Western Canada: Fishing in Paradise

Don’t take it for granted — Canada has the best fishing in the world.

Last August, I spent five days in Fernie, British Columbia with my Australian friend Frank Bluch. Frank is a fishing fanatic. For the past three years, he’s travelled from his home near Melbourne, in the south of Oz, to Canada for month-long fishing trips where he has hit up locations such as Nunavut’s Tree and Coppermine Rivers, Northwest Territories’ Great Bear Lake, Tincup Lodge in the Yukon, the trout streams and alpine lakes of southwestern Alberta, the West Coast, and, of course, Fernie, for the Elk River and its tributaries.

Fishing with Frank really makes one appreciate one’s home country. In the five days we spent drifting wet flies for bullies in the Wigwam River, Frank was like a kid in a candy store — the smile never left his face. At day’s end, we’d sit on the patio at Rip & Richards restaurant and he would absolutely revel in the surrounding scenery. He’d have a pint and yammer on to anyone who’d lend an ear about “this big bullie” or “that great cuttie.”

It’s bloody incredible, mate!

When we fished together on Great Bear Lake and the Tree River in 2008, Frank was blown away. He’d scarcely had the tools to conceive of freshwater fishing like that.

Frank should be on the Canadian Tourism Commission’s payroll. When he returns home, he spends time and out-of-pocket money to promote Canadian freshwater fishing to his local clubs, putting on slideshows and video demonstrations. His mates, though, have yet to “bite.”

“They’ve got rocks in their heads,” he mutters. He can’t fathom why his angling buddies aren’t applying for Canadian citizenship in the face of our quality fisheries.

“Well, it’s a long way to come, Frank,” I console.

“But, the fishing…!”

There’s no reasoning with the man. He’s a fishing machine.

But he’s also correct. Even when we’re blown away by homeland fishing, I doubt many of us truly understand how blessed we are.

Take Fernie, BC, as an example. For the rest of the world, a fishery like the Elk River and its tributaries is a pipe dream. Drive-to fishing where you can have a riverpool to yourself and fly cast for bull trout in excess of 10 pounds in the shadow of some of the most scenic mountains in the world? Ridiculous. While on our trip, I grumbled about the $20-per-day Classified Water fee I paid as an Alberta resident angling in BC.

“That’s a deal for this fishery! A bloody steal!” Frank replied.

Or, as a more extreme example — take the Tree River, in Nunavut. This may just be the greatest fishing river in existence, and it’s 100 per cent Canadian. On Frank’s last fishing trip to Nunavut, he captured three IFGA World Records in five days.

Less extreme? How about Pigeon Lake, south of Edmonton. A fish-a-cast walleye lake an hour’s drive from a city of one million people? Madness.

Or the Fraser River in the Vancouver area — where you can stay downtown in Canada’s third-largest city, then drive an hour or so to catch a nine-foot-long sturgeon.

Impossible!

I won’t bother to list any more waters; I only have two-thirds of a page, not an encyclopedia, to fill with words. And you’ve been patient and forgiving to read this far.

The lesson I’m trying to teach is: be like Frank. Fishing in Canada is a wonder. Nothing less than a wonder. Whether you troll for chinook salmon or jig for perch, take a moment to ponder how lucky you are and you will enjoy it all the more.

Yes — I realize some of our fisheries management practices have “managed” to mess up or even devastate certain fisheries. But people like Frank Bluch are canaries in our huge, fish-filled coal mine. As long as he’s showing up from a hemisphere away, we’ll know we’ve still got something to offer. (And yes, Frank has booked his flight again this year.)

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