Fishing Around Fernie

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“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Henry David Thoreau.

This simple quote explains why I enjoy fishing. I find contentment on the banks of wild and untamed rivers. I find solace in the eerie quiet of a canyon, where the only sound is of water flowing gently over rocks. I like the camaraderie of heading out into the backcountry with my friends to go fishing around Fernie. Fishermen from around the world flock to this little corner of BC to fly fish the pristine waters of the Elk River, the Bull River, the Wigwam River and the various tributaries. You can see them standing outside of the various guiding shops along the highway, waiting for their chance to say they have fished the rivers and tributaries of BC’s East Kootenays.

A man fishes off a rocky river bank, across from a forest dotted with bright yellow fall foliage.

Fishing the Bull River at Lime Creek, a popular stretch of the river.

Living here, it is easy to take for granted what so many would consider a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So myself and a couple of friends decided to take advantage of living in this beautiful part of the world and go fishing. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, we took a trip to the Bull River and the Wigwam River in search of westslope cutthroat trout, bull trout, and whatever else we could find. Here’s a rundown on both spots:

The Bull River

The Bull River is not as well known as the Elk River, and that is good news for those who venture a valley over. Found tucked away in the valley behind the Three Sisters (also known as Mount Trinity), the Bull River is a 117-km (72.7-mi) long tributary of the Kootenay River.

A man casts his fishing pole from the edge of a rocky shore.

Throwing a line in at the confluence of Sulphur Creek and the Bull River.

For those coming from Fernie, access is via Hartley Lake Road, a forest service road which is now used by recreational backcountry users and fishermen. It’s also the access point for those wishing to hike Mount Hosmer and Heiko’s Trail.

A man wearing a set of fishing waders crosses a small river.

A good pair of waders, while not essential, come in handy if you wish to cross the Bull River and access some sweet eddies.

Hartley Lake Road is an adventure in itself, offering great views of the valley and the chance to spot some wildlife too. Just before the Bull River Forest Service Road, drivers will pass through Sulpher Creek and the salt lick – this is a great chance to see mountain goats literally licking the minerals off the shiny rocks.

Another access point to the Bull River FSR is from the Steeple Mountain Range entrance on the Wardner/Fort Steele Road. The Steeples are a jagged and beautiful range of mountains which provide a great backdrop while you cast your line into the Bull River.

We started fishing the confluence of the Bull River and one of its tributaries, Sulpher Creek, and within minutes we caught a small cuttie.

A man holds a bright yellow, red, and silver cuttie fish.

Within minutes of fishing the Bull River, we caught a beautiful cuttie, named for their distinctive throat.

A couple more cutties at Sulpher Creek found their way onto our lines. After Sulpher Creek, we took a drive out to Forty Mile Rec Site, and immediately caught another small cuttie. After safely returning the trout to the river, we decided to make our way towards the Wardner/Fort Steele Road entrance, stopping multiple times to throw a line in.

A man fly fishes in a clear, deep pool of water nestled in a rocky terrain.

Crystal clear and deep pools, perfect for fly fishing.

One particular spot which stands out is just before the turn off to Galbraith FSR. Pull in before the bridge and carefully climb down to the canyon below; crystal clear water and plentiful cutties await.

The Wigwam River

What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than to shake off the previous night’s excess by hiking down a cliff to the Wigwam River.

A small river winds through a rocky landscape, lined with a dense forest bursting with fall foliage.

The Wigwam River, a highly regulated river in the Kootenays.

With her clear and fresh waters holding some of the Kootenays’ best fishing, the Wigwam River is accessed from Fernie via a series of backcountry roads. The Wigwam River is very well regulated with very strict catch-and-release rules, which enables a healthy population of cutthroat, bull trout and cutt-bows.

A man fishes off a rock in a freshwater river on a foggy day.

Fishing the clear and fresh waters of the Wigwam River at the bottom of a steep canyon.

The sense of isolation as you stand a few hundred metres beneath the steep cliffs is apparent. You will very likely be the only people fishing a particular stretch of the Wigwam River that day.

How to fish the rivers in and around Fernie

If you wish to fish the Bull, Wigwam, or Elk Rivers, it is highly recommended you go with a guide. The local guides know the rivers and can expertly guide you to the pools, eddies and flows where you will most likely have the chance to catch some fish.

In Fernie, we are lucky to have several superb guiding outfits. These include Fernie Fly Fishing, Elk River Guiding Company and the Kootenay Fly Shop and Guiding Company.

It’s important to know the rules and regulations for fishing in Fernie; for more information, click here. And to find out more information on getting a license to fish the waters around Fernie, click here.

Happy fishing!