Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Ten Thousand Miles Through Canada
Chapter XV

Going west—Stave River—Minnow and spoon-bait— Coquitlam River—Vancouver angling—Scarcity of gillies—Off to the Narrows—Angling in the Pacific—Playing a salmon in a swift tide—Dame Fortune’s amends—Off Vancouver Island— The Campbell River—The Cowichan River—Advocacy of the fly—The best months—Trout fishing—The fly season—The fry season—A visit to Seymour Creek—A lonely forest—Track of the grizzly—In search of a trail—The Vedder river—A charming retreat—Wading for Dolly Vardens—Capture with the fly—A magic evening scene—The North Thompson River— The Columbia River—Kootenay and Okanagan—The course of the Columbia River—Great trout lakes.

GOING further west, between Mission Junction and Whomack on the Canadian Pacific Railway, there is the Stave, another salmon river. It runs from Stave Lake, five miles distant from Ruskin. The lake itself is only about three miles long, and is fed by a triplet of small rivers flowing from the north. Fraser salmon run up the Stave to spawn. It has many swift reaches, where conoes and spring fish rest, and are in a mood to take the fly. If the river is discoloured, a medium-sized spoon or a large Devon minnow are suitable lures. The Fraser is beautifully flanked at Ruskin, with hills well coated with thick brushwood. Lurking shadows play about their shoulders, and over their summit the snow-clad heights of the Selkirk Mountains flash and sparkle. A quail rises on the banks of the river, and flies at a pace that gives this bird, almost extinct in England, a valued place amongst American winged game. It slows off halfway across the water, but the impetus has been so great that the wings do not flap until it drops into cover on the opposite bank.

Coquitlam River is the nearest of any importance to the sea, east of Westminster. It, too, is a tributary of the Fraser, and flows from Coquitlam Lake, only a few miles’ distance from the main river. Whilst it is scarcely equal to the Stave or Harrison from an angling point of view, it holds a high place amongst the sporting rivers of the province. The lure intended for the smaller game is often taken by big fish, and a valuable addition is made to the basket.

At Vancouver the salmon angler again can mount his trolling rod and enjoy good sport in the Narrows, where the Pacific sweeps in at full tide. There the peaceful harbour, sheltered by mountain and forest, affords anchorage to the great ocean steamers which sail to the Orient. -

The novelty of rod-fishing for salmon in the open Pacific was so unique that I embarked on the expedition with keen interest.

The difficulty in Vancouver is to find a boatman to whom the destiny of the angler and the fishing can be safely entrusted. It speaks well for the prosperity of the city that there is practically none of the sporting leisure classes, such as one finds in dumping quantity in Ireland and Scotland. There the shoemaker’s last and the crofter’s hoe are willingly set aside for a day with rod or gun. In Vancouver it is otherwise. One might spend a week in quest of an efficient attendant, and fail to discover him. The makeshift is a person to be studiously avoided. In desperation I picked up one, who undertook to row me to the fishing ground, and to my horror I found he was not acquainted with the elementary principles of rowing. The tide had carried us out for about a mile without particular effort. When it came to facing a cross-current his incompetence was so marked that I had to take the oars myself and row to North Vancouver, where I dismissed him and procured an Indian substitute.

I was fortunate, however, on another occasion to find an Irishman who was taking a day's holiday, and to whose qualifications as an excellent boatman was added the ardour of an enthusiastic angler. In his hands I was perfectly safe, and I cherish the most pleasant recollections of his skilful services.

On the first ebb of the tide, we put off, skirting the shores of Vancouver Park, a piece of virgin forest where the finest specimens of Douglas pines are still preserved. The Narrows derive the name from the closing in of the mountains on either side of the sea, leaving only a space of about half a mile for traffic. A lighthouse is placed on the extreme land point on one side, and the remains of a forest, intervening between the sea and distant mountains, are on the other. The pent-up ocean flows in and out at an enormous pace through the cutting. Three creeks join the sea at the Narrows; the furthest west is Capilano, the next Lynn, and the third Seymour.

The cohoe salmon run up these creeks and hang about at the mouths during the summer-time awaiting a spate.

Large spring fish are found amongst them, but not in any number. The condition of the tide determines the angling ground. With a spring ebb, the salmon come far in and are caught between the lighthouse and Capilano Creek. As the tide passes to the neap stage, one must go further out, and seek them off Whitecliffe Point and the mouth of the Squamish River.

