The Vancouver Island fly fishing calendar is one of the few things that remain constant. Year after year, regulations vary, runs shift, waters change, and the exact date fishing gets underway may differ, however the seasons remain the same. There are few places in Canada where you can fly fish the shorelines, beaches, rivers and lakes year-round and we are fortunate enough to live in one of them.
Changes to freshwater fishing regulations proposed by Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) for Region 1 are set to come into effect April 1 and include introduction of brown trout retention (1/day) on fly fishing only Lois & Tadjiss Lakes and increasing the daily quota on Rooney Lake to 4; removal of size, bait & hook restrictions on cutthroat trout in Comox Lake; removal of the artificial fly and fly fishing only regulations on the Big Qualicum River; no fishing on the White River upstream of the Sayward bridge crossing November 1-April 30; introduction of an unlimited smallmouth perch & smallmouth bass quotas (excluding Elk/Beaver, Fuller, Langford, Quennell, Shawnigan, Westwood and Spider Lakes, 4/day). For the 2017-19 Freshwater Fishing Regulations Synopsis, visit http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/fish/regulations/#Synopsis.
With spring river fishing comes highly fluctuating water levels due to snowmelt, runoff and rains. Knowing that mountain fed river levels rise and fall more rapidly than lake fed rivers and that controlled flow rivers usually clear fastest can make the difference in fishing around the inevitable spring river blowouts. Getting out there is paramount, as spring is the pinnacle of fly fishing, with hatches progressing from chironomids to mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, damselflies, dragonflies and the storied black ant hatch.
“Spring catchable” rainbow trout are stocked into 60 Vancouver Island lakes March to June, by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC and then again with “fall catchables” in October & November. For fish stocking reports, visit: http://www.gofishbc.com/Stocked-Fish.aspx#fish-stocking. When the temperatures rise after the winter chill, lake fishing picks up March through June, and then again when temperatures cool in September, with opportunities to angle for rainbow, cutthroat, brown & Eastern Brook trout; Dolly Varden; Kokanee; and smallmouth bass.
Sea run cutthroat can be found in Island rivers, estuaries and beaches year-round, however are found in larger numbers around salmon time, especially the downstream spring migration of salmon fry and the fall salmon returns to spawn, when cutties gorge on their eggs. Rockfish and lingcod typically open May 30-September 30, providing an opportunity for shore casting for these and other bottom fish species. For full tidal water regulations, see the Sport Fishing Guide for Tidal Waters and Non-Tidal Salmon at https://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/rec/index-eng.html or download the Fishing BC app. Note that fishing is not permitted in Rockfish Conservation Areas, Ecological Reserves, Marine Conservation Areas and National Parks on Vancouver Island. Be aware of area-specific closures including May-September finfish closures in most major river estuaries as well as the newly added southwest coast closure from Otter Point to Port Renfrew. More fishery closures are possible for the 2019 season, depending on actual salmon returns and whether Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead get listed under the Species At Risk Act.
Years of late, summer time on the Island has seen soaring temperatures, drought-like conditions, low stream flows and wildfires. Campgrounds are jam packed with people and must be reserved months in advance, while campfire bans are now the norm. This time of year, lake fishing prevails with few better ways to spend a hot summer day, and though trout fishing slows, this is the time bass fishing heats up.
There is a proposed summer angling closure by FLNRO on streams of southern Vancouver Island, specifically regions 1-1 to 1-6 from July 15-Aug 31 with exceptions for Koksilah & Chemainus Rivers (July 1-September 30). Rivers exempt from this closure are the Big Qualicum, Puntledge, Quinsam, Oyster and Nitnat rivers. Not surprising as these streams are usually too warm and too low to fish during summer anyway, and the waters of Port Alberni (1-7) and north of Campbell River remain open.
There are two runs of Island steelhead, with a more elusive summer run July through October and a winter run December to April, for the angler willing to put in the hours and miles to chase the fish of a thousand casts. Numbers of fish returns are low, so finding the fish is the key to the chrome.
The big day for river fishing for Chinook salmon is August 25, with openings on the Conuma, Nitnat and Stamp/Somass rivers, followed by the Puntledge in late September and the Big Qualicum in October. The only non-tidal waters open to fishing for Pink salmon are Campbell (July 15-Sep 15) and Quinsam rivers (Aug 15-Sep 15). 2019 is an outside, south year, so pinks will be returning in higher numbers to the southwest coast. The Cayeghle River/Colonial Creek, Cluxewe, Nahwitti, Washlawlis & Waukwaas rivers are open to fishing for Coho salmon year round. June 15, the Quatse River opens and August 25 the Conuma and Stamp/Somass rivers open followed by the Puntledge, Campbell/Quinsam, Big Qualicum, Nitnat, Chemainus, Nanaimo and Cowichan rivers late September to November. Starting October 1, the Courtenay and Puntledge rivers open and Chum salmon fishing begins, followed by openings on the Nitnat and Big Qualicum rivers in mid-October and finally the Nanaimo and Cowichan rivers November 1.
Under Department of Fisheries and Oceans Non Tidal Salmon regulations, unless listed in the Regional tables, the daily limit in all waters is zero, so they are closed to fishing for salmon. In contrast, under FLNRO freshwater fishing regulations, if a stream is not listed, then only the Provincial and Regional Regulations apply, and it is considered open. There is no mystery why then every fall, Islanders head to the few estuaries that remain open in search of salmon and near almost every highway bridge, the side of the road is like a parking lot.
With the arrival of winter, a number of Island rivers are subject to steelhead fishing closures and the majority of rivers close December 1 (some earlier). Hatchery enhanced rivers on Vancouver Island remain open and include the Stamp/Somass, the Cluxewe and the Quatse rivers. 7 rivers with fly only sections remain open as well as 12 other rivers such as the White/Salmon, Quinsam/Campbell, Big Qualicum, Puntledge and Nitnat. Recently added winter closures include part of Great Central Lake, upper Nahmint river and most recently, Gold River. Steelhead conservation fishing closures end and a large number of Island rivers reopen from April 30-June 30.
This year more so than most, I find myself uncharacteristically making advance plans for each season in the fly fishing calendar. Adaptability to more than just Mother Nature, but changing climates and conditions grow in importance year after year and we as anglers, need to consider these factors to make the most of our escapes to the water.