Bull Trout Tips

Sean Visintainer - 08/12/19

A large bull trout from North Idaho caught while fly fishing.

Large and in charge

Have you ever been fishing a river and all of a sudden from the dark depths a much, much larger fish starts to attack your fish? Or even perhaps grabs hold like a pit bull?! This scenario is usually an exciting moment when fighting a poor unsuspecting whitefish or cutthroat. If you fish in bull trout country of Idaho, Washington, Montana, British Columbia, Oregon and beyond, then often this large voracious fish trying to demolish your hooked fish is a large bull.

These predatory fish can grown quite large feeding on smaller, more helpless fish. A carnivore's diet consisting mainly of other fish creates a highly aggressive mentality and growth rates that are substantial larger than any other fish in the river system. It is not uncommon to see a bull trout exceed the 30" mark, and while I have yet to catch one this large, they can even surpass 40". A true trophy of a fish. And yes, there are bull trout in our region that can grow that large.

I will admit, I'm not a crazy bull trout fanatic, often preferring to fish rivers with more a brown or rainbow trout population in them. But if I happen to be on a stream that has some residents, and it's legal to target them, then as they say... "When in Rome".

Where is it legal to target bull trout? Idaho it is legal to fish for bull trout. Montana is on certain waters. British Columbia is legal. It's always best to check regulations and seasons though before you decide to go after these fish, they are a protected species.

If you are interested in chasing bull trout and you have yet to do so, then you may find these tips below useful as well as some tried and true flies we sell here at the shop.

Fish streamer patterns. Since bull trout feed on other fish then you must "match-the-hatch". Minnow like patterns, sculpins, and other gaudy patterns often trick bull trout into thinking they are after an easy meal.

Swing your streamers. A classic swing method works well for bull trout, eliciting the "chase" instinct.

If the swing doesn't work... try a slow almost dead drift with a sharp strip of the line occasionally to mimic a wounded baitfish.

Fish the structure. Log jams, rock ledges, and boulders. Bull trout love to ambush other fish, often sitting in an area they can hide then pouncing on the fish as it swims by.

Try tailouts. Often bull trout will hang in the back half of the pool. While we do find them in the head and gut of the pull, more often than not I feel like the tailout is the best, especially if there is structure like the above mentioned. They probably prefer the tailouts because this gives them a full perspective of the pool and a great advantage if a wounded or dying fish comes their way.

Nymph. Yeah, yeah this doesn't sound glamorous and is also the complete opposite of my first couple tips. I've caught more bull trout nymphing than on streamers. It just flat out works better in my opinion. Yes it's fun to hook them on a big, ugly streamer and get that "Insta-famous" money shot photo with a glob of meat hanging out of it's mouth to make your followers envious, but the reality is nymphing works very well for bulls. Stonefly nymphs and san juans can't be beat, especially when bull trout are lock jawed which is often the case.

Note: Most fisheries are single, barbless hooks so you will have to cut one of the hook points off if fishing articulated patterns.

Bull trout streamers can be large, flashy and sometimes articulated patterns to entice an aggressive strike.
Nymphing for bull trout is often more productive than streamer fishing for bull trout.
Fly fishing for bull trout in North Idaho.
Fly fishing for bull trout in North Idaho.
Fly fishing for bull trout in North Idaho.
Fly fishing for bull trout in North Idaho.
Fly fishing for bull trout in North Idaho.