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The Nazko ValleyBy Bill Luscombe,
Eight hours north of Vancouver, in the heart of British Columbia's Cariboo, is the city of Quesnel. It is best known for its cattle ranching and is steeped in the history of the gold rush. To the angler however, the surrounding interior plateau offers a vast array of fishing opportunities. One and a half hours west of Quesnel sits the Nazko valley and it was there that I spent two weeks angling for rainbows in the lakes and streams of the area.
We based our camp at Marmot Lake and did most of our fishing there. It is an average sized lake (approx. 86 acres) with clear water and rainbow trout averaging three pounds or better. Gang-trolling willowleafs seemed to be the preferred method of the locals when fishing this lake, but we had far better success fly-fishing leech and scud imitations near the bottom. We were never skunked and we averaged better than two fish per hour. These trout were tenacious fighters and put up exceptional scraps for their size. Many of them took me well past 50 yards of backing in their initial run before leaping into their aerial antics.
Besides the good fishing at Marmot we also found an extremely well maintained community campsite suitable for tents, campers, or small R.V.s. This campsite provides plenty of sites (34 campsites to be specific) with picnic tables and firepits as well as firewood and campsite-maintained garbage cans and toilets. To top it off there is even a baseball diamond, a kiddy play area, and a roped off swimming area. Day use is by donation and overnight stays $7 per night. With the general store less than a quarter mile away it is the perfect spot to spend a few days.
After we had tackled Marmot for a day or two we journeyed a little further away from our base and started discovering some beautiful fishing holes, some of which were only known to the locals. One of these spots was on the Baezaeko River.
The Baezaeko is a small narrow river not 20 yards across at its mouth. We were told to check out the junction where it meets the larger Coglistiko River, and after wandering around for an hour or so trying to locate the access we finally found ourselves in a lovely spot with fish rising less than 10 feet from our rod tips.
The junction of the Coglistiko and Baezaeko Rivers reminds me of the story of Huckleberry Finn. The banks of the Baezaeko are muddy and step down in small ledges to the bottom. Because the river is very slow here weeds have grown and blanket both banks and the bottom. These weeds provide ample cover for the fish and they lie among the weeds waiting for small meals to drift over or swim by. The outer edges of the river are mucky and soft, and the wide, shallow shores are covered in deep weeds that lay on the surface making it extremely difficult to wade to within casting distance of fishable water. If you visit this place I advise you to take a small boat or inflatable so that you can fish this spot most effectively. We fished from shore, and although we did well we missed out on the best fishing and the largest fish. They were holding and rising about 50 yards downstream from the junction and I was kicking myself for not having brought the boat.
Later in our trip we walked from Marmot Lake down to a little spot on the Nazko River just up the road from the general store. This spot was at the junction of Stump Creek and the Nazko and it proved quite productive.
Stump Lake drains into the Nazko via a short creek that runs under the road approximately 100 yards north of the Nazko general store. Thirty yards of bushwhacking from the road and you will find this pretty little spot. I fished there for an hour or so, but before I entered the water I sat a moment contemplating whether to don my waders or not. The water was shallow and quite cold, but the day was sunny and warm and I quickly decided to wet wade instead. I took off my shoes and socks,
rolled up my pant cuffs and stepped back 25 years to when I was a boy fishing small streams in my bare feet. The hour I spent there was perhaps the most enjoyable of the whole trip. The fish weren't the biggest and I kept hooking into squaw fish but it didn't matter. I felt younger then than I had in a long time and I fished for the sheer joy of being part of the river and its life. My 12-year-old son was with me and we fished together more like best friends than father and son. Rainbows in the 12 to 14 inch class were abundant and they came to the dry fly or nymph with equal abandon.
