Fernie 2023: Lots of Bull

What a trip. But, I will never again fly Air Canada nor will I ever book a car with Budget.

Let me explain.

I’ve long heard that bull trout are unforgettable for their size and power, that the scenery in British Columbia is stunning, and that many people’s favorite Concord Outfitters trip is the one to Fernie.

All that was true and much, much more.

Shop manager Dylan Callahan was captain of our trip, and he saved us many times with his thoughtfulness and determination. Unfortunately, the trip got off to a bad start. A few hours before our departure time, Air Canada posted a 6.5-hour delay, and our small group spent a lot of time at two airports.

The long delay meant that we had to stay overnight in Calgary because the 3.5-hour drive in the dark to Fernie meant danger: there was a high risk that we would hit a wild animal while having little cell coverage.

Unfortunately, it was a long holiday weekend in Calgary, and we were lucky to secure the few remaining hotel rooms available.

Dylan smartly called ahead to Budget to say that we would be late, and they confirmed that we would have a car. We arrived at night to find that Budget had given away our car, as they did with many other people. Rental Guy at the counter said that cars would be available the next morning.

About 30 people, including families and elderly people, decided to sleep on the floor at the Budget office because they couldn’t find hotel rooms and wanted to be there for a car when the rental office opened in the morning.

Dylan’s father smartly called Budget to confirm that cars would be there. Unfortunately, Rental Guy was either mistaken or had lied. We went to our rooms as Dylan and his father stayed up and scrambled to secure a car. Avis seemed to have one, they made a reservation, and then waited in line to get one. Unfortunately, there was none by the time they got to the counter.

After a heated back-and-forth chat, a manager overhead the argument and thankfully secured a car big enough for all of us. It was the last remaining rental in Calgary, literally, for the next few days.

We woke up very early the next day, and I volunteered to drive so that Dylan could recover after just one hour of sleep. And, what a drive it was: amazing scenery as we left Alberta and got into the mountains. We arrived at the Fernie Wilderness Adventures (FWA) lodge, changed quickly, and started to fish.

It was majestic.

I have never before fished for bull trout. They’re largely gone in the US, and it’s illegal to target them. 80% of bull trout are now in British Columbia, and the province has some very tight regulations to protect the fisheries: you can fish only with a single, barbless hook, and odds of a non-resident getting a license are very low.

I learned a lot. Bull trout are incredibly powerful. They leave lakes starting in the late summer to begin their journey to rivers, creeks, and small tributaries for the fall spawn. Quickly, they stop feeding for the most part, and so, it can be a challenge to get them to eat.

I also learned that a DIY trip would be largely impossible. Even if you were lucky enough to get a bull trout access pass, the treks in were not obvious, and there are plenty of grizzly bears in the area.

I was more than happy to be with FWA. The guides were completely dialed in, and we saw some great fish.

It took work to get eats. And, once on, the bulls (technically, they’re char) showed brutish power. Occasionally, we landed Westslope Cutthroat, and they were absolute footballs. We could have scored some high-volume days by targeting them with nymphs, but we mostly stuck to streamers to try and go for the bulls.

I was fortunate to see some good fish.

I fished with my 7-wt. and a 1x leader. I needed every bit of that leverage when a ~30″ fish showed. I found the key was to use side pressure to keep the fish above me and to put the bend near the rod’s handle to lay down serious wood. Having a big bull trout below you and a long fight only meant that the barbless hook would eventually pop out. Plus, I like playing fish as fast as I can. Why push them to the limit and endanger them?

After five days of incredible fishing, we left the lodge to head back to the airport. Once there, Air Canada cancelled our Montreal-to-Boston flight. None would be available until the next day. We once again scrambled to book hotel rooms. And, we had to work with the luggage crew to get our bags pulled.

One of the Air Canada staff members said that, in his 20+ years with the airline, he had never seen so many cancellations. Why all the tumult? This person said that pilots were staging a soft strike and were finding “mechanical issues” on planes to get flights cancelled.

The next morning, we headed back to the airport. Thankfully, the Boston flight took off on time.

In spite of all stress, disruption, and losing two days, it was all worth it. Those bulls were amazing.

But, I won’t ever use Air Canada or Budget. It was a lot of bull (and bills). Two members of our broader fishing party had prior bad experiences with Air Canada: they smartly used a different airline and flew into and out of Kalispell, MT.

It was an amazing trip. We had some 4:30 am starts with some long hikes into and out of our target runs, and so, it was not always easy. But, those bull trout are truly special.

I’ll be back.


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9 thoughts on “Fernie 2023: Lots of Bull

  1. Congrats on a great trip. Sorry to hear about the crazy travel issues. Me and my father had a trip booked there 2020 but covid happened and border was closed.. I had stayed up all night for the license opening day and got the classified permits for few streams, I was so excited. Maybe one of these days I will get there to add it to the list.

  2. Jo, if you had to choose, would you rather spend a week in Montana free-lancing (as you did earlier this summer) or a week in BC with a guided group? What were the pros and cons of each?

  3. Bull Trout are amazing fish. In the US you can legally fish them in all of Idaho and other Areas of Oregon and Washington.. There are legal fisheries for them in Montana as well. They are far from gone in the US.

    1. Thanks for the correction. I had heard that it was illegal to target them in the U.S. and so appreciate the info.

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