Fish Species Guide
MEET THE CAST! – British Columbia’s rivers are well known throughout the world for their salmon runs. The species guide below includes fish you will find on our rivers as well as our lakes. Some of our lakes are stocked with only one species, others have a mixture of fish which can total more than a dozen species, creating an abundance and variety that makes BC, the finest freshwater fishing destination in the world.
Has a diverse diet ranging from smaller fish including those of its predators (including Northern Pike, Walleye) to zooplankton, insects and crustaceans. Less active at daytime and tends to be found in weed beds and under submerged objects like logs and boulders. A popular choice for ice-fishing as they are active during the winter.
Look for: Mouth extends to front edge of pupil
Location: Chilliwack Lake, Mill Lake
A misnamed member of the char family often found in the cooler streams and smaller mountain lakes as they can survive harsh winter conditions better than their counterparts. Their diet consists mainly of insects and shrimp. They put up a good fight and make a nice meal!
Look for: Red spots with blue halos, worm-like markings on back and dorsal fin, Pinkish-orange paired fins edged in white.
Location: Lindeman Lake
A member of the char family, noted for having a large head. They prefer cold clean water and spawn in the fall. They feed mainly on insects, eggs and small fish. Being a slow growing and vulnerable fish, they are often subject to regulations to prevent over fishing.
Look for: Large, broad flattened head, upper jaw curves down, no worm-like markings on dorsal fin, body flattened on underside, whitish to pinkish spots smaller than pupil, white leading edges on lower fins.
Location: Chehalis Lake
Most often found in BC’s largest rivers, these are the largest of the Pacific Salmon. Identifiable by their black mouths and spots on their back. Have earlier migration than their counterparts (as early as March on the Fraser River) but delay spawning until Fall when they head for smaller tributaries. Fry take at least a year to leave the freshwater.
Best Fishing : June through September
Look for: Black mouth and gums, Round spots on both lobes of tail.
Location: Chilliwack River, Cultus Lake, Fraser River
Chum are easily mistaken for Sockeye, except for their vertical dark bars as they near river mouths and the fact they are generally larger than Sockeye. Known for their determination, their fry don’t waste any time and head straight for the ocean where they spend the next 4-7 years.
Best Fishing: Late September through late November
Look for: Purple streaks or vertical bars (in freshwater), No Spots
Location: Chilliwack River, Cultus Lake, Fraser River
Coastal Cutthroat Trout
A close relative of Rainbow Trout, they can be found in most lakes and rivers along the coastal mainland and anglers may often encounter them while fishing for Steelhead. They are a predatory fish feeding mainly on Kokanee, Sculpins and Sticklebacks and a variety of insects.
Best Fishing: March though May (during salmon fry migration) and July through September (Stickleback Spawn).
Look for: Large mouth extending well past eye, heavy spotting all over, faint red slash under jaw, teeth in throat at back of tongue.
Location: Chilliwack Lake, Chilliwack River, Cultus Lake, Deer Lake, Devils Lake, Flora Lake, Fraser River, Grace Lake, Harrison Lake, Hicks Lake, Jones Lake, Kawkawa Lake, Lindeman Lake
The bright silver Coho has a reputation for being a wild, feisty and erratic fish and is the most prized of all river run salmon. They usually spend 18 months in our coastal waters and then return to their home stream as 3 year olds.
Best Fishing: September through mid-November
Look for: Black mouth and tongue, white gums, a few round spots on upper lobe of tail only.
Location: Chehalis Lake, Chilliwack Lake, Chilliwack River, Cultus Lake, Kawkawa Lake
A member of the Char family, Dolly Varden are often caught while fishing for Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout. Identifiable by their oval, snake-like bodies, they like cold, clean water and spawn in the Fall. Due to their slow growth rate, they can be easily over-fished so check for any restrictions in place. Their diet consists of insects, eggs and small fish.
Look for: Whitish to pinkish spots, largest spots smaller than pupil, no worm-like markings on dorsal fin, white leading edge on lower fins, oval snake-like body.
Location: Chehalis Lake, Chilliwack Lake, Chilliwack River, Cultus Lake, Harrison Lake, Kawkawa Lake, Pierce Lake
Identical to Sockeye Salmon except that they are landlocked. Easily identifiable by their slim silver bodies and forked tail and their dazzling red colour during spawning in late summer.
