Fishing Guides: Central Vancouver Island

In Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley, anglers seek out the good fishing locations mentioned below. Quamichan Lake east of Duncan in the Cowichan Valley has good trout fishing. You can launch a car-top boat at Art Mann Park on Quamichan Lake. To reach the park, follow Trunk Road east of downtown Duncan to Tzouhalem Road, then Maple Bay Road to Indian Road, which leads to the park. Quennell Lake near South Wellington is known for its good smallmouth bass and trout fishing, as is Holden Lake (launch at Hemer Provincial Park) near Yellow Point.

Long Lake and Brannen Lake are situated 3 miles (5 km) north of Nanaimo centre. They’re both easy to locate on opposite sides of Hwy 19. Follow Norwell Drive east of the highway to Louden Park on Long Lake, or Dunster Road west of the Nanaimo Parkway to Brannen Lake. There are trout and smallmouth bass at Long Lake; cutthroat and rainbow trout at Brannen Lake.

Click for a Map of Central Vancouver Island.

There’s excellent bank casting for rainbow and cutthroat trout on the Englishman River, either near the river mouth on the Strait of Georgia near Parksville, or in Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. There is also a steelhead run in the Englishman River. Unfortunately, a decline in salmon stocks has forced closures on fishing for a number of species, so be sure to check in advance with the Wildlife Conservation Officer in Port Alberni, 250-724-9290.

Over the past century, brown trout have been successfully introduced to a number of Vancouver Island rivers, such as the Cowichan River and the Little Qualicum River. The best access to the river for bank casting is at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. You’ll also find good trolling and boat casting in Cameron Lake, part of which also lies within the park. There’s a boat launch at the picnic grounds on Cameron Lake.

The annual fall salmon run at the mouth of French Creek as it enters the Strait of Georgia, 3 miles (5 km) north of Parksville, attracts anglers to the French Creek Marina and the public boat launch adjacent to the federal dock and the Lasqueti Island ferry. The community of French Creek is located on Hwy 19A, and is well marked.

Spider Lake Provincial Park northwest of Qualicum Beach is renown locally for its smallmouth-bass and trout fishing. The lake is stocked regularly, so for best results come in early spring before it warms up, or wait until fall to try your luck once temperatures begin to drop. No motorized boats are allowed on the lake. Launch car-top boats from the beach beside the parking lot. Follow the signs west of Hwy 19A on Horne Lake Road to reach Spider Lake Provincial Park. After passing Spider Lake, the road follows the shoreline of Horne Lake to the headwaters of the Qualicum River. The lake is 5 miles (8 km) long and about 1 mile (1.5 km) wide, and features good boat fishing year round for cutthroat, rainbow, and kokanee trout.

North of Qualicum Beach is the small oceanside community of Deep Bay, a town seemingly devoted to angling. Mapleguard Point is the elbow of an arm and spit that protect Deep Bay’s natural harbour beside much larger Qualicum Bay. Rich salmon grounds lie in the bay near the Norris Rocks, Chrome Island, and Eagle Rock. Chinook salmon in the 20-pound range top the scales each year in these waters. Just north of Deep Bay on Hwy 19 you’ll find Rosewall Creek Provincial Park, a small roadside park devoted to riverbank casting at the entrance to Qualicum Bay.

Comox Lake, west of Cumberland on Comox Lake Road, has good freshwater fishing for trout and char year round. Boaters must be aware of the strong winds that rise in the afternoon on the large, dammed lake. You’ll find a boat launch at the west end of Comox Lake Road.

Some of the best saltwater fishing on Vancouver Island, particularly for salmon, can be found in the waters of the Strait of Georgia north of the Puntledge River Estuary, between Courtenay and Comox, and also off Cape Lazo, King Coho, and Bates Beach, just north of Comox. Because of its sheltered location and an absence of dangerous currents, the shoreline around Comox is well suited for rod fishing in a small boat. If the weather does change, you can see it coming and quickly make for shore. Shore angling for salmon is popular in Comox Bay from August to November.

The closer you get to Campbell River, the better the salmon fishing becomes. Tidal flows in Discovery Passage churn up clouds of nutrients that sustain a complex food chain, which includes tasty salmon near the top.

