The punctuation and spelling from the original text have been faithfully preserved. Only obvious typographical errors have been corrected.
WITH A CHAPTER ON TUNA FISHING AT SANTA CATALINA.
M.A., M.B., B.C. (Cantab.); M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. (London).
Late Surgeon to the Western Division, Canadian Pacific Railway Company.
LONDON: HORACE COX, "FIELD" OFFICE, WINDSOR HOUSE, BREAM'S BUILDINGS, E.C.
PRINTED BY HORACE COX, "FIELD" OFFICE, WINDSOR HOUSE,
BREAM'S BUILDINGS, E.C.
The Author hopes that this book may prove of some interest to anglers by giving a short account of the fishing which is to be obtained in a part of the world hitherto little exploited, and well worthy of better acquaintance.
British Columbia only became fairly easy of access after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1887, which placed it within two weeks' journey from London. Before that time it was cut off by the immense prairies of the north-west of Canada, and could only be reached by a long journey round Cape Horn or over the Isthmus of Panama. Since the date given, however, a new era has dawned for the country, and all the southern part of it has been opened up by railways. Thus its waters have been rendered easy of access to any fisherman willing to try them. The position of the country on the map resembles that of Norway and Sweden in Europe, and the general resemblance is borne out by the features of both countries. Each possesses a deeply indented coast line and a wealth of pine forests, lakes, and rivers. But the climate of British Columbia is much milder; the valleys are richer in soil, the mountains in precious metals, and the waters are inhabited by different species of fish. And whereas the Scandinavian peninsula has some ten millions of people, British Columbia supports as yet but one hundred thousand of population, including Indians.
It is without doubt a country of great possibilities. The summer climate of the southern central plateau is very bracing and dry, resembling that of the southern Californian winter; while the winter climate of the coast is like Devonshire. Game, both large and small, is still plentiful in the south, while the northern part is one of the best big game districts of the world.
British Columbia is the home of the rainbow trout, which flourishes in all its rivers and lakes to the furthest north, and spreads southwards into the neighbouring Pacific states, where it has, however, to compete with another species, the cut-throat trout. The eastern limit of the rainbow is the Rocky Mountain range.
The chief purpose of this book is to give some idea of the habits and peculiarities of the rainbow, and the sport which it affords in its native haunts. The author spent some twelve years in the interior of the country, and has fished a great many of its numberless lakes and streams, so he may claim to write from practical experience. But he writes also with the hope that perhaps someone more competent may in the future publish a complete history of this most interesting fish, and solve some of the problems which are here but alluded to. For there is ample scope in these almost virgin waters for both the naturalist and the fisherman, to whom these notes may perhaps serve as the blazes on a mountain trail, and as some slight record of the sport that was to be obtained in the earlier days of British Columbia.
Though the inland waters swarm with Pacific salmon at certain seasons, the fish are useless for purposes of sport. They take no bait of any kind when they have once started to migrate up the rivers. In the salt water, however, and while waiting at the mouths of rivers, they take a spoon-bait freely, and the smaller kinds will in the same conditions often rise readily to the fly. But it may be stated, as a general rule, no salmon are ever taken on bait or fly as they travel, and when they reach the upper waters.
The Dominion Government has recently tried the experiment of hatching and turning out 250,000 of the small fry of the Atlantic salmon from one of their hatcheries; and, should success attend the effort, a great attraction would be added to the inland streams; but a period of some few years must naturally elapse before any opinion can be given as to the success or failure of this attempt.
British Columbia is reached as soon as the traveller crosses the summit of the Rocky Mountains, just beyond Banff, on the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The summit, which is known as the Great Divide, separates the Pacific Slope from Eastern Canada. The crossing once made, a country is reached in which there is a great change in climate, fauna, and flora; and in the rivers, instead of the so-called speckled trout, the muskallunge, black bass, and Atlantic salmon, are found the rainbow, silver, and steel-head trout, with the five species of the Pacific salmon. This last fish is not a salmon at all, but only bears the title by courtesy, because no other Anglo-Saxon name has been given to it. The early settlers mistook it for a salmon, and called it a salmon because it so closely resembled one in appearance and habits, just as the ruffed grouse was, and is, called a partridge in Eastern Canada. But it has no true English name. Scientifically, the five species of Pacific "salmon" belong to the genus Oncorhynchus, and each is mostly called by the Indian name which distinguished it when the white man first arrived, such as quinnat or cohoe. The physical relationship of the Pacific Oncorhynchus to the Atlantic Salmo salar is not unlike the physical relationship of the grayling or char to the trout.
The rainbow is found before the Divide is reached, in some of the streams flowing eastward from the Rockies, but it does not follow them much below the foothills; and it abounds in the rivers and lakes among the mountains themselves. But it is not until the central plateau of British Columbia is reached, a country of rolling hills, valleys, and open range abounding in lakes and small streams, that the best fishing grounds are encountered, the true home and headquarters of the rainbow trout.
The streams and lakes in the mountains are too turbulent, and fed by too much glacier and snow-water, to make the best fishing grounds. The guide-books of the railway speak highly of the fishing through the mountains, but there is better to be obtained lower down, and my advice to the traveller is to make no stop for fishing purposes until Sicamous is reached, at the head of Shuswap Lake where the Eagle River enters it. The Thompson River flows out of the lake at the other end, and the Shuswap Lake and Thompson River constitute the best fishing district of British Columbia, and will be the chief subject of the following pages.
It should be premised, however, that there is plenty of what may be styled "virgin water" in British Columbia besides the streams and lakes described in these pages. In a few years the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway will render accessible a network of rivers and lakes some four hundred miles to the north of the present line, and the addition to the angler's opportunities by this will, of course, be very great.
The cost of the fourteen-day journey from London to British Columbia will be at most L50 each way; it can be done for much less. There is no charge for the fishing, and ordinary living expenses are not high. One can stop at the hotels along the Thompson for 2 dollars a day, in Kamloops for 3 dollars a day, in the Canadian Pacific Railway hotels at 4 dollars to 6 dollars. There are no extra charges, except at the bar, which in British Columbia it is considered the duty of everyone to support liberally. A stranger will find that a few dollars spent judiciously and with tact in this way will usually be productive of quite astonishing results. In the West a drink puts everyone on equal terms, and at once establishes a feeling of camaraderie. It might be said to correspond somewhat to the old custom of offering the snuffbox.
The natives understand it as a sign that the stranger wishes to be on good terms, that he does not consider himself superior in any sense, that there is no side about him, that he is willing to drink with them as an equal. He will certainly receive a like invitation, and he must on no account refuse; to do so is an unpardonable violation of Western etiquette, even if everyone present insists on taking the part of host in turn. There is, however, no cause for alarm on the score of temperance, for it is quite de rigueur to ask for a cigar or to take a mere apology for a drink. If the stranger thus satisfies Western ideas of what is right and proper he will usually find that the individuals who had apparently hitherto regarded him somewhat in the manner that a strange dog seems to be looked at by his fellows in a new street will quite suddenly be most interested in his pursuit and most willing to help him in every possible way with advice as to someone who can tell him all about the river or lake and the best way to get there. Perhaps even the result may be an offer of a horse or hospitality for a night or two from some ranchman who may live near the place he wishes to get to. The people of British Columbia are, as a rule, most generous and open-hearted when they are approached in the right way. All men are equal in the West; there must be no question of standing on one's dignity.
As regards outfit in general (fishing tackle is dealt with later), it is the greatest mistake to take a lot of useless luggage. Any rough fishing suit will do, and a strong pair of boots. Waders are not needed, except in the coast rivers. Everything can be got in the country itself. The Hudson Bay stores or the general store which is found in every little town will provide everything that is wanted. My advice is to procure the outfit in the country itself, because they know best what is needed for the local wants.
