Trent Ernst, Editor
Family Fishing Weekend is coming up, and once again, it coincides with Father’s Day. While not all fathers are fishermen, and not all people who fish are men, there’s enough overlap in interest that sticking the two together is appropriate.
For three days—June 19, 20 and 21—residents of Canada can go fishing in most BC lakes and non-tidal rivers compliments of the provincial government. You do not need to buy or carry a Freshwater Fishing Licence for the weekend.
However, that doesn’t mean that it is open season and anything goes. Anglers are still expected to follow all the rules. For instance, baitless, single barbless hooks must be used when fishing in any river or stream in the Peace Region, and any Arctic Grayling caught within two kilometres of Kinuseo Falls must be released. (Anywhere else, anglers can keep up to two Arctic Grayling as long as they’re bigger than 30 cm and only one of those bigger than 45 cm.)
Sometimes, these restrictions have nothing to do with the size or type of fish. Boot Lake is a popular destination for local anglers, found north, than east of Tumbler Ridge along what is known at turns as the Foot Lake, Boot Lake, or Hourglass Lake road. The lake holds stocked rainbow and brook trout (daily quota of five, only one can be bigger than 50 cm), but anglers heading out onto the lake with a boat need to be aware that there is an engine power restriction of 10 hp.
Meanwhile, Boulder Lake is located towards Chetwynd. The turnoff to the lake is past Gwillim. Like Boot Lake, Boulder Lake is a stocked lake, but anglers thinking about heading here need to know that engines are not allowed on the lake. Of course, the lake is found a few hundred feet from the road, and anyone thinking about heading out onto the water with a boat needs to be able to carry the boat down to the lake.
Copies of the provincial regulations are located online, while hard copies are available locally at Tru Hardware, Tags, Sears, and the Visitor Information Centre.
How to outsmart a fish
Let’s face it, fish are not exactly the sharpest tools in the box. Indeed, much of their behavior is driven by basic urges: find food, avoid being food, and, when the time is right, find a nice fish of the opposite sex to get jiggy with so the species can continue.
If that’s all there was, it would be fairly easy to catch fish. Offer them food at the end of a line and boom.
But there is a near endless number of variations. The weather, water temperature, what type of food is available in the lake, what sub-species of fish are found in the lake, how big the fish are, what type of fish are in the lake, how sunny it is, what sort of plants grow in the lake, how much food is available … all these factors and more combine into thousands of different variations and permutations, and it’s up to you, the angler, to figure out the combination that will coerce the fish to bite.
Sometimes, it is as easy as tossing a hook in the water. A friend of mine tells the story of how he was paddling his boat out onto Bearhole Lake, his rod extending over the side of the boat, spoon dangling six inches above the water, when a pike jumped out of the water and grabbed the lure, then dove for the safety of the weeds, taking lure and line along with him. Only a desperate grab for the rod kept it from going overboard, too.
Many times, though, it’s not. Gwillim Lake is famous for only reluctantly giving up its fish. Gwillim is a big lake, with lots of food for fish to eat, which means that any lures offered have to be as good or better as what the fish are feeding on currently, or else they’ll just ignore your offering. Another friend of mine tells the story of the first time he went fishing out at Gwillim. He spent his entire six days off fishing. For five of those days, he got nary a nibble. Nada. Nothing. On day six, he was about to give up in disgust and go home, when he landed the largest lunker of his life.
Most lakes fall somewhere in between. The first fish my daughter ever caught was at Stony Lake, fishing off the shore. Stony Lake is full of pike, a famously aggressive species that will eat anything and everything, including other pike. In some lakes, a small population of large pike rule. Catching pike as long as 150 cm and weighing up to 25 kg is not unheard of, but you’ll not find such monsters in Stony Lake. Finding a fish longer than 50 cm is a bit of a score, but while the fish are not big, there are plenty of them, and it’s a rare angler who gets completely skunked at Stony, making it a great starter lake for kids.
Types of fish
The Tumbler Ridge area straddles the line between the coolwater species found farther east: primarily pike and perch, and the coldwater species, mainly trout and char, found throughout most of BC.
Historically, Northern Pike have only been found in BC along lakes that tie into the Peace and Liard River systems (including the Murray River), though not upstream of the Peace Canyon. However, as temperatures in the province rise, pike have begun to find their way (often introduced illegally) into lakes in southeaster BC as well.
In the Tumbler Ridge area, Stony Lake, Bearhole Lake and Gwillim Lake all hold Northern Pike. They have even been found in the Murray River itself, though pike are not big fans of fast moving water, so tend to congregate in slow moving, shallow, and reedy areas.
Yellow Perch are often found in the same lakes as pike. These small fish are a feeder food for the larger fish, but are generally plentiful and easy to catch by simply bobbing a small baited hook or a small attractor near a dock, along the edge of weeds, or anywhere there is enough cover for these tiny but tasty fish to hide from the ever present pike.
