Learn to fly-fish in wild Whitecourt

The river that runs through Whitecourt, Alberta, is teaming with fish

Adriano Lafauci with his catch. Antique wooden drift boats provide the perfect transportation as guests drift down the river. In day trips, guests can expect about six stops to fish the pools along the way.
Adriano Lafauci with his catch. Antique wooden drift boats provide the perfect transportation as guests drift down the river. In day trips, guests can expect about six stops to fish the pools along the way. — Photo courtesy Upstream Drift

The Athabasca River passes through the town of Whitecourt, Alberta, bringing plenty of fish with it.

Upstream Drift takes advantage of Whitecourt’s wild backyard: this fly-fishing guide service takes visitors upstream into the wildlife and rapids to indulge in Alberta’s backcountry from the comfort of their top-of-the-line antique boats.

The Athabasca River’s rushing water provides the perfect setting for fly-fishing. Clear water flows around the large stones, creating rapids and waterfalls. A balance of challenge and peace is found while fly-fishing around the Whitecourt area.

“I’ve been fly-fishing in this area for about 10 years now,” said Adriano Lafauci, the owner of Upstream Drift and a true Canadian explorer. “I discovered this hidden gem—this river that we have—and it’s great for beginner fisherman and fisherwomen or seasoned pros.” Fly-fishing from their drifting boats on the Athabasca River combines beautiful views and great catches.

Lafauci and his team created their guided fishing excursions with beginners in mind: “We cater the whole thing,” he said. “If they’re new to it and they don’t have any gear, we supply the waders, the boots, the fly-fishing poles—everything!” With a little help, beginners learn to cast and catch big ones on the river in no time. “You can teach people the river and all of the fundamentals of fly-fishing because the opportunities for dry fly-fishing are there,” said Lafauci. “It makes it appealing for the first-time fisherman.”

A crewman from Upstream Drift holding a fish caught in the Athabasca river.
The crew at Upstream Drift opts for catch-and-release due to the type of fish in the Whitecourt area. — Photo courtesy Upstream Drift

Even if you are an experienced fisherman, choosing one of Upstream’s guides increases your chances of success—they know their river. The crew lives and breathes Canadian fly-fishing.

Explorers meet at Upstream Drift’s shop in town early on the morning of their departure. The boat staging area is just a short drive northwest from the city: 45 minutes on paved road, plus 45 minutes on gravel. Leave your cell phones at home because there won’t be service where you’re heading. Even the drive is beautiful and offers sneak peaks of the fish along the way. The route to the staging area crosses the river several times: “People can stop on the bridges to look over and see the pools of fish under the bridge,” Lafauci said.

Upstream Drift’s boats are something to see: gleaming antique wooden boats designed for drifting. “It adds a really nice character to the river setting,” said Lafauci. Clear water, tall cliffs lining the river, waterfalls and rapids are just the beginning of the backcountry experience Upstream offers. “The experience itself is amazing because you have lots of wildlife to view,” Lafauci said. “There are moose, eagles, elk, bears, deer, lots of otters.”

Day trips include a 12-kilometre drift with about half a dozen stops along the way. “People get out and fish the pools,” Lafauci said. Those who choose the overnight or two-night trip get to experience more of the river and stay in a comfortable backcountry cabin with the rest of their group and the guides.

“That’s why we named it Upstream,” he said. “We want to show people what is upstream of the bridges because that’s where the better fishing is.” If you’re looking for the full-throttle experience, choose an overnight package.

Lafauci and his crew opt for catch-and-release unless a fresh-caught fish fry is specifically requested. The team likes to preserve the fish that live in their river. Instead, all trips include a packed lunch along the river; overnight trips include breakfast and dinner cooked by the campfire.

Upstream Drift’s guests leave tired from a long day, amazed by the views and experience, and wanting to try again. “All of the first-time fly fishermen and -women we’ve taken on the river are speechless at the end of the day,” he said. “They want to go back. They want to go buy their own gear. They’ll be back. Repeat clients are a sure thing with us.”

When we think of Northern Alberta, we often think oilsands rather than inspiring wild views and peaceful fishing trips just past Whitecourt. “It’s awesome,” Lafauci said. “If you’ve never experienced the backcountry of Alberta, this is the way to do it.”

Are you ready to have your mind blown in Whitecourt’s wild backyard? Athabasca rainbow trout, arctic grayling and bull trout are waiting for you.

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