Cross-Canada 2020

Alex and I decided to make the long drive across Canada again in 2020 due to the travel restrictions preventing us from going much further. The plan was to explore more of the Canadian Rockies and target some of the species we missed the last time. As always, the journey started with a long run across Ontario and the prairie provinces.

Finally, we made it to southern Alberta, our first real destination. The area had some ponds stocked with triploid Grass Carp and irrigation canals rumoured to be full of Spoonhead Sculpin. Try as I might, I was not able to land either target. The sculpin were nowhere to be seen, and I actually hooked into two Grass Carp but both got off :(

Failing on our warmwater targets, we switched focus to the mountains and salmonids. The southern portion of the Rockies had some lakes stocked with Golden Trout from California, but we would have to complete a long hike to get to any of them. First things first, we scoped out the trailhead and fished the river that ran through the valley floor.

We located a number of nice pools and logjams and got to fishing, Alex with her spinning gear and myself on the fly. The alpine waters were frigid, but we both pressed on until each of us had landed our first Cutthroat Trout!

Having caught our targets, we made camp and enjoyed a hearty spaghetti dinner to prepare for the next day's hike.

The next day, we rose early and readied our packs for the exhausting hours to come. It was Golden Trout time! We made good time on our hike, but the incline still beat the hell out of us.

We arrived to a beautiful set of crystal clear alpine lakes surrounded by impressive ridges and scree. The conditions weren't ideal, with a slight chop and bright sun, but were far from terrible.

There were three lake to fish, and I swear I fished my heart out, to no avail :( The trout were nowhere to be seen! I did not see a single rise and hardly had a follow. The one fish I did see was tiny, maybe 4", and apparently too small to be interested in my gear. Feeling slightly defeated, we hiked our way back down to our vehicle.

That was far from the end of our alpine adventures however. We made our way north over the next day; to another lake I had picked out for its unique species stocking. This lake contained mainly cutthroat, but was also stocked with Dolly Varden long ago. The scenery around the lake was nothing short of stunning.

Arriving at the lake, the conditions were perfect! I could even see fish swimming in the shallow end of the lake and its surface was covered in ripples from subtle rises. In fact, some of the fish I saw had white leading edges on their fins... Excitedly, I rigged up a small jig and got to fishing. Of course, all the fish I saw quickly became spooked. I moved to some deeper water where I hoped the fish would feel less exposed. The bites started coming and I enjoyed some of the best trout fishing I have experienced. I must have landed dozens of the cutties in the following hour or two.

I was slowly working my way around the lakeshore to the deepest part of the lake, where the scree dropped off rapidly into the depths. It was when I arrived here that I felt a take from something different... this fish pulled straight down and didn't shake like any of the trout before. I nervously fought it into shallower water until I could see that it was a char! Fortunately, I was able to land the fish and secure my very first Dolly Varden!

I called Alex over to take some pictures before we released it. I surrendered the rod to her, and she somehow caught a dolly on her very first cast!

Thrilled to have both caught our targets, but wanting more, I continue fishing until we had walked around the entire perimeter of the lake. Feeling morer than satisfied with our catches, we hiked back out of the mountains, ready for the next adventure.

The next couple days involved more hiking than fishing, so I'll leave out the details. However, we did start fishing some more once we made it out of the mountains. The first stop was on a river in a sort of transition zone between the alpine and the fraser valley. Alex went off to explore on her own which left me to do the fishing. I made my way to the shoreline and got right to it. Soon, I noticed there were many smaller fish darting between the cobble at my feet. They reminded me a lot of the Round Gobies we have on this side of the country. Anyway, I eventually decided to try and catch one and came up with my lifer Pickly Sculpin.

I was happy with the new species, but still wanted to catch something bigger so I kept at it. I worked my way up to a train bridge and placed a sliding-sinker rig behind one of the pilons. It didn't take long before my rod tip started moving and I had a fish on. It fought hard in the current but I was able to get the best of it and ended up with thie very cool species: the Northern Pikeminnow!

Now, I was happy enough with the day's catches. I met back up with Alex and we got to driving down through the remainder of the mountains and out to where the Fraser meets the Pacific. We did some touristy stuff, but soon enough it was time for fishing again. During the following day, we caught a variety of saltwater species, but not really anything of note. Then, as the sun fell, it was time for the real reason we had come to the salty stuff: sharks!

