HomeFeaturesBest Practices for River Fishing on Vancouver Island

Best Practices for River Fishing on Vancouver Island

In light of the economic and health challenges brought about by the COVID pandemic, Canadians have looked to alternate activities to keep busy, keep active, and perhaps provide lower cost food options. Not surprisingly, my fishing mates and I have noticed an ever-higher number of fishermen on the central island rivers during this year’s salmon season.

There are several obvious reasons for this: River fishing is fun, and anglers can enjoy it easily while social distancing. Fishing can provide good physical exercise and food for one’s family. Additionally, with so many sporting, festival, and other events canceled or restricted, people are seeking out new hobbies (or renewing old ones) to stay occupied.

Freshwater fishing on Vancouver Island

I always welcome newcomers to sportfishing. Over the years, I have trained many newbies to fish for trout and salmon, and I’ve happily watched them embrace the sport. How else can any hobby or profession be passed on if veterans don’t pass along their knowledge and experience to newcomers?

Unfortunately, with so much added fishing pressure and so many new anglers come bad habits and practices and exacerbation of existing ongoing issues. Remember—conservation, fishing ethics, and observing regulations is everyone’s responsibility.

Here are some important guidelines to follow when fishing.

Respect and Share

It’s important to remember not everyone has the same casting/fishing ability. Therefore, some anglers can cast in tighter conditions than others. Give fisherman adequate spacing, for more than one reason.

Social distance fishing best practices

If in doubt ask—be polite and courteous, just as you would be if you’re in a lineup at the market. Also, let others have a chance. If you have caught your limit or fished for hours, let someone else have an opportunity at the spot. I have witnessed some heated situations this season on the rivers, and all were totally avoidable if anglers just respected their fellow fisherman/women.

Vancouver Island Freshwater Regulations

There is no excuse for not knowing the freshwater regulations that govern the body of water you’re fishing. Every angler is responsible for knowing their limits and gear restrictions. Accidental snagging can happen; just quickly release the fish and move on. Knowingly snagging and/or keeping snagged fish is an offense and never acceptable. Pinch your barbs, which aids in release and often will naturally release snagged fish. You can contact the Department of Fisheries to report polluters, poachers, and illegal fishing at 1-800-465-4336 or [email protected].

Click here for Vancouver Island Freshwater Regulations

Fish Retention or Release

Some anglers harvest while others practice catch and release. Don’t be prejudiced towards either. Additionally, practice proper harvesting—land the fish, then humanely and quickly put it down. Too often I see harvested fish flopping on shore for 5 or 10 minutes. On the flip side, if you want that trophy photo and plan to release the salmon, do it quickly. Keep the fish in the water or lift it quickly just out of the water for that treasured picture. Also ensure the fish is revived before letting it swim away.

River fishing—fish handling & reviving

Poor catch-and-release techniques kill many fish needlessly. Landing large salmon can be challenging. I like using a net; if used properly, it’s less disruptive to the fish and less stress on your gear. I find once a salmon is in a net the fish calms down, but you must keep the net half submerged. If you lift the salmon out of the water it will instinctively struggle.

River fishing with net


If you packed it in, pack it out. Furthermore, clean up your trimming and line waste. For weeks this season, I hauled out nets full of line waste, cans, plastic, and miscellaneous food items. Don’t leave it for the next person, and understand that when water levels rise with increased runoff, that shoreline might become submerged and that waste will wash down river and perhaps even into the ocean.

Garbage at fishing site

Perhaps the increased on-land fishing pressure is here to stay. If that is the case, we must protect our natural resources more than ever before. I have salmon fished in Japan, Australia, Chile, and United States. I know how superb Vancouver Island’s salmon fishery is, so let’s work together, stay vigilant, and all be stewards of our beautiful rivers.


  • Respect all anglers—give each other space and take your turn
  • Follow all regulations
  • Treat fish humanely, whether releasing or harvesting
  • Pack in, pack out—take all your waste with you

About the author: Shaun Hellmich has over 20 years of fishing experience catching many species of fish from several countries over four continents. He specializes in river salmon fishing and lake/river trout fishing. More recently he added estuary/tidal and beach salmon fishing to his ever growing skill sets. While living in Australia he took up spearfishing and continues this side interest when vacationing in the tropics. Shaun’s main hobbies are fishing, adventure motorcycling, hunting, and mountaineering. Traveling for work and pleasure is a big part of his overall lifestyle; therefore he coordinates those interests around his work all the while planning the next international adventure trip. Shaun was even featured on the original Canadian TV series Mantracker, “Shaun & Vanessa”. With all these great skills and experiences he is excited to give back to the fishing, adventure, and traveling communities. Island Fisherman magazine is proud to welcome Shaun to the editorial team.

Saun Hellmich


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