Why Bull Trout Have Become The Next Big Thing

If you were to take a look at all social media hubs for fly fishing, particularly the sources from western North America, you would notice the increasing popularity of the Bull trout. Recently (in the past 2-3 years), Bull trout have become the "ideal" social media fish. The fact that they can obtain lengths of 3 feet, and have the "trout" in their name (even though they are not true trout) are likely the 2 reasons fly fishing fanatics have become so fixated on the species. 

If you went back 30-40 years, you would find their carcasses littered along the banks. This was mostly due to the fact that anglers considered them to be a nuisance. These predators would consistently emerge from the depths and attack the struggling 12" west slope cutthroat that had decided to attach itself to a hook. The stubborn bulls that wouldn't let go by the time said angler had them to shore, typically ended up in the bushes. Bulls were largely blamed for the decrease in trout populations, rather than the thought that perhaps people were just taking too many trout for themselves. A bounty was placed on their heads. 

Still to this day, bull trout will emerge from the depths, to attack struggling trout. Many old timers still think these are malicious creatures but things have changed. Alberta and most of BC is now strictly catch and release on these "destructive" char, and things have entirely turned around. While some populations still struggle, many populations have rebounded. Bulls tend to live in pretty barren environments. Its not something the average weekend warrior angler knows. When we target these fish in the early/late months of the year, we can do significant harm to populations. You can have an entire rivers summers worth of fish packed into the 2-3 km if few wintering holes are available. Its very easy to make an impact, regardless of catch and release regulations. Few anglers know how to properly handle big fish, and we see this in fish that are caught time and time again. The same can be said about targeting fish under fish barriers (waterfalls, dams, movement impeding structures). You can have the bulk of an adult population of fish on the move to their spawning grounds, and doing harm to the few adult spawners that there are, can cause issues for the future of bull trout. 

Now, I am almost entirely trying to educate those about what is actually going on when we're fishing bull trout. Anyone who has ever fished bull trout is guilty of doing so at one point or another (ourselves included). For those that don't fish bull trout regularly they're damn easy to catch if you know the migration, and their prime feeding season. The "big" ones at times can be tricky to locate. What's actually considered big by bull trout standards is 30 legitimate inches plus. There's absolutely nothing difficult about catching bull trout in their prime. White buck tail jigs from your local fishing shop will do the job pretty well better then anything. We cross the line as to what exactly "fly fishing" for bull trout really is. The second you're throwing triple articulated cone head, lead weighted streamers for any type of trout, I think we all have to realize we're simply just angling for bulls. There's nothing pretty about it.

Bull Trout are truly in their prime from May-First week of August, after that, things get messy. One thing that I would like to clarify to readers, and something that irks many professionals, is the way bull trout angling is now marketed in fly fishing industry. A certain fishery in south east BC (Kootenay region) has really led the way for showing people how to target boot bulls in their spawning/staging holes with egg patterns and indicators. Along with the glorified picture of a 30" colored up bull caught late summer/fall being posted on Instagram, time after time, with the idea that angling small creeks once the bulls have reached their destination is the way it should be done. There are many things in the fly fishing world more impressive then bright red/orange bull trout that fight like wet rags, and this goes for all bull trout fisheries typically past August 15th (with exceptions). If angling other trout on their redd's is frowned upon, how come angling mature spawning bulls bottle necked in creeks when the time comes is met with "ooohs, aaaahs, sick, nice work dude, killer slab!"?

Don't get me wrong, I'm entirely obsessed with fishing bull trout. The places they take you are typically pretty easy on the eyes. But with obsession and getting to know a species, you begin to appreciate them on different levels and they should gain your respect. I've personally witnessed some revolting things done just to hook dark bull trout on some southern Alberta waters and it really isn't pretty. In some locations, bull trout are swimming with barbed hooks and pickeral rigs attached along their bodies. Locations where bull trout just can't move, perhaps because of water levels, they are preyed upon by greed and are hooked and landed dozens and dozens of times. Some of these old bulls have lived through many years and have met the hands of many individuals. They deserve just as much respect as any other trout. They bring myself and others much joy, but we as conservation minded individuals need to realize our impact.

Catch them when they're chrome, Not orange.