stellako river. Dannie Erasmus

Fly-Fishing the Stellako River

June 13, 2023
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The mere mention of British Columbia’s Stellako River often elicits the same response: a quiet pause, then the river’s name almost whispered – each syllable emphasized – followed by a deep sigh. The allure is this renowned river’s big rainbows, fish that can grow to up to 20 inches in length.

Logistics and access

The Stellako is about 11 kilometres long. It flows out of François Lake and into Fraser Lake. The river does not change much from year to year; many runs and pools are established, with names like Cabin Pool, Big Fir Pool, Wing Dam, Millionaire’s Pool, and Big Eddy. At the day-use area by the outlet of François Lake, there is a map of the river showing all these spots. Shore-bound anglers can start walking from here to fish one kilometre of the Stellako’s productive water.

Many experienced anglers drift the Stellako in pontoon boats. This full-day float trip has its put-in at François Lake, and take-out at the bridge at Highway 16. As there are several sections of white water rated up to Class III, drifting the river does require some experience. There are also waterfalls (Class IV) that require a short portage around them. The waterfalls are approximately 150 metres downstream of the power lines that cross the river. As you come down the rapids toward the falls, stay on the river’s left to make sure you do not go over the falls. The take-out for the portage is just before the falls on the river’s left.

You will need a Classified Waters licence to fish the Stellako River. From the markers about 150 metres below the Glenannan Bridge to Big Eddy, it is fly-fishing only. Also note in the regulations that rainbow trout must be released.

Equipment, hatches, and flies

Since you will be fishing mostly dry flies, this river is best fished with a nine-foot, four- or five-weight fly rod, and matching floating fly line.

The river is always clear but, depending upon the snow pack, is sometimes only fishable by mid-July. However, in years with a low snow pack, the river is in prime condition – with good hatches of stoneflies, caddisflies, and mayflies – by the river’s opening day on June 1st.

Summer fly selection

The season starts with good dry-fly fishing using size 6 and 8 Stimulators to imitate salmonflies and golden stoneflies. In July, you can have success with size 14 Yellow Sally imitations, and size 14 tan-coloured Elk Hair Caddis. From August to September you have greater success with smaller imitations of caddisflies and mayflies in size 16 or smaller. In early September, one of my favourite flies is a size 18 Blue Winged Olive dry fly.
Look for subtle rises by ’bows in this river. It is very satisfying when you spot a rise, make that perfect cast to it, and connect with a good-sized rainbow.
While it’s always a thrill to fool fish with dry-fly patterns, nymphing with wet patterns reliably produces fish on the Stellako. While large salmonfly and golden stonefly nymphs will fool a few fish early in the season, smaller-sized nymphs (like size 14 and 16 Copper John patterns) most often do the trick.

Fall fly selection

The arrival of sockeye salmon in mid- to late-September announces the start of the “egg hatch” on the Stellako. During this time, anglers have success catching rainbow trout that are feeding on salmon eggs. Fishing salmon egg patterns and even Egg-Sucking Leeches in October can produce some big fish.
The Stellako is a sensational fly-fishing stream that should be on every angler’s bucket list of rivers to fish in British Columbia. After you’ve fished it, you too will mention its name in deservedly reverent tones.

Author: Danie Erasmus
Images: Danie Erasmus

Danie Erasmus lives in Prince George. In his spare time, he writes articles about fishing on streams, and operates a website: dedicated to educating anglers about fly fishing. Danie also teaches a number of fly-fishing courses that range from beginner to more advanced levels. Follow Danie on Facebook and Instagram.