Unlike the rest of Canada, for Vancouver Island fly anglers, spring does not mean the start to fishing season after the winter freeze; rather it is a continuation of the fishing calendar and the highly anticipated start of trout season. For myself, spring is the time when steelheading has come to an end and it is time to trade in the heavy rod for your lightest rod, and downgrade your leader to one so fine that it is a challenge to both fisherman and fish. It is a transition from nymphs and streamers in the earliest days of spring to a culmination of dry fly hatches and the exhilaration of watching a trout explode out of the water to accept your offering.
There are a number of incredible fishing opportunities on Vancouver Island. You can find any kind of fishing you crave, whether you prefer “urban fishing” or hotspots easily reached from the main highway or somewhere a bit more off the beaten path that may involve logging roads. Of course, more accessible the location, the more fishing pressure you will see. Google Earth, Backroads Mapbook and bathymetric (depth) charts are great resources when searching and scouting a new location.
Fishing means giving in to your sense of adventure and exploring – usually the most memorable fish, stories and friendships are found on the path less travelled. Practice your presentation – this aspect is key for selective fish that have seen their share of flies and spook easily. Be sure your fly is the right size and not too big, and whenever possible, be prepared to match the hatch. Above all, maximize the time spent with your fly in the water – regardless of how perfect your casts, you will not catch a fish with your fly in the air.
Spring is a great time of year for lake fishing from shore or boat, when the fish are still shallow before the summer heat drives them deeper. There is no typical “ice off” indication of turnover, just a subtle change in temperature that reveals that the transition has begun and invites the fish to begin feeding more actively. In most lakes on the south Island, during spring you can encounter rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and smallmouth bass, with some brown trout and eastern brook trout to be found. As you continue up Island, you can come across all of the above species in addition to dolly varden, brown trout and kokanee. According to University of British Columbia, Vancouver Island is home to 16 native and 10 introduced freshwater species. Many lakes are also stocked – in Region 1 last spring, Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC stocked 63 lakes with 101,600 rainbow and cutthroat trout, to help protect fish stocks for years to come. Ease of access ranges from drive up to hike in; some with wheelchair accessible piers; all with varying degrees of shoreline access and some only accessible by boat. There are also a few smaller, fly only lakes on the Island that are worthy of a visit, such as Healy (Panther) Lake, Henry Lake and Wowo Lake. Start around creek mouths, structure, ledges, shoals, weed beds and, in the most ideal of situations, where you see surface activity. You can have early season trout success by fishing year round food “staples” (nymphs and streamers); chironomids; and “matching the hatch”.
Spring river fishing is when you tie on a March Brown, throw that perfect cast, watch a shadow rise from the bottom and gobble your fly off the surface before seeing a rainbow trout launch into an aerial display of acrobatics. In this setting, the hardest part is not waiting for the thaw, it is waiting for the rain fuelled high waters to recede enough to be able to reach the bank and cast a fly (unless you are lucky enough to have a friend with a drift boat). Spring success is a result of mitigating high water levels, and being in the right place at the right time with the right fly. In the southern Island rivers, you can catch rainbow trout and cutthroat trout. In the Cowichan River, the Fly Fishing Capital of Canada, you might happen across legendary brown trout, weighing up to 10lbs+. Further up Island you may also find dolly varden and in the northernmost parts, perhaps even a late steelhead. Remember all wild trout in rivers and streams in Region 1 are catch and release only and some rivers have a portion which is designated “fly fishing only”. Stock up on minnows and fry patterns, nymphs, woolly buggers, stone flies, march browns, caddis flies, may flies and a couple black ants to follow the spring transition of the river from nymphs to hatches. You will find clues to insect food sources on the river banks. To find the fish, look for tributary entries, seams, rocks and structure that provide good cover and food sources for fish.
A few fortunate fishermen are able to track down and entice the elusive sea run cutthroat. This fishery is one where you need to actively explore, learn the area, be aware of tidal influence and look for the fish. Promising places to start include rocky beaches where freshwater meets actively moving saltwater. The reward is the way your heart jumps into your throat when you accept the challenge, spot the fish, cast, strip, then finally feel it hammer your fly.
This is when you know its spring and there is no where you’d rather be.