There’s something fishy about the Elk River. The world-class freestone river attracts fly fisherman July through October to cast away and drift the clear blue waters filled with greedy cutthroat trout. Catch and release is mandatory on the classified waters which Paul Samycia, Elk River Guiding Company owner and fishing guide, supports.
“Catch and release fishing has grown in the last five years due to the pressure of more anglers,” said Samycia. “The provincial stocking system stocks lakes with trout but not rivers.”
The Elk River has the right formula for bug life giving it a stronghold on fly-fishing. “A little bit of organics (nitrates) is good for bug production but too much is bad,” said Samycia who has a Bachelor of Science in Zoology. “I’ve read a lot of scientific papers on the topic.”
The Elk River is at a lower altitude compared to Banff and Golden so the water is productive. Higher elevation waterways are fed by upper glaciers, making the water colder and less productive, which equal smaller fish.
The Elk River also has bull trout, which are protected in Montana and Alberta. While the learning curve for fly-fishing is steep, all you need is one day to learn. When you go with a guide you learn to cast in a day on the river. You learn the why and where to cast as well as the skills to land the fish, retrieve and release your catch with less harm to the fish.
Who goes on guided river trips? From complete beginners to experts, many people use guides to shrink the learning curve. “Many of our clients have five days for holidays so they hire a guide a couple times to know the river,” said Samycia. “Then they go on their own.” Rivers change yearly, sometimes drastically with flooding events, so using a guide in a drift boat is the safe option.
The tourism sector has grown on the water over the last 10 years. Recreational activities like kayaking, standup paddle boarding and simple tubing have exploded. Increased usage of the waterways is demanding an increased need for better access and amenities at river put ins and take outs.
Fernie has the only sanctioned boat launch at the end of Fourth Street. Other than that, users are launching boats wherever they can drop a boat into the water even if it means paying private landowners for access or lowering boats down steep riverbanks.
For those wanting to get into fly-fishing Samycia suggests taking children to the Kootenay Trout Hatchery. Children under the age of 16 don’t need a license to fish. Borrow a fly rod.
The first seven kilometers of Coal Creek is restricted for use by only children under 16 or adults over the age of 65 years.
The Elk River drainage is closed to fishing from March 31 to June 15 annually.
Since 2005 the allocated rod days by guide outfitters has stayed the same at 2,950 days. Fresh water fisheries in BC bring in $500 million annually.