As we passed through the small town of Nelson and crossed over the west arm of Kootenay Lake, I was enjoying the fall colors that seemed to be at their peak. The larch and aspens were brilliant gold and the maples and various fruit trees were mixes of red, peach and orange. The hills were covered with the larch and evergreens creating a patchwork of gold and green. This is just a small part of why I love the fall. To a greater degree, I love to pursue the giant gerrard rainbows of Kootenay Lake that come up in the fall turnover when water temps get near 50 degrees. This is the time of year you can catch them by dragging 4-6 in. buck tail flies on the surface for these are arguably the biggest native rainbows in the world!
After being shut out on a big bow the the first week, I finally got on the board with this killer 17 LB. male gerrard. It hit the first five minutes we were on the water on a 4.5 Apex right on top.
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I remarked to John that it seemed more colorful than last year. He agreed. The Selkirk and Purcell Mountain ranges that run the length of the 90+ mile long lake are majestic and awesome as they jut up over the lake to over 9,000 feet. It has become one of my favorite sites on the planet. To have such scenery and quality fishing for giant trout together is what sets this place apart from anywhere else in my book.
We were really pumped because we were driving up to the northern end of the lake to an area new to us called Schroeder Creek and staying in the campground. I got word about the area last year from Don Linder, a taxidermy customer, who had us do a 19 LB. male gerrard reproduction from his best fish last year. He and his buddy,Tom, had a "once in a lifetime" trip the previous year when they tagged that area of the lake for 48 trout with almost half of them weighing over 10 LBS! A week after their trip we were down in the west arm and were happy to get the 5 over 10 LB. that we landed. We had to see what the north part of the lake had to offer us.
It was raining and dark around 6:30 p.m. as we pulled into the campground that Saturday night. Pulling John's boat behind his big Lance camper slowed us down a bit. The trip took about 13 hours from Bend including all our stops. It is almost 600 miles to Schroeder Creek. We set up his camper for the night and hit the rack early as we were pretty much exhausted from a full day on the road.
We didn't get a chance to meet the manager, Randy Phipps, until morning. We picked a different site that was protected from the wind and launched the boat and moored it. For all we had to do, it was noon before we got out that day. We knew that Don and Tom were coming up but not sure when they would be arriving. It turned out to be the next day. Our first afternoon on the lake was not productive but we loved taking in the different sites of that end of the lake referred to as the "narrows" because it is the narrowest part of the lake. Directly across from the campground on the eastern shore was a point called Sugarloaf that turned out to be a productive area for us as the week progressed.
On Mon., we got calm flat water with a mix of sun and clouds. The surface bite was over early and we only had a couple of shakers to show for it. We decided to experiment with the downriggers and John put an Apex down on the flat water as we cut across the lake toward the west shore. He was dropping it to around 40 feet when he said; "I got one!" just as he was about to put his rod in the holder. That was fast! It turned out to be a nice 10 LB. hen and broke the ice for bigger fish. We were on the board! That night before we got off I was running a 4.5 Apex on the top and suddenly the drag is screaming with a fish that slammed the lure. We were amazed when it turned out to only be a 6 LB. hen. I cannot emphasize enough just how powerful these fish are.......you will see what I mean later in this article.
After Don and Tom arrived we would communicate via VHF radio's during the day to see how each boat was doing. By mid-week it was obvious that it wasn't going to be a trip anywhere as productive as last years for them. Finally, on Thursday evening as we were making our last run before dark, John's rod goes off and he is fast into what was obviously a big trout. After about 15 minutes, his big 15 LB. hen was at the net and we celebrated the first big fish of the week. I think the day before, Don and Tom had boated an 11 LB. trout to get their game going.
As weather moved in, Friday was looking like the kind of weather you want to see when you are "pulling hair" as they like to say. The system we employ was first developed on the great lakes years ago. It incorporates using big dual boards off planer board masts to put lines as far as 150 feet to the side of the boat. We use large custom buck tail streamer flies that are tied onto our conventional salmon rods with line counter reels. I happen to like Power-Pro braid with 100 foot fluorocarbon leaders. The lines can be set to whatever distance you are comfortable with.....we like at least 250 feet back and then stagger the lines. It seems to work for us. You then place your line in the releases that are nothing more than a smaller Scotty release clip on a metal shower curtain ring. The ring allows you to fasten it onto the planer board line and gravity lets it slide out to wherever you want it. We have run as many as 3 lines off one board in the past. You simply need at least two people to be able to clear lines when a big fish hits. The beauty of this drill is how the chop bucks the board thus jigging the lines and flies and giving them an enticing action those big gerrards can't seem to resist when conditions are right. When a big fish hits, the planer board line loads like a bow and then the release snaps and your "off to the races."