We were meeting up with some fellow lifelisters I had been chatting with online, and they essentially put us right on the fish. We arrived at the spot before any of our new friends but decided to start fishing anyway. Not more than five minute after our rigs were out, the first rod started bending and I knew this had to be something bigger. I set the hooke and started fighting the fish, but then Alex's rod went off! Now we were both fighting sizeable sharks, with a fence and sewall making landing anything difficult, and no help in sight. We made do and Alex held both rods while I landed the played-out fish, our first Pacific Spiny Dogfish!

A couple of fish later, our friends showed up and we fished the rest of the evening into darkness. Coincidentally, the action dropped off soon after they arrived.

The next day, it was back into the good stuff: freshwater! There was a lake nearby that was supposed to hold a number of native species. The first came rather quickly, a Redside Shiner, and I also got this cool picture of a Threespine Stickleback. Interestingly, threespines are now one of the species that I've caught on all three Canadian coasts (Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic).

The real target here was a sucker though, and it would be far more difficult to catch than the other two species mentioned above. The water here was clear so it was all sight fishing, but I simply could not spot any catostomids. Finally, after multiple hours of searching, I found one under the dock I was fishing. I placed a small chunk of nightcrawler near its snout, and it immediately spooked :o Fortunately, it didn't move too far and gave me a second chance. This time, I dropped the bait about two feet from it, and it quickly moved over to slurp it up, resulting in my first Largescale Sucker!

At this point, my excess fishing was putting us a bit behind schedule so we had to leave after releasing the fish. The next few days were spent on Vacnouver Island but I didn't do much fishing, not successful fishing anyway, so I'll just tag on some scenery pics at the end of this report :)

Vancouver Island was the furthest point of our trip though, so at this point it was time to start making the long drive home. We broke it up by stopping at all the places we missed on our way in, as well as trying for a few new species.

One stop on the Fraser River was particularly successful. We saw some huge White Sturgeon breaching but the current was too strong for our gear. This forced us to fish in the shallows, where I caught more pikeminnows, but also my lifer Peamouth!

Despite fishing with conventional gear, I also somehow managed a micro lifer: a Leopard Dace! Until this point, I had never even heard of the species before, let alone planned to catch one.

We also took a small detour into the middle of nowhere in the Albertan agricultural lands to fish for an increasingly problematic invasive species. Prussian Carp had somehow made their way into open systems in the province, and are ravaging their way through the prairies. I won't say no to a new species though! Arriving at the reservoir, I could tell the carp had completely overtaken the system, they were everywhere! I never got an adult to bite before it was time to leave so I was left with juvenile as my photo specimen:

We also tried for Flathead Chub further south in Alberta, but only found a single Silver Redhorse, and no pictures for proof. A final stop on the trip was in Manitoba, on a small river where a friend had apparently caught tons of Black Bullhead. This would be a new species for me, and, sure enough, it took no more than 20 minutes before we both had our lifers :)

The first time we drive across the country, we never planned on doing it again, but the pandemic more or less forced us to and we were glad it did. It was great to explore more of our country, meet more new people, and fish for even more amazing species! I'll leave off this expedition report with a few pictures of the scenery we came across :)


andy's picture

Thanks for sharing, BradleyR.  I am especially interested in the larger-river pikeminnows you caught - what was your best bait and bait placement for them?  Also, be happy that you didn't catch a golden trout - it just means you get to look forward to hiking up in the mountains for another try.

Beautiful photos as always!

BradleyR's picture

Thank you! I have Alex to thank for a lot of the photos as usual haha. I caught pikeminnows in larger rivers in two places; the first (the one in the picture) was in a river with moderate current and I caught it directly behind a bridge pilon on a slip-sinker rig baited with nightcrawlers. It must have been hanging out in the current break created by the pilon. The others were caught where the Leopard Dace was, in extremely fast current (6oz wouldn't even hold the bottom). I caught those ones with a single hook about a foot under a bobber, surprisingly close to shore where the current wouldn't drag everything away. I was maybe only casting about 10ft away from shore max.

I'm already planning for the next Golden Trout adventure this summer, depending on covid restrictions! I think it's gonna be a multi-day trek this time :)

FishingPals4Life's picture

That's awesome!  What an amazing trip, congrats on the new lifers and the incredible adventure, thank you for sharing, the pics were bad ass!!

BradleyR's picture

Thanks! There really are some amazing places out west :)