(written by Jason)
So, I had seen on a fishing blog a guy caught a fish called a bull trout. It was caught in a river and the fish was absolutely massive! Ever since I had seen it, I wanted to catch one myself. My friend Parker and I started investigating. A long story short, Parker ended up working with a guy who knew exactly where it was caught, and after months, the guy ended up telling Parker where. And it happened to be about a 13 hour drive North.
Canada. Well, never thought I'd be taking a fishing trip to Canada, but it was inevitable now. After months of planning, tying massive streamers, and still trying to pinpoint the actual river, we were marginally ready. We knew the general area, as well as the name of the river, that will be called "Bear River". There is very little information on the internet about the river, as anyone who knows about it, generally keeps their mouth shut.
We packed as if we would be hiking in several miles to access the river. Afterall, we were basically using Google maps to look at the river and the tiny roads that supposedly allowed access. But we didn't want to risk not being prepared for the worst.
The original plan was to be four of us: Parker, myself, Parker's work friend and then a friend of his. Another long story short, Parker messed up his back a week before we planned to leave, so we decided to take two cars in case Parker wouldn't last up there. Then, the day before, the other two guys bailed, which left Parker and I.
We packed up his Suzuki Tuesday night and then left around 5AM on Wednesday morning. It was a long drive, and at one point we wasted two or more hours backtracking when we thought we were lost, but we really weren't. Parker blamed me, but he was sleeping at the time. First drama of the trip. We bought a GPS at Costco in Billings, MT. We knew our phones wouldn't work in Canada, so this was our hope for navigation. Apparently, Garmin GPS are pretty lame, because it was mostly worthless, and the UI was like going back to 2001. We traveled through some very, very pretty country, and saw lots of lakes and rivers that were very tempting - but we were focused and didn't want to waste time. We finally got to the US/Canada border. I was driving, and it was late, and apparently I ran two red lights and a stop sign, which the Canadian border patrol officer was more than happy to point out to me. Luckily, we looked pretty innocent, and no one was around, so to my credit, the red lights were pretty ambiguous, and blended in with the hundred other lights all over the place. Passports were stamped and we were off.
An hour and a half later we reached the city near “Bear River” and found the cheapest motel possible, and got some good rest. The next morning, we had some McDonalds, and then got our fishing licenses. Now for the hard part. Finding the river. We took a couple wrong trails, until we found the right one. LUCKILY, we ran into a Canadian Fish and Game officer. She was shockingly helpful and nice. Because the roads were logging roads, we were supposed to have radios to notify others the direction we were traveling. She let us follow her to "as far as she would go". At that point, we talked with her some more, and got as much info as we could. She told us not to go any further because the road gets really bad, and we'd pop our tires in his Suzuki. Well, we weren't about to stop, and I felt like she was bluffing. We kept going and the road was fine. When we first saw the river, hundreds of feet below us, it was really exciting...but also sketchy, because it was far and steep. We kept driving, and we finally started descending. We went as far as we could, until we came to a locked gate, that blocked access to a bridge that went right over the river! We were stoked! We couldn't believe we were able to literally drive up to the river. We quickly geared up, and were off. We had no idea what was in store.
