On the Fly: The Bulkley River: Clear water, dry flies and big fish

Photo Credit: Brian Smith

On the Fly: The Bulkley River: Clear water, dry flies and big fish

👤Brian Smith 🕔Aug 04, 2014

Originating as a small stream from Bulkley Lake near Rose Lake (the dividing line between the Fraser and Skeena watersheds), the Bulkley gathers its tributaries from creeks and brooks along its journey, but doesn’t become a grand river until it meets the Morice River near Houston, BC. At the confluence with the Morice (another steelhead destination river), the Bulkley doubles in size and begins its legendary reputation as a steelhead river.

The Bulkley runs the gauntlet to its meeting with the Skeena at New Hazelton by following Highway 16 west, but is also accessible from several points below Houston by travelling an alternate route on the Walcott-Quick-Telkwa Forest Service Road on the river’s northwest side to Quick and, finally, by taking Lawson Road to Telkwa. There are many private farms and ranches along this route and access is restricted by no trespassing signs. There are, however, put-in and take-out options for drift boats at Bymac near Houston and at Emerson Creek, Walcott and Quick, Telkwa and the Highway 16 bridge at Smithers, as well as a few other rough spots below Smithers.

Camping services on the Bulkley include Smithers’ municipal campground, ‘Ksan in old Hazelton and private RV parks. If it’s lodging you wish for, motels that cater to steelheaders are abundant in all the towns along the route: Houston, Telkwa, Smithers and Hazelton. Guided float trips and lodging packages are available through Bulkley River Lodge; guided day trips with experienced and insured locals can be arranged through Oscar’s Source for Adventure or McBike and Sport in Smithers, local experts in tackle and “what’s happening?” on the Bulkley system.

So, your dreams are made of releasing a five- to 10-kg steelhead on the dry fly? If so, plan to fish the Bulkley in September and early October when the water is still warm and the fish are frisky. The reason the Bulkley is such a cerebral destination for dry-fly addicts is its origin at Morice Lake, which produces the clarity and warmth of the Bulkley’s water and fosters the instinctive memory of its fishes. Its major tributary, the Morice River, originates from Morice Lake and is almost never blown out by storms or incoming pressure systems that hinder coastal rivers.

Also, the Morice system is the Bulkley’s nursery, where juvenile steelheads spend one to four years actively feeding on aquatic insects from the fertile water before maturing and heading downriver to the Skeena and the Pacific Ocean, returning to the Bulkley system to spawn after one to four years of ocean-feeding. When they return, they remember the bugs they ate as youngsters and react with aggression—simple as that!

The best dry flies for the Bulkley system are by far the Bulkley Mouse, originated by Smithers-based guide Andre Laporte, and The Freddie, designed by former Babine River guide Fred Watts. The Bulkley has special regulations including Classified Water and boating restrictions—please consult the regs before you go to enjoy this amazing piece of our north country.

When steelhead fly-fishers talk about rivers that are on their bucket lists, many come to mind; however, few rivers in the world are more revered for their dry-fly fishing opportunities than central BC’s Bulkley River.

The Freddie fly pattern                    

Originator: Fred Watts, Merrit, BC (for the Babine River)

Hook: Tiemco 2312 # 6-10

Thread: UTC 140 gray brown

Tail: elk hairs, half body lengths, stacked

Body: dubbing, Stillwater Soft Blend colour dun olive

Wings: elk hairs, 3-4 separate stacks over dubbed body    

Hackle: grizzly and brown, 3-4 turns each

Head: elk hairs clipped; use butts of last wing stack  


Comments: This pattern is really a steelhead Mikulak and has been a standby on the Babine River system for decades. I’m betting it will work on large rivers like the Thompson and Bulkley-Morice equally as well.


You mentioned some drift boat take outs and I know most of them.
But the take-out options for drift boats at Emerson Creek is new to me.
Is it on the Morice or already on the Bulkey?
Is it easy accessible by car?
Ican’t find it on Google Earth or maps.

Thanks in advance.


Bram, thanks for the note. To be honest, I haven’t used the Emerson Creek take-out. A friend told me there is a rough one there that he has used, so beware of third hand information, especially when it isn’t marked on the maps. I suppose if there is a pull-in to the creek mouth at the Bulkley, it will suffice. Maybe best check with the guys at Oscars in Smithers? Kerry would know….
Emerson Creek is on the Bulkley, about halfway to Walcott on the Walcott Quick Telkwa FSR (Bymac Road) on the west side of the Bulkley River. It’s gravel, but well maintained.
Sorry for any confusion….

Brian Smith