Fish Species Guide
MEET THE CAST! – British Columbia’s rivers are well known worldwide for their salmon runs. You can find all five species of Pacific salmon in Chilliwack and many other freshwater fish species. The species guide below includes fish you will find in our rivers and lakes and the best fishing months for them.
We met up with Rod, local expert and fishing advocate from Fishing with Rod to help us identify common fish around Chilliwack, including helpful hints about each species.
A member of the char family, noted for having a large head and pink spots over its white spotted body. They prefer cold clean water and spawn in the fall. Juvenile bull trout feed on insects, while large adults would feed on fish including minnows, sculpins, trout and juvenile salmon. Being a slow growing and vulnerable fish, there are strict regulations on where they can be targeted and harvested. They can be caught in lakes throughout the year, while more common in rivers in spring and summer.
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.
Locations: Chilliwack Lake and River, Cultus Lake, Skagit River, Ross Lake, Chehalis Lake and River
This iconic BC fish species is the largest member of the Pacific salmon. Adult chinook salmon return to many tributaries of the Fraser River between May and September, but spawning does not occur until fall. They are identifiable by their black mouth and spots on their back and across their tail. The fishing season for chinook salmon in Chilliwack takes place between July and October.
Look for: Black mouth and gums, small spots along its back and across the tail.
Locations: Chilliwack River, Fraser River (openings change each year, please consult the regulations).
Chum salmon are sometimes mistaken for sockeye salmon, except for their vertical dark coloured bars which develop as they approach their natal streams. The average size of chum salmon is also much bigger than sockeye salmon, ranging between 8 and 15lb. Known for their determination, their fry don’t waste any time and head straight for the ocean after hatching where they spend the next 4 years. The best fishing time for chum salmon in Chilliwack is October and November.
Look for: Vertical purple streaks/bars (in freshwater), no spots
Locations: Chilliwack River, Harrison River, Chehalis River
Coastal Cutthroat Trout
A close relative of rainbow trout, they can be found in most lakes and rivers along the coastal mainland. Coastal cutthroat trout primarily feed on insects, sticklebacks and juvenile salmon. The average size of coastal cutthroat trout in the Lower Fraser River is around 1lb, but fish up to 3lb also exist. The best fishing times for coastal cutthroat trout is in December and January when adult salmon are spawning, fish would be feeding on eggs being deposited, as well as between March and May when juvenile salmon are migrating.
Look for: Heavy spotting all over its body, faint red/orange slash under jaw, teeth in throat at back of tongue
Locations: Cultus Lake, Deer Lake, Hicks Lake, Jones Lake, Kawkawa Lake, Elbow Lake, Harrison Lake, Chehalis River, Harrison River, Chilliwack River, Fraser River, Sumas River
The bright silver coho salmon is one of the most prized sportfish in BC. They can be shy, aggressive, unpredictable and acrobatic when hooked. They usually spend 18 months in our coastal waters and then return to their home stream as 3 year olds. Adult coho salmon can be identified by the black spots along its back, and spots along the top section of its tail. In all Lower Fraser tributary fisheries, only hatchery coho salmon can be retained while wild coho salmon have to be released. Hatchery coho salmon can be identified by the absence of the adipose fin, which is clipped at the juvenile stage before leaving the hatchery. The best fishing time for coho salmon is between September and mid November.
Look for: White gum, small spots along back and on upper lobe of tail only.
Location: Chehalis River, Chilliwack River, Harrison River, Cultus Lake, Kawkawa Lake
Kokanee are landlocked sockeye salmon. Because they spend their entire life in lakes, kokanee do not grow very big. The average size of adult kokanee is between 0.5lb and 1lb in the Fraser Valley. They are easily identifiable by their slim silver bodies and forked tail and their dazzling red colour during spawning in late summer. Generally, kokanee do not have spots along their back, but occasionally a few spots can be found around the dorsal fin. The fishing season for kokanee is between March and July.
Location: Chilliwack Lake, Cultus Lake, Hicks Lake, Jones Lake, Kawkawa Lake
Rocky Mountain whitefish are in fact related to Pacific salmon. They look like minnows but their adipose fin tells you otherwise. They are found throughout much of Canada and historically have been a valuable commercial freshwater fish, whitefish are also targeted by sport fishermen. Mountain whitefish can be targeted throughout the year, but the best time is in the winter and spring.
Look for: Large scales, 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, Harrison River
Pink salmon, or humpies, are the smallest of the salmon but make up for their size by their high abundance and lively fight on the line. Once hatched, fry immediately migrate to the ocean where they spend 18 months before returning to their natal stream. The Fraser River pink salmon run occurs during August and September every odd year.
Look for: Tiny scales, large oval spots along its back and tail, males develop a distinct hump along their back during spawning
Location: Chilliwack River, Fraser River, Harrison River
Rainbow trout are native to many rivers and lakes around Chilliwack. They are also stocked in some lakes to provide Sportfishing opportunities. Primarily insect feeders, this is a popular species among fly anglers.
Best Fishing: Year Round!
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, Skagit River, Ross Lake
A culinary favourite known for their deep, red flesh and silvery blue colour. They are probably the easiest salmon to identify due to their diamond like scales, spotless body and prominent eyes. This is a popular Fraser River summer fishery because of their fine table fare. Please check the regulations as each season’s opening depends on the size of the run. The season usually takes place in August and part of September.
Look for: Large scales, spotless body, no spots on tail, glassy eye.
Location: Fraser River
They are on 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, steelhead are anadromous (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. Unlike salmon, steelhead are repeat spawners and can return to the ocean after spawning. The winter steelhead fishery on the Chilliwack River takes place between December and May.
Look for: Small spots along back and across tail, the tail is “square” with no fork, average size is between 5lb and 15lb
Location: Chilliwack River, Chehalis River
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 14 feet long and weighing in at 500 pounds, they can live to over 100 years old. The Lower Fraser River white sturgeon fishery is restricted to catch and release only. Best fishing takes place between July and October.
Look for: 11-14 dorsal spines, barbells, scutes along the side of the body
Location: Fraser River
We hope this will help identify your next catch in Chilliwack’s pristine waters. Make sure to use #ShareChilliwack while you’re out exploring the area, and check out Fishing With Rod on his latest fishing adventures around Chilliwack.