Nature on the Fraser – Guided Tours
While we are out and about on our fishing adventures, we often encounter many varieties of wildlife on our excursions. Wildlife encounters are always a treat and are a bonus that adds to the enjoyment of the fishing.
We are located in Chilliwack on the Fraser river. From this advantageous spot, we can enjoy a variety of fishing and nature viewing opportunities. When we move westwards, or downriver, you will encounter less nature and see more signs of civilization. However, you will still see plenty of wildlife, and you will note the valley and the river is wider. As we move eastwards, or upriver from Chilliwack, you will see less sign of man’s hand, and enjoy some very scenic vistas including Mount Cheam, large tracts of cottonwood stands on the islands in the Fraser river and heavily forested steep slopes in a much tighter valley. Over the years, having fished throughout the entire Fraser river within the region, I have come to appreciate the section of the Fraser river known as the “Heart of the Fraser” or the gravel reach between Chilliwack and Hope. This particular section has it all.
The lush vegetation here in the Fraser valley obscures our vision from looking too far into the forest or the islands, however, along the shorelines, and in the air, we are able to view Nature as she goes about her way.
Black bears (in black or brown color phases), deer, coyotes, bobcats, beaver, otters and seals are commonly seen. We regularly see black bears foraging along the river banks, and swimming in the river in their bid to go from one island or shoreline, to another. They are excellent, powerful swimmers capable of navigating the current, often demonstrating another level of power when you see them climb out of the river and up a steep cut-bank. While many of the bears are of average size and young age, every so often we see a true giant come to the shore next to where we are fishing. These bears are looking for a quick dip and a drink to cool off before they lumber off with their big-boy swagger to seek the shade of the thick forest.
Black-tail deer are commonly seen along the Fraser’s shores, including the islands. Despite their skinny legs and small hooves, deer are also excellent swimmers, aided by a thick coat of hollow hair that adds significant buoyancy. We often see female deer (doe) with fawns and young of the year, leading me to believe that doe blacktail deer on the river will often seek the protection and isolation of these islands for their young from predators such as coyotes. I’m sure coyotes are capable swimmers, but in all the years I’ve travelled on the river, I have yet to encounter a coyote swimming these waters. Unfortunately, not all predator avoidance occurs on these islands; black bears as mentioned are great swimmers, and are very fond of black-tail deer fawns as a food item.
Coyotes are not as commonly seen like bear or deer, but it is also not unusual. On occasion, one will hear a pack of coyotes vocalizing in the thick stands of cottonwoods. When one starts lighting up the song, it’s not long before it’s a raucous chorus by numerous coyotes in the vicinity.
Harbor seals are an all too common sight on the Fraser river. They have a curiosity towards boats, especially if the boat has a dog on board (hey, ‘cuz’!), and are probably somewhat habituated to finding an easy dinner from anglers that are hooked up to a salmon. Having a seal steal from you while playing a fish used to be unheard of on the Fraser, but recent years have shown seals to become quite aggressive, particularly if you are fishing for salmon near a tributary with clear water. Pink salmon at the Sumas canal confluence are picked off the hook on the regular. Having a seal eat your sturgeon bait is becoming the next not so rare event. Seals are in the Fraser and its tributaries all year round, and I’m certain that seals breed, are born, and never leave the Fraser river during its lifetime.
Steller’s sea lions are commonly seen in the spring in the tidal portion of the Fraser river. It is at this time that eulachons (smelts) return to the Fraser to spawn, and both sea lions and seals are feasting abundantly on these small herring-like fish. While I have seen sea lions as far upriver as the Sumas confluence, it has been 20 years since that time. However, it is not unusual to see dozens of sea lions in the lower portion near the Port Mann bridge. They often haul themselves up on the log booms to sun themselves and rest. They are an incredibly large mammal, and while they look and act incredibly clumsy out of water, they are magical swimmers in their domain.
There is also abundant bird viewing on the Fraser as well. There are plenty of osprey that return in the late spring to the area, building large nests on pilings or dead snags near the river’s shoreline. Suitable nesting sites seem to be on or near the water, where the nest is open and exposed, possibly providing the osprey with comfort in being able to see potential enemies approaching to steal eggs or their young. Watching an osprey hunt is very exciting. They will hover over a likely spot, and once they lock into a careless fish that is resting on the surface, will tuck their wings in and dive stuka-style from significant heights, often times taking flight again with a pikeminnow, pea-mouth chub or trout in their talons. As they lift the fish out of the water, they briefly give themselves a quick shake to shed the water off and head directly to the nest where hungry chicks are waiting.
Bald eagles are a common sight throughout the year. Fall and winter is an exceptional time to see hundreds of eagles on the Harrison river, where the eagles “blow in” from the coast’s blustery weather to feed on the abundant carcasses of post-spawn chum, chinook and coho salmon. It is exceptional to note that last season was my first sighting of what I can confirm was a golden eagle. Juvenile bald eagles appear similar in plumage without their white head and tail, which comes in as they become approximately 5 years of age. However, there is no denying the magnificent size difference of an adult golden eagle in comparison to a bald eagle. And, they truly are “golden” when the light is right. Spectacular sight!
Herons, a modern-day sounding pterodactyl, are common sights as well. Watching them fishing at the top end of gravel bars during fry and smolt migrations is a demonstration in patience. Listening and watching them chase each other off from prime fishing grounds will confirm the dinosaur era comparison! They sound particularly grouchy.
Fishing is an excellent past time with friends and family. Catching fish is also enjoyable. But regardless of the number of fish encountered during an outing, the sighting of the Fraser river’s wildlife adds flavor to the day, and is often talked about as much as the fish that were caught. Come join us for a day on the river, and experience all that the Fraser has to offer!
Have fun, enjoy what we have today, and remember, you can’t catch them from the couch.