After an hour, we started questioning whether or not we were on the right river, or the right section. No bites, and we hadn't seen a single fish. Rrrrrr. We finally came upon some promising holes. Parker went above me to a good looking hole, and quickly got excited. He had spotted the first Bull Trout! It was game time. We casted at it for awhile, and nothing! So, we moved up stream. I caught a cutthroat, that was really exciting because it was our first action. We now had a much better idea of how to spot the fish in the river, and where to look for them. We came upon a hole that looked excellent, but was basically a giant log jam. We quickly spotted at least 6 or 7 bull trout...and big ones! I decided to be as stealthy as I could, and to crawl on top of the log jam. The layout of this hole didn't allow for conventional casting...it had to be more of an ugly toss that was short distance. Parker went on the other side of the jam. We were both ecstatic at what we were seeing in the water. Fish after fish...and BIG ones. We started casting, and had some follows, some snags, etc. I was laying on my stomach on the massive log jam, trying to "jig" my streamer in front of some fish. As I looked up to try to communicate something with Parker, it felt like my line got another snag. Nope...one of the prettiest bull trout in the hole had struck my streamer. I instantly stood up. To heck with spooking the other fish. This guy was big, and I had to manhandle him to try and avoid the hundred possible logs he could get snagged on. I quickly had to go up stream to the head of the hole, and I carefully walked across a log and then jumped to the other side of the bank. It would have been impossible to attempt landing the fish on the side of the river I was on. Parker was doing an awesome job filming all of this. I made my way back down to the end of the hole where Parker was. Parker had the GoPro rolling, so he got an underwater shot too. This, or perhaps something else, spooked the fish and it instantly took off downstream. Neither of us hesitated. We both took off down stream after it. It ran and ran. I was quickly winded, trying to run in waders and boots, on slippery rocks. At one point, it swam under a log, and stopped in a smaller hole. There was no way to force it back up stream under the log. Parker and I attempted moving the log but it was too big. So, my rod and reel took a swim, reel end first. under the log. This was risky, because it took all tension off the fish, but it was the only option. IT WORKED. We were stoked. Soon as I put some more pressure on the fish, it took off again. By the time it got to the spot where I would finally land the hog, it had taken us downstream 200 yards! We had left our net up at the other hole. So, it was tricky landing it, but we did! We could not believe it when we finally had it. It was big, and very pretty. This was the fight of my life. I was exhausted and on a major adrenaline rush. My first bull trout was 26" long, very pretty, and he gave the best fight I had ever had! We got some pics, gave the fish a high five, and let it go.
The rest of the day was great. Parker also caught a great bull trout out of the same hole upstream. The landing part was much easier, for which we were grateful, as we didn't want to run back downstream 200 yards. That night we stayed in the same motel, and ordered some pizza. The next morning, we bought some last minute essentials and made our way back to the same spot to set up camp for the next two nights. The next day we fished the same section, and ventured even further upstream. We had good luck, and got into some more cutthroats too. We drove back into town that night to get some hot dinner. We both slept well, although the hotel was definitely better, than the 3 man tent we were in.
The next morning we decided to go downstream. Wow. The holes downstream were much much bigger, held more fish, and were the kind of holes we had seen pictures of online. But, these holes see more pressure. This is the first time we ran across other anglers. They were nice and we swapped some stories. The holes we started fishing were awesome, but also very frustrating. We could see tons of Bull Trout, but they were hardly moving. We moved to various holes. We both caught some fish this day. I got lucky and caught a couple more bull trout. I happened to snag a really big one....28" long, and really pretty. Its hard to count it, since it got snagged. luckily it was on "tough" spot on the fin and didn't harm the fish at all. It was still a really awesome fish to catch, and Parker and I were elated when we finally got it in the net. Parker netted it just in time, as it was headed downstream towards a fast current.
That night we had some freeze dried meals. They were decent, considering you just add boiling water. Throughout these days of fishing, occasional rain storms would come up, but they never lasted too long. There is hardly any trails along the edges of the river. If you happen to find one, it doesn't last very long. Because this area is known to have lots and lots of bears, we were constantly singing and whistling while we were up along the banks of the river. It was really pretty country, and its a very moist, wet climate, so everything is green and there is moss everywhere.
Our last day of fishing was on the same section we fished the day before. Big, beautiful, deep, crystal clear pools of water. This was Parker's day of luck, and I think I caught only one fish. Which was his luck the day before, and he wasn't too happy. Well, I wasn't too happy this day either, but we both gave each other a hard time about it. The fishing on the trip was really good, considering the type and size of fish we had caught. But, we didn't catch a lot of fish. The experience was absolutely incredible. Next time, we will prepare like we are going car camping. We felt very lucky to have never been to this place, and yet ended up finding the exact spot we needed to be. It could have turned out very different. The logging roads that took us back to the river, take at least an hour to drive on, and there are many forks in the road. As we were packing up getting ready to leave, a car pulled out, and out hopped a professional fly fisherman Parker recognized. This was even more proof to us that we nailed it as far as navigating went. We decided to drive back in two legs, so it wasn't so brutal to do it in one day. The first part was crazy, as it rained insanely hard, on small highway roads with no street lights, and our headlights were weak. Luckily, Parker had a voucher to stay at a nicer hotel. I was stoked about this, and grateful that he was willing to use it. We had a great trip, had some great fishing, got on each other's nerves, but it was all worth it!