Like every great fisherman, Pemberton Fish Finder owner Brad Knowles likes to get there early.
It’s just past 8 AM and we’re already knee-deep in the Squamish River. A pair of blue herons watch with stoic half-interest as we toss flies into the ever-moving flow. We’re fishing for pink salmon, so is the curious harbor seal floating thirty meters off shore. It’s a perfect quiet morning in the Coast Mountains.
“It’s always nice to get on the water early and beat the crowds,” Brad says. “This year there are lots of fish so that means lots of fishermen. But more important is timing with the tides —right now we are catching the high tide, that brings the water level up and brings the fish in from the ocean.”
This is the kind of local wisdom that separates the pros from the regular Joes. Brad is a born-and-raised Pemberton kid who has been fishing the lakes and rivers of the Sea to Sky his entire life.
“I don’t want to date myself,” he chuckles. “But it’s really been the last twenty years that I’ve been able to truly explore the potential of the fishing in the Whistler area. Once you get a driver’s license that opens up a lot more possibilities.”
Guide Scott Leboldus on the Squamish River
And as a professional guide for over a decade, Brad has been sharing those possibilities with guests from around the world. An early YouTube fishing celebrity, he started Pemberton Fish Finder just before the 2010 Winter Games came to Whistler. “We really got on people’s radar doing an ice fishing trip with the NBC Morning Show at the games,” he explains, “and it seems like every year more and more anglers are hearing about the Whistler area and just how good the fishing is around here.”
Over the course of our chat Brad lands and releases three decent sized pink salmon while I have yet to hook into anything. “You’re out a little too deep,” he suggests. “Step back so the water is just to your knees. The fish are right in this seam here.”
The Squamish River is the only local option for salmon retention for fishermen (and women) who lack access to a boat or the ocean. But always check DFO Freshwater Salmon Supplement for rules and regulations.
He indicates a section of river that looks exactly like everywhere else but after making that four-foot adjustment I hook into a fish two casts later. My first ever salmon caught on the fly.
“There ya go!” A good guide needs to appreciate the art of instruction as well as that of catching big fish and Brad chooses his staff for their personalities as well as their fishing skills.
Fish or no fish, it’s just good to get outside. Check out the Pemberton Fish Finder Reports Page for current info on what people are catching and where.
“For us at Pemberton Fish Finder, we love fishing with all ages but all my guides are family men so we understand the importance of getting kids out and getting them fish. It’s nice too because kids take instruction really well —they want to learn to cast properly or what flies are working that day— and to watch a young kid hook into a nice wild salmon or a big trout… that’s the future right?”
The future for my day fishing with Brad was supposed to include a heli-trip to some remote lakes near Pemberton but a low cloud ceiling keeps the helicopter grounded so Plan B is to meet at Brad’s family shop, Spud Valley Sporting Goods, where he and guide Scott Leboldus are busy tying custom flies for a last-minute venture up into to a secret spot on a river that shall remain nameless for now.
It’s a much smaller stream than the Squamish River, and flowing much more quickly. Scott ties me on the brand new egg-pattern fly with the speed and fluidity of an obvious expert. The pattern is an invention Scott and Brad came up with themselves during their online weekly instructional fly tying show Friday Night Flies. It’s no surprise that we start hooking fish almost as soon as the fly hits the water.
Spud Valley Sports, Also the set of online fishing show Friday Night Flies.
Fishing with an egg pattern and a strike indicator is entirely new for me. The fish suck the egg into their mouths rather than hitting it with speed so everything is very subtle. There’s definitely a learning process behind recognizing a “bite” and setting the hook at the right time because big bull trout will spit an egg pattern out once they realize it is a fake. The process takes concentration, and luck, and I definitely miss a few good ones but under Scott’s patient guidance I eventually I hook into the biggest rainbow trout of my life, and ten minutes later an even bigger bull trout.
Brad gets just as excited about releasing these monsters as he is about catching them and it’s apparent that simply getting out into the mountains and spending time on the water is what fires the Pemberton Fish Finder crew up the most. “My favourite is the diversity of this area,” says Scott, who moved West from Ontario 15 years ago. “Getting to fish all these different bodies of water and sharing them with others… it makes for some pretty amazing days at work.”
And that is the real value of a professional guide. Certainly, they provide the insight and help you develop the skills needed to catch big fish, but even if the fishing is slow the boys will show you how to really enjoy the magic of just being outside, slowing life down, focusing on the flow of a river and partaking in an activity as old as civilization itself. Fish on.
The Pemberton Fish Finder crew can find excellent fishing in the Whistler area any time of the year. Check out their YouTube channel for more fishing videos and book your Whistler fishing holiday at Whistler.com
Fish of the day. A great big bull trout. (All fish caught in this story were successfully released.)