The Rainbow Trout—Names—Distribution—Appearance—Size in British Columbia—Its Food—Fly-fishing for—Sporting Qualities—Possibility of New Species being Discovered 1
Season for Trout Fishing—Principal Districts—Tackle Necessary—"No Drawing-room Work"—Advantage of Plenty of Time—Poor Fishing in the Rockies—The Thompson River—The South Thompson—Its Course and Character—Clear, Swift Water—Difficulty of Landing Big Fish—A Lost Thirty-pounder—The Successful Cherokee Fisherman—Fine, Calm Days Best for Fishing—Mosquitoes not Troublesome 9
The Kamloops District—Kamloops as Headquarters—May Floods and Fishing in Shuswap Lake—Silver-bodied Flies—Streams Running into the Lake—The Eagle River—Advantages of a Steam Launch—A Big Catch—Possibilities of the Prawn—A July Spectacle—Fishing at Tranquille—Kamloops Lake—Savona's Ferry—Great Sport in June—Dolly Varden Trout—A Fifteen-Pounder—Falling-off of Sport when Salmon are Running—The "Salmon Fly"—Size of Catches on the Thompson—August a Bad Month 20
What is the "Silver Trout"?—Evidence in Favour of a New Species—Difference in Appearance from the Rainbow—A Jumper—Native of Kamloops and Shuswap Lakes—A Bag of Twenty-four—The Dolly Varden—Origin of the Name—Not a Free Riser—Grayling—Chub and Squaw Fish—Great Lake Trout—The Silver Fish at Spence's Bridge—Salmon or Steel-head?—Cut-throat Trout—Possible Fishing Tour in British Columbia 34
Other Lakes—Long Lake—Its Silvery Trout—Fish Lake—Extraordinary Fishing—Fifteen Hundred Trout in Three Days—A Miniature Gaff—Uses of a Collapsible Boat—Catching Fish Through the Ice—Mammit Lake—Nicola Lake—Beautifully Marked Trout in Nicola River—"The Little Red Fish" 46
The Kootenay District—Sawdust and Dynamite—Fine Sport in Vancouver—Harrison River and Lake—Big Fish in the Coquehalla—The Steel-head in the Fraser—Need for Better River Protection 65
The Salmons of the Pacific—Legends Concerning Them—The Five Species—Systems of Migration—Powers of Endurance—Absence of Kelts—Do They Take a Fly?—Terrible Mortality—"A Vivid Red Ribbon"—Points of Difference Between the Quinnat and Salmo salar—Work of the Canneries—Artificial Propagation 72
The Diplomat and the Salmon—The Struggle for Existence—Salmon and Steel-head Liable to be Confused—Sport in Tidal Waters—The Campbell River—The Pioneers—A River of Fifty-Pounders—Smaller Salmon on the Fly—Method of Fishing—Tackle—Typical Good Bags—The Steel-head—Cost of Fishing—Dangers of Over-Fishing for Canneries—A Good Trolling Time 91
Recapitulation of Salmon and Trout Problems—Importance of Preserving British Columbian Fisheries—Possibility of Introducing Atlantic Salmon—Question of Altering Present Close Season for Trout—Past and Present Neglect of Trout Fisheries—Need for Governmental Action—Difficulties in the Way of it—Conclusion 107
Tuna Fishing at Avalon, Santa Catalina Island 118
FISHING IN BRITISH COLUMBIA.
The Rainbow Trout—Names—Distribution—Appearance—Size in British Columbia—Its Food—Fly-fishing for—Sporting Qualities—Possibility of New Species being Discovered.
The Rainbow trout (Salmo irideus) is a true trout of the same genus as, and closely allied to, the common trout (S. fario) of the British Isles, where it is also now acclimatised. It holds the same position in every stream, lake, and river of the northern part of the Pacific Coast of North America as the brown trout does in the United Kingdom. Unless the water, for some local reason, is unsuitable, it is met with everywhere, until further south it overlaps with the cut-throat trout, which ultimately seems to take its place.
In the small mountain streams it is very plentiful, and is generally called the brook, mountain, or speckled trout, and when of larger size is known locally as the "red side"—a name which often very aptly describes it. The name "rainbow" is not much heard or used locally.
In the different lakes and rivers the fish varies a good deal in size, numbers, colour, and appearance—so much so that when these waters are better known the naturalist may be inclined to name and describe several varieties of rainbows, perhaps even may discover new species.
This fish is confined to the west side of the Rocky Mountains, save in the head waters of the streams which take their source from these mountains and then flow east. Often two streams flow from a lake, one east and one west, and the rainbow is found in both; a good instance of this is found in the Kicking Horse and the Bow rivers. The latter flows east from the divide, and the rainbow follows it for some distance into the prairie; but as this river ceases to be a mountain stream and becomes sluggish and discoloured traces of the fish cease. But in the clear streams of Eastern Canada, near the great lakes, its place is taken by the spotted trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), a beautiful and game fish, member of the char family, unknown west of the Rockies.
In appearance the rainbow is well worthy of its name, and may justly claim to be the equal in beauty, if not the superior, of any of the Salmonidae. It is clean-cut in shape, perhaps rather lither than the brown trout, and when large it is not so deep. The colour on the back is an olive green, with the usual characteristic black spots, and at the side a few red ones; laterally the green shades off into silver and sometimes gold, while along its side from gill to tail flashes the beautiful rainbow stripe, varying from pale sunset pink to the most vivid scarlet or crimson; often the effect is as if a paint-brush dipped in red paint had been drawn along the fish's side; the belly is silvery white; the anal, ventral, and pectoral fins being coloured in proportion to the colouring of the individual fish. The general appearance is very striking, and in a fine specimen is certainly one of great beauty. When fresh from the water and in brilliant sunshine the fish rivals the object after which it is called; the living rainbow on its side shows a play of delicate colour which it would be hard to surpass or to equal, even in the heavens.
From the fly-fisherman's point of view the fish may be said to run up to 4lb. in weight; by which statement it is meant that the fly is readily taken in both stream and lake by fish up to this size. Mr. F.J. Fulton, of Kamloops, states that he has never landed a 5lb. fish on the fly, and he is an authority on the Thompson River. Personally, I have never seen a rainbow over 4lb. which I knew to have been caught with the fly; but I have seen a model of a fish of 12lb. caught with the fly in 1891 in Kamloops Lake by Captain Drummond. There is, of course, not the slightest doubt that the fish grows to a much larger size. Mr. Walter Langley caught a rainbow of 22-1/2lb. on a small spoon in Marble Canyon Lake about May, 1900, and the photograph of this fish was published in the Field. I have also seen very big specimens which had been speared by Indians in the Thompson and sold as "salmon"; two of them I weighed myself and found to be 15lb. and 12lb. respectively. While, therefore, there is some evidence to show that these large fish may be caught with spoon and minnow, it may be stated as a broad fact that the rainbow is not often caught with the fly over the weight of 4lb., and that up to this size he takes it freely.
The fly is taken best during the months of June and July, when there is a rise of the stone fly in the rivers, and flies of all kinds are plentiful in the lakes. At this time, indeed, natural fly seems to be the main article of the fish's food. But the small fry of the salmon and of its own species are also devoured in great numbers, and in late summer there are grasshoppers as well; these are very plentiful, and are eagerly snapped up as they fall into the water. No doubt a further great source of food supply is the spawn of the salmon, which must be very plentiful on the spawning beds. It forms the usual lure of the Indian fishermen.