Although the Nazko is another narrow and slow river, fishing it can be difficult. Its banks are heavily brushed in by willows over much of its length making access next to impossible in most locations. The river is shallow spring through autumn, more like a stream than a river, and this helps. Once access has been achieved the angler can wade for quite a long distance along some stretches before encountering water too deep. There are stretches
of fine pocket water as well as slower moving runs as well as the odd pool here and there. The Nazko contains Dolly Varden as well as rainbows but we never did hook into one. All in all the Nazko is a lovely river to cast a fly on.
We timed our trip to coincide with the opening of the West Road (Blackwater) River and headed up that way the morning after opening day. A half-hour's drive north from Marmot Lake brought us to the Blackwater River bridge. This well known river is a lovely piece of fly-fisherman's water. It is closed to angling from April 1 to June 30 each year, as are all the other streams and rivers in the Fraser River watershed in the Cariboo region. There is also a single hook and bait ban restriction on the Blackwater and this makes it ideal for the fly-fisher. The average fish in the system varies from 12 to 15 inches, but they are fat and put up a great scrap when hooked.
The section of the Blackwater that we fished was upstream from the bridge and almost all the waters we saw were shallow flats less than three feet deep. I have been told that much of the river is like that; pocket water with fish holding in any little hole they can find. There are bends and curves that form riffles and pools and these hold the larger fish. We spent the day on this river and after hiking and fishing our way upstream a few miles and back again the best spot we found was not more than 100 yards from the bridge at the first bend. It started to rain when I began fishing it and I hit into more than half a dozen 12 - 14 inch rainbows within 30 minutes before I got too soaked and packed it in.
A short eight-mile drive down the Michelle - Baezaeko road from Marmot Lake will take you to an old clear-cut. There is a landing there which is the start of the trail to Crater Lake. A small sign points the way to Crater and you can park at the landing; there is lots of room. The hike to Crater is just over a mile and takes about half an hour to walk. Most of the trail winds through the clear-cut plantation but there is abundant ribbon hung on the trees so the trail is easy to follow. The last portion of the hike turns steeply uphill into the trees and is quite a climb. The lake sits on top in, wouldn't you guess, a crater. It isn't a great distance to the top but it is very steep and you should be in shape to tackle it or be prepared to stop very frequently. I was unencumbered when I tackled it and it just about did me in.
We never fished Crater. We weren't sure if we could find it so we hiked into it first without the gear and our trip ended before we got another chance to fish it. We were told that there were very large rainbows in the lake but that they were pretty much uncatchable . . . sounds like a challenge if I ever heard one. With the steep hike deterring most anglers you will probably have the lake to yourself all day. It's a perfect lake for bellyboating; it is small and round, nestled in a lovely spot surrounded by spruce and pine forest. The Forest Service has even built a one-tent campsite there with an outhouse and a firepit. I wish I had had more time to fish this lake, and when I go back I'll be sure to visit it.
The Nazko Valley offers the angler a plethora of fishing opportunities. You really should plan a trip to this beautiful area of British Columbia . . . the trout are waiting!
Bill Luscombe has been hunting and fishing for most of his 42 years. He has been flyfishing for 20 years. He instructs flyfishing, and has done so for the past 12 years. He also instructs the federal FSET firearms course and the BC CORE hunter training course. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and has been writing freelance since 1987. He has been published in BC Sport Fishing Magazine, Outdoor Edge, BC Outdoors, Western Sportsman, Island Fish Finder, and the BC Hunting Guide.
Bill Luscombe was born an army brat and raised in Ladner (Delta, BC) where he was raised hunting waterfowl and pheasants. He presently resides in North Cowichan on southern Vancouver Island where he has lived and worked full time as a professional forester since 1982.
He presently works in Nanaimo for the BC Forest Service and continue to write the fly-fishing column for BC Sport Fishing Magazine as well as contributing articles freelance to various outdoor magazines in western Canada. Bill Luscombe is also a BC Director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.
"Catching fish is not hard. You simply need to understand what makes them tick. If you think like a fish, you will catch fish. It´s as simple as that."