The Ultimate Rainbow

The Ultimate Rainbow


I am somewhat ashamed to admit this but, for all the years I lived and worked around Kootenay Lake, I had never caught a large Gerrard Rainbow. Yes I had written about them, analysed their guts, read their scales and counted them as adults on their spawning beds and as fry moving down the Lardeau River to Kootenay Lake   but never had I caught one. Well not exactly true. I had caught a fair number over the years
fishing from shore at the creek mouths but nothing over three or four pounds – good fish but they didn’t count as Gerrards in my mind. I had even been out on the main lake trolling for the real thing a few times but no big ones. Clare Palmer and I caught an eight pounder in the 1980’s down in the South Arm but I can’t remember if Clare or I caught it and it was too small to count. My Dad and I used to go out from Ainsworth once in a while. My cousin Lynn caught a ten pounder on one of these trips but it was a Dolly (Bull Trout). Truth be told, I really don’t care for trolling with heavy gear on large waters and I have always been more than a little afraid of Kootenay Lake. This is a big lake that is infamous for its sudden storms, surf like waves and lack of shelter.

Nonetheless, in the fall of 2011 I decided it was time.  The fish were doing well – good numbers of spawners at Gerrard and a strong kokanee population in the north arm.  A lake fertilization program was working. My long time friends and fishing partners Ross and Roddy McKay had caught nine good rainbows to twenty one pounds in a three day period in the fall of 2009. It was time.

The morning of October 3 dawned cloudy with a brisk east wind blowing down the choppy West Arm as Rod McKay and I motored up the arm
from his North Shore property in Nelson. As we progressed east, I winced at the amount of recent development visible from the water. The old Kootenay Forest Products mill site in Fairview had been converted to high density apartments and I could see other blocks of apartments and new housing in Upper Fairview, South Nelson and Rosemont. It was no wonder that people who wanted to visit Baker Street had to park several blocks up the hill. Out the West Arm was similar but less urban. I thought the area had been overdeveloped for years but new rounds of development were filling in many of the last remaining spaces on the north side of the arm. Shannon’s Farm had succumbed and large new houses were continuing to spring up. Where once there had been scattered mainly summer cabins (camps we called them back in the 40’s and 50’s), there was now a rather continuous band of largely permanent houses. Rod was more or less ambivalent about the scene and even groused a bit about a developer having to give up some land for park or green space at Red Sands. My feelings were far less charitable and I wondered if people would still be able to skinny dip or party until sun up with the new regime at this popular site which was technically private in the past but a de facto public beach much loved by many.

We swung into the Main Lake where the chop had turned into a swell with wind waves on top. I felt a twinge of apprehension. Rod said not to
worry, his 19 foot Harbercraft was capable of dealing with a lot more than the not quite whitecaps the lake was putting up. I wondered but, in truth, I was more concerned about water temperature than waves. Despite a cool summer, there had been some serious heat in late August and early September and it had been mild since then without even a hint of frost and only the odd dusting of mountain snow on the Purcells. The surface water was around 14 – 15 degrees which I thought was a bit warm, not so much for the rainbows but for the kokanee they were chasing. I had been reading as much as I could about Main Lake rainbow fishing in recent years and all the articles insisted that the colder months were the best especially for surface fishing. Rod and I planned to use buck tails trolled behind planer boards.

We turned north into the wind and started a tack from the north end of Queen’s Bay toward Kootenay Bay on the opposite shore. I had brought along a selection of Cowichan Bay buck tails between four and six inches long while Rod had some similar flies tied by his nephew Jeff – the same
flies that had worked so well in 2009. I was using an eleven foot steelhead rod and centre pin reel loaded with 20 pound test monofilament. Rod had a similar setup with a shorter rod. I tied on a five inch Grey Ghost and let out about 30 m of line before we hooked the home made planer board on. I then let out another 15 or 20 m of line and the board angled off to the side of the boat and started to dance and dart in the choppy waves. Rod felt that conditions were close to ideal for the boards. I could easily imagine a big rainbow targetingthe fly when it would suddenly pull away triggering a strike.

Just about when I was relishing this fantasy, my reel screamed and we saw a large fish thrashing the surface well behind the boat. Wewere about half way across the lake in what Rod called Rainbow Alley. Indeed.  The fish looked to be about 10 pounds. The rod was in a holder and I didn’t dare touch it for ten seconds or so. When the fish slowed, I grabbed the rod and started to regain some line. The fish ran toward the boat then came off. Rod said this happened quite often with barbless hooks. It also happens with dull hooks which mine was.  We continued the tack and angled south to Pilot Point where Rod caught a fish about a pound that wasn’t too much bigger than the fly. The lake went flat so we headed back to Queen’s Bay where Rod left his boat tied to a float at his friend’s camp.

Three days later, we were back. I had added new sticky sharp hooks to several flies and Rod still believed they were the best bet. He also had a downrigger for fishing deep lures. The weather was very similar and there were occasional periods of light rain. It was a tad cooler and the lake was a shade rougher. We took about the same tack from about where Queen’s Bay Wharf used to be across to the chimneys at Pilot Point then back to the south end of Queen’s Bay.  Biologists call this area the Boundary Region. I was very optimistic. We fished for about two hours without a touch and began to doubt when a big rainbow grabbed a fly and shot skyward twice before I grabbed the rod. This fish was larger with lots of power. He took line at will and jumped once more before he came close to the boat where he dove straight down twice. Some big Gerrards have been known to bore right to the bottom of the lake – some 130 m. The fish came to the net a few minutes later and we released it after snapping a couple of photos. It was a male some 27 inches long.  Rod and I figured it weighed about 15 pounds. If it was a steelhead, it would have weighed about 10 pounds but this rainbow, like many Gerrards, was fat like a football.

Shaped by their limited, large substrate spawning area and a long life of leisure patrolling Kootenay Lake, their private ocean loaded with ultra nutritious  food, these fish are absolutely superb and the zenith of their kind – the ultimate rainbow.

I’m ever so grateful to have caught one thanks to my great friend and fellow Kootenay angler – Rod McKay.


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