The feeding-grounds of the rainbow are the eddies and the back-washes in the swift-running rivers, into which flies, grasshoppers, and other food are carried by the current. A very favourite haunt is at the mouth of creeks and streams running into a lake, or where a large river runs into or out of a large lake. Food is naturally plentiful at such places, and at certain times the fish gather there in great numbers, splashing about and chasing the small fry. They will then take a silver-bodied fly most greedily.
In many of the smaller mountain lakes where fly seems to be at certain seasons the rainbow's sole food, no other lure will attract it, but with the fly great numbers may be caught. The fly-fisher also scores among fish gathered at the mouths of creeks swollen by summer floods. The minnow, also, both natural and artificial, is useful in these conditions, and it will account for much larger fish, up to 10lb. and even over; these monsters have probably forsaken a fly diet and taken to small fry. But there is no doubt that the rainbow is, quite as much as our own trout, a fly-feeder, and that it takes the artificial as readily and, owing to want of education, and, perhaps, also to natural boldness, with even greater freedom and less regard to the nature of the lure or the skill of the fisherman who throws it.
So far as strength and gameness go the rainbow is fully the equal of the brown trout, and, in my opinion, its superior, though, as its play is often aided by the very strong water it frequents, its strength may sometimes appear greater than it would in our smaller streams. For this reason fishing for rainbows in British Columbia has always seemed to me to resemble sea-trout fishing more than the fishing for brown trout; perhaps less skill is necessary, but there is a stronger fight.
The rivers and lakes of British Columbia are at present an angler's paradise, and will probably long continue to be so. And it promises the additional interest that the fisherman is not treading a beaten and well-known path. There is pioneer work for him to do. There are many problems for him to solve and discoveries for him to make. In the numberless lakes and rivers stretching far up through northern British Columbia to the Arctic, it is not unlikely that several new species of the Salmonidae await description.
The big-game hunter has shown what secrets may lie hid in so wide a land, for since these northern regions have been explored for big game and gold (from the date of the Klondike rush in 1898) no fewer than four new species of the sheep family have been discovered; a pure white mountain sheep, for instance, has been found to exist in great numbers. "Heads" of this sheep are now quite common, but it is a most curious proof of the general ignorance of the country ten years ago that such a remarkable animal was then entirely unknown. Had any explorer in those days reported seeing such an animal without bringing any tangible proof to support his story, he would have been universally regarded as a most unique liar, in a part of the world where such people are far from uncommon. The enormous moose heads recently brought down from Alaska and northern British Columbia were undreamt of not so many years back, and the Alaskan grizzly is, too, I believe, a new species.
It is, therefore, far from unreasonable to believe or to hope that as the country is opened up the fisherman will also achieve new conquests. As yet they lie before him, for he only follows slowly in the footsteps of the pioneer and the big-game hunter; he requires a railway and an hotel, and he must be able to dispose in some manner of his catch, which he cannot do unless he is at least near some settlement. I have conversed with numbers of prospectors and hunters from all parts of the north-west, and they all have the same account of teeming rivers and lakes. Many a weird fish story have they told me, but none have really been fishermen; they have simply caught fish for food, and have not noted them much except with a view to their edible properties. It is, therefore, highly probable that, as these strange waters are gradually made accessible to the angler and become as well known as the more southern rivers of British Columbia, many interesting facts will become known too, and new varieties of trout and other fish will be discovered. Even those southern waters are, in truth, little known, and several interesting matters which could well bear investigation will be put forward in these pages.
Season for Trout Fishing—Principal Districts—Tackle Necessary—"No Drawing-room Work"—Advantage of Plenty of Time—Poor Fishing in the Rockies—The Thompson River—The South Thompson—Its Course and Character—Clear, Swift Water—Difficulty of Landing Big Fish—A Lost Thirty-pounder—The Successful Cherokee Fisherman—Fine, Calm Days Best for Fishing—Mosquitoes not Troublesome.
Fly-fishing for trout in British Columbia may be said to begin in April or May at the coast, but in the interior it is June or July before much success can be obtained. If time be no object, good sport might be obtained in the coast rivers and lakes during April and May, and a move might be made to the interior waters during June and July, while August is about the best season for the big salmon fishing on Vancouver Island. During September and October good sport may still be obtained, and the fish are then in the best condition; but usually the attractions of shooting prove too much for the local sportsman, and the rivers are more or less deserted. The southern waters may be divided into three principal districts—namely, the coast rivers, the Thompson River district, and the waters of the Kootenay country, which all seem to possess special peculiarities, though the rainbow is found in them all. But in the coast rivers the steel-head, or sea-trout, is alone met with.
As regards rods and tackle for trout fishing, large rods are out of place in British Columbia, and quite unnecessary; an 11ft. split cane is the best, and long enough for any river; a 14ft. rod is very unhandy in a rough country or among trees, and all local fishermen use a small rod. Tackle should be of the same kind as one would use for sea-trout fishing, and should be strong. As regards flies, size is the most important consideration, as the usual patterns are the ordinary sea-trout and loch flies. The imitation stone fly is about the only fly that should resemble the natural insect. Rather large flies are used on the rivers, and smaller on the lakes, but this question may be left till individual streams are described. For a general supply large sea-trout flies (Jock Scott, Silver Grey, and Silver Doctor, etc.), with some March Browns and stone flies of the same sizes, and an assortment of smaller Scottish loch trout flies of various patterns—these are all that are needed. The artificial minnow of various kinds, the spoon, and the dead bait on a crocodile or Archer spinner are all used, and the prawn has lately been tried with deadly effect on large fish. Bottles of preserved minnows and small prawns would therefore be a useful addition to the equipment. It is also wise to take plenty of strong casts and traces, as local fishing tackle is not to be trusted.
It must be noted well that fishing in these waters is no drawing-room work; great sport can be got, but the best is often only to be obtained by a certain amount of "roughing it." The rivers are not always in right condition, nor the weather always favourable—unfortunate facts peculiar to every river in the world—and it is only when all things are favourable that the best sport is obtained. To have plenty of time at his disposal is the great thing for the fisherman, for it is only natural that a man passing through the country and having only a couple of weeks at the outside to spare may easily find nothing but disappointments. No one must expect to get off the Canadian Pacific express and find the rainbow trout eagerly expecting his arrival.
The district best known to me is that through which the Thompson River runs, from the Shuswap Lake to its junction with the Fraser at Lytton. The Canadian Pacific Railway follows the river in its whole length, and thus renders it very accessible. Many other smaller streams and lakes are part of the Thompson water system, and afford good fishing. The river runs through the "dry belt," which is so called owing to the smallness of the rainfall, which only averages about 8in. in the year. It is from this cause that the banks of the rivers are very open and free from brush, which makes them easy to fish and to travel along; while, for the same reason, the country is generally open rolling hills, covered with grass or scanty pines, affording a great contrast to the moist country at the coast, where the rivers run through thick woods and impenetrable bush, which render them very difficult to approach and fish unless they are shallow enough for wading. The fishing to be obtained along the Canadian Pacific Railway as it passes through the Rocky Mountains is not very good, the guide-books notwithstanding. At Banff there is a little fishing in the Bow River, but it is poor, and the fish do not seem to take the fly. In Devil's Lake lake trout, a species of char, can be got on the spoon by deep trolling up to a very large size; but it is not a very high form of sport, and cannot be compared to the rainbow trout fishing along the Thompson.
