Fishing the Freestone Granby River

Story by Les Brazier

This beautiful freestone river has its humble beginnings as a pristine mountain stream near Mt. Skia in Gladstone Provincial Park in Southeastern British Columbia.
The Granby flows south, between the rugged and thickly timbered Midway and Christina mountain ranges, for some 100 kilometres before reaching the City of Grand Forks, where it joins the Kettle River, before crossing the United States border.

This area, often referred to as the Boundary Country, is overlooked by many fly fishermen who are drawn by the more famous Kamloops trout fishing, to the West, and the cutthroat in the streams of the Rocky Mountains, to East.

In past years the river has been used to transport logs for the local saw mills in Grand Forks and woody debris remains clumped in some areas, offering refuge for the stream residents. The stream cobble makeup is interrupted occasionally by extruded bedrock control pools. The river teams with aquatic life, which provides a rich food source for the native Rainbow trout, Rocky Mountain Whitefish as well as various cyprinids (fishes of the carp family) and an occasional Eastern Brook trout. The watershed has been influenced by a myriad of stocking of lakes by the fisheries branch over the years, but the trout are wild and beautiful.

The Granby (which is exempt to the spring closure as of this writing‚ but check regulations) offers a unique year round fishery. Typically, the rivers in Boundary Country start to warm up early and they are fishable from May through November. The timing of the spring freshet varies from year to year, but it usually happens around June 1st, blowing out the fishing until water levels drop.

Primary access to the river is obtained by using either of the two roads (East Granby Road and West Granby Road) which head north from Grand Forks, paralleling the river. Most of the property adjacent to the river is privately owned and permission from ranchers and farmers is a must. Polite requests go a long way in this country.
The river is easily wadeable during July, after the spring run-off recedes, and it remains that way through September. It can be floated with a canoe ‚ but beware there are sweepers and log jams to contend with occasionally. Here, as on any river in British Columbia, you should know what you’re doing if you venture out without a guide.
If you do float the river, beware of the canyon immediately upstream of the Kettle confluence. This canyon was once the sight of a retention dam, now long collapsed, and it presents difficult water. Kayakers use this canyon area to hone their skills and they tend to give it a class 3 rating or higher depending on runoff. The balance of the river upstream to the 28 mile bridge is class 1. There are three bridges crossing the river, at 10 mile, 16 mile and 28 mile. Beyond 28 mile bridge forestry roads provide access and the river takes on a more rugged, wild appearance. Wading is recommended from this point up. Be aware the river is always changing and time of year will dictate the water level, so use caution when necessary.

On a typical day, follow the winding East Granby Road to the 10 mile bridge, watching baetis and midges rising along the roadside. I stop as we cross the bridge to confirm the hatch, and find clusters of the little buggers crawling on the structure. This will be the take out point for the day float, and we leave one vehicle here. Crossing the river and arriving at 16 mile bridge we unload the raft and begin the day journey. Shortly after leaving the bridge the river is braided and we park the boat at the top to fish all the riffles and pools. The first pool soon brings a 12 inch silver Rainbow, flashing out from its undercut lair to grab the fly. After a brief fight it is brought to hand. These fish are common and it a delight to release them to fight another day.

It routine to take at least a dozen Rainbows from 10-12 inches, another half-a-dozen pushing 14 inches, and to lose a few flies to larger fish. How big? The trout in the system average 10-12 inches ‚ but there are occasional surprises from hefty 19-20 inch fish, which can pop light tippets or put up challenging fights. These feisty river fish will run for cover once pricked by a fly and they are acrobatic, exploding from the surface to try and shake the hook.

Floating the river has the usual benefit of fishing water which does not see much pressure. In the summer, grasshoppers and terrestrials become active the afternoon heat, and a switch to high floating large flies is in order. These big attractors will bring trout from the depths. Make sure to pack your fly drying powder (we call it ‚shake and bake‚) to keep those flies floating high after they’ve been mouthed by a few eager Rainbows. Some of the larger pools can be fished very effectively with Muddlers or streamers, sinking them into deep recesses with success during the high noon period. Don’t leave the river too early. A wise angler will not miss the evening hatch of caddis. And if you are lucky enough to catch a stone fly hatch, hang on to your rod. The big fish become active and can come for your fly at anytime.Should you intend to test the waters of the Boundary Country, a 5-6 weight rod is ideal, with a high floating line. The wind wind can kick up in the afternoon and you need a stout rod to punch through it, especially if you are throwing big hopper patterns or Muddlers.

The river is relatively warm in the summer, and can comfortably be waded wet, with a good pair of felt soled boots. However, it never hurts to have a pair of lightweight waders because the water can be cool at times. Carry a good supply of water with you when on the river, as it is not uncommon to have air temperatures soar to over 100-plus during the bright, clear days that are common here in the summer. Of course a hat to soak in the river and use to cool your noodle is highly recommended.

The trout tend to be most active in the riffles and tail outs. The natural aquatic invertebrates include the usual assortment of Stoneflies, Mayflies and midges. Depending on the season the Rainbows explode when they come up to take to dries like Stimulators, Elk Hair Caddis and hopper imitations.
Your arsenal of wet flies should include a variety of Stonefly, Caddis and Mayfly nymphs. There is very limited fly fishing gear available locally, so bring a good supply or a portable tying kit.

When you wind down in the evening over a frosty glass of ale at a local pub you will ponder your day. Which flies to try tomorrow? Which flies did your partner use successfully? How many trout were really in that pool? And how big was that fish that broke your leader? And the trout will laugh. These thoughts have been thought and rethought. The rainbow slips away.

IF YOU GO: The town of Grand Forks makes an ideal jumping off point for exploring the Granby River. Named for the confluence of the Granby and the Kettle Rivers, Grand Forks is situated adjacent to the Washington State border. The town is located on Highway 3, approximately a two hour drive East from the Okanagan Valley, or a 45 minute drive West from Castlegar B.C.

For those driving in from the U.S., it is about three hours North of Spokane, Washington, on Highway 395. Whichever route you take, you approach Grand Forks through some beautiful country.
After a night rest, a good breakfast is in order. You can get fast food at A&W or sit down at the Flames Family Restaurant, for a more hearty meal.
There are numerous hotels, motels as well as some very good B&B in the Boundary Country, and there are both private and public campgrounds.

The Granby River is located in a gorgeous part of British Columbia, and if you have any spare time, you can spend it investigating the area rich history, or exploring the Granby sister river, the Kettle, which is another story altogether.