Vancouver is a large metropolitan city with a population of approximately 2.2 million people. The shores of the Pacific Ocean, and the Coast Mountain Range border Vancouver. Its mild climate, natural beauty and relatively easy access to trading partners in south-east Asia make it an important business hub as well as a tourist destination.
Many of those who choose Vancouver as a business or tourist destination, are passionate or casual anglers of all skill levels, looking to experience what Vancouver has to offer. Luckily there are many great fishing opportunities in Vancouver or within a short drive of the city.
Lakes, rivers and the Pacific Ocean all offer great opportunities, during different times of the year. Let’s be honest though, there is a lot of fishing pressure on most of the productive waters with such a large city, within arms reach. The days of go anywhere and catch fish anywhere are very much gone. There are a few gems out there, but the ones that know about them are pretty tight lipped, as it doesn’t take much with the world of Internet for the word to get out. So unless you have weeks and months to explore, I recommend you see a professional at one of the few local tackle shops, or seek the services of a professional fishing guide.
(Be no means, is the below a complete list. These are waters fished at some point by us at Double Header Sport Fishing.)
Alice Lake – is a productive lake with very good shore access. Although this lake which is located off Highway 99 north of Squamish doesn’t hold huge fish, the rainbow trout are quite plentiful. It also has cutthroat trout and dolly varden. As with most lakes in the region, best fishing is in the spring and fall, as the waters get quite warm and busy with other users, such as swimmers and boaters in the summer months.
Allouette Lake – is a large, deep lake, located about 13km north of Maple Ridge, in the Golden Ears Provincial Park. The lake is used by many other user groups, with a lot of boat traffic in the summer months. Although the lake looks very fishy, shore fishing isn’t very productive. A small boat is pretty much a must on this lake. Try fishing for kokanee, rainbow and cutthroat trout and if you get lucky "down deep" you may catch a trophy lake trout.
Alta Lake – is the largest of the lakes in the Whistler, British Columbia area. It also holds the largest of trout in the area. The lake holds rainbow, cutthroat, kokanee and bull trout. It is a great fly fishing lake in Whistler.
Birkenhead River (a little gem) – A little further past Whistler and the town of Pemberton, runs this pretty, productive river. I’ve spent many of days fishing it. It is worth the extra drive! The river gets good returns of Chinook, Sockeye and Coho salmon. Because of the returning salmon, the river holds good numbers of rainbow, cutthroat and bull trout that feed on the salmon eggs and flesh of the salmon which return mainly in the summer/fall. IN MY OPINION, IT’S ALWAYS BETTER TO FISH RIVERS IN THE HEAT OF THE SUMMER RATHER THAN LAKES, AS RIVER WATER IS MUCH COOLER AND FISH THEND TO BE A LOT MORE ACTIVE.
Capilano River – is only about a 15-20min. drive from downtown Vancouver. Due to its proximity, it can also be very busy on this (at times) productive river. There is a Hatchery on this river, consequently it has the returning salmon. The river is low most of the time, consequently fish are difficult to catch. Your best bet is Ambleside Park, where the river meets the ocean. From June to October, coho salmon are the most likely catch. On odd years, in September, the Pink fishing can be very good as well.
Cheakamus River – located about 13 km north of Squamish, is a rugged terrain river which isn’t what it once was, largely due to a sodium hydroxide spill into the river in 2005. However, other than the freshet months of May, June and the early part of July, the river can be fished for bull trout, resident rainbows, and the few returning salmon in the lower section, below the falls.
Chilliwack/Vedder River – although you’re looking at an hour and a half + of travel from Vancouver to get to this river, it can be worth the drive. Most locals call it "The Vedder" and it is the most popular river in the lower mainland. It is literally one of those places where salmon, trout or steelhead can be caught year round, other than when the river is closed to fishing (May, June). There are almost 40 kms of fishable water! The key to this river is "EXPLORE" as most anglers tend to get bunched up on few spots. Once again, I've spent many of successful days on this river! My best day is 6 winter run steelhead in a single day!
Harrison River - is a very short river (approx. 9km) connecting Harrison Lake and the Fraser River. The shore access is pretty difficult into the productive spots, but fishing on either side, above the Hwy. 7 bridge can be productive for salmon and trout. The Harrison River also holds a healthy population of White Sturgeon.
Pitt River - The "upper" Pitt River is one of the "great Canadian" wilderness rivers left in the Vancouver region. In large part, it’s only accessible by a 25km. boat ride across the largest tidal lake in North America, Pitt Lake, or by air. There are no roads that lead to this gem. Other than hiring a reputable guide from a local pro fishing shop such as Riverside Fly and Tackle, there is no way to get to this very special place. We don't guide on this river. Although we fish it, we aren't there enough to guide it. The Pitt River offers big trout, steelhead and salmon!