The South Thompson River has its source at the western end of the great Shuswap Lake, near Shuswap station on the Canadian Pacific, and joins the Fraser at Lytton; at Kamloops it is joined by the North Thompson, and the combined stream flows into Kamloops Lake, about seven miles below the town, running out again some twenty miles below at Savona's Ferry. Its total course being about 140 miles, and almost all of it fishing water, it is a fine river. The water is usually clear, varying in breadth and in swiftness of current according to the nature of the country it flows through. In places it is broad and calm; in the canyons it is a rushing torrent. Its pace below Savona's is from eight to twelve miles an hour, above Kamloops probably not more than two to four. The South Thompson from Shuswap Lake to Kamloops is always clear, owing to the filtration of the lake, and fine fishing can be had in some of the upper rapids and pools. Near Kamloops the current is too sluggish, and sport is not very good. The river flows along the South Thompson valley, an open country with scattered farms and cattle ranches, bordered by bunch grass range and hills covered by yellow pine, very beautiful in spring and early summer. It is the central plateau of British Columbia, and has an exceedingly dry climate, with hardly any rain, very healthy and bracing, the altitude being about 1200ft. above sea level; it is very hot in summer, and sometimes cold in winter. Fishing begins here early in June, and, though it is little fished, there is no better part of the river. In Kamloops Lake the rainbow is very plentiful, and good fishing may be obtained as early as June at Tranquille, where the river flows into the lake, and causes a slow, wide-sweeping eddy. From Savona's Ferry, the outflow of the lake, down to Ashcroft is the best-known part of the river, and here the current is very swift and the banks are rocky and steep. Near Lytton the canyon is so deep and the banks so steep and dangerous that fishing is out of the question.
On the whole there is probably no fishing river in British Columbia to beat this one for the size and quality of the fish, though it does not afford the large bags that can be obtained on the Kootenay. It is a very sporting river, owing to the strength of the current, for a big fish is hard to hold if it once gets out into the main current, away from the side eddies. Mainly owing to this is the fact that there seems to be no record of fish over about 4lb., for a larger fish can get into the main stream, where the force of a ten-mile current drags on it and the line to such an extent that there is no chance of holding it. Such large fish are rarely met with, but every fisherman on the Thompson has stories of them, and they are all the same and coincide with my own. It was only once my luck to hook a really large fish. He jumped out of the water twice close to me, and I had a splendid view of him, and judged him to be about 8lb. He headed for the opposite bank, and just as a break was inevitable the fly came back. Other men have told me the same story, but such large fish are hooked so seldom that it is not worth while using a stronger rod and tackle. Though very large fish are undoubtedly plentiful, they seldom take either fly or any other bait, and perhaps deep live baiting would be the only means of successfully fishing for them.
The average fish is from 1/2lb. to 4lb., but much larger fish are in the deep pools. I once was shown at Spence's Bridge three supposed salmon in the winter which had been speared and sold by the Indians for two shillings apiece. I noticed their perfect condition and bright red side stripe, and, on examining them more carefully, pointed out to an experienced fisherman who was present, and to the proprietor of the hotel and others, that these fish were large rainbow trout. The largest weighed 15lb., the two others 12lb. apiece. This incident happened at Spence's Bridge, on the Lower Thompson. On another occasion of a visit there, the bar-tender of the hotel, who happened to be a young Englishman, told me that the angling editor of an American sporting paper had stayed off there and proposed to try with spoon and minnow for large rainbow trout, which he had heard could be got. The next day they went to where the Nicola River, a large stream, flows into the Thompson about half a mile from the hotel. The angling editor was provided with strong spinning gear and rod, and much to the bar-tender's surprise, very soon got into a fish of most surprising strength and dimensions, for they saw him several times, and estimated him at the unbelievable weight of over 30lb. The fish took them rapidly down to some impassable rocks, and went away with everything but the rod. I believed this story at the time, and see no reason to disbelieve now, though of course the size of the fish was probably over-estimated. No other fish was seen or hooked. The only point which I would wish to call attention to is the probable great size of the rainbows in this river, though none have as yet been taken with the rod. Mr. Langley's fish of 22lb. proves that in the lakes these large fish exist. At this place Mr. Inskip has also caught some large fish by spinning, and some very good bags of smaller fish have been got on the fly.
The Thompson is not very much fished. Near Ashcroft the local sportsmen from that small town fish it, and Savona's Ferry is visited from Kamloops when the fish are taking; but Kamloops Lake must provide an inexhaustible reserve of fish to take the place of fish caught, so that the river could never be really fished out or much overfished under present conditions. The Indians also fish, and generally with the illegal salmon roe, but do not make great catches; the fly is more successful when the fish are taking it. Nets and dynamite would be useless in this river; therefore, even should a far greater population inhabit the surrounding country, which is not likely for a great number of years, this beautiful and striking river will still afford great sport for many generations. There are long stretches which are never touched except by a stray Indian or Chinaman with a grasshopper or bit of salmon roe on a string tied to a long willow pole. Some years ago a nondescript individual who said he was a Cherokee half-breed turned up at Savona's Ferry and earned a living by fishing. Every day he caught more fish than he could carry, though he never revealed his secret. Some believed that he used set lines. His success showed that trout were far more numerous than was generally believed, but the fly fishermen caught as many as usual. He was the most successful fisherman I ever saw.
It is a fact very striking to the English fisherman that the best fishing days in British Columbia are the exact opposite of ours. Fine, bright hot days without wind are the best, both on river and lake; cold and rainy days are always bad, a fortunate thing, as such days are very uncommon. Strong wind is, oddly enough, the greatest enemy of the angler, especially on the lakes; it nearly always puts the fish down. The only thing that seems to account for these curious facts is the probability that the stone fly and other flies are not hatched out except on hot days, while the fish are regardless of the gleam of the gut in the water. My own experience has always been that the hottest days are the best. Except for rocks and stones, and clambering up and down very steep banks, the Thompson River is easy to fish, and trees are not troublesome. Mosquitoes are almost absent, except in the south branch, and the Canadian Pacific, as has been said, runs along its whole length, thus giving easy access to the river, while hotels exist at most of the stations. The railway company publishes a pamphlet on shooting and fishing, but the Thompson River is altogether omitted, which is certainly very strange, as the line runs along the banks for its whole distance, and there is no part of British Columbia in which such excellent fishing can be obtained, and no part of Canada which enjoys such a climate or offers such strangely attractive scenery.
The Kamloops District—Kamloops as Headquarters—May Floods and Fishing in Shuswap Lake—Silver-bodied Flies—Streams Running into the Lake—The Eagle River—Advantages of a Steam Launch—A Big Catch—Possibilities of the Prawn—A July Spectacle—Fishing at Tranquille—Kamloops Lake—Savona's Ferry—Great Sport in June—Dolly Varden Trout—A Fifteen-Pounder—Falling-off of Sport when Salmon are Running—The "Salmon Fly"—Size of Catches on the Thompson—August a Bad Month.
The Thompson district may be described for fishing purposes as beginning at Sicamous junction and ending a little below Spence's Bridge, including the Shuswap and Okanagan lakes, Kamloops, Nicola, and Mammit lakes, and the mountain lakes in the neighbourhood, all of which are more or less part of the Thompson watershed. Of this country the town of Kamloops is the centre, situated at the junction of the north and south branches of the river, and seven miles above Kamloops Lake, its name meaning, in the Thompson language, "the meeting of the waters." By virtue of its position it is an excellent headquarters for anyone wishing to fish in the district, for by rail, stage, or horseback every portion of it can be reached from there, and there are good stores to outfit from, and good hotels—for British Columbia. Fishing in this district cannot be said really to begin till May is well advanced. It is when the snow begins to melt in earnest and the rivers and creeks come down in flood that real sport commences, and this usually happens towards the end of May. No sport can be obtained in the Thompson River below Kamloops Lake at this time, as the water is discoloured by the North Thompson flowing in at Kamloops, which makes fishing useless, and it is only in the South Thompson and the Shuswap Lake that good sport can be obtained.
