The Southern region of Vancouver Island has salmon travelling through Juan de Fuca Strait each month of the year. Chinook salmon (kings) run every month of the year, with summer and fall producing the much-prized Tyee chinook (30 lbs plus). Mix in major migrating schools of pinks, sockeye, chum and coho, and you’re in for some incredible sport angling. Halibut fishing around Vancouver Island has moved front and centre, and is a game fish to be reckoned with. If a tug-of-war battle is to your liking, then test your skills on these powerful slabs of fish.
The southern end of Vancouver Island enjoys a favourable climate for year-round fishing. The four main areas in the south are Port Renfrew, Sooke, Victoria and Sidney. Numerous lakes and rivers hold steelhead (summer and winter runs) and trout (rainbow and cutthroat), which are joined by massive salmon runs in the fall. Along with excellent crabbing, bottom fishing and sandy beaches, this rugged area makes camping almost a year-round endeavour.
On the West Coast, Port Renfrew offers some of the richest waters around, blessed with incredible salmon and halibut catches. Large chinooks (kings) averaging in the 30-lb range are not unusual. The extra large, tackle-straining coho (silvers) are courtesy of the San Juan Salmon Enhancement Society. Their tireless work helps enhance Mother Nature and makes for incredible light-tackle and fly fishing opportunities.
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Trap Shack, Beechy Head, Church Island and Otter Point are a few names in the Sooke area that cause a glint in the eye of the saltwater angler. The Sooke area is known for fantastic salmon fishing, with halibut fishing now gaining a huge following on Vancouver Island.
The Sooke Basin is the staging ground for much of the salmon-fishing activity on the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island. As always, the best approach is to hire a local guide or stop in at one of the local marine businesses for the latest advice on where the fish are running and biting, and what lures and bait they’re attracted to. Canoes, boats, outboard motors, crab traps, and other marine-related items can all be rented in Sooke.
In the Sooke region, you’ll find excellent salmon fishing in the Sooke River, where the annual salmon run is best viewed from Sooke Potholes Provincial Park, just north of Hwy 14 in Sooke via Sooke River Road.
From Port Renfrew to Victoria, and around to Sidney, there are also sea-run cutthroat in many of the estuaries and off the beaches. If you time your trip with the fall salmon run, you can cast for them with gear or flies, as the pinks, cohos and sea-run cutthroats all chase bait fish close in to shore.
For freshwater fishing, the Cowichan River is perhaps the finest year-round trout stream in British Columbia, with its large brown trout (up to 10 lbs.) and resident rainbows and cutthroats. The generous Cowichan River offers world-class angling, with flyfishing-only areas and guided driftboat trips that access those hard to reach places with ease. We have the river; you have the trip of a lifetime!
Vancouver Island waterways are characterized by relatively short watersheds. The Cowichan River that flows through Cowichan River Provincial Park is an exception to this general rule. Anglers can cover much of the 12 miles (19 km) of the Cowichan River Footpath trails beside one of Vancouver Island’s most popular fly-fishing locales in one of British Columbia’s best fishing rivers and, according to knowledgeable sources, one of the world’s best salmon and trout rivers. To find the trailhead, head west of Hwy 1 in Duncan on Allenby Road, then south on Indian Road, then make three successive right turns onto Glenora, Vaux, and Robertson Roads. The trail begins from the parking lot of the Cowichan Fish and Game Association.
Both hatchery and wild steelhead fill the Cowichan River with their supercharged runs, powerful leaps, and bulldog battles. In the fall, massive salmon runs of chinook, coho and chum combine with winter steelhead to make angling a must!
Brown trout were successfully introduced here about a century ago, and coexist with the native stocks. Altogether, the oxygen-rich water supports ten species of trout, salmon, and char. A controversial weir controls the outflow of water from Cowichan Lake into the river, and guarantees stable streamflow conditions for most of the year. Big rainbow trout come down out of the lake to feed on salmon roe and overwinter in the river before returning to the Cowichan Lake by June. Chinook, coho, and steelhead that school in Cowichan Bay enter the river to spawn in November and December. There’s also a steelhead run in March.
One of the best places to launch a boat when fishing on Cowichan Lake is at Gordon Bay Provincial Park. There are dozens of parking places next to the ramps from which anglers pursue rainbow and cutthroat trout and dolly varden char. Springtime is best for trout fishing, before the lake really warms up. Keep it simple: use a float and a worm and a light spinning outfit. If you’re casting a fly or other artificial lure, a small boat or float tube helps you cover the water.
Although it’s hard to match the calibre of fishing in the Cowichan River, there are times when trolling or casting in a small lake suits the mood. You’ll find many such spots dotted around Vancouver Island. Few places on earth can boast such a rich endowment of healthy, free-flowing fresh water.
The Vancouver Island Trout Hatchery in Duncan is a worthwhile visit for everyone. Built in 1993, and owned by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, the hatchery stocks approximately 350,000 rainbow trout and cutthroat trout into 75 lakes, streams, and rivers on Vancouver Island and the surrounding islands each year. Visitors enjoy an extensive interpretive centre with over 30 displays showcasing wild fish conservation, fish habitat protection, and fisheries management practices.
For those in search of a boat ramp on the inlet, head north to Cowichan Bay, located 3 miles (5 km) east of Hwy 1. Launch beside the Pier 66 Marina on Cowichan Bay Road, where you can pick up much useful information, along with bait, fuel and supplies. There’s also a boat launch at end of Handy Road off Mill Bay Road, north of Bamberton Provincial Park, and you can also launch from the ramp at Crofton Beach in Osborne Bay Regional Park for saltwater fishing in Stuart Channel.
Spectacle Lake Provincial Park north of the Malahat is regularly stocked with rainbow trout, which means that you must get there early in the season for best results. As you look down through the lake’s incredibly clear water, you’ll see crayfish scuttling along the lake bottom. Spectacle Lake is located about 1 mile (2 km) west of Hwy 1 at Malahat Summit. The waters of the Saanich Inlet just east of Spectacle Lake are noted for their sport salmon fishing. You can launch a hand-carried boat from the beach at Bamberton Provincial Park to explore Saanich Inlet.
Fishing in Greater Victoria
Victoria has the winter chinook and halibut to keep anglers busy fishing the waters around Victoria, Oak Bay and Sooke all year round! Eager south island anglers always look forward to the large runs of summer and fall chinook, sockeye, pink, chum and coho salmon. These amazing fisheries are minutes away from downtown Victoria, and give you the option of splitting the day between fishing, shopping and sightseeing.
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Most of the island hotels, B&Bs and restaurants are used to cooking, packing and shipping your catch if you so desire. A better alternative, for the future of sport fishing, is to pack your camera or video camera with your fishing gear, and capture the fight and subsequent release of your fish.
Sidney is the place to head to for charters and fishing information in the Greater Victoria region. In Sidney in spring, saltwater guides have been releasing 20-lb chinooks (released in accordance with size regulations imposed to protect American Nooksack Salmon). Sidney will continue to enjoy a successful salmon season, while local halibut hotspots are in good numbers and bottom fishing is excellent.
From Port Renfrew to Victoria and around to Sidney, there are also sea-run cutthroat in many of the estuaries and off the beaches. If you time your trip with the fall salmon run, you can cast for them with gear or flies, as the pinks, cohos and sea-run cutthroats all chase bait fish close in to shore.
Next to the fall salmon run at Goldstream Provincial Park, which is a fantastic natural event that you can watch from very close quarters on the river bank, the spring herring run in Victoria’s Gorge waterway is one of the major events of the year in local waters, with the bonus that the fat, sardine-like fish are easier to catch.