Columbia River Clear and Fishing Great

While other areas of the Canadian Rockies deal with flooding and dirty water, here in B.C.’s West Kootenays the rivers are running clear and the fly-fishing remains top-notch.

If ever there was a time to catch a daily flight from Calgary or Vancouver – or drive the four hours from Fernie or Spokane – this is it. The D.B.O. Power Drifter awaits, the Columbia River’s big rainbows are feeding on top, and the summer’s best hatches are well underway. Caddis, PMD’s, Olives, and the oft-overlooked but not-to-be-missed Sulphurs are already on the menu, and Green Drakes are just around the corner. Streamers are taking big trout daily.

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Columbia River head study.
Columbia 'bows are native land-locked steelhead
Columbia River hog.

The river flow graph says it all: The rain and snowmelt wreaking havoc in the East Kootenays and Southern Alberta have barely registered on the ‘Mighty’ Columbia, and the famed dry-fly fishing will only get better into July. The nearby Slocan River – another great little D.B.O. offering – is high but clear and fishing decently on dries and shallow nymphs. It should round into prime form by next month, and the native redband ‘bows just keep getting bigger and healthier from year to year as the aggressive catch-and-release fisheries’ management takes hold. It’s a beautiful float in a drift boat on one of the West Kootenays’ undisputed jewels, and a great add-on to a Columbia River trip.

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Sexy camo on the Slocan River. Nice cap, girlfriend!
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Nice form, too!

The Columbia’s Sulphurs (Epeorus) are an intriguing mayfly. Ranging in color from pale yellow to creamy pink, the size 14-16 duns resemble PMDs but have two tails instead of three. The other giveaway is where Sulphurs emerge – fast, choppy water over shallow cobbles. The hatches are never heavy, but they almost always entice pods of big ‘bows out of deeper adjacent water onto the skinny gravel. Fortunately for the visiting flyrodder, it takes a trained and experienced eye to spot the ‘bows sneaking into the shallow chop, and most anglers walk right by.

I’ve always maintained that presentation trumps imitation 90 percent of the time, but nowhere is this more evident than when fishing over Sulphurs. Fact is, the trout just don’t have time to be picky in the fast, broken water, so any reasonable facsimile will do the trick. Most important is that the chosen pattern floats well and is easily seen by the angler. I like Hi-Vis parachutes with light cahill bodies; when the trout are taking emergers just beneath the surface, try a similarly colored Hare’s Ear tied a couple of feet beneath a drab-colored slip of poly yarn. And remember … be patient! Look prospective water over carefully before moving on; you’ll be surprised how often a snout or tail shows just as you’re about to give up and move to the next run.

Sulphurs are a great hatch and Columbia River staple this time of year.

Don’t fret, fly-fishers: Dave continues to guide daily on Montana’s premier tailwater, the Missouri River, and we’ve got plenty of dates left through next month on B.C.’s lesser-known alternative, the Columbia River and tributaries. Clear water. Dry-flies. What are you waiting for? Book now, stop whining, and fish!

Chris …