Smith River Report

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  • If I could predict the major changes coming to fly-fishing, limited-entry dates on many of our major rivers would rank at or near the top of the list.

    Just think about it—the world’s population is spinning out of control, and minus a plague, a flu epidemic, or a nuclear event, we’ll continue to see our rivers becoming more crowded than they already are. It’s just part of the deal right now.

    Although that sounds like a far-off reality, I know guides who are becoming outfitters, simply to get a place in line when their favorite rivers get slapped with limited guide days. Those who can document a history of usage likely would be granted some sort of permit ensuring a set number of days on the water each year. Would it be transferable? Could they sell that permit? Could a state or province actually buy them out of a permit at some date, just like Alaska did for many of that state’s commercial fishermen? Who knows. But some people are acting now so they don’t get caught napping later.

    What I know is that some prime rivers already are limited entry and that getting drawn for dates to fish those rivers has become extremely competitive. Some of these outstanding Pacific Northwest rivers are already under limited-entry rules including Montana’s Smith, and British Columbia’s Dean. In addition, several British Columbia streams that rest just north of Washington, Idaho and Montana, in the Kootenay River system, are now limited-entry, too. Here’s a quick look at each with some information you should know if you want to fish these waters in 2018 or beyond.

    Smith River Montana

    Montana’s Smith River may be the toughest of all those tickets to draw. You can’t blame anyone for wanting to experience the Smith—when you put in on the river at Camp Baker, northwest of White Sulphur Springs, you are committed to a 59-mile float that winds through some of the most beautiful limestone formations in the world. The float usually takes five days to complete and part of the fun is camping each night at designated sites. Oh yea—the fishing isn’t too bad either; the Smith offers about a thousand trout a mile, a mix of rainbows and browns, with some of those fish stretching to 20 inches or more. There are great summer hatches to match, meaning you can take fish on dries.

    The Smith River application period is open right now and ends February 15. That means you have a short window to get your application in. If you are lucky enough to draw a permit you can take up to 15 people on the trip. There is a $10 non-refundable application fee. Apply online here Smith River Application. Results of the application period are released March 1.

    Camping and fishing on Montana's incomparable Smith River Camping and fishing on Montana's incomparable Smith River

    Dean River, British Columbia

    I’ve traveled to several incredible fly-fishing destinations, but none have been any better than the Dean River trip I took a few years ago. I don’t remember the numbers exactly, but I think I’d fought and released 13 steelhead by the third day and may have ended up with 20 or more for the week.

    These fish were fresh in from the saltwater and took the fly as if they were already running downstream at full tilt. The largest fish may have weighed 16 pounds and all were rockets.

    The Dean flows through beautiful and remote coastal mountains north of Bella Coola. The river is mostly accessible only by helicopter. When fishing from a lodge on the Dean, guides utilize jet boats to ferry anglers from one run to the next.

    There is a do-it-yourself option in the middle portion of the river, but that requires non-residents to apply for a coveted permit and if you are drawn it doesn’t ensure that you’ll have the river to yourself—resident anglers don’t have to apply for permits so they can fish the river each year if they choose.

    If you can’t afford fishing from a lodge, which can be super expensive, the DIY deal may be your only option. There are options to fish the lower river without applying for a permit, but the particulars of that trip are intense. Whether you apply for the middle portion through the draw or go DIY on another portion of the Dean, remember that weather is dicey in coastal British Columbia, even during summer, and the river could blow out any day. And, some years see strong steelhead returns, while other years bring only a few fish. If you are willing to take that risk, and you can consider the adventure of the trip to be worth it alone, this is a must-do effort.

    British Columbia’s fishing regulations are difficult to understand (at least for me) so you’ll want to read them thoroughly and direct additional questions to a Fish and Wildlife Regional Office. Check this out for details on the Dean River Draw. We can say this: Applications due March 31.

    The author with a bright Dean River steelhead The author with a bright Dean River steelhead

    Kootenay River, British Columbia

    Montana and Idaho claim themselves to be “bull trout country” and you’ll see signs along their remote river corridors boasting as such, but the real bull trout bastion is southern British Columbia.

    Some of the best bull trout streams rest in the east Kootenay region where anglers battle through the brush and dodge grizzlies, moose and black bear, to get legitimate shots at 40-inchers.

    Canada has a classified waters system (the Dean is part of this program, too) that requires anglers to pay a premium—$42 per day—to fish particular streams and some of the east Kootenay waters fall into this category. So, be prepared to shell out some money to chase these fish.

    On the best of days you might get into the bull trout on these waters and pull out a dozen or more. Some days, when the bulls get that dreaded lockjaw, you may not get one, even if you can see them in crystal-clear water. No worries—these streams also hold big cutthroat trout and those can save your day, rising from 15 or 20 feet down to take a little dry. Eighteen to 20-inchers aren’t uncommon. And that is a big native cutthroat.

    You’ll need to buy a British Columbia freshwater fishing license before you can apply for classified water days. Read the fishing regulations carefully before applying for these permits. It can be process. (If you want to see more of British Columbia, check out our video, The Lost Places.)

    Southern British Columbia offers some outstanding bull trout fishing Southern British Columbia offers some outstanding bull trout fishing