8am on the lower Cheakamus River. The sun flits through the leaves and pierces the mist hanging over the water. Everything is quiet save for the panting of Rayden the dog, along for the walk but also a handy bear deterrent. Knee deep in the river’s flow, Whistler Flyfishing guide Brian Niska demonstrates the four-part motion of a “Perry Poke” spey cast.
The technique is designed for rivers, to keep the fly in the water and prevent it waving around and hooking into trees or shrubs on the shores. “It’s about the rhythm and the feel,” Brian explains, expertly sending the purple fly 70 feet to land just off the far shore. “It’s got nothing to do with force, a 90-year-old can do this. Just let the rod do the work.”
The rod is 12-feet long and rigged with a shooting head/sink tip line system and a big purple salmon fly. We can see trout jumping but autumn brings the salmon runs, and some of the best fishing. Upriver the Chinooks are beginning to spawn but here in the lower river the fish are fresh from the ocean. Hooking into a large salmon on the fly is one of those experiences that can’t ever truly be described with words but just being out on the water watching a new day take shape is an incredible experience all on its own. There’s more to fishing than reeling in fish.
Fly fishing requires years of honing one’s casting technique, not to mention a lifetime of learning river and lake ecology. The rivers of the Sea to Sky area support runs of Coho, Pink, Chum and Chinook Salmon as well as Bull Trout (Char), Rainbow Trout and Cutthroat Trout. In the winter and spring the Steelhead run is the main attraction. Notoriously challenging, Steelhead are the extreme skiing of fishing – you need to know your stuff but the exhilaration of landing (and then releasing) a 20-pound lunker is unparalleled.
“We’re really lucky,” Brian explains. “We can be swinging flies for ocean-bright salmon all morning like this, and then go back to Whistler and float around an alpine trout lake all afternoon. The lakes get good in the autumn because you have that sweet window where they go from too warm to too cold, so you get that magic temperature where the fish are feeding and they’re not too selective –you can put a leech pattern on and call’er good. We have stocked lakes, catch-and-release lakes, lakes you can walk to, lakes you need a 4×4… While the area is most famous for the river fishing opportunities, the variety and quality of lake fishing here is phenomenal.”
And Brian would know. He’s guided and taught fly fishing across BC and Alaska and fished some of the best fishing rivers in the world. He competes in high-level casting competitions and has designed a line of spey rods – The Metal Detector series for the Peiroway Rod Company. And yet for all his travels and adventures Brian is always happy to return home.
“As a fisherman, what I love about living here, there are three things I think are really important. The proximity to the ocean means the quality of our fish is unmatched. We have more wild fish than most areas. Secondly, we get so much snow that every year that means so much more water coming down from the hills the river gets a reworking. All the flooding changes the shape of the rivers so there’s always new stuff to discover. And lastly is the sheer volume of water that is available to fish, the diversity. We have tons of different areas to explore.”
Brian operates Whistler Flyfishing and has a shop in dowtown Squamish. Stop in for the best gear, instruction, guiding or friendly conversation on what’s working in the local lakes. Never fish without a license and always check the regulations to make sure you’re fishing within the law. Go here to plan and book a Whistler fishing holiday.