20 Best Steelhead Rivers in British Columbia
By Jack Williams
Spey fishing for steelhead is one of the most challenging yet rewarding methods to chase steelhead, and to do it with a two-handed rod makes it even better. Wild fish in wild rivers is one of British Columbia’s greatest attributes. And while my home province offers countless rivers that have uncompromised and unforgettable steelhead when it comes to fly fishing for the West Coast’s most entertaining fish, there is a group of rivers that rise above from the rest. The crème de le crème, if you will.
Here you’ll find my picks for the 20 best steelhead destinations in BC. A lifelong resident of Canada, I have fished many of these rivers, and those I haven’t had the pleasure, are on my proverbial bucket list. And if you yourself haven’t had the pleasure of swinging a fly in these rivers do what I’ve done and add them to your list. Before long you’ll see your list dwindle, and with each new season you’ll have a lasting memory of sampling some of the world’s finest steelhead fishing.
1. Skeena River
God’s gift to wild steelhead fishing. Huge river with countless numbers of steelhead that have never seen a fly before. There are fish over 20 pounds running up this river and fishing it lets you target all the fish that run up its tributaries as well. There are but only a few months when steelhead are not present in the river.
2. Kispiox River
Upper Skeena tributary. Big and aggressive late summer and fall run steelhead that will give you a great fight. This river is classified and its’ steelhead are world renowned for a reason.
3. Bulkley River
Upper Skeena tributary. Large summer and fall run steelhead population. If you want to hook a steelhead on the dry fly this river is your best bet. Easy wading thanks to a mild gradient, and plenty of access. Best to float this river or run it in a jet boat.
4. Morice River
Tributary of the Bulkley. Fall run of countless steelhead. These fish travel hundreds of kilometers to get back to their home river. These fish are mostly small but they are notoriously strong, they pull hard and are not afraid to attack flies.
5. Bell Irving River
Tributary of the upper Nass. The fall steelhead are numerous and aggressive, the remote scenery and wild fish make this river a great stop! Access is somewhat difficult and lots of bears so be careful when walking through the bush!
6. Copper River
Tributary of the Skeena. Large run of summer run steelhead. Average fish is around 8 pounds but they are notoriously aggressive and will hit dries, wets or just about anything you cast out.
7. Dean River
Arguably the hottest summer steelhead on the planet, straight from the ocean be sure to have a strong rod, a quality reel with good drag and lots of backing, get ready to run.
8. Babine River
Upper Skeena tributary. Often you’ll share the river with Grizzly bears but enormous numbers of summer and fall steelhead, as will be the highlight of your trip.
9. Kalum River
Tributary of the Skeena. This river gets fall and spring run steelhead. This river can have some fish pushing 20 pounds but even the smaller ones fight well. Be sure to fish a big rod and heavy leader, any tug could be a 5-pound fish or an 18-pounder.
10. Kitimat River
Later spring run, large fish but somewhat few in number. This river flows directly into the ocean and when you hook a sea lice covered winter steelhead you will not want to fish for anything else.
11. Gold River
This fairly narrow river has runs of both summer and winter run steelhead. The winter run fish are especially well known for being big, strong and bright. Best fished with a switch rod and a raft. When you hook one of these fish you won’t forget it.
12. Stamp River
Almost year-round steelhead fishing. Tough walk-in access so best floated. The Stamp fish can be ridiculously silver, and some of the winter fish can be in the upper teens.
13. Vedder River
Largest population of steelhead with both wild and hatchery fish in the lower mainland. The fish in this river are very strong, and can be big. Not much can beat a mid-teens winter steelhead that is covered in sea lice!
14. Stave River
Spring steelhead, mostly a hatchery run of smaller steelhead that love to hit flies especially minnow patterns later in the spring. These fish have a wide river and will run all over it. Fish a light tip, a sparse fly and hold on!
15. Yakoun River
This river sports a tea colour that only brightens up when you hook a chrome winter steelhead. The scenery and remoteness can make the trip. Be sure to fish the tides and you can find a push of bright and aggressive fish.
16. Sustut River
Upper Skeena trib. This river is famous for its huge summer and fall run steelhead. Fishing in the river can be challenging but hooking just one of these monsters can make the trip worthwhile!
17. Squamish River
Later spring run steelhead that move in and out of the river quickly. Hooking into one of these fish when they are travelling up the river can be a once in a lifetime moment. A wide river with lots of room to run, these fish will burn your reel.
18. Cowichan River
Rocket chrome winter and spring run steelhead. The river itself is fairly small but there are big steelhead that run up it. Switch rods and small flies could hook you an unbelievably hot fish.
19. Nass River
A huge river north of Terrace with notoriously dirty water. The steelhead returning to this river have a wide area to run and a heavy current to help them run fast and furious when hooked. Be sure to fish traveling lanes and use a strong rod and reel.
20. Damdochax River
One of the most remote rivers that is relatively small and short. The Damdochax has a strong run of smaller steelhead. These fish see little pressure and will hit your fly if you manage to get to this river.