Our Man In Canada
March 15th, 2004

Famous British Columbia
Fly-Fishing Waters
By Art Lingren

The Bill Nation Kamloops Area Lakes

IN THE CRADLE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA'S STILLWATER FLY-FISHERY, Bill Nation is synomymous with the halycon days of fishing for large rainbow trout in the lakes around Kamloops. During the 1920s and 1930s, Nation fished and helped make Lac Le Jeune, Pinantan, Hyas, Knouff and Paul Lake famous.

A catch from
Lac Le Juene (Fish Lake), circa 1900

Kamloops, an early trading post, grew slowly, becoming the hub of the Interior in 1885 after the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) reached the town. It was during the early railway years that fly-fishers started to explore the lakes in the area.

Starting in the 1880s and with the good catches though the 1890s, Fish Lake became the local fly-fishing hot spot. In 1928, Fish Lake would be renamed Lac Le Jeune, to recognize Father Le Jeune's missionary work with the Native people. Le Jeune with its prodigious population of rainbow trout drew fly-fishers to its shore and many provided glowing testimonials on the fishing they experienced.

Dr. T. W. Lambert devotes over half a chapter to Fish Lake (Lac Le Jeune) in his valuable treatise, Fishing in British Columbia (1907). He writes:

About twenty-three miles from Kamloops is a lake known as Fish Lake, in which the fishing is so extraordinary as to border on the regions of romance, though locally it is considered a matter of course. For lake fishing, in point of numbers, it is impossible that this piece of water could be beaten; it is like a battue in shooting, the number to be caught is only limited by the skill and endurance of the angler; indeed, little skill is needed, for anyone to catch fish there, though a good fisherman will catch the most. (pp. 48-49)

Lambert also provides a few words about the Natives' fishery at the lake and of an 1897 catch by an American friend and himself of 1500 trout in three days. The "true bait for Fish Lake is the fly" and about the fly-fishing, fly patterns and fly sizes, he says:

Flies were abundant, and the fish were ravenous for both real and artificial; they almost seemed to fight for our flies as soon as they touched the water. Even when almost every feather had been torn off they would take the bare hook. We fished with three flies, and often had three fish on at one time...Almost any ordinary Scotch loch flies are suitable for this water, a brown wing being perhaps the best, with a red body; the Zulu is a killing fly, as also a minute Jock Scott, size being the chief matter of importance. The fly must not be too large, (p. 51)

Lambert gives an example of a group of fly-fishers using too large a fly and catching only 30 fish in a long day's fishing. Those fly-fishers claimed the lake to be fished out, but Lambert, using smaller flies, caught 300 the following day.

In the mid 1880s, Dave Lusk, one of Le Jeune's early sport fishers, built a log cabin on the lake. He was the first person to make Lac Le Jeune a fishing retreat. Over the next 100 years many more would be drawn to the lake's shores to build summer and permanent homes. Later, in 1905, he and partner Robert Cowan built the first Fish Lake Hotel, a primitive but successful hotel, one of the first fishing-lodge type hotels in the Interior. Lusk retired in 1906 and Cowan built a new and larger hotel called the Rainbow Lodge that became a popular retreat for CPR management people and other wealthy patrons. The current Lac Le Jeune resort is located on the same property that Lusk and Cowan built their first lodge almost 100 years ago.

Walloper Lake

After a harrowing nighttime journey to get to "Rainbow Cottage" one of the hotel visitors, F. G. Aflalo wrote about Lac Le Jeune, which he called Trout Lake, its fly-fishing, the rainbow's fighting ability, and fly patterns in Sunset Playgrounds (1909): For ordinary tastes Trout Lake should be good enough. I gladly threw back anything under a pound, and as I may add, as a further tribute to the fishing, that my action in throwing a trout-fly is unlike Basonquet's on a slow wicket. Yet at the very first cast I hooked two, one of close on two pounds, the other half a pound less. These lake rainbows jump like tarpon six or eight times, and they fight like demons...Many flies do well on the shallows, and among them a red-bodied Montreal, a green-bodied cow-dung, a March brown, a Zulu, a Parmachene belle, and a silver doctor, all tied on No. 5 or 6 hook. (p. 203)

In Rod & Creel in British Columbia (1919), A. Bryan Williams describes Fish Lake as "the Mecca for fly-fishermen (p. 114)." It was, and still remains, a popular fly-fishing lake to this day. Its fame, however, was to be shaded by some lakes north of Kamloops: Paul, Pinantan, Hyas and Knouff as well as Peterhope southeast of Kamloops. These lakes all had one thing in common. Early settlers discovered that trout quickly grew to enormous size when put into barren lakes containing large populations of aquatic insects. Stocked in 1909 with 5,000 Kamloops trout fry of Scotch Creek origin, Paul Lake was the first of the barren lakes to produce very large troutówith specimens weighing between 4 and 14 poundsó four years later. Pinantan Lake, stocked the same year as Paul, is a smaller, more shallow lake and the fish there also grew to enormous size. About Paul's and Pinantan's trout, Williams says that Paul's fish are "not so plentiful as in Fish Lake but they run much larger in size" and that Pinantan "has some enormous trout in it, fish up to twelve and fourteen pounds have been taken..." (Rod & Creel In British Columbia, p. 116). Because of the rapid fish growth and resulting good fishing in Paul and Pinantan, Knouff was planted in 1917, Hyas in 1923 and Peterhope in the 1935. They would become renowned in the world of stillwater fly-fishingóand partly so because of one man. ~ Art Lingren

Continued next time.

Credits: From Famous British Columbia Fly-Fishing Waters, published by Frank Amato Publications. We appreciate use permission.

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