Fishing in BC: All You Need to Know
May 25, 2020 | 10 minute read
Reading Time: 10 minutes

With its infinite forests, thousands of pristine rivers and streams, and the most temperate climate in the country, British Columbia is easily one of the most beautiful provinces in Canada. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, and an avid angler at that, fishing in BC is the perfect vacation idea.

A panorama of a lake and woods in BC

Here, you can explore over 16,000 miles of Pacific coastline or hit some remote inland waterways, it’s all up to you. The beauty of the province’s far reaches is just as astonishing as its fisheries!

Top Catches in British Columbia

Both saltwater and freshwater anglers will have a lot to do in British Columbia and the fun lasts all year. We’re talking the best of the best, the cream of the crop – Salmon, Trout, Halibut, and Sturgeon are all there for the taking.

Salmon – The Alfa and Omega of BC

If there’s one reason why anglers come to British Columbia, it’s the fantastic Salmon fishery. Whatever Pacific Salmon species you’d like to target, you’ll find it here. Coho, Chinook, Pink, Chum, and Sockeye Salmon all make an appearance during the year, but the timing of their arrival differs.

Chinook Salmon

A happy woman standing on a boat, holding a big Salmon fish

Chinook (King) is the star of the show – they come in impressive sizes and they’re available almost year-round. Locals call these battle-ready fish Spring Salmon, because you can target them as early as April. You can find them in rivers and streams until November, usually further upstream.

Another reason why Chinook are so popular is their size. They can grow to be 50–60 pounds! Hook a Chinook heavier than 30 pounds (Tyee), and you’ll be eligible to become a member of the “Tyee Club.” If this is something you’d like to pursue, then come to BC in summer – July and August are the prime months for big catches.

Other Pacific Salmon Species

Coho, Sockeye, Pink, and Chum Salmon are all beloved in British Columbia, but they have shorter seasons than Chinook. In general, the best time to come to the province is in late summer and early fall, as that’s when the bite is at its best.

Enthusiastic fly angler holding his catch, Chum Salmon

Coho (Silver) Salmon is the ultimate fighter among Salmon. You can find the first Coho in July, but the best time to go after them is in October and November when they’re at their biggest.

Sockeye should be your fish of choice if you’re looking for a delicious meal. You can find them in the rivers of BC in August and September.

Colder months are very good for Chum Salmon fishing. Also known as Dog Salmon, Chum swim upwards to their spawning grounds from September through November.

Fishing for Pink Salmon is only open on odd-numbered years, because they spawn every other year. When the fishery is open, you’ll have the best shot of catching your fill of Pinks in August and September.

If you’re not that picky about species, we suggest coming over to BC anytime from August–October. There’s plenty for you to do around that time!

Kokanee Salmon

Kokanee out of the water

We can’t talk about Salmon without mentioning its landlocked relative, Kokanee. These are smaller versions of Sockeye Salmon, usually weighing up to two pounds.

You’ll find them in lakes all over the province, usually as bycatch when going after Trout. These fellas are fun to catch and the best time to target them is during the summer.

Oh, my Trout!

After Salmon, Trout are easily the most popular fish in BC. There are plenty of Trout species to choose from here, but Rainbow Trout, as well as Steelhead (its sea-run variation), are the most prized catches. Cutthroat, Brook, Bull Trout, and Dolly Varden are also all there for the taking.

Middle-aged angler holding a beautiful Cutthroat Trout

Another species, native to British Columbia, is Kamloops Trout. This beautiful fish comes from the waters of Lake Kootenay, which is close to the town Kamloops, hence the name. Kamloops Trout are very similar to Rainbow Trout, only they’re substantially bigger, and can have their weight in double digits.

Because there are several Trout species to choose from, and all of them are excellent fighters, fly fishing in BC is a hit.

A fly angler standing in a river holds a Steelhead

Bull, Cutthroat, and Rainbow Trout are conveniently available all year, so whenever you go, there’s a Trout on the cards. If you’re a Steelhead chaser, then your best bet is hitting the water anytime from late November to April. Got your sights set on a big Kamloops Trout? Go to the Kootenay Lake during the summer and early fall – you can’t miss them!