As the rivers begin to come down in high flood the trout congregate at the places where the streams flow into the Shuswap Lake, doubtless for the food which is brought down, and after two or three hot days, when these small mountain streams rise rapidly, fishing is always good. The fish may be seen leaping and splashing in great numbers at the place where the turbid waters of the stream mingle with the clear water of the lake. Small fry are the object of their pursuit, and if a silver-bodied fly is thrown over a moving fish he takes it with a rush almost without fail. It is a most exciting form of fishing, for the fly must be thrown quickly from a boat or canoe over the fish as he breaks the water in his rush for the minnows, and if he fails to see it further casting is often useless, till another fish repeats the same manoeuvre. It would seem as if the trout were lying in wait till a small school of young salmon or trout became entangled in the strong eddies of the stream, darting out upon them when thus comparatively helpless. An occasional fish may be got by casting here and there over the water, but it is only when the trout are moving on the surface that really good sport can be obtained.
All the Shuswap mountain creeks and rivers during late May and in June and July give opportunities for good fishing of this kind. The Eagle River, about a quarter of a mile from Sicamous, is a good example; and there are numerous other streams at various points in the Shuswap Lake (some probably almost unknown) which can be fished at this time of the year. I remember a bag of 80lb. of fish taken on the fly at the mouth of Eagle River some few years ago in three hours' fishing; but it has not been equalled lately, though there is no reason why it should not be, in favourable circumstances. The time to look for is when the first flood comes down the Eagle River after two or three hot days, and there must not be any wind to speak of on the lake. The fish may be seen leaping, from the hotel windows, and it is then that the fisherman must row his fastest to the mouth of the river, and if they are still moving when he gets there his success is assured. The best way to enjoy sport on the Shuswap Lake is to hire a steam launch and cruise round to the mouths of the various streams and try them in turn. Anasty Arm, Scotch, and Adam's Creek are the best known. A canoe or boat must be taken to fish from, and unless sleeping accommodation can be got on the boat, it is necessary to camp on the shore. If a steam launch is beyond the fisherman's means, the only other way is to hire a boat, with an Indian or other guide, and carry a tent and provisions. Wood and water are plentiful, and there is only one objection to the plan, that the mosquito is often very numerous and troublesome on the Shuswap, and Sicamous is by no means exempt. If, however, the sportsman can sleep on a steam launch, this nuisance is got rid of, as it is only on the shore that the mosquito is plentiful. No more pleasant or sporting trip could well be undertaken than one in the Shuswap Lake from Sicamous in June, with a suitable steamer or launch, for great fishing, both with fly and troll, would be certain at the mouths of all the creeks and rivers; and if a rifle were taken, bear, both black and grizzly, are by no means uncommon.
There is also another place, hitherto little fished except by the Indians, which is well worthy of a trial. It is in the centre of the lake, where the four arms meet, a place well known to the men who log on the lake. It takes the form of a channel less than half a mile wide, connecting the four arms of the Shuswap Lake. Here in 1903, in early August, two men camped, going up on a logging steamer from Kamloops. They trolled across and across the channel, and caught in about ten days some thirty large silver fish, the biggest being about 15lb. Many were lost including one monster supposed to be about 25lb. The best day's sport was about eight large fish. I do not know whether this place has ever been fished since, but it certainly deserves a trial. At the mouths of the various creeks I have never heard definitely of anything over 7lb. being caught but the fish are always in splendid condition and give a great display of fight. The best flies are those with silver bodies, such as the Silver Doctor, Silver Grey, and Wilkinson. A dead bait on an archer spinner is very deadly, and the abylone spoon; a half-red spoon is to be avoided, or a half-gold. A large species of char may be caught by deep trolling with a weight and spoon; but it is a poor kind of sport, and the fish is not game. The prawn has never been tried on the Shuswap Lake; it might be worth a trial. Large trout have been taken on the prawn in the coast rivers; but it is possible that they were sea-trout and not rainbows.
The upper part of the South Thompson, for a mile or more after it leaves the Shuswap, is good at the same time of the year in certain pools and eddies, or riffles as they are called locally. I once, in early July, saw a wonderful sight on this part of the river, at a place called Sullivan's Pool. I was passing in a logging steamer on a very hot morning, and in a back eddy which forms this pool, under a cut bank, the water was alive with large trout chasing the small fry on the surface. As each fish drove the little fish upwards a band of about thirty mergansers attacked them from above. A curious and very lively scene was the result, such as I have never seen before or since. On returning about seven in the evening, at my request the steamer was tied up to the bank, and I put out in a small boat with a boatman, though no fish were stirring and the mergansers were sitting gorged in a row on the bank. However, I hooked and landed at the first cast a beautiful 4-1/2lb. rainbow, which was promptly cooked for dinner. If it had been possible to fish the pool in the morning a great catch could have been made. At this time of the year good fishing can be got at Tranquille, where the river flows into Kamloops Lake and forms a slow-moving eddy. Fishing is the same here as in the Shuswap; it is only good on hot, calm days, and wind puts the fish down. It is best when the fish can be seen splashing on the surface in the early morning or evening, when good catches of fine fish may be made; but, as wind is by no means uncommon, it is not always that circumstances are favourable.
Tranquille is seven miles from Kamloops, on the other side of the river, and comfortable accommodation can be got at Mr. Fortune's ranch. It is a beautiful place, but mosquitoes are not unknown. Here Capt. Drummond landed a 12-1/2lb. fish on the fly, and a model cut out in wood was preserved for a long time, but was burnt in a fire that took place there some few years ago. This is the largest rainbow caught on the fly that I have ever heard of. In May and June, before the fish will take the fly, there is often fair sport to be had with the minnow and spoon in Kamloops Lake; unless the north branch of the Thompson is in very high flood and discolours the water too much. The north branch, which joins the South Thompson at Kamloops, is no good for fishing; its waters are seldom clear enough, and seem to be fed too much by glaciers, with no large lake to clear and filter the water. There are several rivers of the same type in British Columbia, and fishing does not seem to be good in any of them. At the western end of Kamloops Lake the Thompson flows out again to join the Fraser at Lytton; the stream is swift and strong, running when in high flood at the rate of twelve miles an hour. In 1894 there was a very high water, and the stationmaster at Savona's wired to Ashcroft, a distance of twenty-four miles, to say that the bridge had just been carried away. A reply came giving the time of its arrival, which was just two hours afterwards. The debris swept away the Ashcroft bridge and also the bridge at Lytton.
At Savona's the fishing of the Lower Thompson begins, and at this point, about a mile from the mouth of the river, there is an excellent hotel, kept by Mr. Adam Fergusson, one of the "old timers" of British Columbia, who came into the country with many others in the early days of the gold diggings on the Fraser River. This is really the only fishing hotel on the upper mainland of British Columbia, and is an excellent headquarters from which several lakes can be reached, as also many places on each side of the Thompson River. This part of the Thompson River affords good fishing from Savona's to below Spence's bridge, wherever the water is accessible, and, though a little sport can be obtained in the latter part of May, chiefly with spoon and minnow, it is not usually till July that the river is in really good order, when the excess of snow water has been carried off and the river begins to fall and get clearer. The hot weather sets in at the beginning of June, and a quick rise of the river is an immediate result. On a rising water the trout will not take. Often there is a pronounced fall in the middle of June, owing to cooler weather setting in, though this does not always happen. When it does occur excellent fishing can be obtained. I remember its happening in the middle of June, 1901, and for a week there was tremendous sport; a trout rose to every cast of the fly; but as soon as the water began to rise again everything was at an end.
