The rivers of the East and West Kootenays in British Columbia offer the angler a diverse fishing experience and a range of fish species. Providing amazing fishing experiences with changing geography, trout species, and size of rivers and streams. These rivers originate in the Canadian Rockies of the province of British Columbia, Canada and flow into major drainage systems like the Columbia or the Kootenay Rivers, to mid-size rivers like the Elk River or small rivers like the Wigwam River. Each of which has countless tributaries associated that are slightly different in nature.
The Kootenay River and Elk River can be floated easily by drift boats. While other rivers like the Bull River require a raft to access for floating. Many of the tributaries are easily accessible by old logging roads or mining roads such as Michel Creek or Alexander Creek. Whether you want to spend a little energy to hike into the backcountry to fly fish or simply pull off the highway to fly fish the Elk River, it is all to be found in the East Kootenays.
The waters of the Kootenays are also very diverse in the number of different wild trout species that are indigenous to the area. From large Rainbow trout and Bull trout to West Slope Cutthroat trout all of which are wild in nature. The fisheries management policies do not include stacking of trout in flowing waters.
The Elk River thought by many to be the best dry fly river in North America for large West Slope Cutthroat Trout, which average between 10 – 18 inches and countless Cutthroats grow large to 22 inches. There are also very large Bull Trout which can grow to 36 inches or 20 lbs.
The Elk River offers such diversity for the angler as it is large enough for floating but has many braided sections that are similar in size to creeks. Upper sections of the Elk River are excellent for wading with the opportunity for wildlife viewing while the mid to lower sections are braided allowing for drift fishing and walk & wade trips. The season begins in mid-June with excellent Golden Stone Fly Hatches followed by Western Green Drakes, Caddis, Terrestrials and progresses as the water drops through the summer and into the fall when we have excellent Blue Wing Olive Hatches.
The Wigwam River is located a short drive through the wilderness on logging roads where the crystal clear running waters lends the most incredible dry fly fishing in North America. A river like no other, the Wigwam is a pristine gem. The spring fed waters are ideal for spawning Bull Trout, members of the Char family, as they require extremely clean cold water to spawn making the Wigwam River an ideal location. In the early summer of each year, the Bull Trout journey from the Kootenay River to the Elk River and then follow up to the Wigwam River where they spawn in late fall.
With such great water quality, the Western Green Drake hatches are some of the best found anywhere. These waters grow huge Cutthroat Trout due to the abundance of insect life. With a limited amount of angling licenses sold this makes a great fishery in the sense there are very few numbers of anglers fishing on any given day.
The Bull River is a 117-km (73-mi) long tributary of the Kootenay River, and like the Elk River, migrates from the Macdonald Range of the Canadian Rockies. This fast flowing mid-size river has many boulder sections and lots of great structure. With breathtaking scenery, floating down the Bull River along the Steeples Range with towering peaks on either side is unsurpassed.
Fishing pressure is low with sections of the river having very high concentration of Wild Cutthroat Trout. The trout are smaller in size than those found in the Elk River, with the average ranging from 10 – 14 inches. The Bull River allows us to offer float trips or Walk and Wade trips. There is a good floatable section located below the dam that in the fall has huge Bull trout that migrate from the Kootenay system to spawn and chase the Kokanee salmon migration. The river is very cold, best fishing is from late July to the end of August with good hatches of May flies & Caddies.
Most of the rivers in the East Kootenays flow into the Kootenay River as a major water shed. As the Kootenay is a glacial river, it is best to fish in March, April and then again after the waters recede and clear from mid-September to mid November. Spring can be very rewarding for anglers who like to chase very large Bull Trout and once the glacier melt has slowed, around mid-September, the river becomes crystal clear again making this a fantastic fishery. The Bull Trout grow to huge proportions in the system due to the Kokanee Salmon that spawn and die. These trout love to dine on these fish making for some of the best streamer fishing found anywhere
The upper section of the Kootenay, which runs through Kootenay National Park and down through the logging community of Canal Flats, is truly a wilderness gem offering excellent river camping, stunning views and of course, great fly fishing.
The mid-sized Crowsnest River begins at Crowsnest Lake which borders Alberta and British Columbia. Commonly known to the locals as The CROW this is one of the finest wild Rainbow Trout fisheries to wade fish with the average fish size being a healthy 14-16 inches and you may also find larger fish in the 22 inch range. The last number of years we have been seeing more Browns showing up in the lower reaches.
The Crowsnest River has many excellent hatches allowing for superb dry fly opportunities. This is one of the best walk and wade streams that can be fished as early as April through to late October and even through winter.
The Oldman River, another excellent western Alberta prairie river, located below the Three Rivers dam is a tail water fishery consisting of Rainbow and Brown Trout.
The river is open year round below the dam where it is floatable by drift boat or raft. It has excellent fishing above the dam for East Slope Cutthroats and some Rainbows in an area known as The Gap.
After the flood of 2013 this fishery has rebounded like no other with hard fighting fish. It usually has consistent flows and clear waters with great PMD hatches.
This is one fishery that you have to put on your bucket list!
St. Mary River
This is one impressive tail water fishery that houses huge wild Rainbow Trout. Located in Alberta’s windy prairies this can be a challenging but rewarding river to fish. A mid size river that is fairly easy to wade but does have limited access.
Fish grow large due to the abundance of Sculpins, Caddis, BWO’s, and in summer good numbers of Hoppers. The river can be susceptible to low water conditions and discolors easily due to wind conditions. Fishes well from opening day June 16 to the end of October when it closes.
The Waterton River flows some 80 km north from the Waterton Lake located in Waterton Lakes National Park. It continues north and discharges in the Belly River, a tributary of the Oldman River.
The scenery is full of incredible mountain views with diverse habitats including prairie grasslands and aspen parkland. This very cold mountain river is best fished early in the season from June through to the end of July before the river levels drop to their lower flow rates. At this time it can be floated by raft but has very limited access. During this time of the season the angler can experience excellent Golden Stone fly hatches in which the dry fly fishing can be spectacular.
This river can surprise many anglers by giving up some very large Browns and Rainbows.
This is one of the best walk & wade tributaries of the Elk River in the region. This small stream hosts some of the biggest West Slope Cutthroat Trout found anywhere. The Michel Creek is the most nutrient rich stream so it simply grows big trout due to the excellent bug life.
With great hatches of Western Green Drakes, Golden Stones, Mahogany Duns, Caddis, and lots of leaning tees, log jams, there is plenty of fun casting, truly this stream is an angler’s dry fly paradise.