The Sturgeon Promised Land

If you’re a monster catch hunter, White Sturgeon fishing in BC will blow your mind. While there are several waterways in the province that have Sturgeon, recreational fishing is only allowed on the lower and middle Fraser River.

Three fishermen holding a huge White Sturgeon, with mountains in the background

Sturgeon haven’t changed for millennia, and they can grow to be well over 7 feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds. In fact, they usually average at 7–12 feet, but you can find even bigger fish (up to 20 feet!) in the river. It’s not hard to understand why passionate fishermen love chasing them.

White Sturgeon is the reason why people from both the US and Canada flock to the Fraser at all times of the year. Green Sturgeon also live in these waters, but they’re protected by law and should never be targeted. Even though the population of White Sturgeon is thriving on the Fraser River, all Sturgeon must be released.

There are charters who specialize in Sturgeon fishing on the Fraser, and you can easily find a professional to take you out. Some guides participate in conservation efforts for Sturgeon, and if you go fishing with them, you’ll have a front-row seat for the tagging process.

The best time to go after White Sturgeon is from April–November, though you can find them swimming around all year.

The “Barn Door” Halibut

We’ve spoken enough about freshwater fishing in BC, but now let’s turn the spotlight to the Pacific coast. Sure, you can fish for Salmon and Rockfish in these productive waters, but what truly excites saltwater anglers is Halibut.

A group of friends holding five Halibut they caught

And not just any Halibut but huge, delicious, hard-fighting Pacific Halibut. You can find specimen well over 300–400 pounds in the deep waters, though fish in the 10–50-pound range are more common. Don’t let this discourage you – smaller Halibut are tastier and they’ll make for royal table fare.

The Halibut season is usually open from April–November, and the best time to go fishing is in spring and summer. Early in the season, you won’t have to go further than 5 miles from land to hook a 100-pounder. As time goes by, Halibut move into deeper waters, but you still won’t have to travel too far to find them – only up to 10 miles offshore.

Among locals, Halibut is one of the favorite eating fish, not to mention that it is so fun to catch. One of the best spots is Vancouver Island, namely Victoria and Ucluelet. If you want to get the best of both worlds, book a fishing trip where you’ll target both Salmon and Halibut. That way, you’re all but certain to fight and land fish that will make you proud.

Don’t Miss Out on Crabbing!

Saltwater fishing in British Columbia is already rewarding, but when you add crabbing to the combo, you’ve got a match made in heaven. Locals enjoy catching Crab year-round – it’s a fun family activity with delicious results.

Three smiling anglers holding their daily catch of Crab

Dungeness and Red Rock Crab are on the menu, both easily caught with simple gear. Guides usually use crab pots to get these crawly fellas and drop them to different depths, depending on the time of the year and location.

Generally, the best time to catch your fill of Crab is in August and September, during the mating season. You can find them all year, but some areas have specific seasonality, so get informed before you head out.

Bear in mind that you’re only allowed to keep males, while females must be returned back to the water. Crabbing is sometimes included in the price of a fishing trip, so if you’re interested to give it a try, that’s a great place to begin.

Types of Fishing in BC

Not only is angling in British Columbia versatile, but there are many techniques you can try out. In BC, you’ve got a bit of everything.

Fly Fishing

BC is a fly fishermen haven, with more crystal clear streams and fish-rich rivers than you could ever explore. The province’s appeal has a lot to do with its incredible Trout population and prized catches it yields.

A smiling fisherman standing on a boat, holding a good-sized Trout

You don’t have to be a seasoned fisherman to have success on the lakes and rivers of British Columbia – just some guidance and good timing. Talk to locals to find out what type of gear and flies to use, it will make a world of difference.

When it comes picking a spot to go fly fishing, well, that’s a challenge in itself. Some of the most popular choices include the Campbell, Fraser, and Dean Rivers, as well as Okanagan Valley with its numerous lakes teeming with Trout. For an excellent day of dry fly fishing, head to the Elk River. For Salmon fly anglers looking for a good time, the Squamish River system is the place to be.