You’ll find a boat launch at the marina at Pacific Playgrounds Resort on Clarkson Drive in Saratoga Beach in the town of Black Creek, 10.5 miles (17 km) north of Courtenay on Hwy 19, and another at aptly named Salmon Point in Black Creek.

Fly fish for coho in September at the mouth of Black Creek, which flows through Miracle Beach Provincial Park into the Strait of Georgia, as well as farther north at Oyster River on Hwy 19.

Campbell River bills itself as the Salmon Capital of the World. Located halfway up the east coast of Vancouver Island, Campbell River is a friendly community situated in the middle of some of the best fishing grounds on Vancouver Island. One of the four main fishing centres on Vancouver Island, the city is internationally famous for both its ocean and freshwater fishing. Along with great salmon fishing, there is also a wide variety of other fishing opportunities. Campbell River is hard to beat for fishing action and diversity, as it is within 15-40 minutes of some of the hottest fishing spots along the Inside Passage, and central to several river systems that are home to steelhead, trout and salmon.

Salmon fishing is a year-round activity in Campbell River. With resident winter chinook salmon present through the winter months, fisherman head out on the quiet waters for great winter fishing and prawning. In mid June, the annual runs of transient chinook start arriving, joined in mid July by large runs of migrating pink, coho and sockeye salmon. This is the fishery that has made Campbell River famous. In late September, large numbers of chum salmon start to dominate the waters. With the strength of a chinook, and the acrobatics of a coho, the chum salmon put up a fight to remember! Bottom fish such as ling cod, rock cod, snapper and halibut are also found in local waters.

The twice-yearly steelhead runs on the Quinsam River and Campbell River are as well known as the run on the Cowichan River, while the year-round salmon fishing in Discovery Passage is unmatched. The Quinsam flows into the Campbell just inland from the Strait of Georgia. As it meets the ocean at the north end of town, the Campbell broadens into an intertidal estuary. The fishing calendar here has a summer steelhead run scheduled from June to October, with a winter run between November and April. Chinook (king) salmon are in residence year round in Discovery Passage, which also hosts successive runs of coho (June to September), tyee (July to September), sockeye (August), pink (August and September), and finally chum (September to November).

For the freshwater fisherman, there are also year round fishing opportunities. Steelhead are present year round, with both summer runs and winter runs moving through the local rivers. These fantastic fighters will take on a fly, spoon, or artificial egg pattern, and put on a terrific display, taking long runs and making spectacular jumps. There are also trout present in the local rivers year round, as well as seasonal runs of salmon. With pinks, chinooks, coho and chums packing the local rivers in the fall, the fishing action is non stop.

The wealth of the salmon fishery in Discovery Passage between Campbell River and Quadra Island is so legendary that a special ritual has grown up around it over the past century. Called tyee fishing, this method has stringent requirements, but success buys instant membership in the exclusive Tyee Club of BC, the oldest fishing club in BC. Tyee is the appellation given a chinook (king) salmon when its weight exceeds 30 pounds (13.5 kg). Anglers must abide by regulations that stipulate a minimum catch weight of 30 pounds, hooked with an artificial single-hook lure fastened to a maximum 20-pound (9-kg) test line. Oh, and you have to be in a rowboat. Considering the size of an average tyee, make sure it’s a big rowboat! The official weigh-in station is at the Tyee Club House beside the boat launch on Tyee Spit, east of Hwy 19 on Spit Road in Campbell River. The rowing season is open between August 15 and September 15, and at first light and last light the Tyee Pool is filled with rowboats quietly stalking the prized Tyee.

The waterfront in Campbell River appears to be one massive marina. In fact, there are three saltwater marinas, as well as a freshwater marina at the mouth of the Campbell River. Government Marina and Discovery Pier are located at the south end of the harbour on South Island Hwy (Hwy 19). Almost as many salmon are caught off this pier that juts out into Discovery Passage as farther offshore. Local ritual requires that at the cry of ‘fish on,’ all other anglers reel in and stand aside as the lucky soul manoeuvres the (unlucky) salmon ashore.

Saltwater fly fishing is becoming popular once again, and it is not hard to understand why. Imagine holding your breath as you watch a giant chinook salmon rise through crystal-clear shallows to take your fly. Or visualize a picture taken on a boat of you and your favourite fly rod with a glistening coho about to be released. Unforgettable!

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