Catalogue and Conquer – Troutin’

This year, I’ve decided on a new fishing journal for the winter season: Catalogue and Conquer. Rather than doing a numbers based approach/goal this season, I decided that I would rather focus on exploring new, and previously “found” waters. The main goal this year would be to intimately learn new and existing fisheries, and to give myself a broader range of opportunity in the coming years. The key there, is the word intimately. I wanted to actually learn and study each river I had interest in this year, rather than my shotgun approach of one and done that I did last year on the “Quest for 20.” Don’t get me wrong, the “Quest for 20” was an awesome experience – it pushed me to go a bunch of new places with a goal in mind, and highlighted the ones I wanted to spend more time on this year. This year, I would be slowing my approach down a little and taking it all in.

One of the many rivers that I’ve previously explored, and one that was high on the interest list this year. Previously we had hooked multiple fish out of here, but my goal this year was to finally get one to hand on what may very well be my favourite scenic flow on the island.

The season for me started in early December – and my focus at this time was to further my knowledge on island trout fisheries, rather than put my time in on early steelhead. From mid December through until the end of January, many Vancouver Island streams are seeing good numbers of coho spawning, but not too good. I find that trying to trout bead during peak spawn can sometimes be less productive (and more frustrating with accidental snags on salmon). Nearing the end of the spawning cycle, the trout are still seeing eggs (and therefore, the eggs are still seen as a food source and don’t look “odd”), but they aren’t seeing an enormous amount of eggs anymore. Being that the eggs are getting more scarce, the trout will move considerable distances for their last high protein meals before winter sets in. Being that the time of year was right, I set out with my 3 wt fly rod throughout December, to five different watersheds that I had previously “marked down” as good trout flows (often discovered while exploring for steelhead with high by-catch rates).

kitty big bow
A large by-catch rainbow from last year’s winter steelheading season, meant that this river was high on the priority list to explore during “trout bead madness.”

The first flow was one that I had the greatest confidence in. Previous years, this particular flow had produced large rainbows and cutthroat that we had often mistaken for steelhead on the first initial looks after a hook-up. I’m not all too sure why this particular river puts out monster resident fish, but it does, and I was more than happy to try and unlock its secrets to get consistently productive days.

A release
A large male resident rainbow getting his last looks of admiration before being sent off!

The first day started rather slow. We actually brought steelhead gear, being that this river does get early steelhead – but I also had the 3 wt tucked away in my backpack. The first run that always holds multiple rainbows was only holding one – and Mike got it behind me on spoons. The next run down only showed one fish – a small buck steelhead (or rather, looking back at it now, probably another large resident rainbow that is easily mistaken for a steelhead).

What appeared to be a small buck steelhead may have actually been a resident rainbow. It’s difficult to tell on this river within a certain size class. Typically, the rainbows will have some sort of previous angling injury, being that they are large, old fish. This fish was immaculate.

As we rafted our way down, it was becoming obvious why the trout were difficult to catch on trout beads currently. Every single one we caught was either on a large ticket item (pink worms or spoons while going for steelhead in the “steelhead runs”) and were so fat with eggs that I’m surprised they even made an attempt at anything else to eat. Numerous spawning coho scattered nearly every run, and at times became a nuisance on the spoon.

We eventually made our way down to the one run that always seems to hold a bunch of fish for whatever reason. It is quite a nice run I guess – the river braids up above and dumps all back together, with a huge number of logs along the backside. As soon as we got to it, Mike had a float down right away that looked “trouty.” I decided that I would toss a bead on my 3 wt here, as it was an easy section of river to cover with the fly. My first cast produced a cutthroat – they were here!

cool cutty
A close-up mug shot of a magnificent fish

Soon, I was into a number of good size trout. A solid mix of cutthroat and rainbows. The action on the beads was fast and furious for a good hour straight out of this fairly long, untouched run.

tank cutty
A large cutthroat taken on the bead on a 3 wt.

Although most of the largest fish were lost during this trip, it was still a great outing. We found five or six runs that were holding the large trout, and with the coho slowly dying off – my hopes soared for the upcoming trips.

