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Kootenay Lake Rainbow Paradise

By Ross McKay, 🕔Thu, Sep 25th, 2014


Living at Nelson, B.C., on the west arm of Kootenay Lake, enabled our family to enjoy one of the best Rainbow trout fisheries in the world. My parents, Dee and Dan, both fly fished throughout the spring and summer, mainly within three miles of our cabin on the north shore opposite Nelson. They, my brother Rod, and I could catch our limit (which was 12 fish in the 1950´s) on Burns´ Point within 300 feet of the cabin, on many July nights when the hatch occurred and the bite was on. The same thrilling bite, but with bigger Rainbows slapping the water as they snapped at the sedge hatch was available two miles down the river where Grohmann Creek enters the fast water of the Kootenay River. The fish were usually between 2 and 5 pounds, with the occasional 7 to 9 ponder keeping a fisherman out after dark. Even in the 1960´s we released over half of our catch in this peaceful, pristine paradise.

Dad and Mom talked about their youth when they trolled with buck tail flies, spoons and plugs on the main Kootenay Lake, about 20 miles east of Nelson, for the elusive, larger Gerrard rainbow trout, spawned in the Lardeau River near Gerrard at the very north end of the lake. Rod and I dreamed about these big ‘bows, and, even though we ventured to the main lake several times in the 1960´s we didn´t manage to catch any.

Our luck has changed! Rod and his wife Linda invited my son Jeff and me to come and fish for the Gerrards at the end of September. We kept the boat at Queen´s Bay and drove out from Nelson for an early start three of the five days we visited.
Kootenay Lake is spectacular, surrounded by majestic mountains with sharp peaks and in the autumn the colors are beautiful. The lake, up to 400 feet deep, is about 60 miles north to south, about 2 to 4 miles wide, and has the West Arm which meanders 20 miles west to Nelson. Rod had his 19 foot Harbercraft geared up for both down rigger trolling and for buck tailing using a cedar planer board to jerk the fly and catch the eye of the Gerrards. We used one rod with a Crocodile spoon down rigged at 60 feet and one with a gray and white buck tail 75 feet from the transom. We trolled north/south 300 feet off of Pilot Point with a big turn northward toward Riondel. After one pass, just into the turn, the fly line screamed and Jeff played a beauty through several jumps, bringing it to the boat for a quick picture, measurement and release of the seven pound, fit rainbow. We were all ecstatic as the sun came out momentarily, and we kept trolling, each getting a fish on that same line and fly: Rod´s a 9 pounder and mine a 5. We headed home satisfied, and eager for more.

The second day was very similar, with a light drizzle off and on, breaks of sun, and a steady breeze, typical for late September. We again each tied into a beautiful rainbow and they all fought well, jumping and running with the same buck tail pattern in their mouths. We felt good with three fish at 6, 7, and 8 pounds. We kept the 7 pounder for dinner, its Kokanee-fed dark red meat-delicious on the grill!

Two days later, October 2nd, was to be a dream. The weather was similar, but warmer, and we plied the same waters. Again, Jeff started us off within 30 minutes as he landed then released a nice, energetic 10 pounder that had taken a dark purple, black and white buck tail for breakfast. We had given up on the down rigger gear as it had, surprisingly, disappointed. In the late morning it was Rod´s turn to take the handle on a nice 8 pound rainbow which would not stay in the water, jumping everywhere! We then had a long stretch, trying every fly we could think of without luck. The weather had kicked up with a heavy north wind and we had decided to pull up when my turn came up with a bang-an apparently huge fish came out of the water and we were all screaming louder than the reel! I focused (something I have failed to do at times when I have a whopper on), and enjoyed the ride, with Rod and Jeff counting the jumps: 2, 3, 4-8. This was magic, and we enjoyed the 25 minute fight, finally bringing this silver bullet up to the boat. We decided to measure and release it after a picture or two, all the while in an emotional frenzy as Jeff gently revived it until it could safely swim away. We took an underwater video of it heading back to the depths of Kootenay Lake. It turned out to be 21 pounds and 35 inches long!

We packed up, hugging each other and saying two words over and over: awesome and priceless!

Ross McKay

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