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Exploration: Rafting for Bull Trout in British Columbia

This was a journey along a river that starts in the high mountain peaks of Eastern British Columbia and like a migratory bird, goes south into the United States before returning north into Canada.

Fly fishing rafting trip for Bull Trout, in British Columbia

Sections of this river to the south are a renowned Bull Trout fishery. However, we were not after the renowned during this trip, but rather the lesser known. The upper stretches of this river start next to a major highway, then enters into rugged and remote areas before returning back to civilization. This makes a perfect route for an August multi-day rafting trip. Over the course of five days, we were one of the only 3 groups on the river.

Our journey started with a night in a campground before shuttling a vehicle down river and launching 2 rafts with 5 people just south of the campground.

We knew what to expect in terms of rapids and hazards on the river, the forecasted weather, and had some idea of potential camping locations, but knew little about what to expect for fishing. This trip is not for the faint of heart, with hazards such as sweepers, mid-river rocks to avoid and a series of up to class 3 rapids-- but it is manageable if you are experienced and prepared, something that become very evident early in the trip.

White water rafting down the Kootenay River. Fly Fishing for Bull Trout on a wilderness camping expedition.

The first night was not without excitement. After a cool rainy day, we were getting warm at camp on an island with nobody around. The peace was broken by the sounds of someone yelling for help. A boy with no lifejacket, on a cheap plastic kayak pulled into shore, clearly on the verge of hypothermia after kayaking close to 20km in freezing water.

We pulled him to shore and shortly after his mother and younger brother in a single sit on top kayak appeared, blue in the lips and in shock. They were just up the river when they flipped their kayak, and equally unprepared. We pulled them into our tent, gave them blankets, clothing and something hot to drink. They had no idea which river they were on, or when they would reach the bridge where they were supposed to meet their father at, who dropped them off up river. Luckily, we were there to get them warm and get them to their pick up spot. It was a humbling lesson, highlighting the importance of preparedness, trip planning and understanding the limitation of your gear and outdoor knowledge.

We found that very little had been written about fishing for Bull Trout in the upper reaches of this river. We knew of several rivers flowing in that were bound to have some Cutthroat Trout, but didn't know much about the Bulls in this area.


We set out with a selection of 4 or 5 weights with floating fly lines to seek out cutties in the rivers flowing in and 8 weights with sink tips lines for casting for bulls from shore and from the raft on the main river.

We took out 2 rafts - a larger 15' which we paddled with 3 people. and a smaller 11' which was paddle by 2. We loaded them with coolers, camping gear and fishing gear. We were by no means light on the raft, which took some heavy paddling to avoid sweepers and prevent getting pulled into the corners of hard turns, but the extra space allowed for all the benefits of a car camping trip. To keep everything dry we packed our gear into Sealline dry bags, and kept our camera equipment and electronics in Pelican Cases.

Fly Fishing from raft in British Columbia. Adventure trip in BC wilderness in search of trout in the summer.

Having the luxury of coolers packed with frozen steaks and other goodies, all of our kitchen and camping gear, our favorite group water filtration bags and a even propane fire pit (there was a fire ban at the time) made for a very comfortable journey.

The 'incident' on the first night with the family made us appreciate the level of planning that we put into this trip. For safety, we of course wore lifejackets for the duration of our trip and brought a Garmin Inreach for emergency contact. In addition, we had first aid kits, swift water rescue kits, maps of the river and survival kits, all of which were easily accessible. A good idea on a trip such as this is to have maps of the surrounding area, in case you need to hike out to the nearest road. We also used the Backroads Map Book to track logging roads in case we needed to pull out early. More important than having the right gear, is knowing how to use it and what to do if there is an injury, a damaged raft or in need of support.


Prior to the trip we tied up some larger 4-6" streamer patterns mostly in variations of pink, tan and white. The first few days were slow beyond some small Cutthroat Trout on the rivers that flowed in. My go to Cutthoat patterns such as the Floating Ant, along with caddis, big Chubby Chernobyls and nymphs like the guide choice hares ear did the trick.

On our final day, we finally got into those elusive Bulltrout that we have been looking for. Although they were not the huge ones that are found on this river and many others in the area, we were able to move and catch fish casting from shore, as well as from the front of the raft while floating the calmer sections. The thrill of pounding small pockets of holding water from the raft and see Bulls in the clear water come with aggressive strikes from their hiding places is perhaps one of the most exciting forms for fly fishing.

Netting a bull Trout in British Columbia. With a net and Fly Fishing Rod in the river, catch and release. Fly Fishing Photography and a Garmin watch.

Bulltout are found in many rivers and Lakes in BC and Alberta (and beyond) they love the cold, clear flowing waters of the many rivers that flow from either side of the Canadian Rockies. In Alberta I am often hesitant to target Bulltrout as they are classified as a threatened species and the increased fishing pressure in the last few years likely is not helping with that.

The trip proved to be a success. We paddled the rapids, successfully enjoyed the riverside camping and got into some fish. Months of planning went into this trip to ensure that we knew we were well equipped to complete the journey safely. As with all of our adventures, at the end of it we always ask ourselves... What can we do next summer to top this?

Hyside white water raft on the Kootenay River. Fishing for trout and relaxing in the river in front of mountains.


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