Sustainable Fishing Adventures With a Guided Charter Around Vancouver

Photo Credit: Great River Fishing Adventures

The areas surrounding Vancouver offer amazing fishing opportunities for sturgeon and five species of Pacific salmon (chinook, chum, pink, sockeye, and coho). Numerous charter companies can provide the insider expertise and scientific knowledge that will allow you to fish sustainably and seamlessly, allowing for an unforgettable experience.

Dean Werk, owner and professional guide at Great River Fishing Adventures, raves about the pristine wilderness that awaits their fishing guests. “From Yale all the way down to Vancouver, opportunity awaits. In the Fraser Canyon, you’re looking at a backdrop that has basically been unchanged for 10,000 years since the last glacier movement. We live in a clean area with moving glacier rivers. We have massive backdrops of beautiful big mountains,” he says.

Werk says that guests have a phenomenal time fishing in British Columbia: “Their takeaway is that they have come to one of the most beautiful areas in the world where you can still catch and release, or catch and harvest fish at certain times of the year, if you choose, and you’re right close to a world class city.” Every direction you look is a different new incredible view, he says.

Werk is proud to be Métis/Cree and to own and operate an Original Accredited 100% Indigenous Sport Fishing Company. He brings a wealth of traditional fishing knowledge and experience, which started when he was a child. “I had a passion for fishing as a young boy and had the ability to go out and fish with my father and my grandfather,” he says.

He decided to pursue his father’s unrealized dream to become a fishing guide and in 1988 opened Great River Fishing Adventures, which specializes in sport fishing and experiences along the Fraser River and its tributaries.

Photo Credit: Great River Fishing Adventures

Werk’s passion for local history and his Indigenous heritage make his guiding more than just about the technical aspects of fishing in this region. “We wanted not only to create a harvest fishing day opportunity—when available and permitted—but also to create fishing experiences where we could share knowledge about the local area, up and down the Fraser River,” he says. He understands and has fished 350 miles of the mighty Fraser River, from Vancouver to Lillooet.

Their team guides talk about the cultural, social, and ceremonial role of fishing for Indigenous peoples. For example, guests will learn about the fishing traditions of local Indigenous peoples, such as their ability to wind-dry sockeye salmon in the Fraser Canyon. In the early days, they used it as currency to trade for other items they did not have, like moose and eulachon. “I take the Indigenous part of my life very seriously. I want to be able to show catching and releasing fish, but also to show people why it’s important to the Indigenous peoples to have fish—to have wild salmon—forever in our area,” he says.

Guests will also be educated about the Fraser River Gold Rush, which began in 1858 (“Hills Bar in the Fraser Canyon”), attracting many fortune hunters to the area and spurring settlement and further exploration. “The Fraser Canyon is the birthplace of British Columbia,” he says.

While Werk and his team of guides take guests to fish for salmon, steelhead, and trout, he is a big enthusiast of white sturgeon fishing because it’s accessible to all levels of anglers year-round, it’s a stable fishery, and sturgeon have remained virtually unchanged for two to three hundred million years. “We have done enough science and research over the years to prove that we can continually fish for these fish, learn about them, have research days, as well as enjoy and share that with the world,” he says.

Since 1995, Werk has been working with the province and an independent group of stakeholders—FVAGA (Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association), tagging and scanning white sturgeon to create an extensive database on their migration and growth rates. The mortality rate for sport caught and released sturgeon is only 0.0014, which means that sport fishing has very little impact or cumulative effect on their stocks. “Catching a living dinosaur is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Werk says. Some of the sturgeon caught are 100 years old, and over a whopping thousand pounds.

Photo Credit: Great River Fishing Adventures

While Great River Fishing Adventures always customizes fishing trips to guests’ needs and interests, Werk recommends a six to eight-hour trip, which would be fun for ages 5 and up. “We elevate a visit to the area and turn it into a lifelong memory, and people go away with a well rounded experience from a short 8-hour adventure,” says Werk.

Werk talks about the infectiousness of fishing on the West Coast, a sentiment that is echoed by Jason Tonelli, founder of Pacific Angler. The company consists of a tackle shop as well as a fishing charter business, which has particular expertise in salmon fishing. They also lead excursions for trout as well as sturgeon.

Tonelli has been fishing since he was young, and started working in tackle stores at 15 and as a guide at 19. “My favourite thing was always guiding, mostly because I love teaching and watching other people get excited about catching a fish, especially if it’s their first salmon in Vancouver,” he says.

Photo Credit: Pacific Angler Fishing Charters

Tonelli opened his tackle shop in 2007 in Vancouver, and then bought his first boat for guided fishing trips a year or two later. Since then, the business has expanded considerably with a fleet of Grady White salmon fishing boats and a crew of expert guides ready to customize trips for guests.

As someone who has fished extensively up the West Coast, from California to Alaska, Tonelli feels that salmon fishing in Vancouver is exceptional. “The one thing that is truly unique about Vancouver is that you can catch salmon 12 months of the year,” he says. Tonelli adds that crabbing and prawning are also fantastic in the winter. While April to September is the prime time for catching salmon, he says that chinook salmon can be found from October to March in Vancouver harbour, Howe Sound, and various inlets along the coast—only 5 to 20 minutes from Granville Island, where Pacific Angler’s boats are docked. “You can enjoy everything that Vancouver has to offer, and you can go salmon fishing without having to go 30 minutes to an hour away. It’s so close,” he says.

Tonelli attributes Vancouver’s proximity to salmon fishing to the Fraser River. Its north arm is by Wreck Beach on the Point Grey peninsula, while its south arm is just by the Vancouver International Airport. “It’s one of the largest salmon producing rivers in the world,” he says. The adult salmon start returning to the Fraser River in the summer, which is when they’re most abundant for Vancouver fishing. Tonelli says five species of Pacific salmon are represented: chinook, coho, sockeye, pink, and chum.

Photo Credit: Pacific Angler

Guides at Pacific Angler are chosen for their knowledge as well as their passion for teaching others about harvesting sustainably as well as catching and releasing salmon. Pacific Angler helps maintain the sustainability of salmon stocks through their participation in the Avid Angler Program. Guides collect DNA samples for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans so that the Department knows where and when salmon from particular runs are located. “That allows the Department of Fisheries and Ocean to make fairly specific regulations for us about where we can harvest stocks that are plentiful,” Tonelli says. Conversely, areas with stocks of concern are kept closed. They also practise mark-selective fishing, whereby hatchery salmon, who have had their adipose fins removed, are harvested while wild salmon are allowed to go.

In the summer, Tonelli recommends a 5 to 6-hour charter for newbies, leaving Vancouver around 7-8am. The boat leave Granville Island and go through False Creek, with guests able to view downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park, and the freighters in the Vancouver harbour. Then, they’ll travel through lower Howe Sound before fishing near Bowen Island for a few hours. When they return, they’ll check the traps for Dungeness crabs and then leave with an incredible experience. “You have the rest of the day to check out Granville Island market and grab dinner,” he says.

Photo Credit: Pacific Angler

Tonelli says that a guided experience is also ideal for experienced anglers, who will tend to go on an 8 to 10-hour trip, changing locations 2 to 3 times. He explains that many seasoned guests are surprised at how phenomenal the fishing is around the city.

“They come to Vancouver and say, ‘This is the best fishing I’ve had all year!’ That’s one thing that people don’t always understand: Vancouver is a world class fishing destination” he says.

See Great River Fishing Adventures and Pacific Angler Fishing Charters for further information. Other fishing charter companies in Vancouver include Sewell’s Marina and Chromer Sport Fishing.

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