Fishing with a Charter

One thing you won’t find lacking in BC are fishing guides. Whatever your fishing mood, you’ll be able to find someone to cater to your appetite. From convenient half day trips to full-fledged angling expeditions deep into the wild, there’s something for everyone.

A charter boat on the water

Full day trips (8–10 hours) are the most popular choice among tourist fishermen. It gives them enough time to catch a good amount of fish, learn new tricks, and do so without any rush.

You can also go off to a remote location and spend several days with nothing but fishing on your mind. For this occasion, fly-in lodges are the right choice. Everything you need is usually included in the price – transportation, equipment, accommodation, food, and guide service. The prices for these unique experiences are higher than for your regular fishing jaunt but well worth it.

Ice Fishing

Last but not least, ice fishing is something you have to try if you’re in British Columbia in winter. Locals love doing it and you’ll often find dozens of people dotted around frozen-over lakes, waiting for the fish to bite.

A little girl standing on a frozen lake with an ice fishing rod

While the coastal part of BC is quite warm all year and doesn’t offer a lot of ice fishing opportunities, the rest of the province is a different story. Come November and first solid ice, ice fishermen are already out there, ready to fish.

Species you’ll land in the winter are different from the ones you’re used to over the rest of the year. Winter is the time of Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, Walleye, and Kokanee. There are also lakes where you can target Trout like Adams and Dragon Lakes, among many others.

Even though it’s freezing outside, fisheries are still active and diverse, and that’s plenty of reason to grab your ice gear and head out.

Top Spots for Fishing in BC

Yes, fishing is amazing, and yes, British Columbia is vast and abundant in fish, but where to go? Take a look at this list and decide where’d you like to go, depending on your fishing preferences.

A photo of the main harbor on Campbell River
  • Campbell River. Easily one of the hottest fishing spots in the province. All 5 Salmon species make this THE place to be, and the resident Cutthroat Trout population is superb.
  • Vancouver Island. Home to a number of super-productive Salmon rivers, this island has everything you need. Halibut fishing on the west side is also fantastic. Some of the best departure points are Victoria, Ucluelet, Tofino, and Port Hardy.
  • Fraser River. This body of water needs no introduction – whether it’s Sturgeon or Salmon you’re after, you can’t go wrong. The Lower Fraser is very productive but, if you want to go into the wild, then the Middle Fraser is a better choice.
  • Okanagan Valley. If you got excited reading about Kamloops Trout, then you’ll love the action on any of the lakes in the Okanagan Valley. You can also fish for Kokanee and Rainbows, if you’d like a variety of catch.
  • Skeena River. Lovers of Salmonids regularly prowl this river in search of Salmon and Steelhead. Nothing beats Skeena Salmon action in the summer. It’s also a popular fly fishing destination.
  • Haida Gwaii. If you’re coming to British Columbia to catch the biggest Salmon of your life, then this archipelago is where you should go. You could easily land a 50-pound Chinook, or battle a Halibut thrice that size.

Fishing Licences and Regulations

A blue sign that says – Notice, Fishing License Required

Whether you’re fishing solo or with a charter, the most important thing to keep in mind is a fishing licence. The same rule applies for both saltwater and freshwater fishing – you’re in charge of buying a licence for yourself before you hit the water.

Bear in mind that if you’re targeting Salmon or Steelhead, you’ll need additional stamps, in order to fish legally. There’s also a special White Sturgeon Conservation Licence you’ll need if you plan on going after this species.

Check the seasonality of the species you intend to fish before you go and make sure you know the daily limits and other regulations. These could change from year to year, so it’s important to be in the know and fish responsibly.

British Columbia – What’s Not to Love?

A beautiful scenic view of a lake in British Columbia

Breathtaking nature, countless fishing opportunities, and a wide array of species – all these factors make BC a magnificent angling destination. Your success on the water is only limited by your fishing ambition because, here, just about anything is possible.

Have you been fishing in British Columbia? Where do you like to fish the most? What are your experiences? Share your stories and tips with us in comments.

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