I was back again fairly quickly, just after a water bump that had the river too high to fish for a few days. Another buddy (Mike) and I waded in and headed down to the ever faithful split run. I had told him that this river does indeed hold some early winter fish, and I was happy to have brought him. The first fish of the day out of the run was a beautiful winter steelhead buck that would have surely been a bit much for me on the 3 wt – but was the perfect size for his pin setup.

winter buck
A beautiful early season winter buck!

After letting Mike go through with the worm to clear out the steelhead, I threw in my trout bead. Again, the action was great. Mike actually hooked one other steelhead, and a very large rainbow, and I managed a good 3 or 4 trout. The highlight of this trip for me was most definitely one of my largest cutties ever, and most definitely my largest ever fly fishing caught Cutthroat.

huge cutty lift
An absolutely stunning cutthroat. This 23 inch doe put up a great fight and will be engraved in my mind for years to come. Most likely a once in a lifetime sea run coastal cutthroat!

I was elated to have caught that fish. Steelhead are a dime a dozen, but cutthroat that size are an incredibly rare breed of fish – I was beginning to think my choice to pursue trout instead of steelhead was now the right one. That thought was even further engraved into my head the next day when I managed this cutthroat on an entirely different system.

insane cutty edit
A massive 23 inch cutthroat doe. She was the same length as the one taken the day previous, but at least double the girth. It was awesome to see these giants returning to a number of systems. By the looks of her – she’ll hopefully be producing many more!
up and down edit
A perfect specimen

Could it get any better? Yes, it could! After that week of seemingly only finding big cutthroat, I started finding the big rainbows I had gone out searching for as well. I took a short video file of one of the nicer ones I landed in the two consecutive days following the cutthroat, you can watch it below:

A Big, Clean, Rainbow Trout Doe

After now having flogged the first two systems for a few days, it was time to head North to a couple of different ones to see if they would produce the same. Historically, these two systems had provided memorable days because of their exceptional trout by-catch fisheries. One of them is arguably my favourite island river.

A large rainbow caught on a previous year on a favourite system of mine

Now, as many people would know, the lower mainland and Vancouver Island portions of British Columbia had exceptionally high temperatures and droughts for extended periods of time this summer. I was fairly vocal on social media about leaving fish alone during this time period – as my last fishing trips to Vancouver Island at the start of July already had river temperatures peaking over 16C on most flows. I can only imagine how high the temperatures actually got, as after I left we had a 6 week period with air temperatures ranging 28C to 34C, and no days of rain. Fish mortality, specifically rainbow trout and steelhead mortality starts taking place around 20C (without angling). Yet, there were still numerous individuals fishing, holding fish in shallow warm waters, just to get a picture. I was often met with responses of “the fish swam away fine,” or “the water feels cold.” While both of these statements may be true, they may not paint an accurate picture of what’s going on without a thermometer in hand, and going back days later to see dead fish on the pool bottom. When I came back to the island in September, two of the rivers I measured ranged between 22 and 24 degrees celsius.

It appears my fears of fish dying seems to have been a real one. My adventures to my two favourite rivers were heartbreaking. I took the water temperature of one of them. It was mid December, after 4 or 5 snowfalls, and the river temperature was still 15.8C. Where I had caught literally up to 100 rainbows in a single day before, I now only found 3 – all in very, very poor condition (emaciated, dark, ratted fins, one with lesions). I still held hope – maybe the rainbows in this first system were just staying out of the river and had gone up into the deeper, cooler water of the lake. On to the next snow melt system. It was here that for the last 3 years we even had rainbows named. Residents of the same spots year after year that only got bigger as each season passed – easily recognisable by distinguishing features. I fished an entire 6 km section of river for only 2 resident fish – none of the residents who “owned” their holes were there, and again, the only two left had nothing left in them (as far as fight was concerned), and were emaciated and in very poor condition. I let those fish swim as fast as I could, hoping they would survive this ordeal, feeling bad that I had even caught them in the first place.