There is no difficulty, however, in discovering their whereabouts. Cohoe are as lively as grilse, and rise to the surface as freely. The first day I found them off Capilano creek in shoals; a dozen at a time they sprang out of the water. Unfortunately it was too deep to fish for them with a fly, although up the creeks they take it freely. A spate is needed to put these mountain torrents in condition, and during my stay they were almost dry. There was nothing for it but to mount a spoon-bait. Cohoes which do not average more than 7 lbs. prefer a small lure. Some anglers embellish it with a red tassel a la pike mode, but I confined myself to an unadorned pattern. The tide was at full ebb when we began to troll. There was no need to be told which were the best places; the salmon themselves soon indicated their whereabouts. Direct against the current or across it yielded the best results. The fish feel the force of the outgoing tide to a degree that makes them eschew its full strength, and confine themselves to the edge on either side.

My first fish took the spoon just on the margin, and fought as hard as any grilse that I have caught, and my experience covers hundreds. He first kept to the slack water, where he gave a couple of short runs and tried to divest himself of the spoon by jiggering. This policy proved to be unavailing, and he dashed off, and either by accident or malice prepe7ise got in the midst of the current. The tide was running like a mill race—a mile a minute it looked— and fifty yards of line were stripped off the reel before the fish stopped. It is an old dodge of a salmon to get into a swift current and stick there, swaying his broad tail from side to side. The worst part of the business was the enormous quantity of driftwood that the outflowing tide was carrying. I was in constant terror of getting my line foul, a hundred yards of which were out at the time. At one moment a huge log, fifteen to twenty feet long and thick in proportion, swept right across the line. I held my breath and set my teeth in expectation of calamity, but, marvellous to relate, it rolled over it without a touch. It was time, however, to shift my quarry, and tightening up the line and throwing the rod well back, I treated him to the Irish discipline of “ giving the butt.” Gradually he came, and once on the move I followed up the advantage until I had him in slack water. But the dragging cost me the fish. He came close to the boat, near enough for us to admire his broad sides and tail, when he quietly slipped off within a few feet of the gaff.

Dame Fortune made amends by giving me a brace, 6h lbs. and 4\ lbs., within the short time at our disposal, beside which I hooked and lost a couple more. It is a common experience to lose a large proportion of salmon on the spoon-bait, particularly grilse, which cohoes resemble not only in appearance, but in the softness of their mouths.

Off Vancouver Island this kind of fishing can also be indulged. The open sea near the coast, at the mouth of rivers and creeks, is prolific of salmon life, and fine creels can be made. On the island some of the best known salmon angling is to be obtained. The Campbell is the chief river, which yields record fish annually. It rises in Buttles Lake, flows through upper Campbell Lake, thence to Campbell Lake proper, and joins the sea above Willow Point, opposite Cape Mudge, covering a distance of about forty-five miles. The mouth of the river is the best place for fishing. Some angler has yet to establish the possibility of alluring these big fish with a fly. It is a misfortune that they are got so readily with a trolling rod. Few anglers go to the trouble of applying more scientific methods to their capture. The art of trolling requires no technical knowledge, whilst the fly does; and only a small proportion of those who visit the Campbell River are proficient in its use.

Next to the Campbell is the Cowichan, which is easily reached from Victoria. It rises in Cowitchen Lake, and flows through Duncan, falling into Cowitchen Harbour about ten miles from its source. In its physical features it differs from the Campbell, being swift and with abundant rapids suited to the fly. The lake itself is good at the outlet, where a great many fish gather.

July and August are the best months for spring salmon on Vancouver Island. During September the Campbell River ceases to yield heavy fish. The cohoes run freely during that month, and can be caught in the Pacific and the creeks which intersect the island along the coast.

It may be said of salmon-angling generally, that its success is dependent upon the time the fish run from the sea. It is then that they take a bait or rise to the fly. Their sporting propensity wears off during their stay in the river. I know, from long Q experience of Irish salmon fishing, that a pool may be well stocked and not one out of a score will look at the angler’s lure, the exception being the fresh arrival from the sea. It is of the first importance, therefore, to obtain accurate particulars in regard to the time the fish run. The omnibus information, that salmon angling is good from July to November, is too general to be of value. What we know is that the time varies on different rivers—some are early, others late. This goes on from year to year without much change. The danger is that one may travel hundreds of miles to a river and, on reaching it, be as badly off as the man a hundred miles from anywhere with the wrong cartridges.

