Elaho River

Elaho River | Guide Vlog #4

It’s early December 2020, our Fall salmon season has wrapped up, it was good while it lasted. With not much to do, we decide to go explore the Elaho River, a main tributary of the Squamish River system.

The Elaho River is about 70 kilometres in length, building steam as it meets with the upper Squamish River, parallel with the town of Whistler. The Elaho isn’t a system we spend a lot of time on. It’s a fairly good drive from Squamish and although home to a population of resident rainbow and bull trout, there’s not a ton of other fishing opportunities.

It had been a number of years since we were quite high up into the valley, so we fuelled up the truck and went for a drive. We wanted to see some of the river enhancement work done in 2017 and check out the expanse of the Elaho forest fire that occurred in 2015. Here’s our guide Vlog from the day…

ELAHO RIVER ROCK BLASTING

In the 1960’s as logging activities expanded throughout the Squamish River valley, so did the need for access. The Elaho Valley was rich with timber and getting to it was of high priority. But accessing the upper Elaho River valley, were wide expanses of Douglas Fir and Western Cedar were plentiful, wasn’t so easy. They needed to carve a logging road through the steep Elaho canyon. As the road was pushed through, huge sections of rock was blasted, finding its way to the valley floor. In some places these rocks created impediments to migrating fish. Salmon, returning to spawn, could simply not pass these new obstructions.

So, in the late 90’s members of the community, including members of the Squamish Nation, worked towards having some of these barriers removed from the Elaho River, making for easier passage for returning chinook salmon. With assistance from the Squamish River Watershed Society and others, the project moved forward, culminating in the blasting of rocks in November of 2017.

After the blasting was completed the hope is that that Elaho River, during high flow, will move these loosened rocks. This will create for easier fish passage. In June 2019 5000 chinook salmon fry were introduced to the river and in May 2020 10,000 chinook fry were released.
Elaho River Squamish BC
Elaho River at 36.5 kilometre. One of the rocks that was blasted in November 2017.

ELAHO FOREST FIRE 2015

In June 2015 the Elaho River was dry and hot. Humidity was dropping, forest conditions were tinder dry. The fire that started small great quickly, tearing through the Elaho River valley. The fire burnt massive expanses of the Elaho, growing to over 12,000 hectares and raging for over 10 straight weeks. Authorities believe the fire was human caused. Traveling into the epicentre of the burn area five years later, it is evident this was a huge fire that left a huge amount of destruction in its wake.
Elaho Fire
A photo from December 2020 shows the destruction of the Elaho fire some 5 years later.
Elaho forest fire
At 52 kilometre of the upper Elaho River, surrounded by the remains of the 2015 forest fire.

One of the longest lasting impacts of forest fires like this is that the soil losses its ability to hold water. This has been especially evident over the past five years, as we’ve seen more high water events since the Elaho fire. In September 2015 the Squamish River, broke its banks, during one of its highest recorded levels. The Elaho River fire burnt about 5% of the total 2500 sq/kms of upper Squamish River system drainage.

Reoccurring high water events are detrimental to salmon, especially when these events occur in the Fall months. The September 2015 flood was especially bad for pink salmon, who had completed their spawn. In more recent years the Squamish has has high water events in October and November, hurting the spawn cycles of chum and coho salmon.

FISHING THE ELAHO RIVER

Although the Elaho River is 70 kilometres long there very little fishable water overall. Much of the Elaho is not fishing friendly, with difficult access and face moving water. River levels on the Elaho change drastically throughout the year, with freshet (snow melt) happening in early May. The river is at its optimal fishing levels from late September to late April.

elaho river fishing
Swinging flies on the upper Elaho River in search of Winter bull trout.

Home to resident bull trout and rainbow trout, the Elaho can be a tricky river to figure out. Fish move around with water levels and access is difficult. Your best bet for fishing here is in the later Fall months, through Winter and into Spring. Summer season is when the Elaho is at its highest. You can learn more about fly fishing for bull trout here.

Elaho River Squamish BC
Access to fishing the Elaho can be difficult, be careful when traversing through the canyon section.
Elaho River fly fishing
Overlooking some sweet water above Devil's Elbow.

Remember if you’re going fishing on the Elaho River please read the BC freshwater fishing synopsis prior to your trip.  Respect the recreational fishing rules and handle all fish with care. If you’re visiting the Elaho Valley for a camping or overland trip please treat it with the care and respect it deserves.

This is a special place that needs to be cared for. Practice no trace camping, ensure campfires are extinguished, clean up your garbage and be mindful of fish and wildlife habitat.

Thanks for reading, hope you learned something new about this neat little area of BC!

About the Author

Yos Gladstone is the owner operator of Chromer Sport Fishing, a guiding company and booking agency based in British Columbia, Canada. A full-time salmon & steelhead guide, Yos spends 200+ days a year on the water fishing, guiding and hosting trips.

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