The Best Vancouver Island Fishing Lakes & Streams

Hugging the coast of British Columbia, Vancouver Island features spectacular scenery, old growth rainforests, towering mountain peaks and exceptional fishing. The laidback culture of the Island, along with a population infused with a love of the natural world, makes this place an angler’s dream. Here you will find world-class salmon and steelhead bearing rivers along with lakes teaming with a variety of trout and other species as well as some excellent shore fishing opportunities. Here are a few of the best lake and stream fishing destinations on the island.

Alice Lake

One of a series of good fishing lakes near the Port Alice Highway, Alice Lake offers some large rainbow, cutthroat and dolly varden. The best fishing is found between April and June, then from September to October when the fish are closer to the surface. Working the drop-offs around river and stream mouths is a good starting point. Downrigging equipment is a real asset, as you need to get your gear deep enough into the holding zones. Campsites and boat launches line the 1,218 hectare (3,010 acre) lake. Regulations include catch and release of all wild rainbow over 50 cm (20 inches) and a single barbless hook restriction.

Rainbow Trout

Beavertail Lake

From a pull out on the Elk River Main, found west of Campbell River, a boat launch provides access to this 103 hectare (255 acre) lake. A popular local fishing destination, Beavertail is stocked annually with the aggressive Blackwater strain of rainbow trout. While fly fishing and casting work to a degree, this 28 metre (90 foot) deep lake is best trolled for its cutthroat, dolly varden, kokanee and aforementioned rainbow. Best results occur from April to June, and again through September and October. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended to access this site.

Map Courtesy of BRMB Web Map

Bonanza Lake

Being big and deep, this 901 hectare (2,226 acre) lake, found along Main Road South to the southeast of Port McNeill, contains fair numbers of cutthroat, dolly varden, kokanee and rainbow. Steelhead and coho salmon also pass through the lake, which is best trolled in the spring and fall. During the summer, the fish tend to go deeper and with a 161 metre (528 foot) maximum depth, you will need a downrigger to land them. There are two popular recreation sites with campsites and boat launches on the lake.

Dolly Varden

Cameron Lake

This 43 metre (140 foot) deep lake is unique as it contains brown trout which can reach enormous sizes (6 kg/14 pounds). Best caught near the inlet of the river in November, these trout are notoriously hard to catch, but there are also rainbow, cutthroat and kokanee, all best caught by trolling. That said, fly anglers will find most of the typical hatches found on the island here. Cameron Lake is found 22 kilometres west of Parksville alongside Highway 4.

Map Courtesy of BRMB Web Map

Campbell River

Running for only 5 kilometres (3 miles), the Campbell River gets busy during the August-September chinook run and the September-November coho runs. Also, late summer runs of pink and sockeye, and fall runs of chum are seen in the river. There are also summer (June-October) and winter (mid-November to mid-April) runs of steelhead. Small numbers of rainbow trout as well as salmon are stocked into the river. Wild steelhead, trout and char are all catch and release.

Campbell River Fly Fishing

Comox Lake

Comox Lake is found 10 kilometres southwest of Courtenay. The large 2,100 hectare (5,190 acre) lake is very deep (109 metres/358 feet) and offers year-round fishing for cutthroat, dolly varden, kokanee and rainbow trout up to 2 kg (5 pounds). Trolling is the proven method to catch fish. A boat launch can be found at Cumberland Lake Park as well as at the northeast end of the lake off Comox Lake Main.

Comox Lake

Cowichan Lake

Cowichan Lake is one of the largest and most popular lakes on the Island. The 40 kilometre (25 mile) long lake has over 100 kilometres (60 miles) of shoreline to search for rainbow, cutthroat, kokanee, dollies and a few brown trout. The trout are said to grow to 3 kg (7 pounds), but you are more likely to catch one in the 1–1.5 kg (3 pound) range while the kokanee tend to be on the smaller side. The best time to fish the lake is in early and late winter as well as during the spring and fall shoulder seasons.

Map Courtesy of Vancouver Island BC

Cowichan River

The Cowichan is considered one of the best trout streams in the province. Holding three species of trout; brown, cutthroat and rainbow trout, it is the brown trout that get the most attention. It is common to catch browns in the 2.5 kg (5 pound) weight range, with stories of fish three times that size being landed! The Cowichan River Footpath provides good access to over 20 kilometres of this river and can be picked up at Skutz Falls or at the Cowichan Fish and Game Clubhouse on Robertson Road. Drift fishing is also a popular method on the Cowichan for all species.

Brown Trout

Dougan Lake

The easily accessed Dougan Lake is located next to the Trans-Canada Highway just north of the traffic light at the Cobble Hill Road junction. The lake holds fair numbers of stocked catchable size rainbow and wild cutthroat that are generally small, but can reach 1.5 kg (4 pounds) on occasion. Fly fishing and bait fishing in March–May and in September–October are your best bet here. Electric motor only boats can be launched at the end of the access road found on the east side of the lake.

Cutthroat Trout

Englishman River

This pretty, small volume stream runs 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Arrowsmith Lake to south of Parksville. The river is best known for steelhead although returns are low. The river has been sorely abused in the past and has been one of the most endangered streams on Vancouver Island but is improving through the conservation of habitat. Winter steelhead (February to April), which are now catch and release, fall chinook and coho (September-December), pink and sockeye in the late summer, chum throughout the fall, as well as some sea-run cutthroat in the estuary make their way through this highly regulated river.

