Last week Coop, one of the ardent members in the Comox Valley Fly Fishing Club, invited me to join him in a fly fishing adventure on a small lake. We journeyed west of Campbell River, winding down a series of forestry roads that Coop was familiar with, until we arrived at a small lake about the size of the soccer pitch at Woodcote Park in Courtenay.
It was a jewel in a forest of second-growth trees. Launching my punt was a bit of a challenge, but it slid through the brush with no serious mishaps. According to my partner, the lake had a healthy population of native cutthroat trout up to 11 inches and sometimes considerably larger.
If you look at a recreational map of the forests over the northern part of Vancouver Island you will discover there are literally hundreds of small lakes spread throughout the area. Many of them contain healthy populations of native cutthroat trout and some would be stocked with rainbows by the Freshwater Fisheries Society. Pictured with this column is one of the fish I kept to bring home for supper. It is a prime cutthroat trout.
To get the most out of this type of fishing it helps a lot to match your rod and tackle to the size of fish you will probably catch in these small lakes. On this occasion we were using light #4 weight rods and suitable wet and dry lines.
Coop was catching fish from virtually his first cast. It took a little experimenting on my part to get the action started, but when I did it was great fishing. Barbless hooks were the rule and gentle catch-and-release unless it was suitable to take home for supper as illustrated by the picture.
One of the goals of most trout fishers is to have a lake full of trout all to yourself and your partner. On this day it was the case for us except that we shared the lake with a pair of polite bald eagles that did not roar down from nowhere and snatch your fish as you were about to net it. They did however keep close tabs on the fish we were releasing and if a trout stayed too long on the surface it stood a good chance of going home with the eagles to feed their hungry eaglets.
As I watched from my anchored punt, a small hatch of chironomids was taking place in the deeper water, plus small sedges and the odd mayfly. There was, however, not much trout action on the surface with only an occasional fish taking insects in the deep water. The active trout along the lily pads seemed smaller than the fish in the main body of the lake.
My first choice was a #14 black micro leech, followed by a #14 green chironomid. These patterns were soon chewed to the point that I changed them. In the deeper water I went to full size black leech on #10 hook and soon got into some larger fish. For a while I used a #14 Tom Thumb. All of the flies caught fish, some more than others.
Conditions for me were a bit of a challenge because most of the action seemed to be on wet flies below the surface. As the day progressed the action picked up and it turned into the most active day I have had on freshwater so far this season.
They were not big fish by any means; but taken on the light tackle we were using it was a most fulfilling day of mostly catch-and-release. Releasing small trout to catch a larger, though still small trout may not seem exciting to anglers who regularly catch chinook and steelhead; but I respectfully suggest on appropriate tackle it is a challenging and fulfilling fishing.
Fishing the lakes west and north of Campbell River takes you into active logging operations. During the weekends you may not encounter many logging trucks, however if travelling the back-country during the week, go to considerable efforts to avoid active logging operations. Inconsiderate driving on industrial roads during the work week can be costly for the loggers and dangerous for all participants – including anglers and workers.
The little lake we fished last week had no garbage or signs of vandalism along the shoreline.
Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.