Vancouver Island: Fishing for Trout, Salmon, Bass and Steelhead

June 22, 2022
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Vancouver Island is a land of opportunity for the sport fisher. The variety of fishing options is almost endless, and some very impressive fish can be caught close to many towns. Whether you prefer fishing for wild trout, salmon, and steelhead on picturesque coastal rivers, or lake fishing for trophy rainbows or bass, the island will definitely not disappoint.

The rivers weaving through the intricate landscape of Vancouver Island are home to many species of fish, which can attain impressive sizes. River anglers will find all five species of Pacific salmon (chinook, chum, pink, coho, and sockeye), trout (coastal cutthroat, rainbow, and steelhead), Dolly Varden char, and even brown trout in certain streams.

Brown trout. Brennan Lund.
Brown trout. Brennan Lund.

Pacific Salmon

During late summer and through fall, thousands of salmon migrate back into their home rivers on Vancouver Island, where they will spawn and die. Their deaths in turn infuse the surrounding forests with nutrients from the sea, further creating extremely fertile areas with massive trees and rivers high in nutrients and life. From adjacent beaches near river mouths, the sport fisher can target salmon as they move into the estuaries of their home rivers. Pink salmon gather in big numbers in the shallow water, and are easily caught on the fly or with gear. Coho and chum can also be encountered while fishing on the beach. On occasion, anglers may even intercept chinook which, being the largest of the Pacific salmon, could attain weights over 13.6 kilograms (30 pounds) and provide quite the thrill.

Once salmon enter the river and start moving upstream, they do not feed. However, you can use colourful flies or lures (like flashy spoons or spinners) to provoke an aggressive response. When the salmon reach their spawning grounds, it is time to leave them alone.

Trout Fishing in Vancouver Island’s Rivers

At various times throughout the year, trout fishing can be very good. Typically, most rivers fish well for trout in the spring, when water temperatures begin to warm and the resident trout are actively feeding on abundant insect life in the river. Salmon fry also begin emerging from the gravel at this time, providing even more food for hungry trout. Many rivers boast prolific insect hatches, and fly fishers can hone their skill at “matching the hatch.” Check out this blog for more information on fly fishing for trout in Vancouver Island’s rivers. 

When salmon are spawning, trout gorge on loose salmon eggs drifting downriver. Almost all rivers on Vancouver Island have a bait ban, meaning roe is illegal to use. Yarn eggs or trout beads are a good substitute for salmon roe when trout fishing during the fall. Note that the retention of wild trout in every river on Vancouver Island is illegal; only fin-clipped, hatchery-reared trout may be retained (and make sure to check the fishing regulations for any other restrictions). Very few rivers are stocked with hatchery trout, making almost all the rivers on Vancouver Island catch-and-release fisheries. These laws have created very impressive trout numbers, and allow anglers lots of opportunities to try and catch them.

Trout in net. Brennan Lund.
Trout in net. Brennan Lund.

Targeting Steelhead in Vancouver Island’s Rivers

Anglers looking for an extra challenge may choose to seek out the elusive steelhead trout. Steelhead carry the same genetics as rainbow trout; however, they spend a large portion of their lives in the Pacific Ocean, similar to Pacific salmon. Steelhead are either summer-run or winter-run fish.

Spawning anytime from March through May, summer-run steelhead typically enter rivers from June through October. They typically weigh in a range from 1.8 to 4.5 kilograms (four to ten pounds). Very aggressive, they will actively chase down a swung fly or small lure, even rising to a dry fly, making them an excellent fish on the fly.

Winter-run steelhead, which can attain weights over nine kilograms (20 pounds), enter their home rivers from late November through April, and spawn from March through May. They often return in higher numbers than summer-run steelhead, but since their migration coincides with colder water temperatures, they are slower to react at times. Heavy winter water-flows also make the fishing more challenging. Fly fishers use heavy sink tips, and gear anglers use lead weights or heavy spoons, to help get their lures deep enough to produce a strike from these large fish.

There is no retention of wild steelhead throughout the province. However, anglers may retain up to two fin-clipped hatchery steelhead per day, with a ten-fish annual limit per angler. In addition to a freshwater fishing license, anglers intending to fish for steelhead must also have a Steelhead Conservation Surcharge Stamp, whether they plan to keep hatchery fish or catch-and-release wild ones.

Vancouver Island Lake Fishing – Bass and Trout

And don’t forget about Vancouver Island stillwaters. The Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC stocks hundreds of lakes on Vancouver Island with rainbow and cutthroat trout. Many of these lakes are close to major towns, and produce some trophy-sized rainbows.

Maddie with rainbow. Brennan Lund.
Maddie with rainbow. Brennan Lund.

While smallmouth and largemouth bass are an invasive species, they can now be found in many lakes on the South Island. Elk, Beaver, Langford, and Thetis lakes have fantastic bass fisheries, and all these lakes are capable of producing fish weighing over 2.7 kilograms (six pounds). Anglers utilize methods such as trolling, anchored fishing, or searching the drop-offs and shorelines for bass.

Bass. Brennan Lund.

Before going fishing, it is critical that you have the proper licenses and understand the fishing regulations for the location you decide to fish. The regulations are in place to ensure healthy fisheries for the future, and your license dollars are used to help stock and manage the lakes across the province.
Vancouver Island is an angler’s paradise. It won’t take long for you to find your favourite spot.

Author: Brennan Lund
Photo Credit: Brennan Lund