Want to Bag A Bull Trout?

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

It is no secret that bull trout are in trouble across much of their range, but they are still found in fishable numbers in parts of British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

The bull trout (a char) is a colorful fish with back and flanks of olive or brown, sprinkled with red, orange, pink and yellow spots. His belly is white and his tail forks slightly. His head is long and broad. Slow-growing, he may live for twelve or more years, reaching 30 pounds when food is abundant. 

At The Angling Report, subscribers and writers have fished some of the best bull trout waters in both Canada and the United States. Their online reports, available at www.anglingreport.com, detail where and when to go, and who to contact. 

Bull trout numbers have dwindled because of the introduction of eastern brook trout, another char. When the species mingle, bull trout lose. Brookies reproduce earlier, are more prolific, and slowly replace bull trout. In recent years, state agencies have encouraged the retention of brook trout to reduce this effect.

Populations in Oregon's Metolius River system are in good shape. Bull trout have thrived in the rich waters of Lake Billy Chinook at the mouth of the Metolius.

Some reservoirs obliterate the landscape, leaving little trace of the history and geology beneath the surface. But at Lake Billy Chinook, it's not hard to imagine the old river channels – the Deschutes, the Crooked and the Metolius, and their confluence, now obscured by 4,000 surface acres and up to 415 feet of water.

You may find bull trout in all arms of the lake. If you fish the Metolius channel, you'll need a Warm Springs Reservation fishing permit, available in Culver on the way to the water.

Billy Chinook bulls average 18 inches up to 10 pounds. Every year, fish in the low teens are caught. Oregon's state record bull trout came out of this lake in 1989, a fish that tipped the scales at over 23 pounds. Anglers are allowed to keep one bull trout (24 inches or larger) per day at Billy Chinook. Once a fish is kept, the fisherman must stop fishing.

An 8-weight fly rod equipped with a sinking line is a good choice to chase bulls in the early spring. Clean the line before you go to make longer casts. Two- to eight-inch streamers that imitate silver-sided kokanee or red-eyed smallmouth bass are the best bets.

When a bull trout feeds, it grabs its prey by the head or slams it sideways, crushing it between its two rows of sharp, hooked teeth. The bulls chase the kokanee up into the shallow bays and rip through the frightened baitfish. When the water is clear, you can see bulls chasing their prey near the surface. Cast beyond the fish and strip-strip-strip the fly back.

In clear water, employ olive and white streamers with big eyes. When the water is murky, yellow streamers are a better option. Make the fly dart and pause like a skulking smallmouth or flash like a careless kokanee.

The kokanee (landlocked sockeye salmon) are the bull trout's main food source and are found in shallow water early in the year. The season opens March 1 and the fishing improves in April as the water warms and fish get active. When the lake warms up in mid-May, the kokanee and bull trout go deeper and are harder to find.

In 2005, I fished Lake Billy Chinook with guide Brett Dennis of Central Oregon Stillwater Outfitters, Tel. 541-598-0008. I landed a 29-inch bull trout with a girth of 15.5 inches and a weight of 10.5 pounds. Because I kept the fish, I was finished. For the rest of the afternoon, I watched and worked the net as Brett landed and released five more bulls that ranged in size from 12 to 27 inches. His largest, an eight-pounder, coughed up a nine-inch kokanee.

I booked a trip with Brett Dennis again in May of 2008 and I asked him to fish with me. In three hours time, I landed three fish and lost a couple bigger ones; Brett caught five. The fish we brought to hand measured between 14 and 20 inches.

Dennis provides deli sandwiches, chips, snacks, sodas and water picked up at a local delicatessen.

Brett Dennis loves to chase big fish and the Lake Billy Chinook bull trout fishery is his favorite trip early in the spring. A day on the water takes about eight hours. Depending on the schedule, Dennis might guide the trip or assign the run to one of his guides. 

Anglers fly to the Redmond, Oregon airport (RDM) and can stay at a hotel in Redmond or Bend. Dennis arranges to pick up anglers at their hotel on the way to the lake.

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