Thompson River, BC. Thompson River Fishing, British Columbia

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Thompson River, BC

The beautiful Thompson River, one of British Columbia's most important rivers, is home to many species of game fish. One of the Fraser River's major tributaries, the Thompson provides the highway for millions of spawning Sockeye, Chinook, Coho and Pink salmon. Year-round residents include sturgeon, Rainbow trout, Dolly Varden and Mountain Whitefish. It is also the freshwater home to some of the largest and strongest Steelhead found in North America. 

Named by Simon Fraser after the Northwest Trading Company's explorer/topographer David Thompson, this river is huge with a drainage area of more than fifty thousand square kilometers (more than 20,000 miles). 

The Thompson River is formed at the city of Kamloops, by the joining of the North and South Thompson Rivers. This High Country region of B.C. (see regional map) is rich in history as well as recreational opportunities. Be sure to explore all the points of interest during your travels. 

Flowing from the Rocky Mountains, the North Thompson passes by the communities of Blue Water, Avola, Vavenby, Clearwater, Little Fort, Barriere and Heffley Creek before meeting the South Thompson at Kamloops.

The North Thompson is a beautiful blue-green river, weaving through heavy forest of Cedar, Fir and Spruce. There are some sections of wild water, but for the most part, the North Thompson is quite tame allowing for some excellent drifts. Chinook salmon and Dolly Varden are the main targets for fishermen.

The South Thompson flows westward from Little Shuswap Lake, passing the town of Chase before meeting the North Thompson at Kamloops. Relatively slow-moving and driftable the south fork is host to millions of spawning Sockeye salmon heading for the famous Adams River. Rainbow trout, Dolly Varden and Mountain Whitefish will be found at the headwaters eagerly feeding on dislodged salmon eggs. During this time, fishing can be excellent! 

All services (including some great fly and tackle shops) and accommodations can be found in Kamloops and neighboring communities along both the North and South Thompson. Along with private camping sites, the High Country region of British Columbia contains some of the most beautiful Provincial Parks in B.C. Forest Service campsites can also be found in the area.  

From Vancouver, Kamloops can be reached by taking the Trans Canada Highway (approx. travel time is five hours, 423 km./254 miles). This is a spectacular drive leading you through the Fraser Canyon and the Thompson River Valley. Kamloops can also be reached by taking the Coquihalla Highway (Hwy.#5) which exits off the Trans Canada at the town of Hope. The Coquihalla is an excellent highway that will cut off at least one hour in travel time to Kamloops. Distance from Vancouver via the Coquihalla is 350 km./213 miles. Travelers must be cautioned that this is a very steep highway with very few services.

Scheduled bus and train services to Kamloops can be found in Vancouver along with direct daily air flights from Vancouver International Airport. 

From Kamloops, the Thompson River flows through Kamloops Lake westward through to the town of Ashcroft. The forests of green encountered on the North Thompson have now been replaced with sagebrush and pine. The river is now passing through a hilly, semi-desert landscape.

This section of the river offers excellent dry fly fishing for Rainbows up to 3+ lbs. Campsites are available at Steelhead Provincial Park which is approximately 36 km./25 miles west of Kamloops, situated at the west end of Kamloops Lake. Halfway between Kamloops and Ashcroft (approximately 17 km./11 miles west of Steelhead Park) is Juniper Beach Provincial Park. This beautiful park situated in the Walhachin area offers excellent riverside campsites, swimming and great fishing. The Thompson, from Steelhead Park to Ashcroft can easily be navigated with a drift boat.

Fly fishermen should watch for flying ants on the water. This will signal that some exciting trout fishing is about to begin. 

Turning south at Ashcroft, the Thompson River makes its way through the community of Spences Bridge. During the summer months fishermen are drawn to this spot by the arrival of Chinook salmon. However, the Spences Bridge area is best known for its fabulous catch and release steelheading.

Anglers from all over British Columbia, Canada and the United States converge on this tiny community (see map of Spences Bridge area) during the months of October, November and December. Legendary names such as Martel, Rock Pile, Flat and Rock Run, Y Run, Grease Hole, Hotel Run, Graveyard Run, Lake Pool, Orchard Run and Big Horn Pool are forever etched in the minds of steelheaders who have already visited this fabulous fishing area. For these fly, and gear fishermen, the year would not be complete until they have made their annual trip to the Thompson.

Many of these fanatic anglers (most steelheaders are) will plan their fishing trip into the B.C. interior by starting at the Dean River in the summer months. During late summer/early fall, they move on up to the North by Northwest region of B.C., where they will fish the fabled waters of Sustut, Kispiox, Babine and Bulkley rivers. Late fall through early winter they travel back down to the Thompson, to finish up the year.

Thompson River steelhead are legendary for two reasons. First, they are big, often in the high teens with some in the 20+ lb. range and the rare one that will reach 30 lbs. Second, they're incredibly strong! When a Thompson fish decides to run, look out, it's like trying to stop a runaway train. A possible reason for the great strength may lie in the distance that they have to travel (about 300 km./186 miles from Vancouver to Spences Bridge) and the obstacles that they have to overcome, such as the Hells Gate Canyon on the Fraser River.

New fishermen to this river will be surprised to find that many of these huge steelhead are colored. Not to worry. These steelhead are summer-run fish in their prime. Unlike true winter-run steelhead, these summer-runs will remain in the river for several months before spawning. The Thompson fish will enter the freshwater of the Fraser River in late August. The front runners start showing up in the Spences Bridge area by mid-September. The peak of the run occurs from mid-October to late November. These steelhead will winter in the river, below Kamloops Lake, until late May when they will start to move into tributaries along the Thompson to begin spawning in June.

