The whiz on the reel has Rob Bride jumping off the rail of the boat and grabbing the rod. It makes that fast, whirring sound, like a bike ripping down a steep hill. He drops the rod down, then jerks it up fast and hard to set the hook. It all happens in a matter of seconds. Then he passes the rod to me. “Play it smart,” he says, his eyes big and excited. “It’s a big one!”
The high peaks of the Purcells and Selkirks shine bright on a sunny October day. Down on their lower flanks, the leaves of the few deciduous trees here are just starting to turn colour. Across from the small town of Kaslo, on the west shore of Kootenay Lake, I quickly forget about the beautiful scenery and get down to the task of trying to land one of the biggest fish of my life.
Stretching over 100 kilometres from north to south, deep in the heart of the southern interior, Kootenay Lake is one of the largest bodies of water in BC. Serving as the boundary between the spectacular peaks of the Purcell Mountains and the granite capped valleys of the Selkirks, its fjord-like geography also has it as one of the province’s more stunning lakes. Fed by the Lardeau River to the north and the Kootenay from the south, it also happens to be full of life. Thanks to strongly enforced fishing regulations, a successful fertilization program and a baseline ecosystem fish known as the Kokanee, fish populations in Kootenay Lake are booming, and for anglers increasingly choosing the destination as their choice to drop a line, the fishing is good. Really good.
One of the best seasons to fish is the fall. As water temperatures cool, fish become more active in their feeding. And with healthy populations of Kokanee, Bull trout and the almighty Rainbow trout, highlighted by a sub species known as the Gerrard, which is endemic to the lake, it’s quite common to catch fish over 10 pounds and as big as 20.
As a longtime Nelson local, with heritage that extends back to the early 1900s (my Grandfather always boasted of his biggest fish, a 22-pound rainbow), I’ve never had much success landing the big one. Most of my fishing has been spent with my kids, and for any father who’s taught his kids how to angle, you know that you don’t catch much. Even when you do, it’s good form to pass on that rod so that you keep giving them that taste of adrenalin. It keeps them coming back for more. The rest of the time is spent changing lures and freeing snags.
After a couple weeks of rain and cooler temperatures, with a long, dry Kootenay summer finally fading into fall, I head out with Rob Bride, who owns and operates Kootenay Sportfishing. Rob’s one of a handful of fishing guides who takes clients out on the lake from October through to early spring (yes, the fishing is quite good all through the winter). After bringing in a small Rainbow which we released, we tap into this beauty.
Thankfully my rarely tested angling abilities serve me well. I let go of the “knuckle buster” reel at a few key times during the fight, letting the fish run away from the boat. After a few minutes of intense battling, I finally bring a dark green, silvery beast to the stern and Rob successfully nets it. A 13-pound Gerrard, a missile of beauty of a fish. No one can stop smiling. During the day we catch a few four to five pound Bull trout, or Dolly Varden’s as the locals call them. Beautiful, feisty fish that make for great eating. And as the sun begins to wane and we slowly motor back across the lake to Kaslo, I can’t help think that Grandpa would be proud. Oh, did I forget to mention that I didn’t bring the kids? It was a school day. Lucky me.
Fishing in the Kootenay Rockies region
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