Scotland on steroids: Camping with grizzlies in the wilds of British Columbia
Fishing Impossible's Charlie Butcher was blown away by Canada's stunning backcountry - but wasn't so keen on his new neighbours
When Charlie Butcher landed the job of co-presenting ITV’s Fishing Impossible, it was a boyhood dream come true.
The 34-year-old Easyjet pilot has been hooked on angling ever since his grandad taught him to cast off aged five. In the series, Butcher and two other amateur fishermen go in search of lionfish in the Bahamas, king crabs in Norway and great whites in South Africa.
Their destination in this week’s episode is Canada, where the task is to catch salmon. To the rodless, that doesn’t sound quite as thrilling as coming face-to-face with sharks in Africa, but it’s something of a holy grail for fly fishermen.
The Pacific salmon run is one of nature’s epic dramas: each year hundreds of thousands of Alaskan salmon return to where they were born to spawn. “There are five species of salmon that all run up the river at different times,” explains Butcher. “Coho salmon are the ultimate salmon to fish for because they’re the hardest-fighting.”
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The Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia
This reproductive marathon takes place in the spectacular backcountry of British Columbia, which boasts ten mountain ranges, including the Rockies. “It’s like Scotland but on steroids. There are vast tracts of wilderness and not a soul there. People talk about getting away from it all and somewhere like that you genuinely can,” says Butcher. “The scale is hard to compute: the trees are bigger, the rivers are bigger, the fish are bigger. I’m used to seeing two or three salmon in a river, but there were so many you could walk across the river on the backs of them.”
Last but not least, Canada’s westernmost province is home to 150,000 bears, who are also very fond of salmon. If you venture deep into the aptly named Great Bear Rainforest as the Fishing Impossible trio did, you need a guide, a can of (anti) bear spray and to stand your ground. “We were told that the last thing you should do is turn and run. You should stand up to them and wave your arms. I had bags of nuts in my bag and the ranger told me to get rid of them because any sort of food and they’ll come for miles.”
A grizzly with her cub in the Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia
As Butcher and co discover, the bears aren’t shy, but you’re highly unlikely to come to any harm if you take sensible precautions. Even so, camping out in a hut with only grizzlies for neighbours isn’t everybody’s idea of a holiday.
To experience wilderness without compromising on safety or creature comforts, British Columbians prefer to flock to Vancouver Island in the summer months. This is where Butcher begins his Canadian adventure, fishing from kayaks as the tribes of the Pacific Northwest have done for thousands of years.
This 285 mile-long island is only a short, very scenic ferry ride from Vancouver and enjoys one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems: rainforests, marshes, beaches, rivers, lakes and a mountain range. It’s heaven for the outdoor enthusiast and also has a thriving arts community and foodie scene. “We stayed in Tofino, a really cool, outdoorsy town where you can go whale-watching, surfing, bear-watching. Tofino is surrounded by huge open beaches covered in driftwood and we climbed this beautiful 700m wooded mountain on our rest day. It’s an incredible place. I’m going to go back as soon as I can.”
In the end, Butcher’s most memorable catch wasn’t a coho salmon; it was a humongous sturgeon in the Fraser River, which flows from the Rockies into the strait separating Vancouver and the island. “We had it on the line for over an hour and it pulled us half a mile down the river before we landed it. They look prehistoric, kind of like a stegosaurus. It blew my mind. Afterwards I couldn’t say anything; I was just sitting there like a gaping fish.”
Fishing Impossible is on ITV on Wednesdays at 7.30pm
Discover Vancouver Island
Go whale watching: From early July to October, you can see orcas from the island, as well as humpback whales, porpoises, dolphins, seals and sea lions.
Explore the Pacific Rim National Park: Tramp through coastal rainforest, walk the Wild Pacific Trail or explore the aptly monikered Long Beach.
Long Beach, Vancouver Island
Go on a bear hunt: It's possible to spot black bears while driving in more remote parts, or you can sign up for a bear-watching boat in Tofino.
Take the seaplane: Splash out on a flight from Victoria harbour to Vancouver for views of the islands, the Georgia Strait and mountains.
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Canadian Rockies, 11 days from £1,299pp. Join this wonderful escorted tour of Western Canada and discover the majestic natural beauty of this incredible part of the world. You'll enjoy visits to delightful Vancouver, 'British' Victoria and the famous resort of Whistler, and meet the famous 'grizzlies' on the highlight of your tour - an unforgettable guided river safari. Click here for more details and to book.