John with the best of the trip. This bow was around 35 in. but only weighed 16 LB.!
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What can I say about Kootenay Lake that I haven’t already said? It is my favorite lake and if I were to choose the best fishing destination for trophy rainbow trout in the world, it would win, hands down! I guess you could say I have probably become the #1 unsolicited “pitch man” for this beautiful and amazingly productive lake! The giant gerrard rainbows that inhabit the lake and a couple of others around North America are the largest native rainbows in the world. Not only are they big, but they hit so hard and at such speed, that it is not uncommon for them to burn up several hundred feet of line on their initial runs. I have witnessed first hand a run last year of over 400 feet by a 19 LB. hen that my buddy, John Werwie, caught at Schroeder Creek. This year I had one on that took my Shimano Tekota 300 line counter from 325 feet to 580 before the big trout threw my bucktail.
There are unconfirmed reports of giant gerrards that topped 50 LBS. from Jewel Lake, B.C. back in the 1930’s. Fish of that size range would top the current World Record rainbow of 48 LBS. caught by Sean Konrad out of Lake Diefenbaker back in 2009. That fish was a triploid but the gerrards are natives so that makes their size even more amazing. One of the previous World Record rainbows was a gerrard from lake Pend Oreille taken back in 1947 that weighed 37 LB. The Canadian Providential record is a 35 LB.12 oz. specimen that came from Kootenay Lake back in the early 1950’s. I saw a photo of that fish while at the Gill and Gift Shop, in Balfour, just last week. These are impressive salmonids to say the least!
With another year of record gerrard rainbow spawning runs up on the Lardeau River and the action we had last fall, we were looking forward to this trip since early summer. The monster 22.5 LB. hen that John caught during a spring trip didn’t hurt either!
As it turned out, the trip this fall was in jeopardy in early Sept. when John had come down with a spell of vertigo. This was the second time in 5 years he had a bout with it that lasted for months. We assumed he would probably be past the episode by the time we were to take off on Nov. 3 so we made our plans and hoped he would recover. About ten days out he informed me it wasn’t looking good and I suggested that he wait out one more weekend and call me on Mon. Though not completely over it, he decided to go.
After an all day drive from Bend, Or., we arrived in Balfour in the early evening and made our way over to see Randy and Truus at www.gillandgift.com (250-229-2113) to pick up some of the new skull head fly designs that Brownie, of Kootenay Fly Co., started tying last year. He has been expanding his line of them to incorporate more of his regular flies with the lead head weighted “skull” as they have been called by the locals. We also grabbed some of the Split-Shot flies that Mike Thompson ties for the shop. They are both excellent fly's and we have had great success with many of each. I will get into more specifics on these later.
On the first morning out, we headed in the direction of Pilot Point, a very popular spot that has produced a number of big rainbows for a host of anglers over the years. I had a 221 Skull out and on the first pass I got a screamer ( local term for the sound the strike produces on your reel when the drag takes off at Mach one!) and looked up to see the big bow thrashing on top several hundred feet back for a few seconds before it threw the fly. It was around 8:00 a.m. and we were encouraged to get hit hard right out of the gate. Unfortunately, we only had a couple of other short hits by some shakers, and that was it for the first day.
The next day was sunny and flat and we ended up heading to another popular spot referred to as the “power Lines.” They are large high voltage power lines that cross the lake between Queens Bay and Woodbury. Coffee Creek dumps into the lake from the west side in close proximity to them. With no surface chop to speak of, we dug out some Lyman plugs and decided to work the riggers on some of the kokanee balls and large arches we were spotting at 100-120 feet. The first fish hit my plug at 120 feet down and I was into a nice 11 LB. rainbow to get things started.
After dropping our sets down again, I got hit at 100 feet and soon had a 12 LB. hen to the boat. We decided to stay right in the area and ate lunch as we worked from the west to east shoreline. The flat water and warming sun made me sleepy so I decided to take a little nap and stretched out on the bench seat. Suddenly, I was awakened to John scurrying as my drag started singing after a big bow had popped my release and was taking line at a pretty good clip. After a short fight, John slid the net under the 13 LB. hen and we took some videos of her and the underwater release. Later as we were musing over the action that afternoon, I mentioned that I had a new idea for an alarm clock. It may already be out there but wouldn’t it be cool to have a fisherman’s alarm clock that produces the sound of a screaming drag for the alarm? I may have to explore that further.
