February and March mark the prime time for winter steelhead fishing on Vancouver Island. Every steelhead river on the Island will have fish in it and February sees runs of fresh fish coming into the most popular rivers like the Cowichan near the town of Duncan and the Gold River near the town of, well, Gold River. Rivers like the famous Stamp River of Port Alberni, which sees some of the earliest returns of winter steelhead, are still going strong with fish throughout the system. Even rivers with smaller runs are at their prime time for winter steelhead.
Take, for example, the Salmon River, which is found on Northern Vancouver Island and flows through the small community of Sayward. This river is not known for its big run of winter steelhead, but rather for its run of big winter steelhead. As in 25 to 30 pound steelhead. When you drift down this gravelly river you will see them holding in their favourite pocket water and think to yourself that you have spotted an early run of Chinook salmon because these fish are that big. They will expose neglected lines and poorly tied knots with one flick of their big square so make sure, as I always do, that your gear is in tip top shape . However, do not fall into the trap of thinking you need higher test leader because these fish are notoriously spooky and give a whole new meaning to the term “leader shy”.
No matter which river you decide to fish, there are plenty of great places to stay and as the days start to lengthen and warm this is a great time of year to experience the beauty of wild winter steelhead fishing on the wonderful rivers of Vancouver Island.