Trout, on the other hand, are permanent residents, and the angling season is more indefinite. Here again a knowledge of their habits is valuable. When the fly is on the water, is always the best time for angling. This rule is of universal application. There is a set-off in many parts of the Dominion against cultivating the acquaintance of the streams during that period. It is the time when the pestilential black fly bites a piece out of the angler’s flesh, sucks his blood, and then flies off with the piece! Waiving that point, May and June are the best months. In July and August the fry appear in the rivers and lakes in myriads, and receive the trout’s undivided attention. This is the case at home, and I found it exactly the same in the Dominion. When the fry appear the fly is at a discount, minnows and spoons doing most of the execution. These spinning lures imitate the habits of live bait, being bright and wriggling, which trout and bass seize with avidity.


As far as my observation went, there is very little fly on the rivers and lakes in September.

There is a further circumstance that is demoralizing to trout in Canadian waters. When the salmon run up the rivers to spawn the trout follow them, intent on devouring their ova, which are deposited on the gravel beds. So absorbed are trout in this pursuit that they rarely look at any other food. They are then freely caught with salmon roe, a poaching method of angling that is most reprehensible. I fear it is widely practised in the Dominion.

All the salmon rivers I have mentioned hold trout. There are many others scattered all over the province. The Cowichan in Vancouver Island is excellent, and very fine specimens are taken in it. With a canoe, using a light rod and medium-sized flies, good sport may be enjoyed. The creeks all round the coast may be reckoned upon. During the flitting of the natural Ephemeridae the best baskets are made. On .the mainland, near the city of Vancouver, the creeks already referred to are favourite resorts for the angling community.

The water was so very low during my stay in that district that I was able to see the fish in the deep pools.

Seymour Creek is a swift river that flows through a cutting in the forest, and may be described as a type of the streams that trout frequent. It is very deep, and in some parts is so closed in that it can be heard but not seen. From high banks its line can be traced for miles through the forest, a black shadow by contrast with the green foliage and lichened rocks. Other reaches are streaks of light, where the rapid water breaks into sparkling crystals over log and boulder. The victims of the great forest fire which, years ago, swept the district with disastrous effect, still stand in charred magnificence. Black and dismantled Douglas pines rise hundreds of feet, towering far above the living trees which, by comparison, are insignificant. The solitude of the place was typified by a lonely crow that rose and flitted before me, always choosing the stump of a dead fir as its perch, as if its blackness and detachment were in keeping with its mood. I followed a corduroy wagon road for some miles in quest of the trail which led to the river. I could tell whether it was leading to or from the creek by the crescendo or diminuendo of its roar.

One human being only crossed my path in the forest; he was armed and in quest of bears. He showed me where one had been shot a few days before.

“Black bear?” I asked. “No, a grizzly.” Of the trail I was searching for, he knew no more than myself. I tried to force a way to the river by means of a steep declivity, but, after scrambling down a hundred feet, I came upon a ledge of rock and, on looking over, found myself on the summit of a precipice which might have served for an eagle’s eyrie. I beat a cautious retreat. It was the kind of place one not in search of a grizzly might find him, and, being practically a cul de sac, might lead to unpleasant consequences. Bears are not given to attacking except as the easiest way of making their escape. Having nothing in the shape of a weapon more formidable than a salmon gaff, I declined the risks.

One thing soon learned in the forest and mountains is, that without a guide it is inadvisable to leave the beaten track. At length I discovered the trail, which proved a most difficult one. The way was blocked by fallen trees, abrupt descents, and other impedimenta inimical to flesh and clothing. I was compelled at one point to scramble over a charred log, which blackened my nether garments beyond the point of defensible respectability. The day had been exceedingly hot, and the mutterings of a thunderstorm could be heard in the distance. When I got to the river I found it very low, like Capilano and Lynn. The force of the current during spate could be deciphered in the stones in the river’s bed. They were as smooth and polished as pebbles on the seashore.