Map Courtesy of BRMB Web Map

Glen Lake

Stocked every spring and fall with catchable sized rainbow, this 17 ha (42 acre) lake also sports feisty smallmouth bass and a few cutthroat. Trout anglers will find the lake is best fished for trout in March-June and again September-October after stocking. Close enough to Vancouver for a family fishing road trip, shore fishing is possible or head to the accessible fishing pier at Glen Lake Park. If the lake is busy, check out Langford Lake right next door which holds stocked rainbow and cutthroat along with smallmouth bass and perch.

Glen Lake

Great Central Lake

This large, deep lake has fair numbers of rainbow averaging 1 kg (2 pounds), dolly varden in the 3 kg (6 pound) range, cutthroat and salmon, which enter the lake from the Stamp River. Trolling in the spring or fall is best, especially near the creeks that run into the lake. There is plenty of shoreline to explore so patience is a key here. But don’t be surprised if you hook into a sockeye. These big, acrobatic fish have caught more than the odd trout angler off guard. Located off Branch 83 via Ash River Main, a pair of boat launches will get you out on the water.

Map Courtesy of BRMB Web Map

Nimpkish River

The largest river system on Vancouver Island, the Nimpkish boasts summer steelhead from June to September, winter steelhead from January to April, sea-run dolly varden in the spring, and resident cutthroat all year-round. In the winter, head to the old Duncan Bridge, a hole near Woss at the junction of Gold Creek, a bit further upstream of here at the powerlines, and downstream at the Eagle Nest Rest Area. June is a good time to find rainbow near the inlet into Nimpkish Lake. Also, all five species of Pacific salmon make runs up the river from the summer through to the late fall.

Stealhead Fly Fishing

Nitinat Lake

The deep Nitinat Lake is a fjord and as such it is tidal. Anglers here should expect to find good numbers of salmon (chinook, coho, chum and sockeye) during the fall spawning season. Try working the bluffs. Steelhead and coastal cutthroat trout are also found here. Access is via long gravel roads from either Port Alberni or Lake Cowichan.

Map Courtesy of Vancouver Island BC

Prospect Lake

Prospect Lake is a popular lake located north of Victoria. The lake has a good size population of stocked cutthroat and rainbow along with resident smallmouth bass. In the spring and fall, the 148 hectare (365 acre) lake has good fishing near the surface in the early morning and late into the evening with trolling being the preferred angling method. The northwest shoreline offers some nice drop-offs to work, while casting towards the rock ledges, logs and lily pads often produces exciting results.

Brook Trout

Qualicum River

The Big Q offers year-round cutthroat (best in the fall), rainbow in June, brown trout in November, strong runs of chinook and coho, and smaller runs of pink, chum and sockeye in the fall. Chinook, chum and coho are stocked into the river. Most fishing is done in the section between Horne Lake down to Qualicum Bay. Formerly a great steelhead river, stocks are still low and all wild trout and steelhead are now catch and release only.

Qualicum River

Shawnigan Lake

Shawnigan Lake is one of the more beautiful recreational lakes found on the Island. It is also one of the most popular. A paved road circles the lake, providing good access. The lake has fair numbers of rainbow and cutthroat averaging 40 cm (16 inches) in size along with a few small kokanee, smallmouth bass, whitefish and yellow perch. Catchable sized rainbow are stocked annually in the spring and fall to maintain the fishery.

Map Courtesy of Vancouver Island BC

Sooke River

The Sooke River is a pretty, short river that drains Sooke Lake into Sooke Harbour. A popular steelhead fishery, anglers flock here during the winter steelhead run and the fall salmon runs. Chinook, chum, coho and sockeye all make runs up the river from the summer going late into the fall, and there are also resident rainbow and sea-run cutthroat trout. Chinook and coho are supplemented with a stocking program. The river is best accessed from the west from Phillips Road and most of the fishing takes place in a stretch across from Sun River Estates.

King Salmon

Spectacle Lake

Found north of Victoria near the Malahat summit on the Island Highway, this 4 hectare (10 acre) lake is one of only a few brook trout fisheries on the Island. They can get to 40 cm (16 inches) in size, but most of the ones caught here are small. There are also some cutthroat and stocked spring and fall catchable rainbow along with unconfirmed reports of illegally introduced smallmouth bass.

Map Courtesy of BRMB Web Map

Thetis Lakes

Upper and Lower Thetis Lakes cover 35 hectare (86 acres) and offer catchable sized rainbow trout that are stocked several times a year along with cutthroat trout. Anglers will also find a good population of smallmouth bass and yellow perch. Most any trout fishing method will work for the indiscriminate rainbow, as they prefer cool water, with the fish being most active from March into June and again in the fall.

Thetis Lake

This is just a small sampling of the numerous lakes, streams and shore fishing opportunities found throughout Vancouver Island. With the numerous backroads and abundance of smaller lakes, it is not uncommon to find a backcountry lake or stream and have it all to yourself. Ready to head out and explore some of these great Vancouver Island lakes and streams? Pick up a copy of our Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook, the BC Backroad GPS maps, the BRMB Maps app & web map and of course, our new Vancouver Island Fishing Mapbook, which offers lake details, fishing tips, stocking information, directions and facilities information for all of the best lakes within the region.