At the end of May, before the water begins to rise, a fair number of fish can be taken by spinning from the bank with spoon and minnow at the mouth of the river. But these are another fish, called locally the Dolly Varden trout, a species of char, a handsome fish with pink spots and light pink flesh, and good eating. They take the fly later on occasionally, and run from 3/4lb to 4lb., but are not so lively as the rainbow, though they are a strong and game fish. I once took fifteen in a day's fishing with the minnow, and they can also be caught by trolling from a boat near the mouth of the river, the sport being varied by an occasional rainbow, often of a larger size than those usually caught with the fly. In May, 1903, a Dolly Varden of 15lb. was taken. It is a curious fact that during the fly season in July very few of these fish are ever taken, either on fly or spoon, or by trolling in the lake.
The fly-fishing season at Savona's really begins about the first of July and lasts till the salmon first arrive in the beginning of August, when fishing invariably falls off, probably owing to the fact that the trout follow the salmon to their spawning beds to prey on the eggs; at least, such is the local reason given. Whether this is true or not it is impossible to say, but in any case the fact remains that about this time fly fishing falls off for a few weeks coincident with the appearance of the salmon, and generally is poor during the whole of August, at any rate at Savona's. (It is often as good as ever lower down the river.) If a grasshopper is used some fish may still be caught, especially if the bait be allowed to sink. Later on, at the beginning of September, the fish will again take the fly and continue to do so until the end of the season, about the middle of October, while I have been told by an ardent fisherman that he had excellent sport in November during a snowstorm, regardless of the law of British Columbia. The excellence of sport in July depends a good deal on the rise of the stone fly, or "salmon fly" as it is locally called, and it is not until this fly makes its appearance that fishing becomes really good.
This insect in appearance is the same as the English stone fly, but is much more plentiful on the Thompson than I have ever seen it elsewhere; in some seasons every bush on the bank is literally covered with the flies, and later on the rocks are strewn with their dead bodies. A good stone fly season is always a good fishing season, for the fish are clearly very fond of them, and may often be seen sucking them into their mouths as fast as they fall into the water, or jumping at them as they dip down to the river's surface to lay their eggs. I have often seen the salmon fly become suddenly very numerous about mid-day or an hour or so before that, the hot sun hatching them out, and at once the trout are on the move, readily taking a fly tied to imitate the natural one, and continuing to do so as long as the living fly is on the water. At this time the best hours for fishing are the middle ones of the day, however hot and bright they may be, for in the earlier and later hours the fly is not on the water. I have never found, as a rule, that very late or very early hours are favourable on this river during this month, except just at the place where the river leaves the lake, which is usually good in the evening, especially after a very hot day. The best fly at this time is one tied to resemble as nearly as possible the living salmon fly; but if the natural fly is not on the water, others may be tried, such as the Jock Scott, the Silver Doctor, Wilkinson, March Brown and other well-known flies. Some local men swear by a claret body, others prefer a yellow or green; but, whatever fly is used, I believe that it should have plenty of hackle and body, and be of good size (Nos. 4 and 5); small flies are not advisable.
Great bags must not, as a rule, be expected on the Thompson; fifteen to twenty good fish is an excellent bag on this river. Mr. F.J. Fulton, of Kamloops, who has fished this river more than anyone else, has never done better than twenty-four fish; but these twenty-four fish would be 48lb., and ought to include at least a couple of fish about 4lb. apiece. On the Thompson the angler must carry his own fish, besides climbing up and down some very steep banks under the glare of a northern sun, whose heat is increased tenfold by the water and the bare rocks. Such a day's fishing is no mean trial of endurance, while the fierceness of the stream will generally account for a good percentage of lost fish. With regard to the falling off of sport in August, it may be quite possible that the salmon may really have nothing to do with the poorness of fishing at this time, but that the real reason may be that the fish are fat and gorged with the abundance of fly and grasshopper, and lie lazily, deep in the pools. In other parts of British Columbia fishing is poor at this time, and in waters the salmon cannot reach. And this reasoning is rather borne out by the fact that towards the end of August or beginning of September the fish begin to take again, though the salmon are still running in vast numbers. One of the best catches I ever saw taken from the Thompson (thirty-six fish) was got in early October, and the trout rose up among the travelling masses of salmon and took the fly.
Every part of the Thompson is fishable to below Spence's Bridge, over forty miles from Savona's, and the fishing is often irregular, by which is meant that when sport is good at Ashcroft it is not very good at Savona's, and vice versa. I have known the fish to be entirely off at the mouth of the river near Savona's, while good bags have been got a few miles below. This will show that sport on this part of the Thompson is somewhat variable; but still one point may be emphasised, namely, that during the two months of July and August there is always good fishing to be obtained at one point or another along the river, and all can be easily reached from the Savona's Hotel. The southern bank is followed by the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and is therefore easy of access; the northern bank can only be reached on foot or on horseback, and is therefore not so much fished. To fish this bank far down it would be necessary to seek hospitality for a night or two from some rancher.
What is the "Silver Trout"?—Evidence in Favour of a New Species—Difference in Appearance from the Rainbow—A Jumper—Native of Kamloops and Shuswap Lakes—A Bag of Twenty-four—The Dolly Varden—Origin of the Name—Not a Free Riser—Grayling—Chub and Squaw Fish—Great Lake Trout—The Silver Fish at Spence's Bridge—Salmon or Steel-head?—Cut-throat Trout—Possible Fishing Tour in British Columbia.
It still remains a question, which has never yet been decided, whether there are not two distinct species of trout in these waters. There is no question that locally such is universally thought to be the case. Every local fisherman speaks of having caught a red side or a silver trout, and firmly believes that they are distinct species. Should this be really the case, it is a matter of no little interest, as a new and very beautiful species would be added to those already known and described. A brief account of the evidence, for and against, may not be out of place, and might result in some final conclusion being arrived at. For several years two Americans came every season to Savona's Ferry to fish, and, becoming impressed with the beauty of the so-called silver trout, they sent a specimen to Professor Starr Jordan, of the Leland Stanford University of San Francisco. The first specimen did not arrive in good condition, and another specimen was sent, in the preparation of which I personally assisted. It was a fish of about 1-1/2lb. in weight, a very beautiful specimen and a most typical example of the silver trout.
Professor Jordan described this fish as a new species, under the name of Salmo kamloopsii, and he so describes it in a monograph on the salmon and trout of the Pacific Coast, published by the State Board of Fisheries for the State of California. In this account he gives expert reasons, founded on the number of rays in the anal fin and tail, the position of the opercula, and the size of the body scales, suggesting, moreover, that the fish might turn out to be a connecting link between the true salmonidae and the genus oncorhynchus or Pacific Coast salmon. He suggested that a further specimen should be sent, in order that the intestinal tract might be examined; but this suggestion was unfortunately not complied with. I am not prepared to say whether Professor Jordan still adheres to this opinion, or whether the silver trout has been fully recognised among ichthyologists as a distinct species. In a recent letter to me, however, he states that he considers the Kamloops trout to be "only a slight variation of the steel-head," which statement shows that its exact identity is not established, for the steel-head is absolutely unknown in these upper waters, and the silver trout never goes down to the sea. To the best of my belief it is a fact that no further specimens have been examined by any naturalist of note, and the question is therefore still in statu quo. It is a matter, I would humbly suggest, that is well worthy of solution. So far as I am aware, Professor Jordan is the only expert who has examined this fish. The only other evidence as to its existence as a distinct species is the widespread local opinion, which is also held by the half-breeds and Indians, who undoubtedly believe that there are two kinds of trout in the Thompson River. Such evidence or belief is not scientific proof, but is certainly of considerable weight, until it is proved to be mistaken.
