By Doug Maves
A brisk breeze from the northwest threw small waves south as Dawn and I met Captain Rod Hennig in his new burgundy boat at the Lake Okanagan boat launch. The rising sun glowed yellow from behind the high hills and rocky ridges to the east. The pale blue sky promised us another glorious day of late fall weather to hunt the big rainbow trout of the lake. We set off quickly and started rigging lines for trolling streamer flies close to the surface.
As we set up the lines and gabbed about personal news we made a basic mistake. Never turn your back on a rigged fishing rod. As Cap and I set up the lines on the other side of the boat. we were distracted by our catching up and talking about fishing conditions when what must have been a big trout ripped the line from the release clip attached to the outrigger rod and spit out the hook so fast not a sound was made by the drag system on the first fishing rod we had set up. The expressions on our faces when we turned to find the rod hanging still and the release clip empty must have been a sight to see. Another fishing lesson relearned the hard way for Cap and myself, only tempered by the knowledge there were big fish around and we had all day to make up for our error. We shook our heads to Dawn’s laughter and started Cap’s first GPS guided trolling route.
Why the small rainbows were so ravenous that day only the “Great Speckled Trout” really knew. My fishing diety had arranged an early morning bite and kept the little ones attacking our colourful flies all day. Through the day we had one triple header, and a double. Less than an hour and a half into our adventure we had released eight fish and kept a five and half pounder, the first fish Cap had kept for a client in his new craft, named “Slay Ride”. He had already released a twelve pounder earlier in the week. A friend of Cap’s phoned to tell us he saw three elk and two buck deer as he hunted the ridges above and watched us fish. I lost count of the small rainbows we released after twenty. No trophies hit our lures that day, but Cap found a possible explanation in the stomach of the one fish we took to eat. He showed Dawn and I three partially digested ten inch kokanee from the fat belly of the twenty-four inch trout. The shore spawning kokanee had finished their life cycle and the big rainbows were probably inactive digesting the easy bounty of the previous weeks. Perhaps without the danger of big fish around to eat them the small rainbows were taking advantage of their short recess to smash everything in sight.
The games we played in the comfortably heated cabin were constantly interrupted by Cap sending us to the rods as rainbows attacked. We didn’t mind. The warm sun shone and the breeze almost disappeared. The only pause the fish gave us was when Cap grilled our homemade chicken club wraps on the bbq, along with reheating his wife’s excellent apple pie for dessert. We needed the nutrition to replace the energy we expended reeling in dozens of fish from three hundred feet behind the boat. My left arm is still sore. Clouds of green grass and brown foliage litttered our path, making us reel in many more times just to clean the lures of the weeds. I pleaded with the Great Speckle for one big fish to photograph before we released it, to no avail. I didn’t really mind. I lost a decent fish after a great fight as I considered whether to keep it. That small moment of indecision gave the fish enough slack line to spit the hook. I swear it grinned at me as it regained its freedom. I smiled back. Well done. You certainly earned your freedom to roam the lake once more. Godspeed. I will get a phone call from my favourite fishing guide when the big ones are feeding again, getting ready for winter and fewer feeding opportunities by eating all they can. This is an angler’s best chance to catch them off guard.
Cap had never experienced a day like that before on Okanagan Lake, with so many small fish caught and safely released from the barbless hooks. His big hooks are so sharp we were able to safely release one hooked through the nose without a drop of it’s blood being spilled. We talked about the return of the sockeye as far as Skaha Lake and their impending reunion with their landlocked cousins, the kokanee of the Okanagan. We learned of the massive die-off over the summer in Wood Lake of thousands of shore spawners. The Ministry biologists Captain Rod takes out for their fish counts saw about a thousand fish, where there should have been more than four thousand. Remarkably, the counts in Okanagan Lake were the third best on record, boding well for huge rainbows in our future and much bigger kokanee in the lake, perhaps beating its own world record for these sweet tasting fish.
Thanks Cap, for another sensational day in supernatural BC. See you soon to hunt the big ones again, and talk, and learn. Tight lines to all.