Our Man In Canada
July 9th, 2001

KAMLOOPS Stillwater Trout

By Les Johnson

For anyone who loves stillwater trout fishing — or has a yen to get started in this frustrating but rewarding fly-fishing pursuit — the Southern Interior Region of British Columbia is stillwater trout central.

Kamloops Rainbow

KAMLOOPS, British Columbia, As I sat comfortably in my pontoon boat, bobbing around on long, L-shaped Paul Lake, not many miles out of the town of Kamloops, British Columbia I gazed at a wispy veil of clouds slipping lazily across an incredibly blue sky. Although I was very slowly retrieving a tiny red-butt chironomid that was riding deep on the end of a sinking fly line, my mind was fixated on the scenery. The hills encircling Paul Lake were blanketed in conifers and beachfront homes were scattered along the shore. My aimless retrieve of the chironomid pattern continued until the tip of my 5-weight fly rod suddenly slammed into the water and the line sliced painfully across my fingers before I could let go. Thirty feet away the surface opened in an explosion of a million sparkling diamonds as a fat Kamloops rainbow trout careened into the morning sunlight.

When the big rainbow returned to the water it immediately surged away, taking the remaining 60-feet of fly line off the reel and raking the backing splice through the rod guides for another 50 feet or more. Suddenly the trout roared through the surface again, fell back and yanked off another 40 feet of backing. My little click-drag reel was screaming as I attempted to slow the run of the big rainbow with the palming rim. On the third jump, even higher than the first two, the thick-bodied trout severed our relationship before crashing back into the lake.

Kamloops and surrounding areas: Your first glimpse of Kamloops will likely be a surprise. This bustling little metropolis has all the comforts of a much larger city including hotels, restaurants, auto rentals, fishing shops and more. And, all of it is surrounded by a mecca of great Kamloops trout fishing lakes, many within a few minutes drive. For more information on Kamloops, click on: City of Kamloops or Kamloops.com

When to go:

Local anglers start fishing as soon as ice leaves the lower elevation lakes around Kamloops, which is in mid to late April. However, anyone heading for Kamloops south over Coquihalla Pass in April always runs the risk of slick roads and avalanches blocking the road. Heading in from other directions there is Pennask Summit, Monashee Pass and Bonanza Pass to name a few that can make you pucker up a bit during the winter-to-spring transition. So most anglers figure that the time to hit the Kamloops country lakes begins in mid-June or thereabouts with good fishing lasting until October.

Nuts! I muttered to myself. My shoulders slumped and I began to wind in my line to check the fly. It was the second successive Kamloops rainbow trout that had picked up the gauntlet then proceeded to clean my clock. The first one had preformed an aerial pirouette and spit the hook. As I examined my leader tippet I discovered that the second one had snapped the 4X leader point and departed with my fly.

I decided to row my pontoon boat ashore and have lunch. Shore was actually a small but very well kept British Columbia Provincial Park complete with trimmed grass, a scattering of fir trees and several picnic tables. In short order I negotiated the 50 feet or so to shore, got a small ice chest from the back of my battered but unbowed Pathfinder and selected a nearby picnic table. My lunch, a spread from a local Kamloops deli, consisted of a pastrami sandwich, large dill pickle and a bottle of cold Kokanee Beer, a good Canadian brew. When I finished off lunch and drained the last of the Kokanee I decided to call it a day at Paul Lake. It had been a long drive from Seattle to Kamloops and tomorrow I would be fishing on Heffley Lake with renowned Kamloops fish biologist Brian Chan.

When it's hot, it's hot

"OK Les, this is the spot," Brian said when he stopped after a 3-mile run up Heffley Lake in his 14-foot johnboat. "We have 19 feet of water under the boat and it should be fishing well right about now." After setting two anchors to keep the boat from turning in the wind, he dug a fly box out of his bag and handed me a small, brass-ribbed chironomid. "This has been the hot one recently," he noted. "Fish it on a full-sinking fly line and let it get to the bottom before you retrieve. And…retrieve it very slowly."

PHOTO: LES JOHNSON
Brian Chan holds on as a big rainbow takes off across Heffley Lake, not far from the town of Kamloops, British Columbia. Note extra rods with floating and fast sinking lines ready for action.

I never argue with anyone who has Brian's knowledge of stillwater fishing, so I set out the fly and watched as the blue sinking line settled slowly toward the bottom. After several seconds I began a slow hand-twist retrieve, keeping the rod tip low and aimed straight at the fly. The take was light but when I snapped back on the rod it bent double and a dandy 2-pound Kamloops rainbow launched into the morning sunlight, clearing the surface by four feet.

"Way to go, Les," Brian said, then screamed, "Whoa!" as his rod hooped under the strain of an almost identical trout. "This is going to be our day," he said as we played our trout to boatside where they were carefully released.

For the next two hours we had trout on almost every cast. I have questioned the honesty of people at times who would relate such incredible encounters with trout on the fly rod but not after experiencing this particular morning of never-ending hookups. I know that we caught and released a total of at least 20 beautiful Kamloops trout during those three hours, and lost several others that tossed our barbless flies after a couple of high, twisting leaps. When we finally put the rods aside to head back to the launch area I was arm-weary but knew that I would be more than ready for more Kamloops trout fishing the next day at another of the myriad lakes in the region.

