Fernie British Columbia

Completely encircled by imposing Rocky Mountains, Fernie is a small, charming resort town that resides in the midst of a huge, majestic setting. Nestled in the East Kootenay region of the Elk Valley, Fernie is strategically located near the Crowsnest Pass that provides passage through the Rockies and largely accounts for the town’s formation and history.

The Elk River, famous for its fly fishing, runs through town. Three tributaries of the Elk River – the Coal, Lizard and Fairy Creeks – start in the surrounding valleys and eventually join with the Elk not far from the town center. There are many waters to explore near Fernie including the Wigwam River, St. Mary River, Michel Creek, Oldman River, Fording River, Bull River and not surprisingly, the Crowsnest River.

In the late 1880’s a pioneer named Michael Phillip’s discovered coal deposits and the Crowsnest Pass, making it possible to mine and transport the ore outside the region. Capitalizing on Phillip’s find, a prospector named William Fernie created the Crowsnest Pass Coal Company and mining dominated the area directly around Fernie for nearly a century.  After many cycles of boom and bust, the mines nearest to Fernie closed and tourism became the town’s main focus.

During the winter season Fernie is famous for its great skiing.  Resorts such as the Fernie Alpine on the Lizard Range, receive among the highest annual snowfalls of any area in the Canadian Rockies and are especially noted for great powder skiing. During the warmer months, those not interested in fishing can enjoy a wide array of outdoor activities including biking, hiking, white water rafting, boating and aerial parks with multiple zip-line opportunities.

Worthy of note - One of the local outfitters and their guides has started an innovative program in Fernie called Fish for Change. The goal of the organization is to protect wild fisheries “through education, service work, and sustainable tourism.” So far they have worked with students and fly fishing experts in Honduras, Colorado and British Columbia.

Fernie is a 45-mile drive from the US Montana border and a 3-hour drive from Calgary, Alberta, CA    

International Airports serving Fernie Include:
  • Calgary International Airport
  • Kelowna International Airport
Fishing Waters
Strategically positioned between two mountain ranges, the Livingstone River is considered one of Alberta’s top cutthroat streams. It’s only 25 miles long but fishing is accessible ... moreand high quality for most of its run. Guides tend to favor the scenic canyon section that is known for its amazing deep green pools. Regulated as a catch-and-release-only river, fish are very abundant, most notably cutthroat trout.

Cutthroats here average 13-16 inches although lucky anglers have been known to draw out the occasional 18-20 inch fish. Guides report witnessing aggressive bull trout attempt to steal your cutthroat as you draw it in, signaling that it’s time to sink your streamer into deeper water.

One of the advantages of fishing the Livingstone River is that it is sheltered from the infamous Alberta winds, so pervasive in the area.
Game Fish Opportunities:
Famous for its rainbow trout, the Crowsnest River begins at Crowsnest Lake in the Canadian Rockies near the border with British Columbia. It weaves past Crowsnest Mountain and through ... moreseveral towns before cascading over Lundbreck Falls and flowing into the Oldman Reservoir. The upper river above Blairmore meanders through beautiful alpine meadows with solid, grassy banks and predictable flows.

Below Blairmore there is a short stint of Stillwater created by what was to be a “temporary” blockage built in 1903. Anglers here will spot highly educated, big fish that tease you with a glance and disappear between Turtle Mountain boulders the size of trucks.

The most prized water on this blue ribbon, spring fed, freestone river, is between the towns of Bellvue and Lundbreck Falls. Here the river lies in a valley walled off by tall stands of evergreen, aspen and willow trees. From Lundbreck Falls to the Oldman Reservoir the landscape opens, the river widens and strong winds from the Crowsnest Pass register their mark on misshapen trees. In addition to rainbows, large numbers of cutthroat and bull trout appear on this stretch.

Observers and guides account for the river’s productivity by its proliferous hatches. Especially worth noting is the Salmon fly hatch in the last week of May. Named for their orange colored throats, these salmon flies migrate to the river before entering dry land, creating a wonderful opportunity for anglers.
Unaware of borders, the Wigwam River courses across two countries. The Wigwam starts in the Galton Range of the Rocky Mountains in Lincoln County, Montana, at the confluence of Wolverine ... moreand Bluebird Creeks. It twists and turns, crossing international lines 4 times until it reaches Mount Broadwood; there it abruptly runs west and empties into the Elk River near the town of Elko.

To fish the river, you travel through wilderness on old logging roads, making it a great choice for those who yearn for an authentic backcountry adventure. Spring fed, its waters are incredibly clear and more importantly, very cold. Each spring, bull trout travel from the Kootenay River to the Elk River and spawn upon reaching the Wigwam. Insect life is active and its Western Green Drakes hatches are considered to be in a class all their own.

Guides can open a range of experiences to you while walking the riverbed. Plan to enjoy fishing deep pools, large pockets, churning riffles, logjams, undercut banks and hefty boulders while hauling in a native, west slope cutthroat.
Game Fish Opportunities:
Similar to the Oldman River, the St. Mary is host to guides from both Calgary and Fernie. It is a cross-border tributary of the Oldman River, that along with the Belly River and Waterton ... moreRiver, drain a small part of Montana in the US and forms part of the Hudson Bay watershed in Canada. Starting as a stream on Gunsight Mountain in Glacier National Park, the river flows into St. Mary Lake, the second largest in the park. After exiting the park, the river continues through the Lower St. Mary Lake, then through the St Mary Reservoir and eventually empties into the Oldman River in Alberta.

