June 3, 2019

Fly Fishing for Trout in Vancouver Island's Rivers

Vancouver Island has so much to offer when it comes to fishing. The variety of species you can target is colossal, and there is no such thing as an off-season – it simply does not exist. In fall, it’s time for various salmon runs; winter is the time for frozen fingers and chrome steelhead; in spring, it’s time to dust off our dry fly boxes; and summer is about hunting for bass in warmed-up lakes. The icing on the cake is scenery so spectacular, it makes you question if it’s actually real.

As summer is is just around the corner, it’s a perfect time to explore. Some of the most popular fly-fishing destinations are the Stamp-Somas river system and the Cowichan, Elk, and Campbell rivers.

The Stamp-Somass is well known for its salmon and steelhead fishery, but it’s often overlooked during the summer when it comes to trout fishing. If you are willing to hike, you can find some decent fishing for rainbow trout. Paths along the river are less travelled in summer than during salmon-fishing season. Fewer anglers offer more opportunities for amazing encounters with wildlife. Just imagine casting your fly into that fishy-looking seam with a few deer standing in the background, and a bald eagle soaring above you. It’s not a planned scene from a movie, just an exciting recollection from one of last year’s fishing trips. And speaking of wildlife, this is prime black bear territory; it’s a good idea to carry a can of bear spray with you.

The Cowichan offers great fishing all year ’round (but note the summer closure to fishing from July 15 to August 31). Easy access and close proximity to major cities like Victoria and Nanaimo make it a very popular fishing destination. Since the Cowichan River Provincial Park has a campground right on the river, you can make your first cast of the day just two minutes after you get out of your tent. The river has a fly-fishing-only section with easy access to most of the pools from a streamside trail.

Spring and early summer are very popular times to visit the Elk, which is restricted to fly fishing only. Located in Strathcona Provincial Park, about an hour west of Campbell River along Highway 28, trout fishing there can be ridiculously good. Small stonefly nymphs usually work really well, but it’s way more fun to cast your dry flies. A variety of sizes and colours of elk hair caddis should have you covered. Most of the fish are 20 to 30 centimetres (eight to 12 inches) in length, but there are some bigger cutthroat trout as well.

The Campbell and Quinsam rivers can be quite busy, especially during late July through August when the pink salmon run starts. Prior to that, you can find some privacy on these rivers along with fair fishing for cutthroat trout. Note the freshwater fishing regulations for these rivers: fishing is restricted on some sections of both the Campbell and Quinsam year-round, and some sections of the Campbell are open to fly fishing only. The Quinsam is also closed to all fishing between July 15 and August 31. Elk Falls Campground is located beside these rivers, making it a perfect spot to establish your base camp. Being so close to the city of Campbell River, this is a very popular campground: making a reservation is necessary, especially if you want a prime, riverside campsite.

Doing your research while on the river can be the key to a very successful day. It will take you only a few minutes to turn a few rocks over to see what critters the fish are feeding on, and match your patterns. When there are a lot of salmon smolts in the rivers, patterns that imitate immature salmon work really well. While fishing on the rivers, keep your eye on the water temperature; trout fishing during high water temperature conditions is very stressful to these fish. If the water is getting too hot, put away your rod, or … head to a lake.

Keep in mind all char (including Dolly Varden), wild steelhead, and wild trout caught in streams and rivers within Region 1 must be released. Hatchery trout can be identified by the healed scar in place of their adipose fin; wild trout will have their adipose fin intact. Also, if you are fishing in the tidal sections of a river, remember to check the retention limits, regulations and fisheries closures on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website.

The Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, in partnership with provincial and federal governments, releases coastal cutthroat trout each year into the Oyster river, and steelhead smolts into the Quinsam, Cluxewe, Somass and Quatse rivers, helping to create a wealth of recreational fishing experiences. Vancouver Island’s salmon fisheries are world-renowned; the Island’s river fly-fishing opportunities are lesser known but offer an equally exciting angling experience. 

Author: Pavel Francev
Photos: Pavel Francev

Pavel is an artist and photographer residing in Victoria, B.C. Whether he is trying to trick that stubborn trout, chase that grouse in the woods, or paddle that remote lake – his art just happens to be the thing that unites it all, and gives him an opportunity to promote a sporting life.

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