Our Man In Canada
October 16th, 2000

Fishing the Lakes of the Kootenays

By Steve Harris

The town of Cranbrook has been my home for most of my thirty-five years. After catching my first native trout at only eight, I've been hooked ever since. The southeast corner of British Columbia is known commonly as the East Kootenays. Being surrounded the Rocky Moutains and its captivating scenery has made the outdoors my place of choice.

Lakes in the Kootenay are highly productive thanks to quality stocking programs and tighter fishing regulations. The influx of fly fishers and catch and release has helped the trout population and created better angling opportunities. There are a vast number of lakes ranging from small pothole lakes to deep clear lakes several miles long.

While winters can be quite harsh, most Kootenay lakes are ice-free by early May. After spending at least five months under thick ice the trout are ready to feed on insect life and challenge the fly fisher once again. As the water warms to above seven degrees (Celsius) the first hatches start to show. The chironomids begin their upward journey to hatch into adults to complete their cycle. The experienced fly fisher with the right pattern can catch upward of thirty fish a day when the trout are in a heavy feed. The chironomids are usually shades of black, brown and green. Some of these can reach an incredible length of one inch though most are usually about 1/4th of that size. Both floating and sinking lines are used to mimic the upward motion the chironomid makes.

As the water warms even more and the days get longer you can expect to see mayflies, damsels, dragons and even the caddis. The mayflies generally hatch in the early afteernoons until dusk. Windy and overcast days are great times to experience these hatches. If there is no visible emergence of adults then nymphs below the surface should work. Best patterns to try include Hare's Ear, Pheasant Tail or a small Halfback. When adults are present Adam's or Cahill's should produce. Hook sizes are 10 through 16. There are always those days when mayflies are hatching as well as caddis. The adult caddis can really excite the trout and if conditions are right it can make for a great dry fly fishing. The Elk Hair Caddis, Mikuluk Sedge and Humpy work ideal. The large Travelers sedge can be matched on a size 8 hook, while the common caddis is generally about a size 14. Experiencing a caddis hatch at night fall, when large trout are slashing at the surface, is pure enjoyment.

By the month of June the days are getting warmer and longer. This triggers the migration of damsel and dragon nymphs towards the shore line. The trout key in on these large nymphs in the reed beds and cattails. When the fish are taking damsels, a sink-tip or a floating line is the ticket. Damsel imitations are tan, shades of green or even bright yellow. Size 10 to 14 long shank make nice damsels when tied slender. Jack Shaw wrote about the take on a damsel, "it can be as soft as a puff or wind or as vicious as a snapping dog." This is all so true, I've missed many fish on light strikes, yet had numerous break-offs from very strong ones.

Angling in the Shadow of the Rockies

The dragonfly nymphs are a much sought after food item by trout. In late June or early July these nymphs can be seen walking the shoreline and up tall blades of grass. This is the time to hook up with a slow, full-sink line. They can be best represented with green, black or brown patterns. My first experience with the dragon nymph happened several years ago. While unloading my boat at Wapsi Lake, I noticed a large black insect climbing a nearby log. As I looked closer in the surrounding grass I found two or three more. These were migrating dragonflies and I hoped the trout had keyed in on them. In a hurry my fly rod was set up and a large nymph was tied to my tippet. To the left of the boat launch was a large stand of cattails. There seemed to be a good number of fish working that area so I rowed over and dropped anchor. I made a cast right and with two strips of the line a nice rainbow of 3 pounds intercepted my fly. The prime silver was released along with 13 - 14 others that afternoon. When the dragonfly nymphs are making their journey towards the shoreline, the fishing can be exceptional. ~ Steve Harris

Concluded next time!

About Steve Harris:

Living in the Kootenays for most of his life has given Steve the opportunity to perfect his stillwater skills on the many pristine lakes. He is currently employed with the school board in Cranbrook and guides part-time in the summer months. When not working as a guide, Steve relaxes on one of his many favorite waters. Averaging well over 100 days on the water every year gives Steve a better understanding than almost anyone of the East Kootenay lakes. He has become well known for his willingness to teach others the art of stillwater fly fishing. You can contact him at: (250) 489-3695.

Credits: From Angling in the Shadows of the Rockies by Jeff Mironuck. We thank Frank Amato Publications, Inc. for use permission!

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