Regular clients of mine know that I'm not a fan of bull trout; any freshwater fish that doesn't respond to hatches isn't worthy of a fly-fisher's attention. Call me a snob. I can live with that.
So I'm pleased to report that southeast B.C.'s Bull River, which parallels the Elk River though one mountain range apart, is not named after a fish. Nor is it named after a bovine, which is probably the second thing that came to mind. In fact, the Bull is named after a prospector who settled the area during the1860s placer gold rush.
A tiny community followed, with a mercantile and sundry spin-off businesses, but all that remains today are hard-to-find foundations and the ghosts of a gold rush past. In 2017 you will have to settle for the Bull River Inn, where many a fishing day has been consummated under antlered walls and the gazes of modern-day sourdoughs. It's not to be missed for any aspiring Bull River angler.
The fishery is primarily for westslope cutthroat trout. They grow to 18 inches, but the average for the river is 10 inches to a foot. Whitefish and the odd rainbow in the lower reaches round out the catch. The cutties are plentiful and respond well to dry flies; that and the surrounding mountain scenery, rugged and remote, are the primary draws for visiting fly-rodders.
A walk-and-wade on the upper Bull drainage is a great complement to a multi-day Elk River trip. Legs cramped from several days in drift boats can stretch and unwind on the multiple Bull River walks available. Wildlife varies from whitetailed deer to grizzly bears, and there's always a chance to see mountain goats at the natural mineral lick on the dusty drive in.
The Bull is floatable by raft in its lower reaches, and Dave Brown Outfitters offers that early season option. But to truly experience the Bull, in my opinion, you need to don the wading boots and invoke the intimacy that only hoofing it can provide. Once on the upper river it's relatively easy to wend your way up either bank and cross at the shallow gravel bars; the push of cold water on shins is a subtle reminder that you've left niggling cares at the gravel roadside.
If you opt for a do-it-yourself float, check in at a local fly shop or government office to inquire before setting out; the Bull has several impassable sections in its middle reaches, including a tight canyon and run-of-the-river dam. The Aberfeldie Dam was built in 1922, has been expanded twice since, and still provides local hydroelectric power.
Nearby attractions abound. Fort Steele is a reconstructed heritage town, circa 1864. It boomed during the area gold rush. Originally called Galbraith's Ferry, it was re-named after the famous RCMP lawman Sam Steele settled a dispute between local Indians and prospectors.
The placer gold eventually tapped out, but there's still a recreational panning reserve on the Wildhorse River north of the Bull. Bring along a pan and shovel and there's usually an amateur prospector or two willing to share local know-how.
Contact D.B.O. to ask about a Bull River booking. Just no allergies to dust or adventure, please: the Bull provides plenty of both.