Crown Jewel

Jewel Lake – Rainbow
Kings of Yore

I find it ironic that the largest rainbow trout listed in official records have never been from BC even though our province is surely the rainbow’s ancestral home at least in Canada. Idaho, Alaska and now even Lake Diefenbaker, Saskatchewan have made the list but never the great BC waters
where the rainbow is king. The latest record is a 48 pound pig of a fish from Dief’s Lake caught by Sean Konrad in 2009. Old Dief would be happy because he loved to fish but he came to BC to catch rainbows. Some still call the Mile 11 Pool on Harris Creek (near Port Renfrew) the Deifenbaker Pool because the Chief fished there for steelhead   in the 1960’s. He also fished Kootenay Lake in the fifties and sixties. Lake Diefenbaker is a reservoir on the South Saskatchewan River and its rainbows are not native – far from it. They are also genetically modified triploid fish that are designed for maximum size. They are sterile and are thus able to direct their energy toward growth rather than depleting their resources in the rage to reproduce. Triploid female rainbows are commonly stocked in BC lakes these days and have proven to be very popular because of their rapid growth.

But the largest rainbows ever caught were not designer triploids and were taken in a little known BC lake long before fish managers ever heard
of genetically modified fish. Jewel Lake is a midsized body of water that lies in a fold in the hills near the old mining community of Greenwood.  I have long had a soft spot for Greenwood because it has resisted the trappings of the modern age even though the raging Okanagan is lapping at its heels and because my grandfather constructed some of the old buildings there. I wonder if Greenwood’s resistance to the Wal-Mart Age is entirely by choice because it is somewhat off the beaten path even though Highway 3 is its main street. This is a town that has been in a kind of limbo
for quite a few decades but it wasn’t always so.

Around the turn of the century, Greenwood was a roaring mining camp similar to some of the West Kootenay towns to the east. The boom ended after the First World War. The town soldiered on hosting a large number of Japanese Canadians relocated from the coast at the start of World War Two. After the war, Greenwood settled in to the sweet little town that it is today – Canada’s smallest city.

Jewel Lake was likely fishless at the turn of the century because it was inaccessible to trout in Lower Jewel Creek and Boundary Creek. The first reported stocking was in 1905 and, as luck would have it, the fish were Gerrard rainbows from Kootenay Lake. In the early days, there was an egg
collection station on the Lardeau River at Gerrard that was operated by Federal Fisheries. Eyed eggs were shipped far and wide and some found their way to Jewel Lake. It wasn’t long before reports of good rainbow catches started to trickle out of the Boundary Country. In 1913 a miner named George White captured two massive rainbows. Reports had the fish weighing in at 56 and 48 pounds. A photograph of these fish is all that exists now. It was widely circulated at the time of the catch and in the years since. There was no attempt to have the fish validated as records (game fish record keeping began in 1910 and Field and Stream magazine was the first keeper. The function was taken over by the International Game Fish Association in 1978. No records were kept in Canada until the mid to late 1930’s). But there is no doubt that thefish were by far the largest rainbows caught until then .They may not have weighed as much as was first reported ( Les Molnar, Grand Forks biologist and former
Conservation Officer for the Boundary Region calculated their weight at 25 to 29 pounds) but they were kings of the day nonetheless. Les Molnar who has produced a very interesting booklet on Jewel Lake (Jewel Lake – Home of the World’s
Record Rainbow Trout) thinks the fish may have been pitch forked out of Jewel Creek when they were spawning.  Myler Wilkinson in a November, 1982 BC Outdoors story also believes that the fish were gaffed or pitch forked out of the creek as spawners. He also says that the
event occurred in August (a highly unlikely spawning month).

The fish were able to attain their size because Jewel Lake contains a population of Lake Chub, a small forage fish that evidently took the place of kokanee as the preferred target of Gerrard rainbows. There is some conjecture as to when the chub were introduced to the lake. Locals speculate
that it happened around 1928 before the next wave of large rainbows were caught but I don’t think the George White giants could have attained their size without preying on fish. In fact Kootenay Lake rainbows greater than about 40 cm eat nothing but kokanee with the exception of a very occasional black ant binge. How do I know this? Because I spent the summers of 1966 and 1967 examining the stomach contents of hundreds of big Gerrard rainbows at the old Nelson Hatchery below Cottonwood Falls.

