When days start getting shorter, a chill creeps into the air, and temperatures begin dropping, it’s easy to shift focus from fishing to hunkering down by the fireplace, however it’s become one of my favourite times of the year to get out and wet a line. The December through May season is a lot kinder to us Islanders than it is to other Canadians, allowing us to get out and fish through the colder months without drilling a hole in the ice. Although winter conditions can fall on the unpredictable side, for the Island angler, there are plenty of opportunities to fly fish for steelhead and resident trout in the rivers, trout and bass in the lakes, and sea-run cutthroat on the beaches.
Originating on the river Spey in Scotland in the mid-1800’s, Spey fishing is a type of fly fishing intended as a way to cast across the larger rivers with a long, two handed rod up to 22 feet in length. On the beaches, rivers & lakes of Vancouver Island, a Spey rod can provide an advantage, allowing Island Anglers to open up more water, cast further, fatigue less, and control line more.
This time of year, casting a line on the beaches of Vancouver Island for sea-run cutthroat trout seems like the ideal way for the fly angler to spend those long summer days. The sea-run cutthroat fishery is one that is notoriously tight lipped, however the trout are prevalent enough and there is enough shoreline on the west coast that each angler can find their own water to chase this elusive, exhilarating fish.
Drought conditions in recent years have led to summer fishing closures for the rivers & streams of south Vancouver Island, however the waters of the north & central Island remain open. Within these open river systems is a year round steelhead fishery, and this time of year is prime time for the storied summer run steelhead. The thrill of casting a fly to these elusive, explosive, cartwheeling fish of summer that can swim up to 35mph is the perfect match for those summertime fishing adventures.
This is the last month that the streams and rivers south of Campbell River remain open (areas 1-1 to 1-6, closed July 15-August 31), making it the ideal opportunity to spend these final June days stalking trout & steelhead on the gin clear streams of Vancouver Island, before moving to the lakes to sight fish the shallows for smallmouth bass. Few things match the rush of stalking a fish you can see with an ultra-light rod on waters that are removed enough from civilization to stay pristine. It's a combination of patience, presentation, and position that is both technical and challenging. It's the closest to bone fishing on you can get on Vancouver Island, and the fish are there or they are not - there is no denying what you can indisputably see in front of you.
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.
Being able to match your presentation to the conditions or find a new way to offer your fly to finicky fish can be the difference between landing the fish of a thousand casts or going home skunked. The importance of presentation is that the more accurately you are able you are to place your fly where a fish is holding, the closer you can get to reaching the strike zone. More important to catching fish than the perfect cast is how your fly performs in the water and there are at least 5 techniques every Island Angler should have in their arsenal.
Fall on Vancouver Island is a welcome reprieve from the extremes of summer – streambeds refill, fish return and wildfires are extinguished. Many fly anglers overlook autumn lake fishing in favour of the more high profile salmon fisheries, however the last hatches of fall are among one of the most rewarding times to be on the lake.
Historically, the sea run cutthroat trout fishery on Vancouver Island has been one shrouded in secrecy, however, with the right timing comes the opportunity for the fly angler to tangle with this scrappy sea trout nearly year-round. Almost every stream and many beaches on our coastline are home to these fish.
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.