I don’t know what it is about bull trout, but I am fully addicted. It could be their elusive nature, and no, I don’t mean they are hard to catch. What I do mean is they are often hard to find. Once you do find them, it can be a lights out experience. Though, it could also be just the sense of unknown they place upon my fishing adventures. That when you’re out fishing a river that has bull trout, you just never know when a monster bull is going to grab on and not let go. This could be them grabbing your fly or a fish you’ve already hooked. There is just something so special about looking down into a deep and dark fishing pool and not knowing what lurks beneath. Yet, my hope is that a big bull is waiting below to be stirred up and awoken.
However, as I said previously, bull trout aren’t always hard to catch, but there are times of the season that can prove downright challenging for them. Furthermore, it’s important to know when to pack up the fly rod when bull trout are trying to do their thing. So, you ask, what are some tactics one can use during the different times of the year? Well my dear reader, let’s dive in!
The spring is an amazing time to hunt for bull trout. The water levels are still quite low, meaning the fish are still stacked up in their wintering holes. Bull trout become more predictable, and you can find them in many of the deep holes you can scour. However, unfortunately for me, Alberta is a province where the majority of the rivers are closed until June, leaving fewer options to hunt for these beauties. However, if you’re lucky enough to get to fish for them, here are some of my helpful hints:
- Use big stuff! Bull trout in the spring are very aggressive. They will chase giant flies if they see them.
- Fish the soft water! Bull trout, like other fish, don’t want to waste a lot of energy fighting the current.
- Head for the bridges! Bridges typically have big holes under them where the big bulls lurk.
- Get your flies deep! Similarity to bulls hanging out in the soft water, deeper waters are easier for a bull trout to conserve energy. Plus, the closer you are to the fish, the less energy they need to expend to get to your fly.
- Don’t be afraid to nymph! If the big stuff isn’t cutting it, drop down to something smaller and try to drift it close to where the bulls are. A bull may want to save its energy and decide against chasing your big fly, but it will be hard to resist a meal that is so close.
Ah, summer! Your favorite time to fish! The sun is out and the fish are hungry. It’s time to put away the waders and get the wading socks out. During the heat of the summer, bull trout have long started their journey up towards their spawning grounds. This means the fish are more spread out and can be found in more random areas of the river and they make their way towards the spawning ground. Now that the summer heat is in full swing here is how I play it:
- Fish the tail out waters of bigger holes! Often the bull trout will stop to rest during the day after travelling upstream at night. They will rest in the sun just below big pools to regain their energy for the journey upward.
- Try some smaller stuff! As the summer gets later, the fish are less and less willing to chase big flies around. Instead, they will focus their energy on their long journey home. However, a meal that is presented close to their nose might entice them enough to bite.
- Head higher up earlier to chase the big boys! I’ve found that the biggest fish seem to be the first to travel. This means if you’re chasing trophies you might wanna go higher, sooner.
- Put away the rod after August 15th! We all need to give these wonderful creatures a rest. Realistically, after August 15th they are in full spawn mode. It’s best to leave them alone to do their thing.
The fall is one of my favourite times of the year to fish. Many of the anglers have gone back to work or school, leaving the rivers free for me to wander around in solitude. For bull trout though, the beginning of the fall means they are till spawning. It’s best to wait until October to start fishing for them again. So, the bulls are headed home, what so you do? Let’s start here:
- Head to where rivers meet lakes! The bulls that are adfluvial are those that over winter in lakes. These are often the biggest bulls and will be making their way back to their wintering lakes. Bull trout will be heading back in droves, meaning if you’re fishing where they have to pass by, you should do well.
- Back to the big flies! This time of year, the bulls are extra hungry. Toss on the big stuff and swing it by them. Remember to hold on tight!
- Look for the fish to be in the faster water! Bulls will be using the current to their advantage. They will be trying to get home quick to rest up in their wintering holes.
- Be careful handling them! Remember, the bull trout have just finished a battle! They will have scars and need to be kept wet as much as possible.
You must be a very brave or very stupid to be wading through waist deep snow to fish. I fall under the latter category. However, I love fish fishing in the winter. Beyond the frozen guides and icy temperatures, winter fishing means complete solitude. No one will be as stupid as you to go chase bulls in the winter, but little do they know, it can be a magical time… if you can find them. Here’s how:
- Slow it down! In the winter, the fish are looking to save as much energy as possible. It’s really important to get the fly right in front of the fish.
- Fish smaller! It’s easier to drift a smaller nymph towards a resting bull than to strip streamers.
- Find the pod! Here’s the weird thing, bulls move around a lot in the winter. They pod up, or travel in groups, and follow the food.
- Use pink! There is something about pink that trout can’t resist in the winter. I find pink San Juans are irresistible in the winter time!
- Look for the sun! Bull trout love sunning in the warm sunshine. Look for the softail water where the sun hits the water. Avoid waters that are in the shadow of trees or other obstacles.
Bull trout are some of the most exciting fish an angler can chase. They provide an element of mystery, while still being relatively easy to catch. Often it’s the finding part that seems to be difficult. However, with perseverance and the right tools a good fisherman can spend the day with his rod bent.