The second half of my trip through BC began with a beautiful drive down Highway 33, along the always stunning waters of the West Kettle and Kettle Rivers. Playlist bumpin’, windows down, I made my way through the portal of the Kootenays, towards the Columbia River, where I was meeting fellow Bushwhacker, and fly fisherman Jack.
To gain access to the geographical region knows as the Kootenays, no matter which way you are coming from, you must pass through a grand mountain pass. Over time, I have come to think of these routes of passage as a gateway of sorts; into a place that holds everything a contented man could want. And once through the gateways, your worries seem to disappear into thin air; slowly, and without notice, as the comfortable sway of Kootenay time takes over. On this day, I came through the portal from the east, over the Paulson Pass, and all the way down to the mighty river where all the water from this area ends up eventually.
The Kootenays are just awesome. Plain and simple. these interior mountains of British Columbia just have an aura to them; the sunsets more colorful, the lakes more calm and serene, and the people more enchanting and unique. The East Kootenays are known as a world class fly fishing destination. And in the West Kootenays, well… There is only endless rivers and lakes, big and small. With fishing opportunities ranging from Trophy Fishing for the massive Gerrard Rainbows of Kootenay Lake, the worlds largest native strain (which can push the scale to over 30 pounds!), all the way too recreational opportunities minutes from your door. And while the purists fly-fishing is not as highly noted as that in the east, it’s the combination of being in such a amazing place, mixed with good fishing that make the West Kootenay’s a great destination for the trout fisherman.
I was meeting Jack at a Back-Eddie we had fished before. At no particular time, mind you, cause we were back running on Kootenay time. Mid-afternoon, we said.
Me and Jack used to fish the Columbia together in 2014 when I was living in Nelson. That spring, me and jack spent most of our days exploring the stretch of the Columbia River from Castlegar to the US border, which is open for fishing year round. This stretch of water flows out from the Keenleyside Dam, which is a lake-bottom drawing Dam, which means cold, clear water even when everything else is high and muddy. During this time, we tried our hardest to figure out this mighty river, and tried to catch some of the big rainbows all the locals talked about.
But try as I might, I almost never ended the day with anything to show for it. I felt overwhelmed and intimidated by the turbulent and gargantuan porportions of the river. I could see the fish rising, but I couldn’t quite make it to them. My standard fly-fishing approach did not seem to be working. I usually ended up smoking to much and falling asleep with a Ball cap over my eyes. And to make matters worse, the crusty Kootenay locals with their bobbers and bait would be pulling out huge fish after huge fish.
Yes, my initial days fishing the Columbia were very humbling and also provided me with a great learning experience: If what you are doing isn’t working, do something different! Seemingly simple advice, but fly-fisherman can be a stubborn bunch. And also, don’t be afraid to learn a thing or two from those the fly-fishing community so often views as ‘inferior.’ aka Bait fisherman, bobbing, ect… Especially when they are catching fish and you aren’t!
The main thing I began to re-think on the Columbia is that maybe slack was my friend. Typically, fly-fisherman try to keep as little slack on the line as possible, keeping their tip up, in order to minimize drag and also to be more responsive when a trout takes the fly. Thats great. But unfortunately that doesn’t work when you are chest deep, casting 40 yards from shore across swirling back eddies and fast currents. Your fly will simply not get down. So I began to rethink this and used much more slack, and allowed the current to take my fly wherever it wanted; hopefully right to the fish, and used the straightening of my line and light strips to feel for a take. And the second thing I began to do is super-size my fly selection. On the Columbia, bigger is almost always better.
With these few changes, I did begin to catch more and more fish, and while I certainly haven’t figured it out, I like my chances a lot more now then I did.
And a little hope can go a long way towards success.
Today, I felt with the utmost certainty that I would get some fish to the net.
And I was right; except that it didn’t end up happening for me until the next day. The first obstacle we faced the first day, and throughout both days, was the high water. It was running high, which meant the shoreline was flooded and casting/ getting our flies out far enough was challenging. I missed on a few takes, and Jack was able to catch one smaller rainbow. We decided to begin moving back towards Nelson and met our other friend Dave at another spot on the Kootenay River, Shoreacres. We faced the same problem here. We could not wade out far enough to get clean casts and not snag the branches behind us. And the fish were out jumping just beyond where we could cast.
Dave, meanwhile, is new to the sport. He was using a spin rod with a big heavy bobber, and then had a sunk fly about 10 feet down from that. He was able to chuck his big bobber way out into the eddie. And while me and Jack were getting snagged in trees, Dave caught the first 2 trout of his life, including a nice 13″ incher. No wonder people around here wonder why people mess around fishing with Fly-rods.
