Snorkeling the river of life

I’ve been off grid for a good deal of the summer traveling around and diving Canada’s Vancouver Island. Culminating in a visit to the remote  God’s Pocket resort close to the northern tip of Vancouver island where cold water scenic diving can only be described as exceptional.

I will save God’s Pocket for another post, Canada’s western province of British Columbia and particularly Vancouver Island is blessed with a pleasant climate and wildlife encounters to die for. The western shores of North America are also famous for Pacific Salmon.

The salmon seem to think snorkelers are predators and will try to keep away, fortunately you are moving so fast that you often surprise them. They swiftly move away showing their power in the current.

There are several different species of Pacific salmon which contribute significantly to the economy of this region. Much of the tinned salmon we eat in the UK is wild Pacific salmon. We don’t normally see fresh Pacific Salmon in the UK, it is consumed locally.


The different shaped fish are different species of Pacific Salmon. The different species have interesting names, Chinook, Sockeye, Coho, Pink & Chum.

Canada has numerous fish hatcheries situated alongside the clear rivers where they assist the natural spawning and help replenish stocks. Pacific Salmon are not farmed (Salmon farms exist but they farm Atlantic salmon – that is another – contentious story).

Thick with salmon

During late summer and autumn the rivers become alive with salmon making their way upstream to complete their life cycle. The incredible urge that drives them to do this culminates in their death after spawning.

Many dead salmon are seen as well, either they have completed their life cycle or it just became too much, note the scavenging freshwater crayfish beside its tail.

It is possible to view this spectacle in a number of places and I was passing through one such in August.

Close to the entry point

Campbell River is a busy town named after the river it straddles, it is about halfway up the east coast of Vancouver Island, it is a tourist centre, excursions for fishing, whale & bear watching depart from here and it is close to the remote and mountainous interior of the island where many adventure seekers head.

Fisherman landing a good sized salmon.

Salmon predictably run up Campbell River each year so it is a magnet for fishermen who try to catch the fish as they pass. There is a well known snorkel run downstream, as the river passes through the town and covers about 2 miles.

Kitting up

At times it is a real white knuckle roller coaster ride dodging rocks as the swift current whisks you towards the ocean. You travel under two road bridges before the river widens and the current drops allowing an easy exit.

Give the fishermen a nod, I found they were happy to reel their line in before you set off.

A suit is required to protect you from abrasions as well as the cool water, there are places where the river is so shallow you have to shuffle on your backside to get to deeper water.

The white water caused by this rock give an idea of the speed of flow.

I only had my drysuit, it doesn’t seemed to have suffered from the ride although an old wetsuit may be a better option. The snorkel takes about 30 minutes.

The fast snorkel is often quite shallow

If you find yourself in that part of the world at the right time of year I can thoroughly recommend having a go. Best of all if you have kit it won’t cost you anything(There are commercial operators who will charge you for the same snorkel trip).


Hood optional, in August the river water temperature was in the high teens.

If you want more detailed instructions of entry & exit points, one of the Campbell River dive shops Beaver Aquatics has it on their website 

Approaching the exit

I was a bit concerned about the safety of my camera & housing but with some care, anticipation and keeping a good watch ahead as you speed downstream there wasn’t a problem, occasionally I had to lift it up to avoid obstructions. Check out this video clip to get an idea of the speed of the river.

The images have all been taken with ambient light & using a Tokina 10-17 lens on a Nikon D500 in a Nauticam housing. They have been taken “shooting from the hip” – it would be dangerous in the fast current to keep your eye on the viewfinder and potentially miss an approaching rock.

Not more salmon!

If you get to see this natural spectacle you will understand why they call it Beautiful British Columbia.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *