REPORT: Canada Pt 3 – Bears, trout, salmon & a lake with a funny name

I AM now, sadly, past the halfway mark of my Canadian adventure and have all the “serious” fishing behind me. This installment is about the fishing I have done with my wife and son whilst we’ve been traveling.

After finishing that awesome trip into the Arctic at High Arctic Lodge, I returned to Vancouver to greet my family who were to arrive after a trip to Hawaii and Disneyland in Los Angeles. It was great to see them again after nearly a month.

Our trip was planned to include a few days in Vancouver, the Rocky Mountaineer train trip from Vancouver to Jasper, then hire a car for a couple of weeks to do the Rocky Mountains tour, but on our own schedule so that we could spend more time in the places we wanted to. The trip took in Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff, Vernon and Kelowna. Most of this included “touristy” stuff but we did manage to also squeeze in some short fishing trips.

The first fishing excursion we took was in Banff, through a company called Banff Fishing Unlimited. We took a half day charter on a lake just outside of town – Lake Minniewonka (Yes – this is the correct spelling and it is pronounced almost as it is spelt. “Minnie Wonka”). The lake is regarded as a pretty good trout fishery and has a few other species as well. We met up with the charter guy in the morning. He was operating one of two boats for the same company that day. These guys were geared up for the tourist market rather than the hardcore fishing market, which was fine, as my expectations weren’t greater; this trip was for my son and wife.

Our skipper was a nice fella and we chatted on the 13km drive up the very scenic lake. As we neared the spot, we saw a grizzly bear on the hillside. We watched him for a while before he worked out we were watching and took off out of sight. That was a great start. The second boat joined us a few minutes after we started fishing.

We targeted lake trout to begin with, by jigging. The gear was basic charter gear and the technique was pretty simple. Drop the heavy weighted jig – basically a painted sinker – to the bottom and lift and drop, lift and drop until it was too far back from the boat. Wind it in and do it again. We fished at between 80 and 130 feet. We had a couple of strikes early on but failed to stay connected. As we finished one of our drifts we motored back past the other boat. As we neared they radioed in that they had hooked “The Big One” and asked us to “stay clear”. We obliged and our skipper asked if we minded watching to see how big the fish was.

After quite a tussle during which most family members had a go at winding the fish in, a nice fish surfaced. Shortly after they netted a lake trout that I thought looked around 15-18 pounds, but the skipper thought it was around 30! The photo is here somewhere so you be the judge. Regardless, it was a nice fish and the family on the other boat were pumped.

Our skipper suggested moving as that big fish would have scared off the other trout in that area. We moved several hundred metres to the other side of the lake and started fishing using the same method. Within a short time we had caught several lake trout, however, they were mostly tiny fish, by lake trout standards. Most were around a pound in weight and a couple that might have gone 2 ½ pounds. However, my son and wife really enjoyed it and were happy to have caught a species they hadn’t before. Another highlight for them was when one of the fish we released was snatched by a bald eagle only 40 metres from the boat!

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Pat (top) and wife Fiona (above) had some fun on the lake trout during a day charter.

Just before we were due to finish the session the skipper took us to a place to try for mountain whitefish. I had caught these before but my wife and son hadn’t. It involved casting a weighted nymph on a spinning rod into the shallows of a particular spot and slowly retrieving it. Within a few minutes we’d hooked and lost a couple. My son then hooked one and stayed connected. For small fish they put up a good tussle, much like our mullet. His fish was probably around a half kilo in weight. The skipper said we had one more cast but also dropped a rig straight off the side. Almost straight away we had a double hookup. My son ended up landing a nice fish of a bit over a kilo and my wife got one about half that. It was a nice way to end the day.

The next fishing trip I did was on my own, also whilst staying in Banff. I booked a half day walk and wade fly fishing trip on the legendary Bow River in Alberta with an outfit called Hawgwild Flyfishing. There were a few operators in the area but only one was available for the time slot I had. The owner and guide, Big Jim Dykstra seemed like a decent guy on the phone and we organised for a hotel pickup. He collected me from the hotel lobby and we headed off to get a licence on the way to the spot we would fish. He was pretty quiet in the car but perked up when he got a coffee whilst getting my licence.

We arrived at the spot, pulled on our waders and marched through the forest towards the river making plenty of noise to ward off any bears that might be around. When we arrived the river looked awesome. It is a rich aqua blue colour but still quite clear – maybe 50cm visibility. We had been driving along its length for several days on the Rocky Mountains tourist trail and I had been looking forward to having a cast in it. The plan was to fish dry fly, which suited me nicely, and he rigged me up accordingly. The first couple of spots didn’t produce any action so we moved up the bank a bit.

I had a few missed strikes from small fish before eventually hooking one about 5 inches long. The guide got excited because I had landed one! I had heard that Rocky Mountain trout are mostly small, but I didn’t think they would be that small! I caught a few fish to about 6 inches, saw a black bear up close and got caught in a thunderstorm. Whilst the fishing probably wasn’t amazing, the afternoon was really nice and I enjoyed the guide’s company. I know there are larger fish available as all of the guides websites had photos of larger fish, we just didn’t see any.

After a few more family tourist trips we arranged another family fishing day whilst staying in a district called the Okanagon in southern British Columbia. There is supposed to be some pretty good trout fishing around but we were keen to try for something different. The guys from a local fly fishing shop recommended a guide who does trips down on the US border with Washington State, fishing for sockeye salmon. Apparently the sockeye run in a lake called Osoyoos was really good this year. I rang the guide, Rodney from Rodney’s Reel Outdoors, and booked in. The lake was a three-hour drive away so we headed down the night before and stayed in hotel in the town of Osoyoos.

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Fiona with an average sized sockeye salmon.

The next morning we met the guide at the dock on a magic calm and sunny day. His boat was immaculate, his gear was top shelf and he seemed like a really nice guy. He gave the safety briefing then on the way out gave us the fishing briefing. We would be exclusively trolling for sockeye with a variety of lures all run off downriggers to ensure the lures were constantly running through the schools. As sockeye (and all Pacific salmon) don’t feed whilst running to spawn, they have to be tempted to strike out of aggression or impulse so we used a range of flashers and attractors to stimulate them into striking. These were so big they would have made any marlin fisher proud. Rodney clearly knew his stuff.

The run to the grounds was only a few minutes and once we arrived the sounder filled up with fish. It wasn’t long before rods were bending and we were catching. The fish were all sockeye but apparently the odd rainbow trout gets caught this way too. The fish ranged from two to maybe four pounds in weight. Whilst these fish were a long way from the sea they hadn’t yet taken on the brilliant iconic colour scheme of a red body and green head. However, they weren’t the silver fish they once were and ranged from pale to deep maroon with a greenish head.

It was a beautiful day and very productive. I don’t know how many fish we caught but it was plenty. I also really liked the guide. He was excellent with my son and wife, ensuring they had a good time and caught fish. I was also interested to hear about his other fishing options. His location puts him in range of large and smallmouth bass, rainbow trout in the 15 to 20lb range and several other salmon fisheries. I will definitely be looking him up again when I return to Canada.

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Pat jr. (left) showing the oldies how it’s done.

After we finished up with Rodney we drove back to Vernon and started making our way to the next spot – Alaska. Stand by for the next report.

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