Escaping From It All – Dry Fly Fishing The Upper Dean River

Staycation Season

Every year in early August, I find myself heading North in search of quality trout fishing on the Upper Dean River in the West Chilcotin region of BC. This year has been a year like no other with a pandemic looming around us, but I still kept my plans and made the ten-hour journey to the town of Anahim Lake with my good fishing buddy Rudy. We left Coquitlam at 6am which put us in Williams Lake at high noon for lunch. From Williams Lake the last leg of our journey was another 320 kms towards the Coast before we ended up at Escott Bay Resort on the shores of Anahim Lake. This trip is not new to me as this will be my twenty-eighth visit over the past three decades.

I first heard about the West Chilcotin and the town of Anahim Lake when Rick Taylor the editor of BC Sport Fishing Magazine asked if I would like to write a lodge profile for Escott Bay Resort. As I was relatively new to the world of writing I did not turn down any assignment regardless on how far from home it was. I had no idea what to expect when my buddy Stewart and I made that first trip there, but I’ll be honest I’ve never looked back. The area feels like home to me now and I thank my lucky stars that I accepted that assignment over thirty years ago.

On the Water

Back to our most recent trip. The drive from Williams Lake flew by without any mishaps for us and we arrived at the resort right at 4pm. As we pulled in, we quickly realized that there was no one else visiting this year. I understand it is the year of Covid19 and Americans can not cross the border but I still figured there would be more staycation anglers making the journey to the area to do a little trout fishing. We quickly put the boat in the water, grabbed our gear and headed for the fishing grounds a short ten-minute boat trip across the lake.

A Taste of the Tropics

When we arrived at the inflow of the lake, we pushed the boat across a large sandy shoal where sediment has made the water only a few inches deep. This shoal is home to a couple dozen pelicans that spend the summer here feeding in these fish rich waters. The first time I viewed pelicans here thirty years ago I honestly had no idea that we had any in BC. Once across the shoal we dropped the motor and headed up the winding channel. The water flowing into the lake comes from Little Anahim Lake and the Corkscrew River which flows into the channel before entering the lake. The area where the Corkscrew enters the channel has always been highly productive as fish hold here while seeking out cooler nutrient rich waters that flow from high up in the mountains.

After pulling the boat ashore we walked a couple hundred yards up the Corkscrew and started fishing. As the water was less then five feet deep it has dry-fly fishing stamped all over it. Our gear of choice in this small creek is 4 wt rods with matching reels. The flies of choice for us were small deer hair sedges but honestly any type of small dries work well for these very aggressive trout. This fishery is ideal for beginners and avid anglers alike as these wild trout are not selective as they see very little fishing pressure throughout the year. Once in the water only a few minutes had elapsed when we were into our first double header of the trip. Its amazing how fast you forget about the long drive once the first wild trout inhales your offerings. We continued fishing the area for a couple more hours landing over fifty fish between us. Wow, what a great start to our Chilcotin adventure.

The Upper Dean River

On our first morning we woke up full of energy, so we decided to fish the Upper Dean River itself. The section we selected to cover was a fairly long walk in from the road, but it was flat terrain and we knew what was waiting on the other end. After half an hour of walking the faint sound of running water could be heard off in the distance. Upon our first view of the river we noticed that it was at a great level this year. This was a concern while walking in as last year the river was so high that it was unfishable. The first run of the day had a nice flow to it and produced just over a dozen decent sized trout for us. Little did we know the best was yet to come.

The second run which I like to call the log jam run was only a few feet deep in its deepest point and held dozens of nice fish. Every time our small dries dropped close to the log jam a fish would dart out and pick off our offerings. We ended up landing a few dozen fish each before it was time to continue our journey down river. Over the next few hours we fished through several more runs before it was time to call it a day and start the long walk back to the truck. If we had had not ever wet a line again on the entire trip the expedition would already be considered a total success.

Easy Access

Before we knew it day three was upon us and we decided to keep it low key and fish close to camp as the weather was cooler and windy. We started by fishing the mouth of the Corkscrew River again and ended up fishing the outflow of the lake after lunch. The Corkscrew was a little slower than our previous visit but we had excellent fishing from the boat as we drifted the channel back to the lake. The water was flowing at a perfect pace for us to cover the over hanging banks with dry flies. When we came across a school of fish the anchors were quickly dropped, and we worked the area over before lifting the anchors again and continuing the drift.

After lunch we made our way to the outflow of the lake, but it quickly became apparent that the water level of the lake was low and the outflow rapids were too shallow to hold any good sized fish this year. After hooking a few small trout and a couple dozen Pike Minnows we decided to cut our losses and head in for an early drink.

Earn It

Once again, morning arrived quickly and since we were well rested, we decided to hit the Dean River once again. We headed out early to try a different section of the river which is known to be hit or miss. The walk-in used to be a piece of cake but the trail is now littered with downed trees due to the pine beetle kill that devastated the area few years ago. The trees have been dead for years but are now starting to fall making the trails a bit of an obstacle course. All this meant for us is we had to climb under and over about fifty trees to get to the river.

Once out of the trees I quickly remembered how pretty this section of the Upper Dean is. With trees lining both sides it is a sight to behold. As it turned out this was a good year for this section of the river. We fished for a few hours and landed numerous good-sized rainbows and dozens of smaller ones. I’m fully convinced that the last ones to fish this section of the river was ourselves three years prior. There was no sign of humans in any way shape of form. Once again it was well worth the drive and walk to fish this section of the river.

On our last full day we hit the Upper Dean again a few miles further down from where we fished the previous day. The couple miles of river we fished varied from slow flowing runs to fast riffles and most of it held fish. We found lots of fish but only a handful were nice sized. That said, this is such a scenic part of the river that catching fish was somewhat secondary. It was just nice to be there with no sign of civilization around. Later that afternoon we fished the Corkscrew one last time as it was easy to fish and close to camp. The area was good to us again which was a perfect way to finish off our 2020 fishing excursion.

On a year with a pandemic and all the chaos going on in the city it was sure nice to escape from it all for a few days. With the memories of this trip on my mind I can hardly wait for my next visit to the West Chilcotin to do a little dry fly fishing.

-Tom Johannesen

An avid angler, seminar host, and writer, Tom Johannesen has had over 200 works published in a plethora of Outdoor Magazines. From his home base in Coquitlam, British Columbia Canada, he explores his home waters and beyond.

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