Getting to the Thompson is easy, catching a trophy steelhead is not! For one thing, there are not that many fish in the river. Runs can number anywhere from 1000 to 4000 entering the river during the season. Interception of steelhead stock in both the ocean and the Fraser River have caused a decline in the number of fish. However, the Fish and Wildlife branch of the Ministry of Environment along with other organizations such as the Steelhead Society of B.C. and the B.C. Federation of Flyfishers, are dedicated to protecting and improving this great river. Special public forums have been held, from which new ideas and regulations have sprung. Before heading out to the river you should consult the current B.C. Freshwater Fishing Regulations or contact the Fish and Wildlife office at 1259 Dalhousie Drive, Kamloops, B.C. V2G 5Z5, phone: (250) 371-6200.

The weather can also beat you. Fall and winter months can be very cold and often windy. Also the Thompson River is big, fast and strewn with large boulders, making it hard to cover and extremely difficult to wade. It isn't uncommon for a novice steelheader not to touch a steelie all season. Thompson veterans on the other hand, have learned the secrets of this great river and are usually successful throughout the fall and winter months.

Equipment varies with the different techniques used on the river. General rule of thumb - long rods and large capacity reels.

Gear fishermen in general, fall into two categories. Bottom-bouncers and float fishermen. Both employ drift fishing techniques and basically the same type of rigging (terminal tackle). Bottom-bouncers usually have large level wind reels coupled with 10 to 10-1/2 foot rods. Float fishermen have rods that are even longer and are often accompanied with a centre-pin reel. Lures most commonly used are: single egg imitations, gooey-bobs, super goobers, spin 'n' glows, corkies, rubber worms (red, pink and orange), or simply different colored wool (yarn) held onto the hook with an egg loop. Spinners and spoons are seldom used but should always be part of your arsenal.

Fly fishermen can also be divided into 2 basic equipment groups. Single-handed fly rods and double-handed (spey) rods. Single-handed fly rods are usually 9-1/2 to 10 feet long. The most common line weight is an 8 or 9. Spey rods are much longer. 15 and 16 foot rods are very common on the Thompson and most speyfishermen say they have a great advantage over a 10 foot single-hand fly rod. Reels on both types of rods have to be large to hold lots of backing.

Fly fishermen will usually start the season using a floating line with a dry fly. The Thompson fish are famous for taking a surface fly. Lemire's Fall Caddis or Grease Liner work very well. Bomber patterns are also very popular. Bill McMillan's Air B.C. along with Ehor Boyanowsky's Thompson River Rat have both gathered loyal followers.

As the season progresses the weather gets colder, and the river temperature starts to drop. The steelhead become less active and tend not to move to the fly as aggressively as they did earlier in the season. Fly fishermen will now switch to a sink-tip line and wet fly. Art Lingren's Black General Practitioner, Joe Kambeitz's Squamish Poacher, and Pete Peterson's Pete's Lady Bug all work extremely well. Spey flies and wet flies tied low-water style are also extremely popular.

Many people ask if there any flies which are considered the best for the Thompson. The answer is no! Fishermen all have their favorite patterns. The answer to fly selection is to use the flies that you have the most confidence in and then stick to those few flies!! Fly selection is considered by most steelheaders the least in the order of importance. Weather, light and water conditions will often vary from day to day. Be prepared and have different size and colors of flies tied up. The art of reading the river and knowing where steelhead are holding is most important. Getting the fly to them is next. Presentation is also important especially when using the floating live/dry fly technique. In this case you trying to imitate a fluttering surface fly such as a stonefly. Hopefully this will trigger the juvenile feeding imprint in the adult steelhead and it will take the fly.

Always remember, the more the fly is in the water and not in the air (keep false casts to a minimum), the better chance you'll have touching steelhead. Also, whether you're a gear or a fly fisherman it is vitally important to cover your drift thoroughly, your trophy may be lying just a few feet from shore!

Spences Bridge can be reached by traveling east and then north from Vancouver on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy.#1). The distance is roughly 300 km./186 miles, with an approximate travel time of just over 3 hours.

Services (there are no fly and tackle shops!) and accommodations can be found in Spences Bridge, as well as the nearby communities of Ashcroft and Cache Creek. Private and public campgrounds are available along both sides of the river. If planning a trip to Spences Bridge during the peak steelhead season of late October through mid-November it's best to call ahead and book reservations.

Continuing on through Spences Bridge, the Thompson passes through Big Horn, Gold Pan Provincial Park, Shaw Springs, and Skihist Provincial Park before meeting the Fraser River at the town of Lytton (the rafting capital of Canada).

This river section is wild and fast, traveling through steep-sided canyons and gorges. Access to the river from Shaw Springs to Lytton is steep and dangerous. Fishing, whether for Chinook or steelhead is very limited for this reason. However, white water rafting and kayaking are extremely popular during the summer and early fall.

The Thompson is a river of spectacular beauty and is enjoyed by thousands of recreationalists a year. Special care is required by all to ensure a healthy future for this most special river.  

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Fraser River - Lower Section
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Fabulous Fall Chinook
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Releasing Large Fish
The Sturgeon of the Fraser River
Tough Knots for Big Fish
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Thompson River, BC. Thompson River Fishing, British Columbia