As outdoor recreation explodes in popularity, the more accessible the area, the greater the fishing pressure and it can be a challenge to break free of the crowds. Only a fellow angler would understand why anyone would trek miles into the backcountry, fording creeks, clambering over obstacles and navigating slippery logs just to cast a fly to wild trout in an untouched wilderness sanctuary.
Many provincial parks and regional trail systems on Vancouver Island contain remote freshwater angling opportunities on the seldom fished lakes and streams within them for rainbow and cutthroat trout. Possibilities range from day hikes to backcountry wilderness camping. Multi-day treks which offer waters along the way for the opportunistic angler include some of the longer, more famed trails – the Kludahk Trail (36.5km); Juan de Fuca Marine Trail (47km); the West Coast Trail (75km); the Trans Canada Trail (200km); and the nearly complete Vancouver Island Spine Trail (700km).
Pristine foot access only streams tend to be cleaner and crystal clear, making it helpful to employ a delicate approach and ultra light presentation to avoid scaring these fish. Lakes tend to be seldom fished and with the right timing, the dry fly action can be non-stop. Through the heat of summer, deeper, higher elevation lakes provide continued fun on the fly all season long, however the glacial lakes are too cold and oxygen poor to support much productivity. For Region 1 streams, a single barbless hook is required and all wild trout and char (including Dolly Varden) are catch and release only (2 hatchery trout can be retained). In lakes, there is no general minimum size and limits are: 4 trout per day, only 1 over 50cm; 4 bass per day and 5 kokanee per day. Lake trout and foraged Island edibles such as mushrooms, berries and wild greens add freshness to a diet of non-perishable backpacking food – but only eat what you can confidently identify.
The minimalistic approach of tenkara fishing (a Japanese style of fly fishing without a reel) is an asset when trying to lighten your load for backpacking. Bringing a regular fly reel and rod doesn’t add much extra weight however, so I find that choosing which rod to pack depends more on the conditions I will be fishing. I like my tenkara gear, which weighs 0.5lb, for tiny, overgrown streams, and a 4 or 5 weight fly rod set-up, which weighs 2.5lbs, for trout on rivers and most lakes. At minimum, required angling gear includes your B.C. Freshwater Fishing licence, a rod, a reel, leaders, tippet, flies, and a high quality multi-tool like a Leatherman. I bring one low profile fly box with flies of assorted sizes in a variety of basic patterns: nymphs, stimulators, mayflies, caddisflies, woolly buggers, muddler minnows and some minuscule tenkara flies.
Options for shorter distance, hike-in lakes with enthusiastic trout include Grassie, Shields, Crabapple Lakes & Peden Lakes (4-10km) accessed through Sooke Mountain Park; fly fishing only “Anderson Lake” (6.5km); and Helen McKenzie, Kwai & Circlet Lakes on Mount Albert Edward (3-10km). Areas such as Strathcona Provincial Park & the Forbidden Plateau and Cape Scott Provincial Park offer multiple routes with various trail lengths, terrains, water bodies and degrees of difficulty. Streamside routes include Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park (2.8km+); Fisherman River (9.3km); and the fly fishing only Elk River Trail (11km).
For the more adventurous, who seek more wild and less people, there is limitless potential exploring waters on recreationally accessible Crown land. Crown land is land that is owned by the provincial government and managed for public uses such as industry and recreation. Of course, year after year, more and more private roads are gated and locked, restricting public access to the backcountry.
The Charter of the Forest is a legacy that continues on, having set precedents for public access to Crown land and for common stewardship and of shared resources across English-speaking countries, including Canada. The Charter of the Forest was sealed by King Henry III in 1217 in England as a secondary document to the Magna Carta of 1215. This environmental Charter extended the rights of the commoners to access the resources of the royal forests to subsist and restricted the rights of the Monarch (the “Crown”) to privatize and exploit the forest. At the time, as much as a third of the land was designated as “royal forests” (including both wooded and agricultural lands), owned by the Monarch and the common man could be punished by fines, death or mutilation for using them.
Important navigation tools to bring when exploring the backwoods include: map, compass, GPS (if available) and flagging tape. Be sure to leave a trip itinerary with someone. Get familiar with the elevations, distances, terrain, climate and regulations of the area. Make sure you are at an appropriate physical fitness level for the terrain you intend to cover. Use common sense and don’t take unnecessary risks. Although they say you should be able to pack one third of your body weight, odds are you won’t want to (especially on the hike out).
I have recently gotten back into backpacking after a 10 year hiatus. A few things are starting to come back to me, such as the fact that nothing beats a Bic lighter, an axe and Coghlan’s fire sticks when trying to start a fire with sopping wet Vancouver Island hardwood. Protection wise, a wilderness First Aid kit, a whistle, bear spray and a good knife are places to start and bring plenty of cordage to cache your food a minimum 100 feet from your tent – the Vancouver Island wilderness is home to many predators including black bears, wolves and cougars. Personal items will vary but from experience, my must packs include a towel, a LifeStraw, a headlamp, a deck of cards and premium wool or merino socks to prevent blisters.
There is something significant about challenging your boundaries by pushing past perceived limits to reach a place that few people realize. Something exhilarating, rejuvenating and profound that arises when you find yourself traversing the backcountry trails in pursuit of trout paradise.