I’ve since gone back to those same two trout flows 3 different times now, once per month, to see if the fish ever showed up. The fish have never shown back up in any of them. This should be a stark reminder that it may be best to just leave the fish alone for a couple months during the summer doldrums – or you could risk losing them for a long time (I’m sure it will take those systems at least a handful of years to achieve fish quality like we experienced in the past). Now, I’ll only have pics to look back on of recognisable fish, like “gimpy,” who we caught 3 different years within the same 2 pools (he had put on 4 inches of growth each year).

Doubled up on a couple of 20 inchers. Cool side story on “gimpy.” Kitty had actually caught this same trout 2 years ago now. It was cool to see him again – this time 4 inches larger and in “much better” shape than the first time.

Being that a handful of my target flows seemed to be killed off from the heat wave – I went back to the rivers that were producing fish still. I took Kitty on a few consecutive weekends, and she too got into the awesome trout action. I’ve posted one video below to show how well these feisty critters were able to work over the glass 3 wt rod.

Kitty’s Trout Encounter

Kitty big bow
A very large resident rainbow that Kitty had the pleasure of shaking hands with.

Soon, the steelhead were showing up in larger numbers in all of my trout haunts. It got to the point where I had to go with both my pin and my fly rod. I’d toss a 6 inch worm through first to “sort out” the steelhead, and then run my beads through afterwards for the rainbows. It proved fairly effective, but there were still some steelhead that didn’t want the worm, and would gobble the bead on my first go resulting in some pretty interesting battles. Eventually, the steelhead even started to match the number of trout in the runs, or outnumber them at times. I decided that I would tuck the 3wt away at this point, and would move on, to actually fishing and targeting steelhead now.

Overall, the trout mission was a success. I was able to learn three new flows quite well, and got to the point where I could almost guarantee at least one hookup per day on a fish better than 20 inches. These fisheries, I’m sure, will provide a great deal of enjoyment in years to come. Occasionally, it pays off to change pace a little and do something completely different to keep your interest in the sport high. I know that the trout fishing, and figuring out their habits and haunts was full of satisfaction for myself. It truly was a great way to start off the year, just as this cutthroat was a great way to close out the “troutin'” season, and move on full time to steelhead.

Cutthroat doe
A large 21 inch cutthroat trout doe was a great last trout to end the early season on, before storing away my 3 wt rods.

At this point of my blog articles, I’d now like to encourage some discussion. If  you have any comments/questions about anything in the article, please feel free to share! Any questions about rod/reel/line set-ups, or the indicator rigs we were using can be asked about as well. Hopefully you’ve all enjoyed the start of this new series!



4 thoughts on “Catalogue and Conquer – Troutin’

  1. Another great adventure. I like your description of how you cleared a hole of steelhead prior to fishing for rainbows. It’s a concept that’s difficult for me to imagine. In the past decade I have successfully fished for Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. This year, I think I’m going to try something different. I’m currently in the process of exploring some new locations. Wish me luck ! Tight lines, always. BCT


    1. Haha, I’m sure it’s a hard concept for a lot of people to understand. I was all in on trout at the time. I’ve caught so many steelhead over the last 3 seasons that another one doesn’t mean all that much to me anymore. Large cutthroat and rainbows, especially out here, are much harder to come by. “Clearing” of steelhead WAS needed, cause let me tell ya, the 5 or 6 I hit on my 3 wt before I started “clearing,” were some pretty uncomfortable encounters, that resulted in more last gear than I wanted.


  2. Great stories Dan! You obviously are fishing the trout beads with the 3 wt fly rod, do you high stick it or use an indicator of some sort? Would like to know how you rig it if you wouldn’t mind sharing. Thanks!


    1. I personally like chucking little indicators around. I get more of a kick watching a float go down than feeling a tug. That being said, my 3 wt is only 7’6″, so the indicator also helps immensely with keeping drag free drifts on long casts.

      My setup is fairly simple. I tie my own tapered leaders. A 2 foot section of 15, a 7 foot section of 10 pound, and a 3 foot section of 6 pound normally gets the job done. I run a simple slotted indicator with a peg so that it “pops” on the hook set and free slides. I put a small split shot above the 6 pound section. I run a mottled orange 10 mm R&B trout bead (sliding), and a size 4 Gammy circle hook. The circle hooks are incredibly effective and have a really high landing and hook-up rate.


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