By Bill Ruediger
The trip started as an opportunity created by COVID and the reluctant cancellation by Tim Sullivan’s friend, Dean Knudsen. The trip was sponsored by Interior Fly Fishing Guides and occurred on the trout lakes surrounding Kamloops, British Columbia (B.C.). Since Dean couldn’t make the trip, Tim asked if I was interested and I immediately signed on. The trip consisted of 5 days of fly-fishing on the lakes around Kamloops, B.C., which is well-known for having some of the best rainbow trout fishing in North America.
So, on Sunday, May 8th Tim picked me up and we headed for Canada. Canada has a new entry process called ArriveCan and we made it through the border easily. Problem was we took a wrong turn near Fernie and nearly ended up in Calgary. Next time I’ll bring a map. We finally rolled into Kamloops late and our guide for the first two days was Jason. Jason picked us up early the following morning and we headed out to Pat Lake, also known as 6-Mile Lake. This is a small lake very close to Kamloops and pressure is correspondingly high. It is stocked with relatively high numbers of rainbows and because of this, the fish are small due to the ratio of fish to their food (which is mainly chironomids). B.C. Fish and Wildlife manages its Stillwater lakes in a variety of ways depending on the objectives. Because there are so many lakes in the Kamloops and Cariboo areas, they can tailor management to the wants of fishermen. For example, Pat Lake is managed on the basis of supplying lots of fish for nearby urban anglers. There is a 5-fish limit and no size restrictions that we were told of. Other lakes have reduced limits, such as 2-fish limits and slot or size limits. Some lakes are planted with lower numbers of fish and are catch and release only. This provides a multitude of experiences from lakes with lots of fish, but perhaps smaller sized trout, to lakes that allow more limited take restrictions, but larger fish to strictly catch and release lakes. A few lakes have relatively few fish, but contain trophy sized trout up to 10 pounds or more. An angle might fish the trophy trout lakes and only catch a fish or two in a day’s fishing, but the fish would be large, often 5 pounds or more.
B.C. also selectively breeds its fish to produce maximum growth using “triploid” trout which have three sets of chromosomes, while normal trout have two and are called diploids. Having three sets of chromosomes instead of the standard two makes these fish sterile. Among other factors triploid trout grow faster than “normal” trout because they do not put energy into reproduction. My understanding is that B.C. Fish and Wildlife planted only female rainbows in the lakes we fished.
Our fishing at Pat Lake was fun and we especially learned about how the B.C. fishermen tie and use chironomid patterns on these lakes. Chironomids are “midge” type flies that look like mosquitoes but do not bite. They range in size from barely visible insects to what are referred to as bombers that are ¾” or so in size. The larvae of these flies develop in the mud substrate in lakes and slowly rise to the surface where they metamorphose into the flying insects to breed. While trout will key in on the midges on the surface, most of their feeding is on the larval stages as they slowly emerge and rise to the surface. In many lakes chironomids make up 80% or more of trout’s diets, so they are important food insects and also provide a reliable way to catch the wary fish. We used only chironomids for the first 4 days of fishing using primarily an indicator that breaks loose and slides up and down the line so the fish can be netted. The indicator is pegged so the fly is about two feet off the bottom and allowed to stay there until a strike is noted. We could cast flies using this method, but not far due to the long leaders necessary to get down to the bottom (17-24 feet).The next method we used was called dangling and this technique uses a sinking line that is let out until the fly is about two feet of the bottom and the rod either goes into a rod holder or is hand-held. Strikes using this method are usually violent and the trout hook themselves. The last method was called naked-line fishing and this method employs a floating line with enough leader to reach the bottom and the fly is cast, allowed to sink to the desired depth and then is retrieved very slowly. I never did use this last method, but Tim did and had some success. All three methods worked.
Back at Pat Lake, we fished all day at this lake, never changing our location and never changing the fly pattern or the depth that we fish at – 17 feet. This pattern of fishing was the same for all of our guides, they all had their favorite chironomid patterns and all had specific depths that they like to fish, which were different for each guide. At the end of the first day we had caught something like 48 trout between Tim and me – certainly great fishing.
The second day, we fished Red Lake with Jason, which was my favorite lake of the trip. We traveled only a few hundred yards from the boat launch and fished at the same depth (17 feet) and with the same pattern we used at Pat Lake. Red Lake has both rainbow and brook trout and we caught about equal numbers of each. Not sure what our count was for the day, but Jason said that we caught 38 brook trout before we asked him to leave early.
The third and fourth days we fished with Cam, who had a slightly different slant on how to catch trout. Cam liked to fish a little deeper at 24 feet. We fished Edith and Jocko Lakes with Cam and caught fish in all of them. It gets a little crazy watching an indicator for 6-8 hours each day for five days in a row. Cam was just as talented as Jason and we caught approximately as many fish. All of the guides made extensive use of fish finders to locate the best areas to fish and all of them located benches or shelves with fish feeding on them.
On the last day we fished with Jordan Oelrich, who Tim and Dean had originally booked the trip with back in 2020. Since that time, Jordan had sold his company, but decided to come back for one day to fish with us. Jordan had a lot of talents in addition to being an excellent guide and seemed to have several businesses brewing centered around fly fishing. We fished Morgan Lake with Jordan and had about the same experience in terms of catching fish. I must tell one story which I couldn’t believe until I actually tried it – the Blob Fly. Blob Flies are brightly colored concoctions that are fluorescent orange, yellow or cream colored. They look similar to an egg pattern with a bright tungsten bead. If anyone asked me if these flies caught large trout I would have snickered. They are well-known in Europe and often used and I noticed that Brian Chan, a noted fisheries biologist and stillwater fisherman from Kamloops mentioned them in a recent fishing program he provided for our local Trout Unlimited Chapter.
Anyway, Jordan suggested that I use one in the early morning as the chironomid hatch was not happening. I tied on the fly as instructed, but had a hard time concentrating on the indicator due to having been watching the damn thing for four days on top of having little confidence in the Blob Fly. Jordan snapped at me “you’re down!” which is B.C. talk for having the indicator pulled under by a trout. I was slow on the strike and missed the first fish, but was absolutely amazed that the Blob Fly was eaten. A few minutes later Jordan says “you’re down again” which I again was slow on the strike. The yellow Blob Fly was the only fly the trout were hitting at this time. My third cast resulted in another bite, this time I was watching and hooked the trout. In the course of the next hour or so we caught maybe ten trout on the Blob Fly. Of course, by this time I was truly convinced the fly produced. When the chironomid hatch began we all switched to chironomid patterns.
In closing, we had a memorable trip to Kamloops and had a great time. The guides were excellent, the fishing was great and we always enjoy our Canadian neighbors. We had some very good food within walking distance of our motel as well. A notable situation was the trout fishing culture in B.C. compared to Montana and other states I have trout fished. Virtually all of the fisherman we saw used fly-fishing equipment. We only saw one fisherman with a spinning rod. Also, nearly all the fish we saw caught were released. Only one fish was harvested among hundreds we saw caught. This is quite different from the western United States where a lot of fisherman troll with lures and bait and methods like “PowerBait” are often employed.
Our culture in the U.S. is changing – but slowly. I just came back from fishing a local lake and probably 50% of the fisherman were using bait and keeping most of the fish they caught. An old survey that I read years ago said that a vast majority of trout kept are eventually wasted. Ask your local garbage man if you doubt this. I have no issue with killing a fish or two to be eaten fresh, but I hope the days of “filling the cooler” are behind us. All of our fish were released.