It was now mid day and John's rod goes over hard with the drag screaming. There is not anything quite like hearing those drags scream when those toads hit and run. After a tough battle he finally got the big male up near the boat. It weighed in at 17 LBS. after we revived it in the 200 quart ice chest. This was our new revival system we were trying to better care for such big trout before release. After a few photos he swam away and I would estimate him to be over 20 LB. next year. About an hour and a half later as I was napping on the bench seat, I hear some commotion and awaken to John holding onto another screamer. Seems he was putting the line in the holder when the big hen hit and he cut his finger from the braid as she barreled off hundreds of feet of line before she stopped. We knew the line counter was reading around 330 feet after we put the flies out and then off to the side. After the big hen quit running, his counter read 757 feet......we could hardly believe it! That was over 400 feet of line! I had heard such stories from my Lake Pend Oreille days when we fished for them years ago in Idaho. This was the first time we saw it for ourselves.
When he got her to the net, we thought she might break 20 LBS. Weighed in only the hoop of his net, that weighs 1.5 LB., she weighed in at 20.5 LBS. netting her to 19 LBS. We do this to keep from holding the big fish vertically from the Boga-Grip scales which is very hard on them and can damage their spinal cord.
Those were 17 and 19 LB. rainbows in about two hours........our best day of the week by far. I heard from Don via radio that Tom caught an 18 LB. male that same afternoon. They were finishing up and were leaving that afternoon. It was a big fish bite like we hadn't seen all week.
By Sunday I had developed a complex.......John had caught (4) big bows from 10 to 19 LB. I think I had an 8 Lb. hen to top my list. I needed some "Mojo" and something to change. I decide to run a fly called Halloween that we ran several years ago. It was a perfect morning.....windy with some big chop and completely overcast with light rain. The fly change seemed to work as I had 3 screamers in about 4 hours. The only problem.....none of them stayed hooked up on the barbless hooks that are mandatory regulations for the lake. We caught a lot of trout that morning but nothing big.
We had a great stay that week and the people at the campground were very friendly and gracious. Thanks Dave for those fires in the rec. room in the evening.....they were a wonderful finish to a long day on the water. I would highly recommend a stay at the campground if you want a shot as some big bows in a beautiful setting. To learn more about what is available you can visit their website at www.schroedercreekresort.com or call Randy Phipps at (250) 353-7383. We plan on going back next year. The campground closes at the end of Oct. for the winter.
Sunday was moving day as we pulled out to return to Balfour 30 miles south on the west arm of the lake. As usual and in years past, we stopped into www.gillandgift.com to get our licenses and assortment of flies for the trip. Randy and Truus run the store and can give you up to date info. on the fishing and what is currently working on the lake. Randy was helpful in getting us some parts for our mast during our stay.
My biggest rainbow of the trip came on the Gray ghost. He weighed in at 17.5 LB. and was released as were all of our trout.
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Well as luck would have it.......mine would change. Monday morning was our first outing on the west arm. In first light of the morning, I dropped a 4.5 Apex about 250 feet back on top and within the first five minutes I was fast into a beautiful 17 LB. buck. Finally on board with a big fish! He is my personal best big male gerrard. When and if I get a 20+ some day, that fish will land on the wall.
The weather turned nice and the water flattened out and we limped around until mid-week when a good chop developed on Wed. The clouds blew out but the swell and chop got big. As we made a run toward the top of Pilot Point, suddenly John's drag is singing that song again. It was 8:05 a.m. when I looked at my watch as he hooked up. It was 8:35 when he finally got that 15 LB. buck to the boat to net. It was the best fight of the trip and every time John would get some line back.....off he would go burning off what John had just recovered. We both thought the fish would have to be over 20 LBS. the way he fought. As I alluded to earlier, I have never caught big trout that have fought so hard or could take as much line as these big gerrards.
Wednesday was going to be the big day! About an hour later, I got a nice 17.5 LB. buck that was almost a twin to one I got on Mon. and it wasn't over yet. About an hour later my rod is over and another screamer is running out line like no tomorrow. This one is a nice 13 LB. hen and not the last of my day. A couple of hours later as I was dropping back the Halloween fly, I had a grab before I could put the line on the clip. This time a beautiful 15.5 LB. hen enjoys a short photo session with me before she is released. We couldn't believe that we both had fish hit while we were letting our lines out. This was the best day of our trip by far with rainbows of 13, 15, 15.5 and 17.5 LBS. landed before mid-day.....we were lovin' it!
Thurs. produced a 13 LB. hen early in the morning and on Fri. John got a 16 LB. male and I had a 14.5 LB. hen. Sat. was a tough morning as we both lost a couple of screamers. John had a big one on that we never saw that took out 350 feet of line on one run. Unfortunately, it threw the fly with only 30 feet of line out before we attempted to net it. It was so rough that we never got a glimpse of it! The hot flies were the Gray Ghost and the Halloween. Apexes also produced some of the big rainbows. Lymans and flasher/hootchies are good on the riggers for both bulls and rainbows.
If you want a chance at catching a monster rainbow trout, I would highly recommend Mike Thompson of www.split-shot.com who has caught more big rainbows over 20 LB. than anyone. He works the west arm and mid lake area and is probably the most knowledgeable guide on the lake. Brad Stubbs, of www.kootenaykingfisher.com is another very experienced guide that we have fished with in the past. He works the upper end of the lake and has put many clients into some big trout as well. Either guide is fun to fish with and would provide you an opportunity of learning more about this very special fishery.
John and I are already planning our trip for next year........I can hardly wait!