Friday, April 17, 2015

Atnarko River: British Columbia DIY Fly Fishing

The purpose of this post is to share DIY fishing information about the Atnarko River, located in Bella Coola, British Columbia.

When I think of all the DIY trips I have taken, this was my best.  Why? I fished for salmon and trout in the same day, with no pressure from other anglers.  The animal life was amazing; I saw eagles, bears, wolves, and moose. I visited the salmon hatchery and they allowed me to participate in fertilization of salmon eggs. I saw some of the most scenic mountains I have ever seen in my life. Each night, I slept in my rental van, next to the river, and no one ever bothered me or asked me to move. The town of Bella Coola and Hagensborg are extremely small, and offer enough to live a very simple, yet fulfilling life.  Most importantly, the Atnarko river has miles of accessible water and is loaded with trout and salmon.

The structure and hydraulics of the Atnarko are amazing.  You could fish this river for an entire life and not get bored. 

River Facts    

  • Length:  62 miles.
  • Origin: Charolette Lake. It flows west for about 62 miles, until it joins the Telchako river to form the Bella Coola River.
  • Termination: Pacific Ocean.
  • Location: Bella Coola, British Columbia.  
  • How to get there: Between 13-20 hours driving time from Seattle, WA., USA.  You can fly from Vancouver (south terminal airport) on  On Vancouver Island, at Port Hardy, you can take a passenger/auto ferry,
  • Fishing Season: Best fished during the spring, summer and fall.  Please review regulations at
  • Licensed Required: Yes. Contact
  • Floating: You can hire local guides to float, but you can walk-wade the Atnarko.
  • Dangerous Animals:  Be prepared to encounter BEARS!
  • Resident Species: Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat, Bull Trout.
  • Anadromous Species: Sean run Cutthroat, King Salmon, Pink Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Chum Salmon, Coho Salmon.
  • Walk-Wade Difficulty:  Water is cold.  Crossing the river is extremely difficult.  Fish from shore and wade into water, where conditions are safe.
  • Fly Rods: Depends on target specie (trout or salmon), but single hand 6wt - 10wt.  Two handed rods (switch-spey) 6wt - 9wt.
  • Fly Lines: The variety/structure of water is unimaginable.  Come prepared with floating and a variety of sinking lines. 
  • Technical Trout Fishing:  This is not your ordinary trout river.  Anglers accustomed to fishing nymphs and streamers in deep, fast water will do well.  Admittedly, I did not prepare well for this fishing trip, but I got the job done with what little equipment I had. I used wet-flies (nymphs) and streamers (wooly buggers) and spent most of my time swinging and dead-drifting, with class V sinking line (160 grains). If I wanted to go deeper, which I did,  I simply cast up stream and at the end of the down-swing, I used an arc/lift presentation (it worked).  On my next visit, I would be tempted to use my Patagonia Tango Nymph Rig or other deep water, tight-line nymph techniques. More info about Nymph Rigs:
  • Leaders-Tippets:  Chances are, you'll be fishing for both trout and salmon.  As such, you'll need to variety leaders and tippets. 
  • Trout Flies: Though I saw plenty of fish rising, I did not have much luck with dry flies. I used a variety of nymphs and streamers, and fished them at multiple depths.  The most success I had was with a #10 Zug Bug and #04-#08 Wooly Bugger.  

I was nymph fishing for trout and caught two of these. 

Anadromous Runs

  • April - May: Sean Run Cutthroat
  • May - July: King Salmon
  • July - August: Pink Salmon
  • July - August: Sockeye Salmon
  • August - October: Chum Salmon
  • September - October: Coho Salmon

Average Atnarko Rainbow Trout. 

DIY Global Fishing Trips

At FCFF, I am running a business, but sometimes I love DIY fishing with friends. If you want to fish with me on one of my personal DIY trips, let's talk.

Final Word

I spent seven days in Bella Coola and enjoyed every second. I will return some day and spend more time on the river.  Lodging options vary from DIY camping, paid camp sites, cabins, B&B's, lodges and small family run hotels.  Small grocery stores and a few restaurants will provide plenty of food to keep the DIY angler alive.

If you travel to Bella Coola and would like information on fishing spots, give me a shout or contact Markus Schieck at Tweedsmuir Travel  Markus is an avid fly fisherman and will gladly provided you with local river information.  (also, he's the booking agent for the BC Ferry system and can assist your with local lodging options).  Bella Coola is not what I would call family friendly (i.e. no water-parks, ice cream stands, movie theaters, video arcades, playgrounds, etc).  But, if I had to choose a place to live and DIY fish for salmon and trout, it would be on the top of my list.

Hope you enjoyed this post and thanks for reading.


PS. Read more about this trip at