Suffering from mining related pollution in the 1970’s, the tailings have since been diverted and the river today is in fine condition. As a fly fishing only river, it’s one to float since it is only possible to wade across during the lowest levels of the season. A variety of fish call St Mary home, including whitefish, suckers, dolly varden, burbot and Yellowstone cutthroat. Cutthroat here are known for their naiveté – reputed to be very numerous and quite easy to catch.
Like other rivers running through southeast British Columbia and southwest Alberta, it’s possible to find knowledgeable guides in either Calgary or Fernie. Named after Na’pi, a great ... morespirit in Peigan tribal legends, the river begins high in

the Rocky Mountains, flows east, gathers tributaries and after a journey of over 225 miles, eventually merges into the Bow. The two rivers form the South Saskatchewan that finally empties into Hudson Bay.

Most interesting to fly fishers is the upper 70 miles of the river, from its headwaters to the Peigan Indian Reserve. Located within the Rocky Mountains Forest Reserve, this section of river is narrow and gin clear. Both native cutthroat and fairly large bull trout can be found here. As the river continues southward, it picks up the Livingstone River and other smaller tributaries. At Racehorse Creek it suddenly turns east and flows through an aptly named passage known as the Gap.

Open ranch land dotted with cottonwoods, aspen and pines characterize the river’s middle section. Here it’s not unusual to spot deer, black bears, grizzlies, elk, and of course, cattle. Fish here vary due to the introduction of rainbows throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The result is pure cutthroats, pure rainbows and scores of hybrids. In early July, hatches of Western Green Drakes and Flavilinea give rise to great dry fishing. It’s possible to wade the middle section although its depth can be hard to gauge accurately and rock ledges can make walking difficult.

Below the Oldman Dam near Pincher Creek, it’s possible to fish tailwater for about 7 miles. Fishing quality varies greatly from season to season so it’s best to check the status before deciding to go.
Game Fish Opportunities:
Michel Creek is a walk and wade only river, perfect for those who prefer a more rugged, out door experience. Even though it’s only a small tributary of the Elk, it varies a great deal ... morefrom section and takes time to get to know. There are sharp bends, big boulders and changing currents. Add undercut banks, logjams and lots of pocket water and you have a stream that is sure to test your mettle – well worth the effort when you catch a nice, fat, 18-20 inch cutthroat.
For those who enjoy hiking and waterfalls, the Fording has a lot to offer. This freestone river begins its journey high in the Rocky Mountains near Fording River Pass on the Continental ... moreDivide. Part of the Columbia River basin, it is a tributary of the Elk River. It flows south through a narrow valley before its confluence with the Elk just north of Sparwood.

Josephine Falls can be reached by taking a 30-minute hike into a canyon. Once there, you can watch the water dramatically drop over 80 feet into the abyss. Fishing below the falls is quite popular both for its beauty and for the fish. Within the pools, pockets and riffles are sizeable cutthroat and bulls just waiting to be caught.
If you’re a fly fisher that values quiet and solitude as part of the outdoor experience, the Bull River may be a good choice for you. Set against a majestic section of the Steeple ... moreMountain Range known locally as the “Three Sisters,” the river runs through true wilderness. In addition to rods and flies, you might also want to take a 4-wheel drive vehicle and a spare tire or two. The challenge - this is rugged country. The reward- pressure on the river is very low.

Originating in the Macdonald Range of the Canadian Rockies near the Continental Divide, the Bull travels over 73 miles before joining the Kootenay River, a tributary of the Columbia River. In addition to its scenic mountain backdrop, the river is also well known for its astonishingly clear, aquamarine color. Divided by a dam, the upper section lends itself more to walking and wading where smaller cutthroat and bulls (10-14 inches) are likely to be found. The lower section can be floated and here the river is teeming with oversized cutthroat and a few good-size rainbows. Toward the end of the season its possible to encounter large runs of big, fat bull trout.
This is no bull – some of the largest bull trout you will ever see swim in the Elk River. Considered a world class, dry fly fishery, this freestone river starts near the Continental ... moreDivide in the Rocky Mountains near Peter Park in Alberta. Its source is the Elk Lakes, waters created from glacial runoff. A relatively long river at 140 miles, it picks up tributaries and increases in volume to the point where it can only be crossed in a very few places. Important to the area, the river drains over 1720 square miles and courses through several communities including Elkford, Sparwood, Hosmer, Elko and of course, Fernie.

As well known as the Elk is for its mammoth bull trout, it is even better known for its sizeable wild, westslope cutthroat trout and large concentrations of mountain whitefish. Restrictions apply along the river but differ from section to section. The upper section is posted as catch-and-release-only until you reach Forsyth Creek. Throughout the entire river, a catch limit of only one trout over 30 centimeters applies.

Major portions of the upper river can be fished from small drift boats although there the river is too narrow to accommodate large crafts. Farther downstream you may be slowed down by an abundance of beaver dams, but by the time you reach Sparwood the river is negotiable in basically any craft you choose. Without an experienced guide, the canyon span below Elko can risky.

For those who prefer to wade, by late summer and into early fall, it’s possible to walk major sections of the river. Because the bottom can be slippery, felt bottom boots and a wading staff are recommended. Overall, given the river’s size, it is best suited to floating with its many boulder-strewn runs, deep pools, riffles and alluring side channels.
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