Freshwater Fish, Pacific Northwest
There are many lakes and rivers along the Pacific Northwest coast and they all have fish. Some coastal rivers have steelhead runs that contain fish that can weigh as much as 20 or more kilos. The Cowichan River on Vancouver Island has brown trout that can reach up to 7 kilos.
In-stream populations, the back, upper sides and the top of the head are brown becoming silvery on the sides with pronounced black spots and rusty colored spots on the sides. In large lakes or the sea, the body is silver and most of the spots are concealed. The fins, except for the adipose fin which is a deep orange color, are smokey, opaque and sometimes yellowish with some spots on the fins.
These trout are native to Europe and western Asia. They were first introduced into Canadian waters in Quebec in 1890. Since then they have established themselves in all provinces, except Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories.
The brown trout is a cold water species that was introduced mainly into stream and river habitats in Canada, although there are now a number of lakesand sea-run populations. The habitat of the brown trout is clear, cool, well-oxygenated streams and lakes.
The Lake Cowichan River and lake system have a strong population of Brown Trout, some of these fish can reach up to 7 kilos in weight, the river is quite long with a great section on the lower end where drift fishing is the best way to fish these lunkers. There have been many of the top fishing shows that have done a story on this fishery.
Dolly Varden usually spent a portion of their lives at sea but some may choose to remain in fresh water if they have access to a large, productive lake or river, in which they may grow to a similar size as sea-run Dolly Varden. While in the ocean and for a short time after entering fresh water, sea-run Dolly Varden are silver with a faint green sheen overlain with light orange spots. Once they reach fresh water, this silvery appearance transitions into greenish brown with dark orange to red spots.
There are several different types of Dolly Varden exist. Some reside in their natal drainage for about three years, before migrating out to sea to feed for the summer. Others never leave the streams, rivers, and lakes where they hatched. Some of these fish remain small like the ones that live in streams while others can grow quite large, l used to fish them in the Horsefly/Likely area east of Williams Lake when l lived there, some of the fish we caught were upwards on 8 kilos.
As spawning season approaches, males become brilliantly colored with red, black and white bellies, black gill covers, orange to red spots and orange and black fins with a white leading edge. Males also develop a strong hooked jaw. Spawning occurs in the fall in headwater streams where the females bury their eggs in the gravel. Fry emerge in May or June. They remain in their freshwater drainage’s for about three years before undertaking their first migration out to sea. In the fall, they return to freshwater. Some never go to sea and remain in freshwater their whole lives.
They can be found in rivers and streams draining to the Pacific Ocean all the way from southern California to the Alaska Peninsula and all of Vancouver Island. They are a rainbow trout that spends some of its youth in fresh water, migrates to the sea, then returns to fresh water to spawn. They make long marine migrations into the North Pacific area.
Young eat invertebrates like crustaceans, insects, caddisflies and black flies. They will also eat salmon eggs when available. At sea, they feed primarily on fish, squid, and amphipods.
Steelhead can live up to nine years and they spend up to three years in freshwater before heading to sea. After spawning, many adult steelhead return to the sea and some (up to 20 percent, mostly females) return to freshwater after recuperation to spawn a second time. Some individuals can spawn many times and those that repeat spawn are referred to as kelts. Normally two or more summers are spent in the Pacific Ocean before the steelhead return to seek their spawning streams at the age of four or five.
Young steelhead are brightly colored with tints of red, green-yellow, orange and gold. As they mature they more closely resemble the Atlantic salmon in structure and appearance with heavier spotting. When in the sea the body is mainly silver with a blue back. At spawning time, a band of red color develops along each side of the body.
Crayfish have two pairs of sensory antennae and a pair of eyes on movable stalks. The appendages of the thorax include four pairs of walking legs which, as well as walking, are used to probe cracks and crevices between rocks looking for food. Crayfish also own one pair of claw-bearing legs, which it extends in front of its body while moving. The claws are specialized for cutting, capturing food, attack, and defense. A pinch can hurt! The crayfish also has several pairs of specialized food handling legs.
They have a hard outside skeleton. This jointed exoskeleton provides protection and allows movement, but limits growth. As a result, they regularly get too big for their skeletons and shed them to grow a new larger one. This is called molting. and occurs six to ten times during the first year of rapid growth, but less often during the second year. For a few days following each molt, they have soft exoskeletons and are more vulnerable.
