I would have made this trip last fall but the timing was poor with my son-in-law, Albert, dying from cancer. We decided to postpone it until this year. As many of you know, I have had a love affair with Lake Pend Oreille in Northern Idaho for almost 20 years now. That was easy. This is a drop dead gorgeous lake with giant gerrard rainbows that top 20 LB. with enough regularity to keep any trophy trout "junkie" coming back. It has been in decline and the larger bows have not been showing up in the numbers they used to. They have a forage base problem with declining stocks of kokanee and too many top end predators that have impacted the balance of the lake negatively these past few years. It is hard to say if the lake will return to form, but a best case scenario has the lake rebuilding for many years to come in my opinion. I hope I'm wrong!
John "Dink" Werwie and I headed out to Kootenay Lake in mid Oct. for a (10) day stay at Woodbury Resort. We met with TTG contributor, Jim "Hey" Sutherland from Kelowna, B.C., for our inaugural visit and to hopefully get into some of the monster gerrards that make this fishery so famous. The gerrard is the biggest strain of rainbow trout and the old World Record of 37 Lb.+ that came from Pend Oreille in the late 40's. This fish was from the original stocking that came from Kootenay Lake. There was actually a specimen of 52 Lb. that came from Jewel Lake, B.C. many years ago but was not submitted for a record. That fish would have easily surpassed the new and current World Record of Adam Konrad's 43 Lb. 10 oz.rainbow by 9 LB. if recognized by the I.G.F.A.! These trout are beautiful and amazingly large. Each year a significant number of rainbows over 20 Lb. are taken by local's and visiting trophy trout addicts alike.
When we arrived, we were greeted by Phil Brejle and Ted Neal, a couple of our buddies from the Sacramento, Ca., area that used to fish Pend Oreille as well. We had all decided to hook up at Kootenay Lake this year for reason's stated earlier. They had been there since the preceding weekend and would hang around until the next. Unfortunately, they had "bluebird" weather to start their stay and were getting some fish on the downriggers but little on top. During the fall season the lake turns over and anglers are looking for 50 degree surface water to bring the big bows up. A common and unusual way to fish for them is to run big planer boards and attach your buck tail fly or lure via releases to the lines running to the boards as far as 150 feet to the sides of the boat. This a very effective and really fun way to fish! Prior to our arrival, Ted had stuck a nice 11 Lb. hen and I believe, that would turn out to be their biggest bow of the trip.
John and I began fishing Wed. with some overcast skies and light rain. These are ideal conditions for these light sensitive predators. They seem most vulnerable with choppy surface conditions and cloudy, low light as a general rule. We didn't do all that well until a little later in the weekend when John got into a couple of decent bows. I'll get to that a little later. On Fri. we had the opportunity to fish with the "Iron" Mike Thompson ( I have gotten into the goofy habit of giving nicknames to almost everyone anymore) from Split-Shot Charters. Mike is probably the most experienced guide on the lake with almost 240 rainbows exceeding 20 Lb. over the past 25 years! His 38 foot catamaran is set up perfectly to fish in comfort and his time and experience on this lake is your best bet for a first timer looking for a big bow. He can be reached at www.split-shot.com or his toll free number is 877-368-3474. Ted, Phil, Jim, John and I had a full day with Mike and it was very educational and moderately productive. Canadian laws allow one rod per person unless you fish alone in which case you can use two rods. We had (6) lines out off the boards and got into several rainbows to around 4 Lb. and a couple of bulls to 7 Lb. Ted caught the bigger bull. All the fish were taken on flies and plugs and released with the exception of one smaller bull.
The best day for John and I was Sun. when John got into rainbows of 10.5, 6 and 5 LB. I have been fortunate in fishing Pend Oreille since 1990 and had racked up some nice bows in the upper teens with my largest hen going 21 Lb. back in 1993. Since John and I aren't getting any younger and have, who knows how many more trips left in us, I really wanted him to get into one of those "screamers" as the biggest rainbows are referred to. He was reluctant to do it but I finally convinced him that I was cool with it. The deal was he could have either rod that went off if it seemed like a big fish. Consequently, he got all of the better fish of our trip. Being a guide has made this something easier to do and especially with a good friend. John has caught his fair share of big browns to 17 LB.+ but hasn't experienced the 20 Lb. gerrard rainbow yet. Looks like he will have to wait until next year. By the way, we released every fish we caught.
To me, the highlight of the trip was on Tues. when John and I headed north to fish up towards Caslo, a beautiful little "berg" about 11 miles up the road from Woodbury. We had made a run down in front of the "Ink Spots" and did a giant circle through Campbell Bay. We had stuck a couple of dinks on flies to around 2 Lb. and were heading back south down the lake towards the resort. We were out mid lake and I had just put a Pro-Troll 4.5 ELure in silver about 300 feet back off the boards. The sun had just poked out and the wind had let up to just a slight chop on top. I saw the planer board line pull back just like an archer would draw his bow. Suddenly, the weight and strike of the fish popped the release and the drag started a nice buzz and line started coming off the reel steadily. We knew this was a nice fish but probably not exactly what we were looking for. John worked the fish for a while until we finally got a glimpse of color about 20 feet down of a colorful rainbow that went 11 Lb. That was our top fish. Jim Sutherland had landed a fish that wasn't weighed but was probably about the same size as our big fish during the week he stayed with us. Looking back on it, each of the (3) boats in our group had an 11 Lb. gerrard for top fish.
We were probably a little early on the timing of our trip this year but that is the way things worked out with our schedules. You want to fish in Nov-Feb. for the big rainbows on top. Next year we will probably hit it in Nov. and at this point, plan on filming a DVD. One of the other cool things about fishing on the big lakes is that most guys will use VHF radios to keep each other posted on the fishing and water conditions. I didn't have a radio this year, but Phil left me his to use and it is fun to listen in on other anglers accounts of their day. You have the advantage of the weather band as well. We did hear via radio that one lucky boat stuck fish of 15,18 and 22 LBS. one day!
A special thanks to Terry Jones, owner of Woodbury Resort and Marina. Terry was a gracious host and we greatly appreciated it. They can be reached at www.woodburyresort.com or toll free 1-877-353-7717. They have cabins, motel rooms, RV parking and a full service marina. There is also a restaurant that opens daily in the afternoon. They are strategically located between Caslo to the north and Balfour and the mid lake area to the south.
It was a wonderful trip to one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I look anxiously forward to returning next year.