Travel

Fly-fishing in Campbell River, British Columbia

By: Jennifer Reynolds

Photography by Martin Tessler Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by Martin Tessler

Travel

Fly-fishing in Campbell River, British Columbia

By: Jennifer Reynolds

Connecting with nature
Our Pacific Coastal flight from Vancouver to Campbell River, BC, is a scenic 45-minute jaunt. From there, it's just an hour's drive through the interior of Vancouver Island to the village of Gold River, population 1,300. This small, riverside community is literally where the road ends and the wilderness begins. Fresh glacier-fed rivers and lakes border the town to the east, and a 10-minute drive west brings you to the Pacific Ocean.

Our destination is The Lodge at Gold River, a majestic yet intimate inn for travellers seeking guided fishing tours. As we pulled into the driveway, I was amazed by the beauty of the main lodge and the surrounding buildings, all constructed from giant spruce and pine logged nearby. The gardens are a stunning mix of native and cultivated species—a natural complement to the beautiful totem poles and sculptures outside. Inside, the timber walls are adorned with art collected locally and abroad. Staff boasts that The Lodge offers the "luxury of roughing it," which might as well be my travel mantra.

I have to confess I'd never been on a fishing trip before. Let's face it, most big-city Ontario families don't go fly-fishing for summer vacation. But I was craving a new sort of excursion, full of things we'd never experienced before. Lucky for me that my husband, Neil, a school principal who gets summers off, and our nine-year-old son, James, are both very athletic and game for anything. We love being outdoors, meeting new people and eating great food.  

Our warm and friendly hosts, Kent and Teresa O'Neill, not only built the place, they manage the daily operations and fishing trips. Their small staff is more like a family, joining guests for cocktails and meals. Kent says it's mostly men that sign up for the guided fishing expeditions, but it's not uncommon to get a few women. (I know they don't regularly get little kids, because James's size-small hip waders looked brand new.)

Learning how to fly fish
Our first day on the water was mostly about the incredible scenery and enjoying a glass of BC chardonnay on a "party barge" fitted with rods and lines. I'm not sure what we did could be accurately called fishing, because we weren't holding the 
rods, hooking the worms or casting. But when the linebobbed up and down and James yelled "fish," we hurried to grab the rod, reel them in, then throw them back and watch them swim away. There was a lot of competition about who "caught" the biggest fish and how big it actually was.

Our second day was the one I most looked forward to: fly-fishing. Our guide, Alexi, spent quite a bit of time teaching us to cast, first on the lawn, then on a small trout pond. Neil got the hang of it long before I did, but I made up for my poor technique (and for hooking myself in the shoulder) when I learned to relax my right wrist a little. After another hour or so, I caught a small trout. From that moment on, I was literally hooked.

An hour later, we slipped into our fashionable hip waders and made our way to Gold River in the hopes of catching something wild. Within minutes, I had a nibble, but I couldn't snag the line hard enough to keep the little swimmer on. This triggered outright obsession: I had to catch that fish, and I would not leave until I did. Despite trying several locations, my efforts ultimately proved unfruitful. But I was still impressed that my not-so-patient self spent an entire day attempting to trick a fish into biting a fake bug.

Though we went home empty-handed, we left in awe of our majestic surroundings, the sport of fly-fishing, and the cool new skills we'd just learned. For my family and I, the trip was transformative. After a hectic year of school and work, it was the perfect way to reconnect. We came home laughing about the ugly lingcod we caught and reminiscing about the texture of the black rocks lining the beach at Nootka Sound. And we now enjoy a feast of Pacific salmon for every special occasion. 

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Campbell River, British Columbia: Fly-fishing heaven

Trout pond

The picturesque trout pond at The Lodge is where we honed our fly-fishing skills. It took a good two hours of practice before I could get the line out far enough into the pond.

By: Jennifer Reynolds Source: Martin Tessler Credits: Canadian Living

Campbell River, British Columbia: Fly-fishing heaven

Fly-fishing tricks

The “fly” part of fly-fishing is a lure designed to catch the attention of a particular kind of fish. One of the secrets I learned: Make the fly dance a little if nothing’s biting—the fish will be tricked into thinking it’s a real bug.

By: Jennifer Reynolds Source: Martin Tessler Credits: Canadian Living

Campbell River, British Columbia: Fly-fishing heaven

Rocking hip waders

Once I slipped into the hip waders and walked into the cool river, it was hours before I came out. The possibility of hooking even a small fish kept me obsessed. “Just one more cast,” I kept telling the crew.

By: Jennifer Reynolds Source: Martin Tessler Credits: Canadian Living

Campbell River, British Columbia: Fly-fishing heaven

My lucky reel

This was my luckiest fly. “If you’re not getting a bite, change the fly,” advised Alexi, our guide.

By: Jennifer Reynolds Source: Martin Tessler Credits: Canadian Living

Campbell River, British Columbia: Fly-fishing heaven

Learning to cast

Our guide, Alexi, spent quite a bit of time teaching us to cast, first on the lawn, then on a small trout pond.

By: Jennifer Reynolds Source: Martin Tessler Credits: Canadian Living

Campbell River, British Columbia: Fly-fishing heaven

My catch

The only fish I caught during the whole trip. I even took it off the hook and threw it back in all by myself.

By: Jennifer Reynolds Source: Martin Tessler Credits: Canadian Living

Campbell River, British Columbia: Fly-fishing heaven

The lodge

The Lodge, run by husband-and-wife team Kent and Teresa O’Neill, is all about “roughing it in luxury.” The main lodge features beautiful trophies, as well as art and masks from local artisans.

By: Jennifer Reynolds Source: Martin Tessler Credits: Canadian Living

Campbell River, British Columbia: Fly-fishing heaven

Outdoor dining

If fishing is a sport, it’s not one that will help you lose weight. After our stay at The Lodge, I gained about eight pounds from all the incredible, locally sourced food (made by Terry, the friendly, fabulous chef who honed his skills in five-star restaurants all over the world). Each meal with our savvy hosts generated lively conversations that my family and I will cherish for years.

By: Jennifer Reynolds Source: Martin Tessler Credits: Canadian Living

Campbell River, British Columbia: Fly-fishing heaven

Local art

A totem pole in Campbell River

By: Jennifer Reynolds Source: Martin Tessler Credits: Canadian Living

Campbell River, British Columbia: Fly-fishing heaven

A big catch

I had to catch that fish, and I would not leave until I did. Read all about our Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Reynold's fly-fishing experience with her family in Campbell River, BC.

By: Jennifer Reynolds Source: Martin Tessler Credits: Canadian Living


For more awesome summer activities, camping tips and Canadian travel destinations, visit our guide to the great Canadian outdoors.
                                               
This story was originally titled "On The Fly" in the July 2014 issue.
           
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Fly-fishing in Campbell River, British Columbia

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