Fly Fishing for Giant White Lake Rainbows

[White Lake Trout]
[Bill Kehler at White Lake]

One of my favorite southern BC lakes is White, nestled in the hills between the two arms of Shuswap Lake. It is a comfortable 2 hour drive from Kelowna, first taking Highway 97B to Salmon Arm, then Highway 1 northwest for 20 minutes to a Y shaped turn-off on the right which you follow for 8 kilometers (5 miles) straight to the lake. The drive is well worth it, especially after the longer than usual winter we just experienced, severe even for the balmy Okanagan Valley! White is a 5.5 Kilometer (3.2 mile) clear body of water with an abundance of weedy shoals interspaced with a white marl bottom. This is just the environment that creates great quantities of aquatic life, including at times enormous hatches of chironomids, mayflies, sedges, damselflies and dragonflies. Just tailor made for huge silver sided Kamloops trout that cruise the shoals gorging mainly on the insect larvae. How big? Well, White Lake is so productive that it is still open for ice fishing (in recent years many BC lakes have been closed November to April for conservation purposes). This past ice fishing season a friend of Jim Kehler's in Salmon Arm caught an 8.2 kilogram (18 pound) fish through the ice! The monster was so large that a 20 cm (8 inch) augered hole had to be chipped larger to pull the fish out. And Paul Araki of Harv's Sports here in Kelowna knows of a 7.7 kilogram (17 pound) rainbow caught since the ice breakup in mid April!

On May 7, 1996, I left Kelowna, spirits soaring, fly rods packed, to meet Jim's uncle, Bill Kehler who was camped for the week at the north end Provincial campsite on White Lake. That afternoon proved too windy and cold (you could see snow blanketing the trees at the higher levels) for comfortable fishing. Temperatures dipped to 1 degree C that night but the next morning the wind had softened to a gentle breeze and the sun began to peek through the storm clouds. Bill and I hit the water early, each in separate boats, to explore the east side shoals for trout.

[The East Shore of White Lake]

It turned out that very few fish could be found. I prefer to anchor and flycast but when fish are scarce, I shut off my 5 HP Merc, pull out the oars and slowly troll sinking fly lines to search out the trout. That morning, a brown leach had the only action for me, two strikes, one lost and the other, a rather smallish rainbow of 35 cm (14 inches) boated out of sheer desperation for a fish! White Lake, again for conservation purposes, has a daily creel limit of two trout. And not one fish was spotted on the hundreds of acres of crystal clear shoals on the east side. Bill fared even worse with not a nibble to report. Few other fishermen, likely because of the cool weather, were on the lake. As I had to leave shortly after mid day for Kelowna, I decided to rev up the Merc and head for the sometimes crowded shoals at the south end of the lake where a boat launching ramp and parking area are located, almost opposite to the community fire hall.

[Fly Casting at the Launch End of White Lake]

When I arrived, 4 other boats were anchored at the shoal, all fishing small chironomids (10 to 16 size) on floating lines with long leaders. The fish, when actively feeding, cruise just off the bottom at the shoal drop-off in 5 to 6 meter (15 to 18 feet) of water. My heart jumped when I immediately spotted two large rainbows cruising near bottom in the pristine water. I backed off and anchored in about 11 meters (35 feet) of water and began casting my # 8 WF dry line equipped with a 4.5 meter (14 foot) 4X tapered leader and a # 14 red chironomid to the spot where I had seen the fish. A lot of patience is required in chironomid fishing as you simply cast the line out and let the barbless hook (another requirement of White Lake) slowly sink with just the breeze adding movement to the fly. After about 45 minutes, both fishermen on my left suddenly experienced some action. A fish in spawning colours was released and also two bright silver fish could be seen vigorously leaping across the surface, both shaking off the offending hooks! I then quickly changed to a black chironomid given to me by George Barron of Kamloops after one of the fishermen had remarked that he had hooked his fish on a tiny black chironomid fly. Then it happened! I had put my 3 meter (9.5 foot) flyrod down in the boat and had picked up my camera when the rod almost jumped into the lake! My old Hardy Princess reel screeched like a midnight alley cat as a huge silver sided trout leaped several times across the shoal, almost in front of the nearest fisherman. I grabbed the rod just before it disappeared and for a while, just hung on! I didn't dare put any pressure on the 4X leader tippet. The fish then changed tactics with deep strong surges but with less explosiveness than in the earlier runs. The sun had emerged in a sudden dazzling brilliance as the magnificent trout came to my trembling net! A quick lift and the rainbow was in the boat just as the tiny barbless fly released its grip. Later, back in camp, the fish weighed almost 1.8 kilograms (4 pounds) and measured 55 cm (21.7 inches) in length. A true gift from a precious resource, White Lake!

As a sequel to this true story, I will include an article on how to fillet and bar-b-que fresh trout such as I did with my White Lake fish that will rival the best recipes of the most experienced world class chefs!

Your comments are welcome at dhaaheim at telus dot net

Http:// -- Revised: May 9, 1996
Copyright © 1996
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