Blackwater River, BC. Fly Fishing the Blackwater River in British Columbia

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Blackwater River, BC

by Ian Forbes

Starting high in the Ilgachuz Mountains, the Blackwater River flows several hundred miles eastward until it eventually empties into the Fraser River near Quesnel.

The water is stained a dark tea colour, hence giving it the name "Black Water". Much of this fine trout stream's gradient is gentle. With the exception of three waterfalls near Tsacha, Euchiniko and Kluscoil lakes, and rapids below Tsacha and in the final few miles to the Fraser, most of the river is navigable by canoe or raft. In the open pine/spruce forest, portages are easy and trails follow the river closely. It was through the Blackwater Valley that First Nation peoples travelled to the coast to trade in fish and furs. It was also the route Alexander Mackenzie took in 1793. He named it the West Road River, and it is now recognized by both names.

The whole system is rich in nutrients and full of life. Prolific insect hatches feed the many trout, whitefish and squawfish. A variety of stonefly, caddisfly and mayfly nymphs cling to every boulder. In slower sections, thick weedbeds provide a haven for other species. In late summer, Chinook salmon migrating from the ocean, spawn in the river. A few make it above Chinee Falls to lay their eggs upstream of Kluscoil Lake. Their dying carcasses provide more nutrients for the whole eco-system.

Lodging & Services in the Blackwater River area

Fly fishing is excellent anywhere in the whole drainage and the river is noted for its superb dryfly action. Trout average 10 to 16 inches, but grow slightly larger in the lakes. It's not unusual for an experienced fisherman to catch more than 100 trout in one day. But, there are enough selective feeding trout to amuse the more sophisticated angler. A deer hair or elk hair caddis pattern is all any angler needs most of the time, but small mayfly imitations will fool the more selective feeding trout. Small, gold beadhead nymphs will catch dozens of trout during the few occasions when fish are not dining on the surface. The beadhead nymphs are especially deadly on whitefish.

Two wheel drive road access to the Blackwater is limited to only two crossings on the lower river in the Nazko Valley. For the serious four wheel drive enthusiast, there is a very rough cart track into the more remote sections of the valley. Walking is often faster than driving these roads. Only the most masochistic drivers with no respect for their vehicles should attempt this access. A winch is mandatory. The cart track parallels most of the valley and starts near the river ford on the Euchiniko River. This crossing is not marked and isn't easy to spot. It's located several miles downstream from Titetown Lake, on the Batnuni Road. The four wheel drive road roughly follows the Mackenzie Trail from Kluscoil Lake to the Euchiniko Lakes. The other four wheel access starts in the Upper Dean River Valley off the end of Christianson Road. It comes out on the Blackwater near Eliguk Lake. Again, it is necessary to ford the river, and this can only be done in low water. For the Do-it-yourselfer, there is a 5 km portage trail from Kuyakuz Lake road to the upper Euchiniko Lake. It is possible to haul a canoe in on wheels, but it's a tough trek. The best way to access the valley is by float plane into one of the lakes.

We hired a float plane at Nimpo Lake after arranging for a vehicle pickup in the Nazko Valley. The beaver aircraft carried the two of us, our luggage, tackle and my 17 foot Clipper canoe into Eliguk Lake. The 80 kilometer flight took about 40 minutes and we set up camp on the lake. Eliguk has a couple of resorts, but we chose to stay in a tent. We could have spent the entire two weeks at Eliguk and caught all the trout anyone could want, but within a day we paddled downstream.

In late August the upper river is quite low and requires some walking the canoe through shallows. Although we had topographical maps, we didn't have a GPS, so it was difficult to determine exactly where we were on the river. We kept moving as quickly as possible, except where the river looked "fishy". There we danced our dryflies and the trout never refused us. Trout tend to stay near the fastwater and bouldery pockets. Squawfish choose the slower sections. We released all our fish except when we stopped to camp. Then, we kept only enough for a meal. Campsites were easy to find, but a little brushing out was needed to set up the tent.

It took us about four days to reach Tsacha Lake, but we could have made it sooner if we hadn't been enjoying ourselves. We paddled through a slow section of oxbow turns before we approached the first set of serious rapids. After the rapids was the next obstacle: Tsacha Falls, a 30 foot drop into a trout filled pool. We heard the falls from well upstream and the portage was easy. Below the falls was an easy paddle to the lake. Tsacha Lake is about 15 km long and required some hard paddling. There is one lodge on Tsacha lake for those that want to stay there.

At the outlet of Tsacha the river picks up speed and goes through a series of rapids. Some we ran and others we lined until we came to Kusyuko Falls, the next required portage. After the falls came the Euchiniko Lakes, probably the most boring section of the trip. These shallow lakes are simply a series of wide spots on the river. This 30 km section of slow water is filled with squawfish, and trout seldom got a chance to grab our fly. Lakes require constant paddling to make any distance so we didn't stop, except to rest.

After the Euchiniko lakes the river speeds up again through another series of rapids. With some fancy paddling we negotiated all of the fast water. This section had some of the best fishing we experienced on our whole trip and we caught a few rainbows over 18 inches. The fishing remained good all the way to Kluscoil Lake. We didn't fish Kluscoil because I had tried it before and caught nothing but squawfish.

There's a resort at the outlet of Kluscoil and we used their trail to portage around Chinee Falls, which is a series of tumbling drops over boulders. Below Chinee Falls it was clear sailing all the way to the Nazko Bridge. The two week journey was one of the best wilderness trips I've experienced. We could just as easily spent a month fishing and exploring this finest of canoe routes.

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Peter Caverhill
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Ian Forbes
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Blackwater River, BC. Fly Fishing the Blackwater River in British Columbia