The only time to get fish during low water was at dusk or break of day. I met an angler on leaving Vancouver that had fished the creek that morning. He had taken half a dozen good fish which looked to be from lb. to 4 lbs. weight. They were all caught before sunrise. Similar results might be achieved after sunset, so I was informed, but I had no mind for facing the forest in the dark, as in Canada there is only a brief period of twilight.

Pursuing the journey inland, there are many good trout rivers. The Coquitlam and Stave, already mentioned as tributaries of the Fraser, fish well before the salmon begin to run, and trout abandon themselves to the quest of spawn. Another place that repays a visit is Lillooet River, flowing from Lillooet Lake, and only a short journey from Stave. It amply rewards the aspirations of the fly fisher.

Vedder River is about six miles from Chiliwack, on the south side of the Fraser. It is interesting not only from an angling, but from a scenic point of view. It is exceedingly beautiful, and one of the most delightful retreats. There is a hotel built on the river, and a new and more commodious establishment is in prospect. The old one lost a considerable portion of its frontage through floods, that are at times terrific. The river is a sharp descent from Chiliwack Lake, only a few miles distant, and rises and falls rapidly. A couple of winters ago, the wooden bridge that spanned it, and the tennis court


fronting the hotel, Were washed away. The bridge has been replaced by an iron structure, and a more elevated spot has been selected for the hotel. It is a convenient centre for angling trips. The trout run to a large size; four to six pounders are not uncommon. They are taken with small spoons or minnows. Dolly Vardens are plentiful in the Vedder, which can be caught with the fly up to I lb. or lb., and on a light rod and tackle they give lively play.

It was my good fortune to meet at Chiliwack a young architect from Vancouver who had graduated in the English School of Angling. Both he and his wife were enthusiasts. The latter, donning high rubber boots, defied the numerous fords, whilst her husband and myself, equipped with waders, fished the deeper pools. The river is intersected with tributaries, and the main stream separates and unites many times in its precipitous course. Shallow noisy reaches, followed by pools with a silence befitting their depth, and a cataract here and there, are the conspicuous phases of the river. Where a March brown or a Wickam fancy tripped over the gravelly shallow, the flash of a Dolly Varden would appear, its blood-red and orange spots glinting in the sunlight. Then the rod would quiver, and the chase down-stream begin. The Vedder possesses all the exciting elements of sport—swift rapids, swirling eddies, dangerous snags. A branch trailing in the stream would invite sanctuary to the lively captive; how to steer him clear and keep one’s balance was a problem painful enough at the moment, but how delightful in retrospect!

Deep pools where we knew the bigger fish lay were approached in a different fashion. There was abundance of fry and minnows in the creeks. These we captured with a dry fly, and mounted them on a Thames flight, the only method of outwitting the wary game. My companion earlier in the week broke his cast in a fish that must have been 6 lbs. The trout could be seen the next day, springing out of the water, with the gut hanging from him, apparently indifferent to this unusual appendage. Further up the creek the forest trees, interlacing in thick impenetrable foliage, cast a cool shade over the river, a vista of a magnificent range of mountains amongst the glaciers, where the river rises, showing beyond. The peaks stood clear-cut above the pine-clad woods, and in the evening light, there stole that wonderful violet atmosphere that sheds such a mysterious halo over God’s everlasting hills.

Of larger rivers there are many, where the different species of trout are found. The North Thompson, which joins the Fraser at Lytton, flows through Kamloops Lake. Rising in the Quesnel region, and drawing its life from the union of a small triplet of lakes, of which Albreda is chief, it winds in a southern course, receiving the contents of other streams at various points. Its water is clear, and most of the trout species make it their habitat.

The Columbia River also flows through the Quesnel northern district, south of Canoe River, traversing hundreds of miles. Its course lies through Golden, Windermere, East Kootenay and Nelson, an interminable stretch of water.

Kootenay and Okanagan Rivers offer further angling facilities, as well as the Skeena and Eagle.

The Great Lake trout can be caught trolling, and battle royals can be had with fifteen and twenty pounders in the Shuswap, Kootenay and Kamloops lakes. There the formidable steel-head trout of the Salmonidai order is discovered, as well as the larger specimens of the Salmo kamloops, or Dolly Varden. These fish, like our European Salmo fario, affect cannibal habits on reaching the years of discretion and scorn the fly.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.