Walleye is considered by many to be one of the best tasting fish to eat, but they are not generally found in the Tumbler Ridge area. They are found in Swan Lake, near Dawson Creek, and are quite plentiful once you cross into Alberta.
Coldwater species, on the other hand, include Rainbow Trout, Lake Trout, and Brook Trout.
Rainbow Trout are stocked in a couple of local lakes, including Boot Lake and Quality Lake. In the past, Moose Lake was stocked with Rainbow Trout as well, but hasn’t been stocked since 2006.
Rainbow Trout are also found in many of the rivers around here as well, and is native to many rivers in the Peace River drainage, including the Murray, Sukunka and Wolverine Rivers.
Rainbow Trout have been known to get to 24 kg, but finding a rainbow in a local lake that’s bigger than a few pounds is a great catch. The one exception is One Island Lake, where rainbows to 10 kg have been caught.
While they do not get as big as pike, rainbows are a pretty fish, and are often more selective in what they will chase, making them a more challenging fish to catch, too. This is not a hard and fast rule, as in lakes with little food and lots of trout, they’ll hit most anything you toss at them.
Alongside rainbow trout, Brook Trout are one of the most commonly stocked fish in the Northeast. Brook Trout are not native to this area, and any lake you find brookies in (Boot, Moose, One Island) is stocked. Brook trout are not truly a trout at all, but a char. Brook trout rarely grow bigger than 3 kg, but the biggest one ever caught was about twice that size.
Bull Trout (sometimes mistakenly called Dolly Varden; the two look very simiar, but Dollies are found in coastal areas) are generally found in rivers, though can be found in Hook Lake and Gwillim Lake. Most people who go fishing for Bull Trout do so on one of the local rivers.
The same for the Arctic Grayling. The Sukunka River is considered one of the best grayling streams in the province, but they’re also found in the Murray River and even in Flatbed Creek. They are easily recognized by their large, sail-like dorsal fin and iridescent scales. While one of the smaller fish in the area (rarely getting above 2 kg), some people love fishing for grayling simply because they are so pretty. They love to hang out along river seams, where fast moving water and slow moving water interact. They are opportunistic eaters, and food will often eddy out into these areas.
There are a few other species (Burbot, Lake Trout and Whitefish) that can be caught in the area, but are not as common, or at least, not as popular, as the other species.
Types of fishing
If you are interested in getting out and fishing, there is a confusing number of styles: trolling, dry fly fishing, bobbing, jigging, casting, bottom bouncing… it can be confusing, to say the least. But there are some simple choices you can make that will dictate what type of fishing you are best suited for. First, are you planning on fishing a river or a lake? If you are fishing a river, chances are, you’ll be fishing from shore. Fly fishing is common, as are a variety of cast and retrieve methods. Remember, single barbless and baitless hooks when river fishing.
If you are planning on going to a lake, will you have a boat? If you do, that opens you up to different techniques than casting from shore, where your best options are to cast your lure out, then slowly retrieve it, or attach a small float to your line, then cast and leave. Some lakes have broad shallows, making casting from the shore difficult. Many fish like to hang out where a lake drops off, holding in the darker, colder, safer deep water, before dashing into the shallows to score a bite to eat. If you can’t cast a lure to these transition zones, it’s not a good lake for casting from shore.
The type of fish you’re hoping to catch will determine what method will work best, too. Pike, for instance, will eat anything, but the bigger the payoff, the more willing they will be to chase your lure. A larger spoon that flashes and dances in the water and appears to be a small fish will attract a pike, but do nothing for most rainbow trout. While rainbow are willing to chase other fish, a lure that will attract a 3 kg pike will be too big for a 1 kg rainbow, so you need to use smaller lures.
You’ll also want to use a lighter line. Rainbow trout are easily spooked, especially if they’ve been hooked once or twice before. Catching a 3 kg rainbow on 1 kg test line can be just as exciting as snagging a 15 kg pike on 4 kg test.
Fly fishers tend to favour smaller lakes that hold trout. Lakes like Bearhole are small enough, but hold species like pike and perch. While pike can be caught on the fly, they are not a popular catch. And while a lake like Gwillim might hold some big trout, it’s typically fished by trolling. Boulder, Moose, Quality and Boot are the most popular lakes for fly fishing.
Fish are most active in the early morning or late at night, when the sun isn’t shining directly on the water. This makes it harder for predators to see the fish, and so they feed much more prolifically.
Most of the fishing lakes around Tumbler Ridge have boat launches. The notable exception is Quality. While the lake is only a short way off the road, a beaver dam means that anglers will have to carry their boat past the dam, use a tube or other belly-boat, or fish from shore.
And if this Father’s Day is your first time fishing, remember: fishing is not about how many fish you catch or how big a fish you catch, but it’s about having fun and spending time in the great outdoors. If you get to do so with your family, so much the better.