Affordable Adventure: B.C. River Kings On Your Own

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

Big Salmon. Little competition. Low cost. There’s lots to like about a do-it-yourself-style Canadian wilderness king salmon trip, and this ScoutLook feature will help jump-start your planning.

SalmonLEAD2 600I don’t believe I’ve ever met an angler who hasn’t dreamed about an epic salmon fishing trip in Canada or Alaska. Unfortunately, I’ve never really come across many people who’ve made those dreams a reality. Why? Well the reasons can be endless: Lodges are expensive, lack of a boat, and the unfortunate (and incorrect) notion that this type of fishing is only available with a guide. And the list could go on and on. In reality, there is no reason why you couldn’t be either driving home from, or reminiscing about, your own memorable salmon trip at this same time next year.

Salmon1 600The logistics behind freshwater chinook salmon fishing in British Columbia are as simple as getting yourself up to this scenic province, buying a license and hitting the river. Citizens of the U.S. have three choices for a fishing license:  A 1-day ($20), 8-day ($50), or annual ($80) license. For most, I would recommend the annual license; the cost is fairly close to the 8-day option and who knows, you might ‘catch’ the bug and want to come back later in the year for more!

Salmon3 600_edited-1There are plenty of salmon-holding rivers throughout British Columbia, but if you flip through magazines or talk to anyone who’s ever been, there is a common trend that you’ll likely start to notice:  The Skeena region is the place to be! This area lies in the northwest region of the province and is home to numerous pristine salmon rivers and tributaries. A few of the more-productive fisheries that are worth a closer look include the Skeena, Bulkley and Kitimat rivers. Here you’ll find hundreds of miles of pools, falls, and slack water that’s ideal for targeting the mighty king salmon from shore—no boat required—as these big strong hard-fighting fish make their way up river to spawn.

Salmon4 600Since many of the salmon rivers can be 100-plus miles from a major hub city, and camping will be the primary accommodation for the angler on a budget, it is best to stock up on any needed supplies while in one of the towns in the region—Smithers, Terrace, and Prince Rupert are the main urban centers. Here you’ll find an ample selection of food, gas, gear, and tackle shops that will be more than happy to set you up with the hottest gear. In the event something slips your mind while in town, you might stumble across the odd wilderness service station; just be prepared to pay extremely high prices while off the beaten path.

Salmon5 600Medium-heavy to heavier baitcasting gear is an ideal method for catching BC kings if you’ve never done it; those who are not comfortable with a baitcaster can also do well with heavy spinning gear. For terminal tackle, all you really need is hooks, weights, floats, brightly colored spawn-imitating yarn, and some bait (roe). Stocking your tacklebox with the right terminal gear is very affordable and you should be able to fill your box with plenty of gear for $50 or less. Rods, on the other hand, can range from about $50 up to several hundred dollars or more; for advice on the proper setup I recommend contacting or stopping in at Oscar’s Source for Adventure in Smithers; they have an unbelievable amount of knowledge and a healthy selection of gear. The helpful staff is happy to set you up and they might even let you in on a sure-fire honey hole or two!

Salmon6 600There’s no doubt traveling to Northern British Columbia is a long way to drive (or fly), so it’s critical that you choose your trip dates wisely. The most-productive weeks vary depending on which rivers you’ve chosen to target, beginning about April 1st and stretching as late as December 31st. For many rivers and tributaries, the beginning of July through the end of August is the “prime time” to hook into one of these monster salmon; this is especially true the further in from the coast that you are fishing, since the sea-run kings will often begin migrating upstream in the early spring.

Salmon7 600Once you’re standing at the water’s edge, reading a river and otherwise pin-pointing the most-productive locations can be a daunting task even during the best of times, especially if you’ve never fished for river-run salmon. Kings like to hang out near the bottom and “stage” in slower pools, which are located out of the main current of the heavy-flowing rivers. Generally speaking, these pools will be several feet deep and can be found in several predictable locations: In the slack water where two rivers meet, where a river bends, or on the downstream side of river islands or piles of wood and other debris that have built up during high water. These pools, combined with the chinook’s uncanny ability to smell roe, are often a sure-fire recipe for king salmon success.

Salmon8 600Fishing big water and strong currents comes with a plethora of inherent dangers. On many of these major rivers, if you were to slip and fall in certain hazardous locations, there is a high probability of getting sucked under by the strong undercurrents, or caught up in debris hidden below the water. At the least, you’ll experience a dunking and be taken for a scary ride down river. It is because of these natural dangers that you should use extreme caution and avoid approaching and wading these rivers with a “daring” mentality. The practice of always wearing some type of life jacket, including the newer “low-profile” inflatable life jackets (Cabela’s Guidewear 3500 Auto PFD currently on sale for $118.99), comes highly recommended.

Salmon9 600No one should experience the spring and summer seasons in Northern Canada without preparing for a few less-desirable residents—bugs! There is not a question of whether or not you will encounter bugs on your salmon fishing trip, but rather, how bad they will be and what you should do to deal with them. Luckily, by using the ScoutLook Fishing app, you’ll be able to get both an up-to-date weather forecast, and also a forecast of how bad the bugs will be, so you’ll know in advance what you’ll be facing. One of the best and easiest ways to deal with bugs is a handy (even trip-saving!) Thermacell unit. Packing along one (or even two) of these units, along with several extra butane cartridges and repellant mats, comes highly recommended.

Salmon10 600You know there is big water, you know there are bugs, and you know there are salmon in the rivers. But what should you really expect when you are on the shore with rod in hand? Sure, the action can be non-stop. And you might even be lucky enough to hit the timing perfectly. In reality, however, that is not always the case. For the first three to four hours of the day, and the last three to four hours before sunset, you should be fishing—no question. Throughout the day though, can be the perfect time to relax, have a nap, go for a hike or otherwise soak-in some of the local surroundings; there is plenty to do and see if the fishing slows down or turns right off. Remember that these fish are migrating, and if your goal is catch many fish, it can be wise to move often, and try many locales.

Salmon11 600Are you ready for a do-it-yourself northcountry salmon adventure? If the thought of battling 20- to 50-pound king salmon that you find on your own still doesn’t seem attainable, think of it this way:  A week of salmon fishing at a full-service lodge can set you back upwards of $4,000 to $6,000. Conversely, an adventurous do-it-yourself trip might be somewhat less of a sure bet, but will cost you maybe $300 plus your travel expenses. You don’t need fancy lodges to catch fish—you’ve just got to be willing to do a bit of the “leg work” yourself. And if you’re like me, there is absolutely nothing like the satisfaction and well-rounded experience of an adventurous “self-outfitted” salmon trip.



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