Anyone who knows fishing, knows that Nootka Sound is a fishing mecca both for freshwater and saltwater species. Every year thousands of anglers converge on Nootka Sound to try their luck and skills to land or catch and release a trophy fish.
This article will focus on the freshwater adventures available in Nootka Sound specifically in the general area of Gold River and Strathcona Park.
It starts in the winter months of December through March when the brave will venture out here in search of the mighty Steelhead. All the local rivers provide excellent Steelhead fishing opportunities for those who will dress warm enough and don their waders or jump into the belly boat.
Two of the more popular river systems to fish for Steelhead are the Gold and Conuma Rivers. Both of these rivers have an excellent return of Steelhead every year with larger sized fish being present in the Gold River.
Wild Steelhead between 10-20 pounds are common in the Gold River depending on the year and returns to the system. The province swims it to do a survey of the escapement a few times during the winter season.
No power boats are allowed on the Gold River but belly boats, drift boats and pontoon boats can be seen regularly making their way down through the fast water looking for various deep pools that occur frequently.
The river is a catch and release system that only allows single barbless hooks to be used on your gear. This is done to preserve the unique and most renown wild Steelhead system on Vancouver Island.
The Conuma River is short river compared to the Gold River. Most of the Steelhead fishing is done below the canyon to the mouth. There are large gravel areas throughout the system thanks to past logging and heavy rainfall in the fall and spring.
The river banks themselves are treed with second growth and some old growth timber all the way to the mouth. All the gravel is from the upper portion of the watershed. There are lots of species of salmon returning every fall to this river thanks to the hatchery so check regs for openings.
Other systems in the Nootka Sound area for fishing Steelhead are the Canton River, Leiner River, Sucwoa River and Tahsis River. All these systems can be accessed via the Head Bay Forestry Road that leads to Tahsis.
There is a small run of Steelhead in the Canton and Sucwoa Rivers and both rivers are also aggraded from upper watershed logging in the past. These two rivers have a good escapement of Chum Salmon in the fall so check the regulations for openings.
Trout fishing in the rivers and lakes of Nootka Sound is also very popular for species like Cutthroat, Dolly Vardon and Rainbow. All trout fishing is restricted to single barbless hooks and a bait ban in all rivers and streams. All trout fishing in rivers and streams for wild trout is catch and release. Char (Dolly Vardon) are catch and release for all freshwater unless specified in individual watershed regulations.
A popular river for fly fishing only is the Elk River which runs into Upper Campbell Lake. This is a catch and release fishery also. Cutthroat can be caught up to 5 lbs in this badly aggraded watershed.
Because of the gravel deposits it is a fairly easy river to walk to find the best holes to cast in a fly. Some of the lower sections can be accessed via hwy 28 with some pullouts in place for you to park.
A Few Lakes To Check Out For Great Freshwater Fishing Opportunities
The best lakes for fishing in the Nootka Sound area include, Antler Lake, Drum Lakes, Gold Lake, Kunlin Lake, Muchalat Lake, Star Lake, Upana Lake and Upper Campbell Lake.
Most of these lakes have road access with the exception of Gold Lake which has to be hiked into from a logging road called the “East Mainline”. The trail follows a small creek for a short distance than crosses over it to run parallel with the Gold River up to Gold Lake. The last part of the trail isn’t well marked so just keep heading straight until you arrive at Gold Lake.
Antler Lake is the easiest to find from Gold River by following the signs to Tahsis and turning right off the pavement just before the bridge that crosses the Gold River onto a gravel road.
Follow this road for about 1km and stay to your right until you get to the lake. The lake has two day use areas where you could launch a small powerless boat or canoe to fish for trout that can weigh up to 3 lbs.
Drum Lakes are 15 minutes east of town back towards Campbell River on hwy 28. There is lower and upper Drum lake both of which are separated by a small channel with a walk bridge over it that leads to Crest Mountain.
The trout are small in this lake but plentiful and fun to catch with a light weight fly rod or spinning gear. There is a pullout next to the lake and also a parking area for those wishing to access the Crest Mountain Trail.
Kunlin Lake is a fair distance up the Ucona Mainline logging road where you would turn off at U-7 . Took me about 45 minutes to get there from where the pavement turns to gravel at the old trailer park in Gold River. Wouldn’t want to try this drive during the rainy season.
The road (U7) to Kunlin Lake is very overgrown and transportation should only be by dirtbikes, quads and old pickups or smaller vehicles like the Suzuki. The road is quite steep in a couple of sections and rough due to the cross ditches and quad traffic.
Unfortunately the locals and Strathcona Park employees have not looked after the access to this gem of a little lake. Might be a method to their madness however.
The lake has some very nice sized trout in it ranging from 1-5 lbs. Some locals claim to have caught larger trout in the 6-10 lb range.
Muchalat Lake is a large lake with a beautifully maintained campground on the south end. It is free to camp there for most of the year except for the period of May – September when there is a camp host who collects 12 dollars a night.
There are over 40 campsites with picnic tables, fire pits and pit toilets. There is also a boat launch and boomed in swimming area with nice sandy beach. During the summer months there is garbage pickup.
The fishing is very good for Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout with some nice sizes ranging from 3-7 lbs or more. The lake is very deep and most fishing is done by boat using a trolling method.
Star Lake is a beautiful little lake similar in size to Antler with just as good fishing opportunities. The lake is stocked every year for the Family Fishing Weekend event put on by the local Rod and Gun Club.
Access to this lake is also via the Ucona Mainline which goes right past it with an entrance that is well marked. It takes roughly 10-15 minutes from the bottom of the Ucona Mainline where it branches off of the main road in Gold River.
The lake is a day use only designated area so camping overnite is not permitted. The day use area has a couple of picnic tables and a small dock for anglers to fish from. As with every little lake there are spots along the shore to fish from also.
Upana Lake is another lake fairly close to town that has some good trout fishing in it. Follow the signs to Tahsis and you will eventually end up on the Head Bay Forestry Road. From there it is about 10-15 minutes to the lake.
Access to the lake is by walking in from the roadside. Once you get to the top of Calla Creek hill you will cross over a concrete bridge deck. Shortly after that you will see a small creek that runs through a culvert under the road and you should pull over there and park off of the road as much as possible.
A short walk following the trail beside the little creek will put you at the lake side where you can fish or walk along the shore to find another spot to drop your line.
Upper Campbell is a huge lake that is part of the Campbell River drinking water system that encompasses Buttle Lake, Lower Campbell Lake, McIvor Lake and Upper Campbell Lake. There are lots of places alongside this long lake to pull over and fish.
Overnight camping is allowed if you can find a spot as during the summer months most campsites are taken up by locals and regulars who come early and set up their campers and leave them there for most of the season so as to not loose their spot.
Not very fair but because there is no one managing the watershed campers are getting away with it. There are a lot of spots however so don’t despair as you will probably find something. There are also 3 provincial campsites available to camp at with one of them being a reservation only while the rest are first come first served.
I’ve only touched on some of the excellent fishing opportunities that are available in Nootka Sound but I guarantee you if you come to check us out you will not be disappointed.