I have always been firmly convinced that the two fish are perfectly distinct, and this opinion is fully shared by all the local anglers. If two well-marked specimens are seen side by side the difference in appearance is most remarkable. The silver trout is less heavily built, the head is smaller and sharper, the scales are smaller in size, and the stripe on the side is violet instead of pink. There is only one alternative opinion, namely, that for an unknown reason some rainbows acquire this peculiar silvery appearance. Whatever may be the final decision, the fact still remains that a fish of a different type from the ordinary rainbow is common in these waters, and is well deserving of a description. The back is green, with the usual black spots, the sides and belly of a bright silver, like a fresh-run salmon, but instead of the pink or crimson stripe of the rainbow there is a similar band of a delicate violet or purple hue. If two well-marked specimens are laid side by side the difference is most marked, though difficult to describe exactly. The silver trout is a cleaner-cut fish, and looks exactly as if it had come straight from salt water; one would hardly feel surprised to see the sea lice sticking to its sides.
From a fisherman's point of view it is gamer, and is always out of the water when hooked, appearing also to be more addicted to taking silver-bodied flies, being more of a small fry than a fly feeder. It is usually caught at the mouths of streams running into the large lakes, and at the outflow of the Thompson at Savona's, where it can be seen chasing the small fry on the surface. It must, however, be admitted that some local anglers consider it to be merely the rainbow when in the pink of condition, with the colour simply modified by the clear waters of the lakes, and there is, moreover, no doubt that the poorer the condition of the rainbow the deeper is the red of its stripe, though, on the other hand, I have seen splendid fish in which the stripe was very deep crimson. Spent fish, however, have always a deep red stripe.
This silvery fish seems to be chiefly native to the Kamloops and Shuswap lakes, whence it spreads into the Thompson. It appears to be much less common in the river than in the lake waters, except just at the outflow near Savona's, which is a favourite resort, where in warm evenings in July and August it may be seen chasing the minnows in the first pool. A few years ago I made a bag of twenty-four fish, weighing 48lb., in two evenings between the hours of seven and eight; four of these fish weighed 4lb. apiece. The fishing here must be done from a boat, as the eddy where they move is beyond the reach of the bank. It is a most exciting kind of fishing, as it is almost useless to cast except over a moving fish; the pool is still for some minutes, and then, in a moment, a dozen or more fish will be at the surface rushing among the small fry, who leap out of the water to escape them. If a silver-bodied fly be thrown over one of these fish he is certain to take it, and if two flies are used the second fly is certain to be seized as well, while, owing to the strong water, a desperate fight is the result, and the strongest single-gut is often broken. But it is by no means on every evening that this sport can be enjoyed, and in some seasons the fish are much more plentiful in this pool than others. It must also be in hot, still weather, as a wind always puts them down. The fishing obviously depends on the presence of the shoals of small fish, probably young salmon. The silver trout lie in wait for them here, and when a shoal is entangled in the strong eddy they rush upon them. This is the same form of sport which can be enjoyed at the mouth of the streams which run into the Shuswap Lake, the Eagle River at Sicamous, and Scotch and Adams Creeks. In connection with this fish it is worthy of note that the rainbow is a species which shows little tendency to vary from the type. I have caught them in a great number of the streams and lakes of this district, and they never seem to vary in the least. A specimen from one lake could not be distinguished from any other; they are always typical rainbows with the red stripe, and no silvery fish are ever seen, unless the lake is directly connected with the Thompson River. Thus the silver form is found in Shuswap, Kamloops, and Nicola lakes, but in the large mountain lakes which have no open communication with the river only the ordinary rainbow is found. There is only one exception, the Long Lake near Vernon, which contains a beautiful silvery fish, to be alluded to later. This lake is, I believe, indirectly connected with the Shuswap.
There are other interesting fish found in the Thompson and the Kamloops and Shuswap lakes, but they are not of much use to the fisherman, though occasionally caught. The Dolly Varden trout, a species of char, has been alluded to, and is the only one which affords much sport to the fisherman; it runs to a large size, as has been stated, but does not often take the fly. Its curious name is said to be derived indirectly from Dickens and the time of his tours in the United States, which produced a Dolly Varden craze in hats and some kinds of calico patterns, of which one with pink spots was supposed to be the correct Dolly Varden pattern. On seeing this fish for the first time, some young lady is supposed to have exclaimed that it was a "Dolly Varden trout," and the name appears to have been generally adopted. However this may be, there is no other name for the fish except its scientific one, and it is known all through the West as the Dolly Varden trout.
It is strong and game, but not so lively as a trout. It takes the fly very seldom, and then generally only when about a pound or less in weight. On the other hand, in May it takes the minnow and spoon quite readily. Later on, in July and after, it is rarely that one is caught. I once caught two of 4lb. and 5lb. on a fly in July, the only ones so caught during that month, and have landed many on minnow and spoon. That it reaches a large size is proved by the capture of the fish alluded to above, which weighed 15lb. The man who caught it informed me that it was got on the fly, and I was never able to find out the true history of its capture, but strongly suspect it was lured to its doom by a piece of raw beef. The Dolly Varden is a greyish-coloured fish with light salmon-coloured spots of rather a large size.
An occasional grayling is caught on the fly, but they are not plentiful. I have never seen one over 2lb. A small fish, like a grayling, but without any adipose fin, sometimes takes the fly; it has a bright orange tinge on its side, and has white flesh, which is firm and very good eating. The chub is very common, and will take the fly, but is regarded as vermin, being very poor eating; it runs up to 4lb. and over. The squaw fish, also, will take the fly sometimes, but more often the minnow or grasshopper; its flesh is white and tasteless. It is a large-mouthed fish greatly resembling the chub and attaining about the same size. Both chub and squaw fish are great devourers of fry. In the Shuswap Lake, by trolling in deep water with a lead attached, a large grey char with pink spots can be caught, running up to perhaps 20lb., and being usually known as the lake trout or great lake trout; it takes a spoon, but is very sluggish, and does not give any real sport. The Indians catch these fish. I have never heard of their being caught in Kamloops Lake. With reference to the run of Pacific salmon, it is interesting to note that large silvery fish have been caught by minnow and spoon in the Shuswap Lake, notably in the narrow strait mentioned above. Mr. Inskip has within the last year or two written some letters to the Field describing the capture of a number of silver fish up to 10lb. weight near Spence's Bridge, at the mouth of the Nicola river, where it joins the Thompson. He believes these fish to be salmon, and it is possible that his view may be correct. But it is also possible that they may be silver trout or steel-head trout; the evidence is not yet complete. No salmon have ever been taken in this way with spoon or minnow above this point, in spite of the number of years that fishing has been carried on in these waters. The Indians never catch salmon by trolling with the spoon, though they troll persistently for trout, the line being fastened to the paddle of their canoe.
Mr. Inskip states that these fish never take the fly, and he has only caught them in October. There is, of course, no doubt of the truth of his statement, and a possible explanation might be that the steel-heads run up as far as this point, and go up to the Nicola River. It has never been thought that the steel-head runs as far as Kamloops Lake, and I have never heard of anyone who claimed to have caught one; it is, however, quite within the bounds of possibility that some of these fish may come up with the salmon. The problem can be easily solved by counting the rays in the anal fin; in the true trout these rays only amount to about nine, in the salmon there are fourteen to sixteen well-developed rays.
