Silver Lake and Skagit River –
Explore the Canadian side of this famous watershed!
Just overhearing the words Skagit River usually brings goose bumps to a Northwest angler’s spine. These words evoke thoughts of fishing holy-grounds that are revered for quality fishing and remote wilderness. Now remove the thought of what you normally envision and discover the Canadian side of this renowned watershed. The entire basin from Silverhope Creek, which enters Silver Lake, the lake itself, along with the entire length of the Skagit River on the Canadian side is strictly managed as a quality fishery, so don’t expect to take home fish for your freezer. What you can expect is a visually stunning fishing destination with great angling opportunities for trout, char and summer run steelhead.
Skagit River in relation to Vancouver, BC.
Most of this watershed is within provincial park land and these provide campsites and plenty of free day use parking. For being in close proximity to Metro Vancouver, angling pressure is low and you feel as if you have escaped to a hidden valley. Silver Lake is one of my favorite lakes to visit as it is so scenic and the Skagit River has been called the prettiest trout stream in North America. Just remember to obtain your Canadian freshwater licence and read the regulations carefully before you set out.
The lake is as photogenic as it gets with a towering mountain overlooking the lake and crystal clear waters to welcome you. A 25 site campground can be found here along with a boat launch suitable for smaller boats. A serene picnic site is available for bank anglers to cast or simply relax and take in the scenery. There are numerous spots from which fishing from shore can be productive and a steep drop around most of the lake provides quick access to deeper water. This lake is perfect for a canoe or smaller boat with an electric motor. Gas motors are permitted but there is a 10 horsepower restriction on the lake.
Silver Lake is directly connected to the fish factory known as the Fraser River. Because of this, almost anything can be found patrolling its waters, but the main inhabitants are rainbow and cutthroat trout along with a few steelhead. This lake is not stocked as there is ample spawning habitat at both ends of the lake. Where the western end of Silverhope creek enters the lake, there is a small area closed to fishing to protect the spawning habitat of one the last runs of native summer run steelhead.
Silver Lake has some tight fishing restrictions so be of the correct mindset when you visit to wet a line. To protect this pristine habitat and its finned residents there is a 100% bait ban and single barbless hook restriction in effect. Also, there is zero retention of any fish in this watershed. So remember to bring your camera to record your angling memories, not your fish cooler. The best way to fish the lake is a trolled or cast fly, or using smaller lures and spinners. Just remember to exchange out all treble hooks for single barbless hooks.
Silver lake is open to angling all year but the campsite is only open from May 1 to October 14. One of the prime areas to explore is the northwest corner of the lake where the inflow from Silverhope creek enters the lake. There are some nice holes and drop offs in this area that hold good size trout. Some fly’s to try are bead head or a balanced micro leach patterns. For gear anglers, probe the depths with small spinners from Yakima Bait and Mepps. Silver Lake is a quiet place to take the family for a quiet camping getaway or fishing trip. You are close to town for any supplies that are needed yet feel very distant from the civilized world once you arrive.
The Skagit River is one of the most productive trout rivers anywhere, certainly it is very scenic yet has good road access close to Metro Vancouver. Most anglers will be using fly tackle, and this river is known for impressive bug hatches and pleasing dry fly casting purists. However, as long as you follow the single barbless hook and bait ban regulations, you are welcome to fish with your choice of gear.
The Skagit River starts in the rugged mountains of Manning Provincial Park, meandering south as it merges with other streams and grows in size. Fishable water starts at the Sumallo Grove day use area on Highway 3. Here the Skagit merges with the Sumallo River and becomes productive trout habitat. The next 15 kilometers or nine miles of the river are hike in access only. There is plenty of free parking at Sumallo Grove and one of the best spots along the mostly flat Skagit River trail is at the Delacy campground which is a 4 kilometer easy hike. This trail continues to where it meets the Silver Skagit road and provincial Park at the 26 Mile Bridge.
Hearty anglers can fish the upper portion of the river in complete solitude. The lower, more productive and well-known section of the river is accessed via the Silver Skagit road as you continue on past Silver Lake. It takes another 30 minutes and 35 kilometers to get to the Skagit River from Silver lake and the road deteriorates a bit with some potholes and washboard sections, but is still accessible by two-wheel drive vehicles.
Unlike the American portion of the Skagit, the Canadian Skagit does not hold salmon and steelhead. It is instead blessed with plentiful rainbow trout anywhere there is enough water, food and cover to make them feel comfortable. In the deeper holes closer to Ross Lake, the Skagit is developing a reputation for producing monster Bull Trout. The brutes are often in excess of five pounds and rumors of a 15 pounder caught here earlier this year have been circulating.
This river has the same single barbless hook, bait ban, and zero retention regulations as Silver Lake, and is only open to fishing four months of the year. Fishing is permitted from July 1 (Canada Day for you neophytes) to October 31. Even in this short open season, the fish do not see a lot of pressure here. From the 26 Mile Bridge down to Ross Lake, there are nine day use areas along the river that provide easy access and ample parking. There is also Silvertip Provincial Park which provides another 44 campsites.
Fiesty and wild, all fish in this watershed must be released.
There are some friendly Canadian cautionary notes that our visiting American cousins need to be aware of. This is serious bear territory. Black bears are plentiful throughout the Skagit Valley and efforts are being made to help recover the lost Grizzly bear population. Carrying bear spray and a bear banger in your fishing vest is recommended. Also, the lower section of the river is serious mosquito country. In July and August, bring the most powerful bug dope you can obtain and apply it early and often. This is why local anglers often wait until mid-September for the first frost to cull the Canadian Air Force (hordes of mosquitos) to a tolerable level before fishing here.
Locals prefer casting a dry fly and mayfly, caddis and stonefly imitations all work well. There is also a prolific Western Green Drake hatch in September that can bring steady action. I prefer to use small spinners and lures for the rainbows, and larger versions for the Bull Trout. One new item on the market that seems tailor made for plying the deeper holes for Bull Trout is the Hevi-Bead system of weighted plastic egg imitations. Drifting a couple of these below a float in the deep pools has me salivating to try these on my next trip here. All access points along the lower river offer good fishing, but the two that I prefer are Rhododendron Bar and Chittenden Bar.
to releasing it to grow bigger for tomorrow's anglers.
The Silver Skagit Road just outside the town of Hope provides good access to this area, the Ross Lake Reservoir and International border just beyond. To access this area, take any of the Whatcom County border crossings north to highway 1 and proceed east. A little more than an hour brings you to exit 168 for Silver Lake and the lower Skagit River. The area is well signed and Silver Lake is six kilometers or four miles east of the town of Hope on the Flood-Hope Road then the Silver Skagit Road. For the upper Skagit River, continue past Hope on highway 3 for another 15 minutes and look for the Sumallo Grove day area.
Both of these fisheries in the Canadian Skagit Valley offer pristine wilderness fishing for feisty trout. The scenery for being so close to a major center is unsurpassed and the fishing opportunities are vast. Make some time later this month or next year to visit this area and you’ll be wishing you discovered that other Skagit Valley years earlier.
To begin planning your next Canadian excursion, visit our Adventure Match to find the perfect lodge to suit your personal fishing or hunting preferences.
Author Bio: Todd Martin is a well known outdoor writer and angler who lives and writes about the wild splendor of British Columbia, Canada. Todd resides in Maple Ridge and specializes salt water and fresh water fishing for Salmon, Trout, Char and Kokanee. Visit him at www.martinoutdoors.ca
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