I once sat on the banks of a pool on the Elk River, right under HWY 3, perfectly comfortable in a lawnchair, with a Beer in my hand, casting a stimulator that I had taken from the mouth of a Cutthroat caught at an earlier bridge. I had caught 12 cutthroat in about as many casts. Cast after cast they darted up.
Yes, only one thing describes the Elk River.
Cutthroat Trout Heaven.
Now, not everyday is THAT easy on the Elk River. That was during a Stonefly Hatch in the early spring, where the trout go about as crazy as the anglers chasing them. But, what I would say, is that on the Elk River and any of its tributaries, you have as good of chance at catching fish on dry-flies as you do anywhere else in the country. Maybe in the world. The fish are big, the scenery is beautiful. And the town of Fernie is about as charming as they come.
The Elk River is where I learned to Fly-fish, along with my brother and my cousin. It was the first place I began to catch fish, and the days learning with my family are among the best in my life. Back then, I thought every fish I caught was huge. Now I understand these are ‘average’. Catches in the 14″-18″ range are common, and there are plenty of fish in the 20″+ range. Overall, it makes for a great trout fishing experience for native fish.
The Elk River is a glacier fed tributary of the Kootenay River, flowing out of Elk Lakes provincial park, through the towns of Elkford, Sparwood, Fernie, and then emptying into the Kootenay just south of Elko. There is good fishing along its entire length, for Cutthroat and Bull Trout. If you are planning a trip to western canada to fish, the Elk River is a must-stop location.
The river is catch and release only, and is ‘Classified Water,’ meaning you will have to purchase a special license if you are not a BC resident. If you plan to fish for several days, its best to purchase a full license. This way you can enjoy all this river and its tributaries have to offer.
In the spring, usually right as run-off is ending, there is an epic hatch of golden Stoneflies. Late June- Early July is the best time to get to fish during this hatch. After that, Green Drakes will start to appear, and this is the most consistent and productive hatch/ bug on the Elk River for most of the season, until late august.
A fly-box that contains some Green Drakes, a few colors of caddisflies, a stimulator, and some royal coachmen for when those don’t work will give you a good shot almost all the time on the Elk.
The Elk does see lots of fishing pressure, so if the fish don’t seem receptive to Dry-flies a nymph like a bead-head prince or Stonefly will work well. I prefer to fish during the week to avoid some of the crowds. But despite the crowds, the river still seems to produce so don’t be discouraged if you see a few other people near you while you are fishing. It can also be drifted, and one of the outfitters in Fernie can help you experience that.
The tributaries of the Elk are truly nothing short of remarkable. Everything above applies to these as well, save for the crowds (for the most part). I’m not going to tell you where and how to access them, because if you want to fish them that bad, you’ll figure it out.
*UPDATE: Many of these streams are now class 2 waters and are subject to further restrictions for non-resident anglers. Please check the regulations before fishing any Elk River tributaries.*
Other good rivers in the area include the Kootenay, and its other tributaries including the Bull, and St. Mary’s Rivers. Most are quite difficult to access; and quite frankly, I like it that way. Many of these waters are some of my all time favourite so if you have the opportunity to try, I highly recommend it.
The Elk River truly is a world-class trout river with something to offer all types of fishermen. It is a great place to learn, explore, and also a great challenge for those seeking Big Bull Trout. Highway 3 (Crowsnest highway) is the main artery that will help you access all of the Elk and Tribs. All in all…. A bushwhackers heaven!