that come to feast on the millions of sockeye eggs. All of this creates a paradise for the flyfisher who wades in from the shore or the one who floats down this 11 km river, and the scenery of the area is perfect for this amateur flyfisher.
We dressed in our rain clothes and neoprene waders, secured our gear and pushed our pontoon boats into the water by the bridge that separates the lake from the river. The Stellako Lodge & Resort is located here, providing cabins for overnighters and there are several campgrounds just a short drive further down the road, including Nithi Resort, where I recently scored a great spot right on the shore of Francois Lake for a night.
We set out on our drift, paddling around rocks in the river. The bright red and golden yellow leaves of fall popped with vibrancy against the grey sky and the scene was awe-inspiring despite the slightly drizzling rain. The river slowly wove and twisted through trees, past small sandy beaches and next to large rock cliffs. Around every corner, I held my breath, anxious to see what would be there; my dad has encountered much wildlife during his trips down this river, including everything from deer to moose to black bears, luckily without incident, but of course we were prepared with our bear spray, a necessity in this part of the backcountry. On this day, I saw only the fish and several bald-headed eagles watching us from above, and a deer near the river after we were done our drift.
Every so often we pulled up on shore and waded out into shallow parts of the river with our fly rods to play with some of the trout. I caught a couple of little guys and was sure to gently remove my barbless hook and let them go. At lunchtime, we pulled up to a clearing in the bush, made a little fire and roasted some hot dogs, downing them with our thermoses of hot chocolate. My dad informed me we were about halfway done – the time was flying! The float actually takes only a few hours, but getting lost in the fishing will easily double that.
Awhile later, we approached the one part of the river I had been anticipating with a bit of worry: a small waterfall. Really, it was only about five feet tall, and would’ve been no problem in a river kayak, but in a pontoon boat filled with expensive fishing gear, it’s probably not worth the risk. There’s an easy portage area, but maneuvering to the shore in water that moves a little quicker here is the hard part. I managed, but only thanks to my dad quickly grabbing my boat and pulling me in before I floated past him! (For more experienced pontoon boaters, I’m told this isn’t as tricky as I seem to think it is!)
The last couple hours of the drift are pretty calm and more beautiful than ever. Having already fished for hours, I was more than content just to bob along, listening to the sounds of the gentle flopping of the sockeye as they tried to swim upstream and watching the graceful casting movements of the seasoned flyfishers on this perfect autumn day.
Fishing in Northern British Columbia
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