Standing at the waters edge, where the tracks of the black bear disappeared into the river, I looked upstream to a salmon pool with an oily surface and a broad tailout. On our side of the river was the sheer face of a rock wall that drove the turbulent water of the riffle above it deep into the gravel river bottom, gouging out a massive pool that was sure to hold salmon.
Our guide Felix Geiser, my Dad and I shuffled across the river, well below the tailout above, and stalked up a sandy bar devoid of any human sign. Halfway up the run you could see the dark shapes of the coho resting on the river bottom. The last of the heavy current careened off a final point in the canyon wall and where the eddy's ceased to swirl is where you could see the first of them. A quick glance around the pool revealed fifty or more waiting for the first presentation.
Dad casted first and placed a Christmas Tree pattern in the middle of the pool, allowed it plenty of time to sink, and began the stripping technique necessary to draw coho into striking. He stripped all he could and was raising the 8 weight Lamiglas for another cast when the chrome bright missile slammed the fly and ran the mess of line hanging at his feet thru the guides. Miraculously, it all cleared and dad was into his first Pitt River coho; a spunky hen of six pounds.
After taking another fish from the pool, the rest of the coho, which are known as finicky biters, shut down and Felix motioned that we should head down river to another spot.
At the next pool, Felix pointed out a black mass of fish that stretched from the top of the pool where it spilled off a gravel shelf, well down into the tail out. The pool was actually part of a side channel that broke off from the main river and cut it's way along the forested edge before meeting up with the main channel again some fifty yards below. Unlike the pool earlier, this one was roughly the size of most living rooms and couldn't have held one more fish.
This time Felix pitched first and after three strips his fly was crushed by a coho that zipped out from behind a single, large boulder to grab the black leech he had recently tied on. For nearly two hours we played coho in that pool, landing roughly a dozen of them and losing many more. The grand finale came when Dad stripped his fly within a foot of my waders and to my stunned disbelief a hot coho of roughly 10 pounds crashed the fly within arm wrestling distance and zipped off towards the root ball of a downed tree on the far bank, breaking him off.
You'd think it would take two jet liners, three float planes, and a flotilla of jet boats to get to a place like this. That's hardly the case, however, as the Pitt River is located just an hour from British Columbia's largest city, Vancouver. Don't let the proximity to such a large metropolitan area fool you, as the Pitt offers anglers the remote Pacific Northwest fly-fishing experience without having to travel halfway around the world. Aside from a bevy of loggers who inhabit the Pitt River Valley on an infrequent basis to work the timber, there are only six permanent inhabitants in the valley, and Lee and Danny Gerak, owners of the Pitt River Lodge, are two of them.
The Pitt River Lodge began to take shape 10 years ago when Danny, who was then a full-time commercial gill netter, bought a saw mill and decided to build a "structure" to live in during the off season. No building plans, no building experience, just the will to build something that would provide shelter during the winter months. Little did he know at the time that he was building a remote fly-fishing lodge. Each strip of hardwood flooring, each window, each light fixture, each doorknob, everything you'll find in the Pitt River Lodge had to be brought over by hand, one boatload at a time.
In the early years, before the completion of the lodge, the Gerak's put their guests up in the four rustic cabins that sit on the property, which are still in use today. The cabins and the lodge area are a work in progress and every time I've visited the lodge new improvements have been made, which is testament to the endless work ethic of both Lee and Danny. The main lodge, which constitutes some 5,000 square feet, was nearing completion on my last visit and now includes a well-stocked fly shop with everything necessary to take the many species of anadromous fish that swim the Pitt River.
The Geraks have the only lodging facility in the lonely Pitt River Valley and have access to over 40 kilometers (24 miles) of the Pitt River. The Pitt gets returns of all five species of salmon, bull trout, steelhead, and as a bonus contains a healthy population of rainbow trout. With its headwaters protected within a provincial park boundary where fishing is prohibited, a spawning sanctuary is created that ensures the Pitt should always have healthy runs of fish.
The Pitt is home to British Columbia's largest strain of coho, which enter the river system in early October and peak around the first week of November, and the Pitt's rainbows also make an appearance during this time. Winter steelhead that enter the river system in March and April have seen little in the way of angling pressure and are snappy to a well-presented egg pattern or streamer swung along the bottom. In the summer months king salmon and sockeye pulse into the river, and in the fall pink and chum salmon can also make an appearance. Bull trout, some as large as 14 pounds, can be taken on a year-round basis from the Pitt, and like its rainbows, are an added bonus on any trip.
The Pitt is only accessible by air or boat and the lodge offers boat taxi service across Pitt Lake for those wishing to make the short drive from Vancouver. Anglers from abroad generally fly into Vancouver International and then take the short float plane into Pitt Lake. For fly rods, a 5 or 6 weight is recommended for the Pitt's rainbows and bull trout, and stouter rods in the 7 to 9 weight range for steelhead and the larger strains of salmon. Recommended flies include egg patterns and variations thereof, egg sucking leeches, black and purple marabou leeches, Kelsey's Hopes, Christmas Trees, and an assortment of brightly colored salmon and steelhead spey patterns. The rainbows that inhabit the Pitt take dries well in the fall and anglers wishing to catch them should have an assortment of dries on hand.
For anglers looking for a quick getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the Pitt is the perfect stop. The Gerak's offer both guide and unguided angling and guests have the option of full service in the lodge, with excellent food, or bringing their own food and renting one of the four cabins. Our guide during my last visit, Felix Geiser, couldn't have been better and his services are highly recommended. Those wishing to fish on their won will find wading fairly easy on the Pitt under moderate flows and Danny is more than helpful with fly and gear selection back at the lodge. The Pitt River is tops on my list of West Coast fly-fishing destinations for it's seclusion, quality of fish, and the great atmosphete that Danny and Lee Gerak have created at the Pitt River Lodge.