In Search of Lakers - A trip to Smithers, BC
It has long been a dream of mine to catch a Lake trout. They are absent from the waters of the Lower Mainland (although there are still whispers of them lurking in the depths of Alouette lake after some stocking in the 60's). So you have to travel if you want to catch one.
My long time friend, Jason Krauskopf, up in Smithers, BC, has been trying to get me up there to fish for years. Feeding my imagination with stories of epic fishing adventures and a non-stop barrage of pictures of the giant trout he catches. I just couldn't take it anymore, so I packed up my rods and my family and off we went, 14 hours northwest to the Buckley Valley in Northern BC.
In conjunction with this trip and the release of our new "fish on"hats, we did a limited run of "Fish on Smithers"hats. These are only available at the Local Supply Co , which Jason is a part owner of.
Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) are not actually a trout but a Char. A species closely related to trout but different nonetheless. There are 5 species of Char that reside in BC: Bull trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic char, Brook trout, and of coarse Lake trout. Lake trout are the biggest of the char species and can get up to 40lbs and 50 inches. Their natural populations are more northern, Canada and Alaska, but they have been widely introduced around the US and Europe. These fish like to stay deep in the lakes, often lurking at depths of 20 to 60 feet, but from late May through June when the Salmon smolt populations start to migrate, these big fish come up near the surface to feed. Being mainly piscivorous (feeding on other fish), they are also known to feed on aquatic insects and planktons. These are slow growing fish that are very long lived, often reaching the age of 40 years or more. they are sought after for their delicious meat and for their shear strength. They dive deep and pull for all they're worth. Not as exciting as the aerial antics of Rainbows, but an awesome experience nonetheless.
Babine lake and its Rainbows
The main body of water we would be fishing while in Smithers was Babine Lake. Jason has a cabin right on the shore with fabulous views of the lake and nature surrounding it. We even saw a Moose and its calf meandering along the shore from the dock of his cabin. Truly a little piece of heaven.
Babine lake is big! It is the largest and longest natural lake in BC. At 177 kms long you can only imagine how much water there is to explore. It drains out through the Babine river which flows into the Skeena which makes it an essential water body for returning spawning salmon. All the species of salmon except Chum return to these waters every year. Beside the Lakers and Salmon, Babine Lake has Rainbow trout, White fish, and Kokanee. It's the Rainbows we need to focus on for a moment here. This lake is home to the Sutherland strain of Rainbow trout. These are genetically distinct, piscivorous, hard fighting, arial, and large. Probably the largest lake rainbows next only to the famed Kootenay Lake Gerrard strain Bows. When they take the hook, it is fast and aggressive. We had a blast fighting these guys and getting them to the net. All were released back into the lake unharmed if not a little tired and confused as to what had just happened to them.
At the north tip of Babine Lake at Fort Babine, is a small river channel that connects to nearby Nilkitkwa Lake. This channel holds untold numbers of hard fighting Rainbow and Cutthroat trout, as well as Mountain Whitefish. But it's the Rainbows that are the draw. They are strong fighters and voracious eaters taking most dry flies and minnow patterns without hesitation. In 1999 it was designated as a provincial park to protect its unique ecosystem and fishery. Thank god.
We spent two evenings in the Alley and had a blast both times. On the second trip we brought my 12 year old son and he landed a few nice fish!
I really could not believe the volume of fish in this little water way. It was literally boiling with rises. It was definitely one of the best fishing locations I have ever been to.
You could tell that Jason is a local here as he knew all the lays and holding zones and caught fish after fish.
Finally, a Laker!
We spent a lot of time trolling Babine Lake in search of Lakers over the 4 days we were there. We assumed they they were still quite shallow and feeding on the many smolt we saw jumping all over the lake, so we trolled quite shallow. The first few days we were only catching Rainbows, which as I mentioned before, were fun and a good battle, but no Lakers. On the second day we think Aiden had one on in a secluded bay but it spit the hook before we could net it. On our last night there after many failed attempts to land one, we decided to head out one last time after dinner. This time we would try the down riggers. We used 6 inch buck tail smolt patterns and wouldn't you know it, we had one on in no time! I set the hook, and handed the rod to my 6 year old son Quinn and had him reel it in. When it was at the boat he handed me the rod so I could direct it to Jason and the net. Success! We landed our first Laker! I could not stop smiling and cheering and I am smiling know as I write about it. It was beautiful. I marvelled at its markings and the sheer size of its mouth. Unfortunately it had taken the hook quite deeply and was bleeding a lot so we decided the humane thing to do was to bonk and eat it. It was delicious!
It did not take long for us to land the second one. This one was bigger and I loved feeling its strength as I brought it up to the net. We quickly posed for a few pictures and released it back to the depths unharmed.
It was so satisfying to finally catch a lake trout and finally scratch it of the list. Especially at the very end of our trip. I guess we were saving the best for last.
They are beautiful fish, very much reminding me of our local Bull trout in body shape, but with a more earthy color pattern and more intricate markings. I cannot wait to get back up there. Its is incredibly beautiful country and the fishing is first rate. Not to mention the company. Jason and his family are the most amazing and generous people and we cannot thank them enough for this opportunity.
I started the drive home the next day fulfilled and content!