Looking Back on Kootenay Lake



My first memoriesof Kootenay Lake were diamonds: a billion tiny crystals of early morning sun on bouncing waves. And then the miners rowing
over to the Bluebell, the afternoon wind and the evening calm until about dusk when cool draughts would slip down from the snowfields high above Ainsworth. That was then, many years ago.

In those days the lake was good. I could count the stones on the bottom in ten metres of water and watch fish passing near the base of the cliff where we lived. Mostly whitefish and suckers, but sometimes rainbows and Dollies as big as tyee. They called the big rainbows salmon then and some of the old timers believed they were. Who ever heard of a thirty pound trout? Once I saw a huge school of kokanee pass. There must have been thousands. Suddenly a pair of big Dollies slashed into them and they were gone like summer snow on the Southern Purcells.

I didn’t fish Kootenay Lake much in those days. It was much too large and mysterious and I was afraid of it. I was more than happy to fish the
smaller places though. My father and I sometimes went up to Woodbury Creek or Loon Lake where we caught “mountain trout”. At Loon
Lake there were old willow fishing poles that my father had used in the 1920’s and a cabin that my grandfather had built before that. We fished from rafts and the trout were  usally pocket sized brookies. But up Woodbury, there were some really fine cutthroats, and every so often, a big Dolly. We often caught a few dozen cutthroats in Woodbury or its South Fork and there were beautiful lakes back in the mountains where
you could catch hundreds. There still are but there was no place like Kootenay Lake.

Then one year I started to fish the big lake.  Slowly at first in the familiar places. I caught a few whitefish and suckers off the rocks by sinking a fly with a little dab of bread dough down to them.  I watched them mouth the speck of white until it disappeared then jerked the line.  They had usually spit the hook out but once in a while I hooked one and dragged it up the rocks.  I fished with a hollow steel rod in those days and finally crumpled it trying to haul out a big sucker.

There were some good fishermen in Ainsworth in those years and when the day was done, they trolled up to the mouth of Woodbury and back or sometimes down to Mile Point or Coffee Creek.  I waited for their return and watched them clean the huge rainbows and Dollies they often caught.  Looking back, I can see why the big rainbows were called salmon.  Prime fish were bright as a silver dollar, hog fat and caught on huge plugs and spoons of coast vintage.

Just once before we left Ainsworth, I fished with one of the great fishermen.  George Hobbs fished nearly every summer evening.  He had a tin, tar coated boat about four metres long that was powered by one of those cranky, early style outboards that looked like a giant egg beater.  The flywheel was exposed and the engine was started by winding a rope around the top of it and yanking hard – very hard. George had a little dog that rode in the front seat and was constantly alert for signs of fish.

The evening we fished was sometime in June. Driftwood was heavy and the water was still coloured with silt from the roaring creeks and the Duncan and Kootenay Rivers. But fish were moving.  The carpenter ants were spent and their blackness was heavy in the drift lines. We saw young kokanee leaping clear of the water ahead of the arrow ripples of a big fish and once we saw a huge tail swirl close to the boat.  I had
a quick strike that jolted my arms and made the reel scream for a second before the fish was gone. But I had been far out on the lake with a fisherman and that was something – that was everything then.

Later that summer we made a trip that I had long looked forward to. Indian Creek drains a steep valley across the lake from Ainsworth and the creek mouth was a fine fishing place. There was an historic camping spot just up the shore from the creek known as Honeymoon Bay. It had a lean to, fire place and a make shift out house – a couple of cross logs over a hole in the ground. A pair of campers were leaving as we pulled the boat into the bay. They warned us of a particularly bold black bear that had launched day raids on their camp.

The next morning I was at the creek mouth before the sun with a telescopic steel rod and small fly reel that held about 15 or 20 metres of line. I let the creek outwash take the line out and experienced a period of fishing that has never been matched in some sixty years of angling from Mexico
to Alaska. I don’t remember what kind of fly I was using but it probably didn’t much matter. There was an incredible bite that lasted about an hour and I failed to land a single fish. As soon as the fly reached the drop off about ten metres out, it was attacked by wild, slashing rainbows as large as ten pounds. The strikes were arm jolting and the fish burned all my line out in seconds before leaping high and breaking the leader. I must have lost a dozen before I raced back to camp to wake my father who had a good split cane fly rod and a reel loaded with lots of line. I don’t think he believed my ravings and we were slow getting back to the creek mouth. The bite was over by the time he got his line in the water and
all we caught was one small rainbow.

The bear started bothering us soon after had to be chased off several times. He put a bad scare into my mother as she used the outhouse. Strangely enough, he didn’t come at night.

There was no bite the next morning even though conditions were seemingly identical. I kept fishing until about noon when the bear came out of the bush with a determined stride. I hurried back to camp and we made a quick exit. I spent the rest of the summer fishing off the rocks at Ainsworth and swimming with my cousins at Uncle Jack’s Beach.

That was my last summer at Ainsworth but only the beginning of my experience with KootenayLake.

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