Although I've spent a great many seasons fishing the lakes of interior British Columbia the thrill of hooking my first Kamloops trout of the spring has never paled. The Kamloops is just about as tough a customer as you will ever battle on the far end of your fly outfit. And, while most Kamloops you catch are in the 1 to 4-pound class, there are surprisingly large numbers of these high-spirited trout that will pull the scale to 8, 10 or even 15 pounds. So, when you head for the Kamloops country of British Columbia, take tackle along that will do the job.

Tackle recommendations for Kamloops trout

PHOTO: BRIAN CHAN
Small cartop prams or pontoon boats are popular on smaller Kamloops country lakes. On larger lakes, boats with outboards are the ticket.

Rods

Kamloops trout epitomize the term 'tackle buster.' I was having a great time several years ago while fishing Stoney Lake on Douglas Lake Ranch. I had landed probably ten trout during the morning on my 4-weight outfit and while the little sliver of graphite was tightly bent a few times, I never once felt that I was in trouble. Then, it happened. I cast a fly called the Las Vegas leech into the center of a rise and it was grabbed with such ferocity that I never did regain control of the situation. The trout simply took off along the weed-choked shallows pulling out my entire fly line and a long length of backing. Every time it rolled to the surface I could see a growing pile of vegetation hanging from the line and over the nose of this demented trout. The tippet snapped just as the trout flashed beneath our boat.

"Double digits," Brian said, smiling and pointing to the direction the trout was last seen. I cursed my arrogance in believing that my 4-weight would handle anything larger than yearling Kamloops rainbows. I paddled back to my car and grabbed my 5-weight, secretly wishing that I had the 6-weight that was safely ensconced in my room at the ranch house. Although I had blown my opportunity at a double-digit Kamloops trout, the rest of the day proved to be far more productive with the added power of the 5-weight rod. I wound up landing several acrobatic trout from 1-1/2 to 3 pounds that still couldn't resist Chan's Las Vegas Leech. A 5 through 7-weight rod is about right for all-around use on B.C. stillwaters. Depending upon conditions, a 5-weight will work most of the time but a 7-weight is nice when it is windy, or if the trout are running especially large.

Reel

Select a reel with at least a 3-inch diameter spool for quick pickup of loose line and a dependable adjustable click and pawl drag. If you contemplate going after the biggest bruisers in British Columbia, consider a reel with an adjustable disk drag. Your reel should have capacity enough to hold an appropriate fly line and 100-150 yards of 15-20 pound test backing. Always be certain that the reel you purchase has extra spools available, as you will need a couple.

Line

The fly lines available today are incredibly well made. I use mine hard and still get several seasons from each one. For stillwater you will need a floating, intermediate sinking, and fast-sinking line to cover the water column from top to bottom. Weight forward lines are preferable to double taper lines for lake fishing. The floating line should be a color that you can see easily but not one that is garish. The new clear intermediate lines are excellent for working just under the surface, particularly if it is a bit windy as they get beneath the chop and pull nice and straight. A type II or III sinking line will do the job for dredging the bottom.

Leader

Most veteran Kamloops area stillwater anglers will tell you to use the longest leader you can handle when fishing a floating line. This means a leader from 9 to 12 feet for most anglers. When trout are hitting small callibaetis, midge or caddis emegers in sizes 14 through 20, you will want tippets down to 5 and 6X. Intermediate lines running just below the surface should be combined with a leader of 9 feet for most in 4X to 5X tippet strength for most situations. For sub-surface work with larger damsel, dragon and leech imitations you will be best served with 3X, or even 2X, just in case you come up tight on a big, well-muscled Kamloops that you hope to stay connected to.

Tippet Material

I always purchase tippet material of the same brand as my leaders. Whenever I am forced to mix-and match leaders to tippets I always take a bit of extra time to make sure that the two types of material are knot-compatible. By this I mean that one section won't cut through another when snugged together or yanked ferociously by a highly-spirited trout.

PHOTO: LES JOHNSON Brian Chan's spring season lake fly box; a huge selection of chironomids and a few selected leech patterns.

Flies

The basic food sources for stillwater trout in the Kamloops country - and throughout most of the west for that matter - consist of: shrimp, midges, mayflies, damselflies, dragonflies, caddisflies, boatman and leeches. A selection that will handle most situations all season long can be packed into two fly boxes quite easily. However, when an angler gets truly addicted to fishing for stillwater trout, the number of boxes always increases to a point of being impossible to carry in a float tube and unwieldy in a pontoon boat. This usually forces the angler into a 10-foot pram, which will usually suffice for years of work on smaller lakes. ~ Les Johnson

Les Johnson has been a flyfisher and writer for more than forty years. He is former VP and content editor of Greatlodge.com, was founding editor of Flyfishing & Tying Journal, is author of Fishing the Sea-Run Cutthroat Trout and co-author of Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon and Tube Flies. His all new book, The Coastal Cutthroat: Mysterious Sea-Run Trout of the West, will be out in the summer of 2004. Flyfishing for Pacific Salmon II is scheduled for mid-2005. Les lives in Redmond, Washington with his wife, Carol. He can be reached via e-mail at les.johnson5@verizon.net. We thank Les for sharing this information with us!

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