Apex – Beavers and Brookies

Brookies and Beavers


Summer, 1981.  It’s July 25 and snow still lingers in the high corners of the West Kootenay hills and the mountain streams are boiling along at June levels. There will be no creek fishing until late August in this year of endless spring.

The Beaver Ponds at Apex are located about 10 kilometres south of Nelson and are a kind of shrine to me. I fished them many times in the summers of my youth and played hockey on their winter glass until the snow became too deep to clear sometime around Christmas. Apex is in a heavy snow zone and there was often a metre by New Year’s and another by February. Once Tom Ramsay and I skated until well after dark in a strengthening Christmas Eve storm then stood on the highway for an hour before a car came by – two snowmen of the blizzard. The car was well
passed us before it stopped. We melted over the back seat as the driver and his friend passed a bottle back and forth.

The O’Genskis lived at Apex. There was a large, well lived in house, a barn and some cows that grazed the marshes along the creek. Jimmy O’Genski had a drawer full of comic books that dated back to the 1930’s – Tarzan, Donald Duck and Superman.

The Beaver Ponds are the headwaters of the Salmo River. The river is a pastoral brook at Apex. It quickly becomes a large creek then small river as it gathers strength from tributary creeks like Whitewater, Clearwater, Hall, Wildhorse and Porcupine. There was fishing in all these creeks and as far as I know, there still is although the West Kootenay creeks were fished down by the 1950`s. The Salmo (which was called the Salmon in the days before Grand Coulee Dam eliminated salmon and steelhead from the Upper Columbia drainage) provides pretty good fishing at times and I fished it often between Apex and Hall Creek. Brookies dominate the pastoral zone at Apex then rather quickly give way to rainbows and Bull Trout as the stream becomes larger and more turbulent. Some of the Bull Trout can get quite large and one wonders if they are spawners
coming up from the Pend Orielle River which welcomes the Salmo a few kilometres below the 49th parallel.

It was the beaver pond brookies that drew me on this day however. Melt water plays a minor role here this late in the season and although the water would be somewhat colder than normal, I was sure the fish would be going about their business of gorging on summer insects and be ready for a fly. A small dry fly works well here and even though the best of the fish are lucky to make ten inches (twenty– five centimetres). There is satisfaction in catching them for their beauty and because fishing at Apex is a renewal of some of the finest times of my life.

The sun was sliding behind the dark green ridge on the west as I guided the truck into an overgrown grade which was once part of the old highway to Spokane. I gathered my gear and headed down the little path to the main pond. One could see that few people fished here these days. The trail was barley broken – a narrow track of once or twice flattened daisies, buttercups, grass and Indian paintbrush. It could have been trampled by a bear, five deer or a cow.

I broke out of the little band of timber and riparian forest that borders the pond and slogged through the marsh to the dam at the edge of the pond. The area had matured somewhat from my last visit. A few more young alders were poking up in the drier places and the cut sticks and fresh gumbo of beaver enterprise were gone. The outlet edge of the pond was gentle slope of mud and sedges instead of the sharp break of the new dam. The beavers had moved on and time was mellowing the distinction between land and water. The pond seemed shallower and its deep
holes and channels were filling in. A large hatch of mayflies flirted with its surface and the trout were making the best of it. Their greedy splashes ruffled the surface like small stones dropped from the sky. I wondered how many there could be. When the beavers were dredging the pond to reinforce the dam, a little scattering of gravel and sand was included in the muck. On an October day many years ago, I watched a little female brook trout excavate tiny spawning redds on the face of the dam. There would be no spawning now. Everything had settled in and rounded off. The rough edges of youth had passed on. But there was some gravel in the creek below the dam and the promise of more in the pond’s inlet stream.

I slogged along the surface of the old dam to best position myself for the rising fish. The tracks of crawling caddis larvae traced a maze on the bottom of the pond and there were Red Winged Blackbirds in the alders. I reached a little nose of firmer ground and began playing out a small Spokane Special – dry fly that has been popular in the Kootenays for many decades. A fish took it almost immediately after the fly landed and I stripped it in quickly. Brookies are not the most energetic fighters especially when they are fifteen centimetres long and dragging 20 metres of line. In an autumn of many years back, I hooked a good brookie in the upper most pond at Apex. The fish leaped twice and bored strongly under a log before I could land it. It weighed about one kilogram and is the largest brook trout I have caught. I have seen few larger fish through the ice at Loon Lake above Ainsworth where it is said that Marilyn McEwan of Nelson caught one that weighed more than four kilograms. I have also heard that fish of two kilograms are caught in Fruitvale’s Beaver Creek or in Sheep Creek near Rossland as well as in some lakes in the East Kootenay and Cariboo. In the best of their home streams on the Canadian Shield, brook trout of this size are relatively common.  A 6.4 kilogram fish was caught in Ontario’s Nipigon River.

I landed my little Apex brookie and admired its colors. The fish was deep brown on the dorsal surface and upper flanks with many little spots of green and red with blue halos. Its back was mottled with wavy lines like worm tracks. These char are among the most beautiful fishes of the world and I’m glad they have been introduced to a few places in BC. They add a touch of variety and colour to our fish fauna.

I unhooked the fly and slipped the little beauty back into the pond. She rested on the bottom for a few seconds then sped out to deeper water leaving a little plume of silt in her wake. I slogged back to the truck trying to imprint the moment somewhere in the kaleidoscope of memory.




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