Squamish River - is one of the nicest and most productive around, considering its proximity to Vancouver, BC. Same as most other salmon bearing rivers near Vancouver, the Squamish has a pretty good population of trout and some steelhead. The river also has a lot of wildlife within its corridors, including bears, deer and eagles. Your best bet is to fish this river below the Cheakamus confluence, down to the Ashlu. This river is great for fly fishing! The Squamish supports all 5 of the pacific salmon species during various times of the year.
Stave River – is only a 1.5 km long river, bordering Maple Ridge and Mission. At the top end there is a hydro damn, and at the out flow, it drains into the Fraser River. Don’t let the length of the river fool you though, as there is great foot access along both sides, for the most part. This is one of my favorite haunts. There are salmon present from July to November, a few steelhead from January to April, and trout year round.
Whonnock Lake - is a small, warm lake, on the east end of Maple Ridge, only about a 10 min. drive from the Stave River. Although the fish in this lake don’t get large, they are plentiful and a lot of fun on light tackle. You can encounter rainbow trout, and crappie.
Emptying into the Pacific Ocean in Vancouver following its 1,375 kilometers long journey, is one of the greatest rivers in the world, the Fraser River. A true gem, as each year, millions of salmon migrate up the Fraser River into their home streams, and monster White Sturgeon sift in and out of the river in pursuit of large amounts of food. The Fraser River is a true fish highway!
Although fishing this river can be very productive, it's different ball of wax. Some of the biggest challenges are its size which can be very intimidating, water clarity, and lack of shore access to name a few.
All of the 5 Pacific salmon species, steelhead, trout and char known to British Columbia migrate past Vancouver, through the Fraser River, to their natal streams or hold/spawns in the river itself. I've fished this river for the past 20 years, yet I still feel I know so little... Different times of the year focus on different species of fish, however, fish can be caught in the Fraser River year round, and the river never closes to fishing all together. Overall, from my experiences, the best times to fish the Fraser River near Vancouver for salmon are July to November. There are endless methods of catching the different species in different sections of the river; spoon fishing, float fishing, bar fishing, bottom bouncing, back trolling, just to name a few. The novice or out of town angler would have to spend many days, weeks and months experimenting with the various methods in different sections of the river to be productive on consistent basis.
The "REAL" gem of this river though, is the White Sturgeon. The species has been around for a million+ years. In reality there are a lot of places in British Columbia, North America and even world-wide, where an angler can go catch salmon. There aren't a lot of places where one can go catch the largest fresh water fish in North America, the White Sturgeon. Never mind the fact you have a very good chance of catching salmon and sturgeon in the same day!
The Fraser River is home to a healthy population of White Sturgeon, estimated to be between 55,000 and 70,000 fish. Not all the fish are present at all times, as many of them migrate in and out of the Pacific Ocean, in search of food. Although they can be caught year round, mid July to mid November is the best time to try and go after the truly large fish. This fishery is very fast becoming a destination for many anglers from all around the world. Right in Vancouver and all the way up to Hope and beyond, one has a reasonable chance of catching a fish that's bigger than the angler him/her self. Although it's advertised these fish grow to be over 1,000lbs. (and it is true), it is very rare one that size is landed. Although each year we land quite a few fish over 7 and 8ft., with the odd one over 9, the average size fish is about 4.5ft. and 70lbs. During the peak times, it is quite realistic to hook a fish over 6ft. in length, just about every day, or at least every other. A 6ft. fish could tip the scales at over 200lbs. if it has been feeding well. The average day of sturgeon fishing typically yields 8 or so fish to the boat. However, there have been days we’ve gone into the high teens, twenties or more...
Sturgeon fishing (and catching) is quite the science and involves a long learning curve and being on the river often. Although there are a few shore access spots one has a realistic chance of hooking sturgeon, landing a big fish is a challenge. Large fish can take several hundred yards of line out over the course of half dozen runs and 1 or more leaps. There generally isn't enough accessible land below you to chase the fish downstream and land it. Fishing out of a boat you can chase the fish which is a great advantage.
Hooking and landing one of these monsters is truly an experience of a life time. It's not often you can hook and land a fish that's bigger than you, so close to Vancouver. One of the reasons the fishing pressure is relatively low is because this is a "CATCH AND RELEASE" fishery only, keeping all the meat hunters away.
Whether you choose Vancouver, British Columbia as a business, tourist or purely fishing destination, I highly recommend trying your luck in landing a White Sturgeon. It is an experience of a life time. It is the array of size that's available in this fishery that makes it so exciting. It's the next bite that could be a 2 hour fight, landing the big one! Some of the most productive waters are within 1 hour drive of Vancouver. Hiring a knowledgeable fishing guide on the Fraser River is your best bet for landing one of these beauties.
Good luck, and we'll see you on the water.
Article by: Radek Hanus