Waist deep in salt water, I gazed over the wide expanse of the bay, patiently
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Stoney Lake LodgeBy Dave Vedder,
For a few magic moments, perhaps as few as ten, the black silhouette of a pine-bristled ridge reflected in the glass smooth surface of Stoney Lake . A full moon crept over the ridge before the tangerine sun could sink into the invisible. These are the moments that burn indelibly into our memory. Days, months or years later these magic moments are recalled, often unexpectedly, when we look back on our favorite angling experiences.
I was slow trolling a fly when the above scene presented itself. I stopped my oars just above the water pausing to enjoy the scene and to snap a few quick photos. My sink-tip line slowly settled toward the bottom.
Suddenly, a huge Kamloops rainbow inhaled my fly. I was totally unprepared for a strike. Before I could grab my fly-rod, a five-pound trout snapped the tippet then launched itself into the sky like a Polaris missile. For a millisecond the red-sided rainbow hung suspended at the apex of its leap, before gravity inexorably drew it back to its watery world - another memorable instant to be filed away for later recall.
My partner, Clint Derlago, and I were fishing Stoney Lake on the Douglas Lake Ranch near the town of Merritt in British Columbia's Thompson - Okanagan region. I have visited the ranch often before, drawn there by trophy Kamloops trout angling and the rugged beauty of British Columbia's largest cattle ranch.
The 500,000 plus acre ranch is a fly- fishers Mecca, attracting anglers from around the world to sample lakes that hold Kamloops trout ranging to ten pounds. Previous visits always resulted in excellent angling. The only drawback was that the nearest lodging was more than twenty miles from the ranch's premier lakes - Stoney and Minnie. I could have camped on the shores of one of the lakes, but I wanted to focus on fishing, not all the time consuming tasks that go with tenting and campfire cooking.
The only flaw in an otherwise perfect trout fishing destination had now been removed. A sparkling new lodge on the shore of Stoney Lake now offers anglers world class accommodations to go with the ranch's world class angling. When fishing past dusk on Stoney Lake anglers who look toward the new lodge see the curving sweep of landscape lights that lead from the boat dock to the lodge. The reflection of these lights on the lake's surface gives the appearance of a set of golden stair steps leading to heaven, and in a way they do.
After a long day of tempting trophy trout, weary anglers return to the lodge to find a roaring fire in the mammoth stone fireplace that dominates the center of the lodge. The fireplace separates the lounge area overlooking the lake from the dining/reception area facing the forest. From either side the open hearth beckons clusters of anglers to share the day's adventures and warm chilled fingers.
Before all the day's adventures can be recounted and perhaps embellished, dinner is served. Not too surprisingly the featured entree is usually beef. When you own the province's largest cattle ranch, you serve the world's finest beef. Every evening we were treated to fork-tender steaks, thick slabs of prime rib and other hearty meals served in an elegant setting. But, of course, it's the fishing that brings most of us to the ranch.
Trout fishing on the ranch can cover a variety of conditions. Minnie Lake, currently the ranch's largest, is 300 acres, shallow, reed-lined and tremendously fertile. Stoney Lake features rocky shores, deep cool troughs and an island. The ranch offers anglers nine lakes to choose from and several more are on the drawing board.
As the ranch recreation manager explained; " The ranch is at carrying capacity when it comes to cattle. We can't graze any more beef without damaging the range land. But we have dozens of small lakes that can be managed for quality fishing, and we have several creeks that can be dammed to make more lakes."
I don't know how an angler could ever choose where to fish if the ranch offered any more lakes. Clint and I spent hours every evening planning where to fish the next day. Minnie has always produced the ranch's biggest fish, but Stoney has consistently booted out its share of ten pounders. Pike's Lake seldom offers red hot fishing but it has a preponderance of five-pound plus trout. Harry's Dam is stuffed with three-pound trout, but few fish exceed five pounds. And never is angling for Kamloops trout predictable.
On the evening we arrived, Clint sprinted to the dock in front of the lodge and began casting a purple Woolly Bugger. In the hour before dinner Clint hooked and landed five trout. Two were dinks in the ten inch range, but three were respectable fish of two to four pounds. Not too bad for a few moments casting from the dock!
Our first full day we devoted to Minnie Lake. Within minutes of launching our boats we had a double header. Clint's turned out to be a sixteen incher, mine was a pig. As soon as my fish hit, it peeled off nearly all my fly-line. Not an easy task considering I was fishing with a 90 foot-long Scientific Angler line. My measure of a good trout is whether it can get me into my backing. I was a little disappointed that this fish couldn't quite make it that far. Then it turned and came at me faster than I could reel in slack. Frantically, I stripped line in a pile at my feet. I caught up to the fish just as it passed my boat, headed in the opposite direction. This time it kept going until it was well into my backing. At the end of its second run, the trout leapt high in the air three times tossing the hook on the last leap. I am always amazed at the strength and acrobatic ability of Kamloops trout.
Before dusk we hooked fifteen trout ranging from ten inches to five pounds. As often happens with May angling in the high country the action alternated between red hot and dead not. Twice Clint and I had double headers, and twice we went more than two hours between strikes. Those who think angling on a private ranch is like going to a trout pond have never fished these waters. There are lots of huge trout here, and they often bite with abandon. But, just as often, success comes only to those who can find what the fish want, and how they want it presented.
For four days Clint and I fished as many ranch waters as time would allow. We returned to Harry's Dam remembering the fish-a-cast action we enjoyed the previous year. We never had a strike. We could see fat Kamloops roll but couldn't find what they wanted. We fished Pikes Lake with similar results. The difference was the fish that ignored our flies at Pike's were huge. Several seven to nine pound fish jumped near us but none would bite. Clint had a fish jump so near him, it hit his rod tip on its descent.
One morning on Stoney Lake everyone was into fish. A visitor from Boston took a twenty-seven inch trout on his first cast. Within an hour he hooked four trout, all over 24 inches long. Then as suddenly as the bite came on, it stopped.
The most consistent action was just at sunset when the trout would invade the shallows in search of food. One reason the trout come to the shallows in the evening is because they feel safe when darkness shields them from the ospreys that search the lakes for trout to feed their young.
Whatever the reason, broad-houldered Kamloops moved onto the flats at dusk. Once on the flats, the fish began feeding aggressively. We found that almost any fly that looked buggy would draw a strike if placed in front of a feeding fish. Trout fishing doesn't get much more exciting than sight-fishing for cruising five pound fish.
I watched one evening as Clint cast twice to a trout no more than five feet from the shore of a small island in Stoney Lake. Twice the big fish ignored Clint's fly. On the third cast the fat Kamloops flared his gills and tried to suck in the fly. Clint was a bit too quick on the strike. He snatched the fly away from the fish which immediately spooked and fled. Clint turned to me and said "My knees are shaking." I envied him.
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