Most live short lives, usually less than two years. They are very tasty and easily harvested in our rivers and lakes.
Most of the rivers and lakes have fish more in the range of 30 to 40 cm in length. So grab your rod, put on your boots and try your luck, the fresh air will do you good.
Most good fishing areas have campsites that are available, some are full campgrounds with fire pits, tables, and boat launches, others can be very rustic. But camping is fun at any of them.
British Columbia contains a diverse and varied fish community. 10,000 years ago, the province was almost completely covered by a layer of ice. As the glaciers retreated, fish that survived through the big freeze we’re able to move into new territories. Some of these early colonizers became isolated from other populations by barriers such as waterfalls. This allowed them to become almost separate species.
Freshwater Mussels can be found all over pacific northwest Region. Freshwater Mussels are quite sedentary and do not move very far during their adult lives. But these humble creatures can ascend waterfalls when they are newborn. The young attach to unwitting fish that carry them to new places in a watershed, over waterfalls, across lakes and up and down rivers. They can live for more than 100 years.
Freshwater mussels are quite common on the coast, but in the rest of North America, we are losing many species before we know much about them. Normally, freshwater mussels can outlive most animal species on Earth, one species on Vancouver Island can live longer than a century. But their longevity depends on stability in the environment where they live and with which fish species they share their home waters. Mussels are very sensitive to environmental changes and may indicate long term problems in their ecosystems.
Nearly three-quarters of all 297 native freshwater mussel species in North America are imperiled with 35 of them going extinct in the last century. They are one of the most endangered groups of animals on Earth, yet surprisingly little is known about their life history, habitat needs, or even how to distinguish different species, especially in the Pacific Northwest.
Freshwater mussels are mollusks that produce a bivalve shell. The two halves of the shell are connected by an elastic-like ligament along the dorsal hinge. The outside of the valves is covered with a material that gives the shell its color, and the inside is lined with a smooth mother of pearl material called nacre.
The raised rounded area along the dorsal margin is called the beak, the shells grow outward from the beak in a concentric pattern. Mussels may possess teeth on the hinge that create a strong and sturdy connection between the valves.
The living mussel occupies the cavity between the two valves. The only body parts that are visible outside of the shell are the foot that is used for locomotion and feeding, and the mantle edges that are modified into inhalant and exhalant apertures.
There are many types of fish here, some were a saltwater fish that adapted to living in freshwater, arctic grayling, steelhead, and rainbow trout are all freshwater fish that originally lived in the sea.
Rainbow are known worldwide for their bold red stripe that runs down their body, which is usually darker in river fish than in lake dwellers. Rainbows are caught easily with fly and gear angling. They actively go for both flies and spinner gear.
The pacific northwest region has an abundance of rainbow trout in its rivers and lakes. I have fished over most of the coast over the years and I find that the rainbow trout is by far the best fighter of them all. They like fast running cold streams.
Rainbow trout are carnivores and feed on insects, leeches, small fish, crayfish and mussels. These fish prefer to live in cool freshwater but some of them migrate into saltwater, they are known as steelhead trout. Steelhead are the same as rainbow trout except they tend to grow bigger, up to 20 kilos.
To lay her eggs, a female rainbow trout digs a nest in the gravel at the bottom of the body of water. To build this nest, called a redd, the female turns her body to the side and flaps her tail, creating a depression in the gravel. She then lays many thousands of eggs in multiple redds. As she is doing this, one or more male rainbow trout fertilize the eggs with their milt.
The rainbow is native to the North American west, but they are such a great fighting sport fish that they have been introduced to many places worldwide. Not only is it a great sport fish, but it is quite impressive to look at.
Why do some fish normally live in freshwater and others live in seawater, the reason is that one or the other environment provides them with opportunities that have traditionally contributed to their survival. An obvious difference between the two habitats is salt concentration. Freshwater fish maintain the physiological mechanisms that permit them to concentrate salts within their bodies in a salt-deficient environment, saltwater fish, on the other hand, excrete excess salts in their environment. Fish that live in both environments retain both mechanisms. Some freshwater fish that come in the form of mussels.