29 Nov Winter Bull Trout Fishing Tips
As we wrap up the Fall salmon fishing season our focus turns to Winter bull trout fishing. There’s some great bull trout fishing within short distance of Vancouver that offers eager anglers a Winter fishing experience after most people have put their gear away for the season. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, we offer guided Vancouver fly fishing trips, focused on the Squamish River system. In this post I’m focusing on giving you some Winter bull trout fishing tips that anyone can use and tactics we use when guiding. Here’s my 6 top tips when bull trout fishing this Winter…
#1 When is the best time to go bull trout fishing?
#2 What rivers near Vancouver are home to bull trout?
#3 Where in rivers do bull trout live?
#4 Tips for the best fly fishing setups.
# 5 Best flies for bull trout!
#6 What to do when you catch a fish!
If you’re headed out on your own remember to know the fishing rules for the river you’re fishing, to respect the river and handle all fish with care and caution. If you’re looking for a guided fly fishing trip, you can find more info on our guided Squamish River fishing trips here.
A better than average Winter Bull Trout caught in mid December
#1 Tip: Best Times to Go Bull Trout Fishing….
Winter bull trout season usually kicks off in late November, as coastal salmon runs begin to spawn and the opportunistic tendencies of bull trout kick into full gear. Most of BC’s coastal rivers have very little insect life, so resident fish like bull trout, rainbow trout and cutthroat trout depend on the Fall salmon migration to bring nutrients to the river. On years of poor salmon returns, resident trout populations suffer. From late November to early March bull trout will feed on the remains of the Fall salmon spawn, including feeding on salmon eggs and salmon flesh.
You also want to time your fishing for the best possible river conditions. If winter temperatures are cold and freezing levels are low then coastal rivers will be low and clear. With warmer temperatures or heavy rain, rivers will rise and bull trout fishing is generally more productive.
The best time for bull trout fishing is late November to early March.
#2 Tip: Where Should I go Bull Trout Fishing…
All the local rivers on BC’s south coast are home to bull trout and offer fishing opportunities during the winter months. These include the Harrison River, Vedder River, Upper Pitt River, Lillooet River, Squamish River and Cheakamus River. Obviously local knowledge is key. If you haven’t been fishing for bull trout before don’t be discouraged if they’re hard to find. Scouting rivers, exploring different areas and offering varied presentations is key to success. Before you go fishing it’s always a good idea to have a look at the updated BC Freshwater Fishing Synopsis as rivers to open and close to angling.
Feels good when it all comes together!
#3 Tip: Finding Trout in the River…
It can be a daunting task going to a new river and trying to find fish, so how can you find more fish? The simple answer is to fish the areas where bull trout live. And where’s that you ask? Bull trout want to conserve energy throughout the winter months so you won’t find them in fast moving water. Bulls like medium slow to slow moving river sections in the winter months. Structure and protection is key, that’s why many of the bulls we catch are close to log jams or cut banks. This is especially true on sunny days when trout are looking for protection.
My tip for winter trout fishing is cover water as much as possible. It can be easy to get hung up on one spot, but if you’re not getting takes then there is usually no one home. You’re best to cover water at a medium pace, I’ll tell clients to cast three or four times and then take a step or two down river. If you can find some prime water, with a slow flow, some ‘jiggle’ on the surface and a depth of 4-6 feet that is where you’ll want to focus the majority of your efforts. Slow down and fish these section thoroughly.
Bull trout want to save energy in the Winter months. Fish slower moving sections of river with nearby protection, varied structure and shade.
#5 Tip: Choosing flies that bull trout like….
Bull trout are carnivores, they like an easy meal but want it to be meaty. In the Winter months theres a few different styles of bull trout flies you can go with. I’m a big fan of fishing streamers, but that’s not always the most effective method. You’re best to have two rods rigged when fishing, so you can switch methods or flies without much downtime.
Streamer Flies: Some great streamer flies for bull trout include the white zonker, egg sucking bunny leech, a variety of flesh patterns tied with rabbit strip and muddler minnows. My all time favourite bull trout fly is the “Mister March”, a simple pattern that has been very effective for me over the past 20 years. I put together step by step instructions on how to tie it here, you can thank me later.
Egg Flies: Egg flies fished under an indicator can be super effective when winter fly fishing. A variety of salmon egg patterns in different shades is what you’ll need. Very often bull trout are honed in on one colour and size of egg. It usually takes some messing around before getting the right colour and size combo.
Fry Patterns: As Spring hits salmon eggs begin to form into alvin. These are small salmon fry, just emerging from their eggs and using the egg as nutrient to grow. Alvin patterns are used more in the Spring months of March, April and May.
Indicator Setup: We do fish some indicators in the Winter months, it’s an effective method for presenting egg patterns to bull trout. Again Rio makes a good fly line that turns over indicators and longer leaders with their Xtreme Indicator fly line. A longer rod is nice when indicator fishing, it gives you the ability to ‘high stick’ with ease. I have a few custom 10 foot 6 weight rods that work excellent for keeping line off the water and effectively fishing an indicator.
My “Mister March”, one of my favourite bull trout flies every. You can learn how to tie it here.
#6 Tip: Safe handling of fish…
Bull trout are a hearty species but they deserve all our respect and care. Please release all bull trout in a safe manner and always fish barbless hooks. Be mindful not to touch the fish’s gills or squeeze them. Using a catch and release net helps to land fish safely, without pulling them onto the rocks. If air temperatures are cold, they’ll feel extra cold to a fish. This means you’ll want to keep them in the water as much as possible.
Always practice safe fish handling techniques, thank you.
Hope you enjoyed the read and learnt a few tips about fly fishing for bull trout in BC. If you’re like to go fishing with us you can visit our Vancouver fly fishing trips page or email me firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for visiting, please respect our resource and tight lines!
About the Author
Yos Gladstone is the owner operator of Chromer Sport Fishing, a guiding company and booking agency based in British Columbia, Canada. A full-time salmon & steelhead guide, Yos spends 200+ days a year on the water fishing, guiding and hosting trips.