Look for: No distinct black spots on sides, long anal fin (13+ rays)
Location: Chilliwack Lake, Cultus Lake, Hicks Lake, Jones Lake, Kawkawa Lake,
Another misnamed member of the Char family most often found in large, cold and deep lakes. Slow growth tends to result in the best longevity amongst fish species. They spawn in the fall and are not known for putting up a great fight, however their substantial size makes for a satisfying catch.
Look for: Worm-like markings on back and dorsal fin, deeply forked tail.
Location: Fraser River
Lake Whitefish are freshwater whitefish of North America; members of the salmon family. They are found throughout much of Canada and are a valuable commercial fish, whitefish are also occasionally taken by sport fishermen. They are found in freshwater lakes where they prefer deep, cool water. Lake whitefish spawn from September through January in water two to four metres in depth. Natural predators include burbot, lake trout and northern pike.
Look for: Large scales, weakly developed/missing teeth, adipose fin, colouration is olive-green to blue on the back, with silvery sides, small mouth below a rounded snout, and a deeply forked tail.
Location: Chehalis Lake, Chilliwack River, Cultus Lake, Harrison Lake, Hicks Lake
Popular amongst fly-fishers, pinks are the smallest of the salmon but make up for their size by putting up a lively fight. Their fry already carry the silvery colour of smolts and immediately migrate to the ocean where they’ll spend the next 18 months.
Best Fishing : Mid August through early October (years ending in odd digits – eg. 2009, 2011 etc..)
Look for: White mouth, black gums, tiny scales, large oval spots, dirty white belly in freshwater.
Location: Chilliwack River, Fraser River
The star performer of the trout family, these are native to many streams and lakes in BC and have been known to grow up to 35pounds. Their robust nature makes them an excellent sportfish and they are regularly stocked throughout BC. In lakes and rivers their diet consists of small shrimp (scuds), leeches, insects and small baitfish and free-floating eggs.
Best Fishing : October through March
Look for: Small black spots majority above the lateral line, radiating rows of spots on tail, no teeth in throat at back of tongue.
Location: Chehalis Lake, Chilliwack Lake, Chilliwack River, Cultus Lake, Deer Lake, Devils Lake, Flora Lake, Fraser River, Grace Lake, Harrison Lake, Hicks Lake, Jones Lake, Kawkawa Lake, Lindeman Lake, Mill Lake, Pierce Lake, Schkam Lake, Stacey Lake, Weaver Lake
A culinary favourite known for their deep, pink flesh and silvery blue colour. Probably the easiest identifiable salmon due to their diamond like scales and prominent eyes. They will put up a good fight on light tackle, but are considered a fairly easy catch. Check local fishing regulations beforehand for the latest restrictions which can change at short notice depending on the size of the runs.
Best Fishing: July through September.
Look for: Large scales, small black speckles, no spots on tail.
Location: Chehalis Lake, Chilliwack River, Cultus Lake, Fraser River
Top of the A-list of most prized sportfish in BC and they are notoriously challenging to catch. Known for the exciting battles they give anglers, they are an energetic sea-run Rainbow Trout. With both winter and summer runs their spawning migrations tend to overlap. They spend 1-3 years out in the ocean before returning to freshwater to spawn. Steelhead fishing requires a conservation surcharge stamp on your fishing licence and regulations on Steelhead fishing can be subject to change on short notice.
Best Fishing: January through April and July through early September.
Look for: 50cm+ fork length, no teeth in throat at back of tongue.
Location: Chehalis Lake, Chilliwack River, Cultus Lake, Fraser River, Mill Lake,
These relics from the Jurassic period are the largest freshwater fish in North America and attract anglers from all over the world. Growing up to 19feet long and weighing in at 1,360pounds they can live to over 100 years old. There is a strict conservation policy for this species which is catch and release only and a registered fishing guide is strongly recommended when fishing for White Sturgeon.
Best Fishing: April through November.
Look for: 11-14 dorsal spines, barbells, often have white spots on their sides, you’ll know if you hook one!
Location: Fraser River