Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bull Trout Tactics?

I've caught the occasional bull trout incidentally while fishing for westslope cutthroat in the Blackfoot watershed. Never before have I had the opportunity to blatantly (legally) target bulls.

A couple of buddies and I are backpacking twenty-seven miles into the Bob Marshall at the end of this week. We're meeting the horses at the mouth of Gordon Creek, airing up the rafts and spending the following five days floating the South Fork of the Flathead.

Bull trout will be my focus, although I'm looking forward to catching the cutthroat as well. Having little experience with bulls, I'm unsure of exactly how to go about it. Those that I have caught incidentally in the past were on dead-drifted stonefly nymphs. Of course everyone that I ask suggests that I fish BIG streamers. Is that all there is to it? I've also heard suggestions ranging from huge San Juans, to Bitch Creeks, to dead-drifted streamers.

For those of you with experience fishing to pre-spawn bull trout in rivers, what would you recommend?


  1. I've never caught a bull trout before so I'm no help there, but I have read a bunch about the S.F. of the Flathead. I almost pulled the trigger on a backpacking trip in there myself this summer. Have an awesome time, take a ton of pictures, and share them please!

    For what it's worth, the guys over at have made a few forays into bull waters, and they may be able to give you some advice - they certainly know how to catch BIG fish!

  2. Will,

    Oh man, I'm jealous, you guys are going to have an epic trip! So, I have fished for bulls quite a bit on the Metolius River in Oregon (I'm heading there with my wife and folks later this coming August to fish for the char and for redsides), and large stone nymphs do fool some fish, but big streamers tend to get the attention from more of the big guys. I tie 5-6" streamers that are kind of a fancier version of a hare leech, with plenty of white to imitate a wounded, dying fish. I also tie dumbbell eyes to help the fly sink. Some folks use a sinking line with an unweighted fly, but I prefer to use a weighted fly and floating line (I feel you have more control of the streamer with the latter setup), and I throw a lot of mends into the line to get the fly to sink.

    The main thing to remember is that bulls tend to reside in the deepest runs and pools, and hang right on the bottom, so you need to get your offering down to them. Also, they are the top predators in the river, and tend to chase after big meals. If you can impart some action into the fly that imitates a struggling fish while it is swinging near a suspected bull trout hangout, all the better. The fishing can sometimes be like steelheading, and you need to be persistent when fishing through a run. When a bull strikes a streamer, it can be jarring, but more often than not it will just be a strong, steady pull, before all hell breaks loose.

    Hope this helps, and if you have any more questions, let me know.


    1. Hi Iain,

      We're taking lots of big streamers, and white was a color that others have recommended as well. I'll be throwing them on a 300-grain sink tip mostly, a line that I'm pretty well accustomed to using.

      We feel that location (mouths of tributaries) and time of day (early/late in the day) are going to be important factors in targeting bulls on the S. Fork, we'll see if that holds true.

      I think you're right about the persistence factor, I'm sure if we stick with it we'll eventually connect with a bull. Thanks for the input, and I'll let you know how it goes.

  3. I'm heading to Alberta in a couple of weeks for the very same purpose. I've heard they really love to eat whitefish (at least the big bulls do), so I've been tying up a bunch of white streamers. They seem to congregate in the deep pools even more so than other trout do, at least from what I've seen. Of course, I've never actually caught one, so I may have no idea what I'm talking about.

  4. Will, this probably goes without saying, but I would recommend a stout rod in the 7-8 wt range as well, and a leader tapering to 0X or 1X. Bulls in my experience are not leader shy, and the heavier setup makes landing them somewhat easier (both on yourself and the fish).

    Have a great trip, and I look forward to seeing some pictures!

    Tight lines, Iain

  5. Hey Will,

    I think we talked briefly about Bull Trout when we were on Martinez. Obviously streamers are a good bet, but we have had holes stacked full of Bull Trout that after a couple fish they shy away from a streamer. We switched to dead drifting Simis and nymphs, and we got many fish doing this. Of course the difficult part is finding the hole with fish stacked in it. May be rolling through your area in the next month, I will give you a shout if so. Take care and keep the great reports coming.


    1. Hey Kevin,

      Good to hear from you. Thanks for the info. I ended up getting into a couple of bulls, both came on a streamer stripped blindly through runs. In a couple of locations we were able to spot multiple bulls stacked in a couple of DEEP holes, but they were virtually unreachable with a fly.

      Definitely give me a call if you get up here this summer.