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I have just returned from a helicopter fly fishing trip to Bute Inlet on a remote section of the coast of British Columbia. The trip is part of the winter program of the Lodge at Gold River on Vancouver Island (www.thelodgeatgoldriver.ca), a super-plush facility that offers a variety of fishing and non-fishing opportunities throughout the year. You can fish in storied waters for steelhead, dry fly fish for trout, troll for salmon, and even play golf out of the Lodge at Gold River.
The focus of the fishing I enjoyed this past February was on bull trout and sea-run cutthroats in the Homathko and Southgate rivers. This is a helicopter fly-in fishery, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in the annual checkout trip the lodge conducts before regular clients arrive in February, March, and April. I was invited along by Lodge manager Kent ONeill, who wanted me to get an overview of the fishery so I could share what I experienced with Angling Report subscribers.
ONeill urged me to pack light for this trip because four of us with all our gear would be in the helicopter. I did as he ordered mostly by allocating almost all of my weight allowance to fishing tackle instead of clothes. On the appointed day, I drove northward from my home in Victoria on the far southeastern end of Vancouver Island toward Campbell River, which some fellow subscribers will recognize as the home of Roderick Haig-Brown, who wrote something like 30 fishing books in his lifetime. The Western Angler, Seasons of a River, and A River Never Sleeps are well-known books of his that many subscribers will have read.
After skirting the town of Campbell River on the new, faster Inland Highway and crossing the Campbell River, I came to my destination, E & B helicopters on the north end of town. I quickly changed into fishing gear, did a quick repack of my gear, and we lifted off to the east into a sunrise over Discovery Passage. Our route took us almost due north on an 80-mile direct line into Bute Inlet.
Most of the BC coast is like Bute Inlet; that is, it features steep-sided fjords that stretch 40 to 80 miles into the coastal mountain range. We were soon flying well below snow-covered mountains directly up Bute Inlet, which at this hour was flat and glassy. My stopwatch put us at 35 minutes when we started our descent into a logging camp a few miles up the river. This was to be our headquarters for the next several days. Regular clients on this trip fly out from the lodge each day.
Once on the ground, our bags stowed, and the helicopter refueled, we lifted off again for the 15-minute flight to the top of the Homathko River. By top, I mean the point at which the Homathko changes from a high-gradient, boulder-and-pocket-water river descending from the peaks to where it splays out on the wide, flat valley bottom. Both the Homathko and the Southgate flow through flat valleys composed of gravel and silt brought down over the eons and slowly pushed out toward the ocean. Both valleys are studded with tree trunks that have washed down at high water, which occurs in August when the snow melts. Some 28 miles of the Homathko River is fishable, while the Southgate, in an adjoining valley, offers a little less than 20 miles of fishing water.
The Lodge at Gold River has been choppering into this area for nine years now. Not surprisingly, they have developed a great understanding of this fishery, including which flies to use and what tactics to employ at different times of year. Interestingly, I was told that all the winter precipitation in this area falls as snow, so winter does not bring high water, as it does on Vancouver Island where I live. Indeed, the water we fished was blue-tinged, alluvial water that is easily fished with a 5- or 6-wt. rod. Mostly, it was what I would call cosy fishing.
At our first stop, I was told that the best technique to use would probably strike me as counterintuitive. The main feed for the fish this early in the s