After the George White fish, the big fish became much less common and had evidently died out completely by 1922. Some thought that a cyanide spill at the Jewel Mine may have poisoned the lake. Federal Fisheries closed the lake in 1922 to protect what few fish might have remained.

In about 1924, George White and Cecil Floyd began to restock the lake with Gerrard fry and by 1930 some 80,000 had been released. By 1928,
the fish had recovered well enough to permit a fishery. Good catches of medium sized rainbows were common including some as large as twelve pounds but the giants had yet to make a return. In most of the smaller BC lakes even some of the very best; a twelve pound rainbow is a prize. In all my years of fishing in this province, I had never landed a rainbow of that size (discounting steelhead) until 2011.

It was 1933 when the next and most famous monster rainbow was caught – the Schroder Trout. In 1930, a group of five men from Spokane
bought property at the lake and built some cabins that became known as American Camp. Spokane was the nearest city to the towns of the Kootenays and South Okanagan in those days before the Hope – Princeton and Coquihalla Highways and it was downtown to the people of the region. Many Spokane outdoorsmen spent a lot of time in the Southern Interior and sometimes had cabins there or friends with cabins. Schroder was one of them.  He was a guest of one of the owners of American Camp but not much more is known about him except for the fish. In about 1994, Les Molnar interviewed a Spokane lady named Polly Brown. Her husband Earl was a founding partner in American Camp. She remembers him telling her of helping someone to land a fifty pound trout in 1933 after a struggle of three plus hours. Evidently Schroder took the fish back to Spokane and entered it in a fishing derby. But efforts to track Schroder further than that have not yielded results.

In 1952, Lee Straight and former Grand Forks Gazette columnist Hume Ritchie attempted to verify the story without success. But the fish is more than a wispy rumour – there is a photo that Hume Ritchie unearthed. It’s a bit fuzzy but it shows a man standing on what looks like a dock holding a gigantic trout.  Les Molnar calculated the length and girth of the fish to be 44 inches long and about 13 inches wide. The brute was almost certainly 50 pounds or more and would clearly be the largest rainbow ever caught even with today’s juiced up fish.

Several other large rainbows were caught in the 1930’s including another that weighed at least 50 pounds and one that weighed 48, neither was well documented but photos exist.

In, 1933, another big rainbow was taken from Jewel Lake. We know much more about this one. It was a windy afternoon on September 15 when James Allan Sr. landed a 42 pound giant that was hooked on a brass Jack Lloyd troll (similar to a Willow Leaf). His son James Jr. was rowing the boat and was interviewed by Conservation Officer Ed Sietz in 1993 in Kelowna.  James Jr. stated that he was rowing toward shore where he had seen a large buck deer when the fish was hooked. It took three hours to bring the fish to the boat where it was gaffed. It was weighed on a grocery scale by Harry Lightfoot of Grand Forks. There is a good quality photo of the fish being held by James Jr. Les Molnar has checked the picture carefully and calculates that the fish did indeed weigh at least 42 pounds. Its length was 42 inches with a depth of over 11 inches.

None of these giants was ever officially recognized as a record. Indeed, that was likely the last thing on the minds of the people who caught them.  But records or not, these fish were the real thing – the Crown Jewels of their kind.

After the 1930’s, fish size began to fall off and Gerrard Rainbows were not stocked as often. Fry came from Pennask, Pinitan, Loon and Cottonwood Lakes as well as the Blackwater River and California hatcheries. In1985, Eastern Brook trout began to be added to the mix.

Today Jewel Lake is a quiet enclave with wall to wall cottages on the west shore, a resort on the south end and a provincial park on the north. I fish it on occasion without much success. It gets a good deal of angling pressure on summer evenings when people troll up and down the lake
until dusk then sit on their decks and drink beer. They tell me that fishing can be good at times and occasional rainbows up to six or seven pounds are taken. Some people think there could still be a giant lurking in the depths and who knows? It could well be.

2 Responses to “Crown Jewel”

  1. Miles Zenk says:

    Today, I went to the beach front with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

  2. Peggy Moe says:

    I am one of the current owners of “American Camp.” Earl Brown was my uncle and another original owner was my step-father, Glen Brown. Most summers I am there. Stop by.

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