Tag Archives: confluentus

River Wolves – EP!C Arthouse

Fall marks the annual Kokanee run and also, some of the most epic Bull Trout action all season! As the spawning Bulls drop back down river, they are met by hordes of spawning Kokanee Salmon, the perfect bite-sized snack to regain their strength after the rigours of passing on the torch to the next generation. Bullies gorge themselves and fish can double their weight in just a few short weeks, preparing them for the long winter.

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Because Bull Trout don’t spawn every year, the non-spawning fish will get in on the action sooner than the ones that are spawning that year. These fish pile on the weight very quickly as they gorge on Kokanee salmon. They are typically bright silver with shades of green, blue, and violet. These fish will be the spawners the next year, having stockpiled extra weight and stored fat to last them through the rigours of migrating to the spawning grounds and the spawning act.

The spawners in contrast will still be sporting some of their colour, although it starts to fade once spawning has finished. These fish will typically not spawn the following year and will take the year to regain their weight and heal any injuries they endured during spawning.

I wanted to do a special piece of art that illustrated this annual event and thus, the River Wolf shirt was born. Bull Trout are truly incredible apex predators and their ferocity is very shark-like when they turn on the feed!

EP!C River Wolf Bull Trout Shirt
Sport your colours with the River Wolf shirt!
EP!C River Wolf Bully T-shirt

Spawning Bull Trout

For those who might not know, Bull Trout are hands down, my favourite fish. I have a ton of respect for them and they’re one of the few species of trout that only lives in the wild. Meaning, you can’t stock them in a lake like Brook Trout or Rainbow Trout. For such a big, robust, apex predator, they’re actually very picky and susceptible. They can’t handle warm temperatures above 15 degrees celsius and they require gin clear, freestone streams in order to reproduce.

The reason why Bull Trout populations are in decline is because their spawning creeks are very sensitive waters and any sediment can suffocate the eggs. So deforestation, road building, etc, all contribute to erosion and can potentially harm Bull Trout reproduction.

One of my all-time goals was to video Bull Trout underwater and observe them when they are all dolled up for the fall spawn. Yesterday I ventured way up a small creek that I had suspicions of being a spawning creek. The whole time I was slogging up I was thinking whether or not I’d actually see anything!? It’s a long and very rugged hike and sure enough, when I got up above a massive log jam, there they were.

There weren’t many spawning pairs up there. I think I counted 8 fish in total that I could see and I counted about 6 redds. The fish might be able to push up further than I could as there was another log jam at a bottleneck in the canyon. The majority of the water is very low, riffle type habitat, with pools and current breaks offering refuge. The redds I observed were almost always in or adjacent to a pool and consisted of gravel that was cleaned very thoroughly.

In the furthest pool that I could explore I spotted the largest bull trout I’ve ever seen and was fortunate to video him holding along one of the undercut banks. I didn’t bring a fly rod because I knew if I did stumble upon Bull Trout, they’d be up there spawning.

Hopefully I can run into this fish again once he’s finished spawning and drops back to munch on spawned out Kokanee Salmon.

Spawning Bull Trout and Kokanee

Fall is dominated by hues of orange and red. From the fiery mountain sides to the blue streams dotted with red, fall is a time of death and recreation. As the leaves change, so do the fish and here in the mountains, this means spawning trout and salmon.

Although some species of trout spawn in the spring, Char spawn in the fall. The fluvial populations migrate upstream to their spawning creeks from the lakes they call home. During this feat, bull trout change from their silver non-breeding colours to their vibrant breeding colours. This transformation results in crimson bellies highlighted with white edged fins.

At the same time, Kokanee Salmon too migrate into the creeks to spawn, undergoing a similar transformation. Normally a silver fish, Kokanee transform into vibrant crimson accented with green heads and white lower jaws. Unlike the Bull Trout which return to the lake after spawning, Kokanee Salmon, like all Pacific Salmon species, die after spawning.

At all times of the year, Bull Trout feast on Kokanee Salmon. From creek mouth ambushes on new Kokanee fry, to open water assaults, to gauntlets of hungry mouths as the Kokanee try to travel upstream to spawn, the cat and mouse game is constant. Co-dependant species, the Bull Trout keep the Kokanee numbers in check, while the Kokanee allow the Bulls to get to truly impressive sizes. Sadly, in much of their range, populations are declining due to habitat loss especially in their native spawning creeks, as well as competition from other species that have been introduced.

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This piece meant a lot to me, going back to my roots of how I started with fish art. Inspired by such artists as Joseph Tomelleri, Flick Ford, and Paul Vecsei, I loved how detailed and precise their works were. Being detail obsessed myself, I emulated my style after theirs. As years went on, I ventured away from the illustration style, invoking a much more action packed style. Despite my artist evolution, I have always been a huge fan of my idols’ work and this piece signifies that respect for them and their talent.

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To this day, after fishing in some of the most incredible waters in Canada for so many amazing native species, I still hold Bull Trout in the highest regard. I have so much respect for these fish and the stunning, pristine waters that they inhabit. Since moving to BC, it has been amazing to be able to chase these piscivores locally and see them in their home waters. There’s nothing more exhilarating having a big bull swipe at your fly seemingly out of nowhere. Their appetite is impressive and there is almost no fly too big to toss for them. I’ll normally use a heavily weighted 8-12″ fly that I’ll swing thru the current.

Being ambush predators, Bulls almost always bite best in the early hours or just as the sun starts going down. Casting at midday is usually futile. Bull Trout will simply hold in a seam and wait for dusk. During these times, a perfectly drifted stonefly nymph may entice them for a midday snack, but typically they won’t even react. I have seen however, these sedentary Bulls spark up when a hooked Cutthroat is struggling on the end of your line. Like a shark smelling blood in the water, you can see the body language instantly change and watch them go into hunting mode.

Here in Golden, BC, September marks the Kokanee Salmon spawning migration, and one of the best times of the year to fish for Bull Trout. As the bright red little salmon begin their migration, the Bull Trout gorge on the hordes of easy meals. At this time of year, Bull Trout can get to blimp status as they stuff themselves with as many little salmon as they can.

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Columbia River Bull Trout

Bull trout in the Columbia River, BC.

Columbia River Bull Trout drawing

Columbia River Bull Trout drawing

columbia river bull trout

Columbia River Bull Trout

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Kokanee Salmon in the Columbia River…bull trout food.

Landlocked Sockeye Salmon called Kokanee.

Landlocked Sockeye Salmon called Kokanee.