After a great night of catching up and hanging out at Jacks place in Nelson, we headed out to the Columbia again the next day with even more resolve.
We went back to the same Eddie as before, and despite a slow start, things began to heat up. After about an hour, I hooked into a nice 14″ rainbow that gave me a good fight.
Shortly after that I was hooked up with what seemed like a dandy of a fish. While I was fighting him, Jacked hooked into a rainbow just downstream from me. We both played and landed our fish with smiles and got them in the net for the obligatory ‘double-header’ photo. Mine eneded up being a beautiful Rainbow of about 20″. We caught a few more and had some nice trout spit our hooks a few times. But all in all the day was great.
We took a break and then came back to the spot just before sundown. We fished a few spots with no luck. But then, right as I was starting to consider gathering up my line and calling it for the day, my line straightened up and I felt the pull of a nice trout. I fought him as the sun set, and he turned out to be the nicest fish of the day. It was the perfect way to finish another perfect day in the Kootenays.
A few tips for Fly fishing the Columbia River:
The best set-up to have is a 6- 8 wt Rod, and a sink tip if going below the surface. The Columbia is best fished fished from a boat. This gives you the best mobility to fish several different back eddies and to get your flies right into the middle of them. During the summer, there is lots of hatches and dry fly action, particulrily Caddies flies. Using huge caddis patterns, like sz. 4 or 6, is usually how I’ve had my success. Sunk flies also work very well; so don’t feel the need to re-cast your dry fly when it begins to sink and swirl about a few feet under the water. the fish love this and sometimes works better than a nicely floating fly. Using an indicator or a bobber a few feet away from your dry fly (similar to how Dave was using his spin rod) can help you recognize takes. This trip, we caught all our fish on nymphs, with the best Fly being a big bead head prince. These fish seem to love bright colors, so anything with pink, red, purple, or blue is often the ticket.
If your heading to fish the Columbia, stop in at the Fly shop in Castlegar and you will find a great many flies that will work great in the Columbia. Rod ties them all himself and he knows how to catch his big Rainbows. But, don’t expect to get to much advice from the guys in here; they are pretty tight lipped and guarded bout divulging too much info. They’ll let you figure it out 🙂
Kootenay Peace of Mind
The next day, I’m sitting in the revered Oso Negro cafe sipping on a latte and reminiscing about the fish of the day before. The colors and patterns of the whimsical Xeriscape Garden patio pulsed all around in the Kootenay sunshine. The hummingbirds buzzed around as people sipped their drinks and enjoyed each others company. I was about to hit the road again; back towards home and the summer of work that awaited me. But I was in no rush; the easy swing of ‘Kootenay time’ had taken me over and I felt no need to leave this moment.
After 8 months of living here, and many trips back, I have firmly come to decide 1 truth. The Kootenays are a fairy tale, ruled by some magical force.
And Nelson is where this magical force emanates from.
I’ve never been to a place with such a lively dynamic of human life living in harmony; Outdoor junkies, adrenaline enthusiasts, hard working blue collars, hippies, old people (old hippies, too), and homeless people, all sharing one commonality; there’s no where else on earth they would rather be.
Maybe it’s cause everyone has been puffing on the good stuff, or maybe it’s cause everyone is there doing something they love, surrounded by beautiful lakes and mountains, or maybe it was just the good coffee; but the cafe buzzed with an energy that seemed to consume everyone within. The city buzzed with the hope of spring. Everyone seemed genuinely stoked. And I felt amazing.
I finished up my coffee, jotted some notes down in my journal, and became very conscious of my gratitude towards this world. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Thoughts of a great summer ahead filled my mind, and all the adventures and lessons it would bring. Images from this great roadtrip flashed through my head. Not a ounce of regret was present in my mind.
Yes, being in Nelson is the best reminder that life is only as complicated as you make it. The ‘real world’ can be this simple, and beautiful. And if you make your goal in life to be as happy as possible, there is an endless amount of ways to make this possible.
So then I hit the road, and made for the Crowsnest pass; the exit portal that would mean I would shed the Kootenay cloak of contentment and re-enter back into the ‘Real world’. Yet, somehow, the real world seemed better now; more enchanting, more hopeful. I wasn’t sad that the roadtrip was ending.
I was glad that it happened. And looking forward to another.
And as with Trout fishing, a little hope can go a long way.