In search of Bulls
Around this time every year we start getting the urge to traipse off into the Cascade Mountains in search of Bull trout. Ty, Craig, and good fishing compadre, Moses Itkonen got up before the sun and made the long drive east from the coast into the mountains. The destination was the highly coveted Skagit River.
The Skagit River is a 241km long river that winds from its headwaters in Manning Provincial Park, BC, through the Skagit Vally Provincial park, Ross Lake National Park, North Cascades National Park, past the Ross Lake, Diablo, and Gorge Dams and out into Pugent Sound. You know there is something special about this system if it has two provincial and two national park protecting its upper sections.
The river was an important spawning home for Chinook, Coho, Pink, Chum, Sockeye, and Stealhead before the dams started going up in 1921. the building of these dams did trap some huge steelhead and coastal Cutthroats in the upper sections which have managed to take stake a permanent claim and make a home. The salmon no longer come up into Canada which is a shame as we have heard it would be stacked with spawning salmon 100 years ago. The upper sections of the Skagit in Canada hold many species that can still be fished, although with strict regulations.
Bull trout, Dolly Varden, Rainbow Trout (with those old steelhead genes) , and Coastal Cutthroat trout are all native species in the system. After the Ross Lake dam went up and Ross Lake reservoir was formed, West Slope Cutthroat and Brook Trout were introduced to the lake. As of now we have not heard of the West Slopes migrating into the upper Skagit but the Brookies have been caught in the lower sections closer to Ross Lake. In addition they have been spawning with the Bull trout and now the upper Skagit is one of the few places in the Pacific Northwest where you can catch the Bull/Brook hybrids. An unfortunate pressure put on the native species.
We arrived at the river around 8am, geared up and made our way to the water.
As luck would have it Moses and Craig were immediately into Rainbows within the first couple of casts. What a great start to the day.
We spent the rest of the day wading from hole to run switching between dry flies on float lines for the trout and big streamers on full sink lines for the Bulls.
Both Ty and Craig have a special affinity for Char (Bulls and Brooks are their favourites respectively) and Moses had never caught a Bull trout yet, so that was our main mission. Get into some Char and land a few Rainbows along the way.
Ty was the first to hook a Bull in a long deep run. A beautiful buck that literally took his steamer as it hit the water.
You could tell by its colouring the spawn is not too far off.
After he caught and released his prize, we noticed quite a few more in the run. But not for a lack of trying, we were thwarted and decided to move on up river to another hole.
After catching a few nice rainbows and sighting a few big unwilling bulls at a log jam we came upon a beautiful picturesque pot that we knew had to be holding some big Char. Moses was the first to hook up and man it was an impressive beast of a bull.
The way he played and landed this fish you would have hardly known it was his first time battling a bull trout. Which is kinda like reeling in a small tractor.
A few quick pics and we let her swim free.
Craig was up next and wasted no time in sight fishing a nice bully. Seeing it in a shallower section across the hole, he casted right above and to the side of it and started stripping as soon as the line indicated the fly was right over it. Fish on!
This was a great crew to fish with. No attitude, no snaking, no low holing, spot generosity and a full team effort netting every fish. Lots of sweet skate talk, conspiracy theories, shared knowledge, more than a few laughs and cheers, a full day of wading, and many fish between us.
Can't wait to do it again.