B.C.'s Fishing Highway lures anglers to serene lakes

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      One of the more popular reality-TV shows of recent years has been River Monsters (and, to a lesser extent, the knockoff Monster Fish). Although sometimes seriously lacking in “reality” and containing some hefty exaggerations about the threat to humans posed by its swimming stars, the series attracts plenty of viewers.

      The biggest reason is, quite simply, the size of the fish. If you ever caught a bullhead when you were a kid, you might think you’re hallucinating as you watch the host reel in a massive 100-kilogram catfish from some exotic river.

      But you don’t need to renew your passport to haul in some trophy fish. Some of the best freshwater sportfishing in the world is right here in B.C., and much of it is within quick striking distance (a four- to five-hour drive) of the Lower Mainland.

      A case in point is the area in the South Cariboo along Highway 24, sometimes referred to as the Fishing Highway. In particular, the 100-odd-kilometre stretch between 100 Mile House (on Highway 97, the Gold Rush Trail) and the town of Little Fort on Highway 5 (otherwise known as the Yellowhead Highway) is an angling destination getting a lot of attention.

      It is said that there are 100 lakes within an hour’s drive of this road, but if you have some serious off-road capability, that number would probably more than triple.

      Most of these bodies of water have fish populations that can be caught, meaning they are legally open to angling according to the restrictions outlined in the provincial fishing regulations. (You need a licence whether you’re a resident, tourist, or underage angler.)

      There are pretty large lakes here, but there are also some that are little more than potholes with attitude, perfect for drift fishing with kids in canoes, kayaks, or inner tubes. Or you can just cast out a bobber from some grassy bank on a sunny day, lean back, and reflect on why comedian Steven Wright says, “There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.”

      The choices for accommodations include guest ranches (such as the Crystal Waters Guest Ranch at Crystal Lake, just south of 24 east of Sheridan Lake), fishing resorts (like Moosehaven Resort on Hathaway Lake, about 40 kilometres east of 100 Mile House), campgrounds, and RV parks. The types of angling include fly fishing, “hardware tossing”, trolling, and bait fishing (except where prohibited, with catch-and-release angling where specified), and all of this from shore, horseback, or any type of boat.

      The spectacular range of scenery means that this relatively unspoiled wilderness will probably see a lot of traffic in future years. Properly managed, though, this area should be able to retain its hinterland majesty for many decades to come, even given its proximity to the Big Smoke.

      Rainbow trout, which can grow to monster proportions (with the nearby Gerrard and Kamloops varieties reaching 20 times the size of those farm-raised peewees you see under plastic in the supermarket), and kokanee (landlocked sockeye) are the main attraction for fishers here, especially in spring and early summer, before the lakes heat up. Giant (up to 20 kilograms) lake trout (actually a type of char, as are Dolly Varden and the now-resident brook trout), along with deep freshwater lingcod and burbot, are the quarry of many anglers further into the season in the larger lakes.

      Other wildlife—deer, bear, moose, and especially raptors such as eagles, hawks, and ospreys (a magnificent fish eater with which many coastal anglers might be unfamiliar)—entertain indolent visitors while they keep an eye on that bobber or dry fly.

      Those who aren’t fond of fishing can avail themselves of the many opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, camping, wilderness photography, or just being lazy as hell.

      But you can be sure most of those nonfishers will come sniffing around within minutes of the successful angler frying up a rainbow-trout shore lunch.

      Tight lines!