On Tues. and Wed. we picked up rainbows and bulls up to 9 LBS. as the soft water persisted. Check out the photo of the 8 LB. bull that was spitting up a 6 in. kokanee right before we netted it. It hit on John’s 5 in. Lyman Plug in a kokanee pattern. Weather moved in Wed. afternoon and we moved from the flat water downrigger drill to working the flies off planer boards as we finally got a good consistent chop. Unfortunately, the shifting cable broke on the kicker and we had to pull off the water early that afternoon early. After several calls to some local boat mechanics, we pulled the boat out on Thurs. morning for repairs. The Jones Boys, near Ainsworth, were able to get us right in and replaced the cable before noon. We were able to get back out for an afternoon run before dark. I popped a nice 13.5 rainbow on a 226 skull around 3:00 p.m. to redeem the day.
On Fri., the Kaslo Derby started and the boat traffic was up considerably. We heard that there were over 200 contestants entered in the two and a half day event that would end at noon on Sun. Having fished many bass tournaments in my past, I no longer have any interest in derbies. John has felt the same about them so we have passed on the derbies consistently since our first trip in 2007. We are more motivated by the thought of landing a monster gerrard than winning some money. Congratulations to Jason Ozeroff who won $4320 for first place with a 19 LB. 10 oz. buck. The second place fish was a 19 LB. 3 oz. buck and the third a 18 Lb. 9 oz. hen.
From Sat. on we stayed with the boards and flies as conditions were perfect with cloudy, light rain and good chop almost every day. Our tally on big bows for the trip were as follows; John caught (6) that weighed 12.5, 13.5, 14, 14.5, 15 and 16 LBS. He also stuck (3) bulls weighing 7, 8, and 9 LBS. I landed (8) rainbows of 11, 11, 12, 12, 12.5, 13, 13.5 and 14.5 LBS. My best bull was 8 LB. We also caught several rainbows in the 5-9 LB. range but because of the size these trout reach, we only really count the ones over 10 LBS. Our total tally was (14) over 11 LBS. and though we didn’t really land any of the truly large bows, we couldn’t complain about the bite we had on some quality gerrards. I did have a screamer that busted off my fly after a long run (they have teeth like you wouldn’t believe) and another that hit on an apex and after a long initial run went 3 feet into the air about 400 feet back. That trout looked REALLY big that far back.....could have been a 20 LB.+ but we will never know. Just another “big one that got away” story!
The week started with good weather. This is such a beautiful lake!
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We did well on many different fly patterns and there wasn’t any real consensus on the best fly this year for us. The gray ghost did well and is an all-around excellent fish producing pattern on this lake as it represents the kokanee fingerlings. On the Split-Shot flies we did well on black/gray with UV Mylar on the darker days and evenings. The black/white with rainbow tinsel and the bleeding gill were both good. Brownie’s best were the 215, 221, and 226 patterns. The skulls and regular bucktails both produced. The lures included the Elures and Apexes in black/pearl, purple UV, and the silver/pearl and they all produced good fish. We also used Lyman’s in both 4 and 5 in. sizes with the silver sparkle and purple/white working the best.
As I have said all along in everything I have written about this lake, if you are a serious angler interested in catching the biggest native rainbows in the world, you need to hit this lake before you hit the ground! Mike Thompson of Split-Shot Charters can be reached at www.split-shot.com or 877-368-3473. He has over 30 years experience on the lake and has probably caught more rainbows over 20 LB. on the lake than anyone! He guides out of Balfour and covers the productive mid-lake region outside the west arm. For the northern region I recommend Brad Stubbs who can be contacted at www.kootenaykingfisher.com or 800-838-5269. I have fished with both and they are fun to fish with and excellent guides.
For more information on this fishery and past trips I have made to Kootenay, be sure and read my other articles Kootenay III, Kootenay Komeback and Kootenay Fall Gerrards on the articles page of this website.