Steelheads are native to watersheds that empty into the Pacific Ocean. Known for their urge to swim upstream to spawn, steelheads travel far and wide, but the Pacific waters are their real home. They mostly acclimate in the fresh melt of snow and glaciers of British Columbia.
Anadromous rainbow trout, better knowsn as steelhead, are sleek and powerful—beautiful and fascinating. Gleaming across the miles in their silver chain, steelhead tell a spectacular story about life on earth.
After exploring and researching hard about the seven best steelhead rivers on the West Coast to go fishing in the Pacific Northwest—where salmon and trout have always been the most popular fish region-wide. These are the top seven picks from the province of British Columbia.
1. BULKLEY RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Famous for its rugged mountains in backdrop topped with gleaming glaciers, Bulkley River is known as the Mecca of steelhead angling. Fly fishing is the preferred method of most who visit or live here and with good reason. The Bulkley is the number one summer steelhead fishery in the world. The runs are massive, the fish are massive—even the scenery is massive.
2. THOMPSON RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Thompson River is most definitely the number one spot for fishing in the Pacific Northwest. This is not because it holds record numbers of returning steelhead, but because it hosts an amazing sports fishing history steeped in tradition. The wild steelhead that enters the Thompson are second to none, they are big and elusive, hard fighting and beautiful.
3. DEAN RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – The Dean River needs no introduction. Any passionate angler has heard and probably dreamed about visiting the Dean River then fishing for its magnificent steelhead. Its Steelhead is among the most beautiful and strongest around. Second, it is only accessible by charters specializing in fishing in the Pacific Northwest. The Dean is set in an amazing landscape full of mountains and thick forest and flows directly into the ocean.
4. VEDDER RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – The Vedder River is a great local river close to Vancouver. It is heavily enhanced by a hatchery on the upper reaches; this hatchery supports the steelhead run that returns in the winter months. The river is easily accessible and therefore does see a large amount of angling pressure during peak season. The Vedder is a great river to cut your teeth on as a novice steelhead fisherman.
5. SQUAMISH RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – The Squamish is an absolutely breathtaking river offering panoramic vistas of the coastal mountains alongside thick, green, tree-filled forests. The steelhead that enters the Squamish are a rare breed, unfortunately, heavy logging practices on the upper reaches have done large amounts of damage, including destabilizing spawning grounds. If you target the steelhead found throughout the Squamish system be forewarned, they are far and few.
6. COWICHAN RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – The Cowichan River is located on Vancouver Island and is visited regularly both by the travelers and local anglers. The Cowichan sees steelhead, salmon, and trout returning back to its clear flows. This river is very beautiful, flowing green with great riffles and is perfectly suited for sports fishing. The Gold is another great steelhead river found on the island as well.
7. SKEENA RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA- The Skeena River and its tributaries are famous across the world for their fantastic returns of wild steelhead and salmon. The Skeena is the mother river to many well-known tributaries, including the Bulkley, Kispiox, and Copper Rivers. The Skeena River will test even the most skilled angler. For those anglers interested in steelhead, these rivers are a must-see and a must-fish point.
That’s the best list of steelhead rivers in the region of the Pacific Northwest. If you are taking a trip, be sure to do your own research in terms of maps and locations for fishing in the Pacific Northwestern region of British Columbia. All of these rivers are beautiful in their own right, and well worth the visit.