The cut-throat trout is unknown to me. I have never caught it in British Columbian waters, unless some fish mentioned later in the account of the Nicola River belonged to this species. It may occur in some of the southern British Columbian coast rivers, and is common further south in the neighbouring States of the Union. Prof. Jordan states that it is always found in the country of the Sioux Indians, and hazards a suggestion that they may have taken their tribal mark from it. This mark consists of a couple of lines of red paint under the jaw on each side of the neck, and is very similar to that which gives this fish its curious name. The rainbow and the so-called silver trout are the only kinds which are met with in the central plateau of British Columbia.
The next subject for consideration will be the fishing in the mountain lakes; but before proceeding to it it may be as well to consider the fishing as a whole in the waters already described, for the question which most naturally suggests itself to an Englishman is whether the sport to be obtained is worth coming so far for. Anyone with the necessary money and time at his disposal might prefer Norway or Scotland. It would certainly not be worth anybody's while to come such a distance to enjoy the two or three weeks at Savona's, which represent, at the outside, the time of the best fishing on the Lower Thompson. It would be necessary for the fisherman to have plenty of time at his disposal, so as to visit the different places at the time when the fishing was respectively at its best. Thus June could be spent in trying the sport on the Shuswap Lake, with Sicamous as headquarters, while a visit could be paid from there to the Okanagan Lakes, which can be easily reached in three hours by rail. In July the Lower Thompson can be fished from Savona's as a headquarters, while from there several lakes can be tried during July and August, the trip being concluded by a visit to the salmon rivers of the coast during late August and early September. After that time big game or duck shooting might be tried. The time mentioned would also allow for a visit to the fishing on the Kootenay River near Nelson. There is hardly any need to say that all fishing in British Columbia is free to everyone, and, although there is a little more fishing done than a few years ago, no one need be afraid of over-fishing. There is plenty of room, and there will continue to be so for a very long time yet, except in a neighbourhood close to any very large town. The fishing in waters hitherto described may be compared, in my opinion, to very good sea-trout fishing, which it closely resembles. As stated before, sport depends, as in every country, on certain states of water and weather. A great bag cannot be an everyday occurrence, but if the right places are visited at the right time there is great sport to be obtained.
Other Lakes—Long Lake—Its Silvery Trout—Fish Lake—Extraordinary Fishing—Fifteen Hundred Trout in Three Days—A Miniature Gaff—Uses of a Collapsible Boat—Catching Fish Through the Ice—Mammit Lake—Nicola Lake—Beautifully Marked Trout in Nicola River—"The Little Red Fish."
The Thompson and its two great lakes, the Kamloops and Shuswap, having been dealt with, the fishing in the mountain lakes remains to be described. The sport to be obtained in some of these waters must be somewhat unique, for though I believe it is surpassed in size of fish by some of the New Zealand lakes, it is impossible that it can be surpassed anywhere in the weight and number of fish captured in one day's fishing. There are great numbers of lakes far back in the mountains in which no fishing has ever been done, and others there are in which no one but a stray prospector, hunter, or Indian has ever thrown a line; but these, of course, need not be considered. There are a good number which have had their capabilities tested, and are locally more or less well known. The chief fishing lakes in this district are the Nicola and Okanagan lakes, which are very large, and the smaller ones Fish and Mammit, together with numerous smaller lakes which are less known. In the Okanagan district, near the little town of Vernon, there is a beautiful piece of water called Long Lake, about sixteen miles long by less than a mile wide, about four miles from the town. The water is very clear and the lake very deep, the cliffs on each side running down sheer into the water. The trout in this lake are remarkable for their size and extreme beauty; the rainbow characteristic is entirely absent, for they are of a pure silver colour, with the merest trace of a pink tinge along the side; they resemble, in fact, a fresh-run grilse straight from the sea, and no fish which could be called a rainbow is ever caught. The fish run to a large size, 5lb. being by no means uncommon, and fish from this weight up to 12lb. have been often caught. These large fish are caught by trolling in the ordinary way with spoon and minnow, for the fly fishing is very uncertain. There appear to be certain places along the sides of the lake to which the fish come up from the deep water on the look out for fly food; but on the whole it is a trolling lake; and differs in this respect from almost all the other lakes to be mentioned. It may be that these fish are the same as the specimen described by Professor Jordan, and are really a distinct species, feeding mainly on small fry, and not much addicted to a fly diet. In appearance they certainly deserve the name of silver trout. I am not aware that any specimen has ever been examined by any scientific authority on fish.
I fished once in July on this lake, and caught two fish about 1-1/2lb. apiece on the fly, while another of about 3lb. was taken on a minnow. Dr. Gerald Williams, of Vernon, fishes here a great deal, and gave me the above information. He prefers this lake to the neighbouring Okanagan Lake, but stated that the same fish were to be found in both. This lake seems well worth a visit, for if only a few fish were the result of a day's work their beauty and possible size would be worth the trouble, while the lake and its scenery are characteristic of the most beautiful part of the interior of British Columbia, surrounded as it is by rolling hills of bunch grass, range, and pine-covered bluffs. Vernon can be easily reached by train from Sicamous, on the Canadian Pacific Railway main line.
About twenty-three miles from Kamloops there is a lake known as Fish Lake, in which the fishing is so extraordinary as to border on the regions of romance, though locally it is considered a matter of course. For lake fishing, in point of numbers, it is impossible that this piece of water could be beaten; it is like a battue in shooting, the number to be caught is only limited by the skill and endurance of the angler; indeed, little skill is needed, for anyone can catch fish there, though a good fisherman will catch the most. Also fish can be caught on any day, some days being better than others, but a blank day is an impossibility. The lake is twenty-three miles south of Kamloops, and is reached by a good road, and there is now a small wooden house, where one can stop and hire boats. Ten years ago there was only a trail, which was rough travelling on horseback, with a pack horse to carry tent and provisions. The lake has been a fishing ground for the Indians from time immemorial, and fish used to be brought down by them to Kamloops from a fish trap built in the creek running out of the lake. I have also seen them fishing with bait and spearing fish at night; but the true bait for Fish Lake is the fly, and, contrary to the usual case, the white man with a fly and modern tackle can make catches which far surpass any that the Indian ever made. The trap has now been abandoned, and the Indians do not fish on this lake any more. From time to time half-breeds and cowboys came into Kamloops with stories of big catches of trout made with a willow bough and a piece of string with a fly tied to it; sometimes 300 or 400 fish would be brought down which had been caught in this way.
This stimulated the sporting instinct of the inhabitants, and a few visits were paid to the lake and good catches were made, but the fishermen who went were of a very amateur kind. In the summer of 1897 an American proposed to me that we should go up and try what good tackle could do; in fact, he proposed that we should go up and try to make a record. We went up in the first week of August, and the result far surpassed our wildest imagination. We fished three full days, and brought back 1500 trout, which weighed 700lb., cleaned and salted. The first day we caught 350, for some time was wasted in finding the best places. The second day a start was made at 5 a.m., and we fished till long after dark, about 9.30 p.m., catching 650; the third day we caught about 500. The weather was intensely hot and fine, sometimes dead calm, sometimes a strong breeze, and at night a brilliant moon; but whether dead calm or blowing strong it made no difference to the fish, for they were taking as freely in the moonlight as at mid-day. Flies were abundant, and the fish were ravenous for both real and artificial; they almost seemed to fight for our flies as soon as they touched the water. Even when almost every feather had been torn off they would take the bare hook. We fished with three flies, and often had three fish on at one time; on one occasion my companion handed me a cast and three flies with a few inches of running line which had been lost by me not twenty minutes before. The hottest and calmest hours of the day afforded the best sport, as is usual in my experience on all the waters of British Columbia, though wind did not make any difference, except to make it more difficult to manoeuvre the boat. Our fish were cleaned and salted each day by some Indians so that none were wasted, and no fish were returned to the water except the very smallest.
We had estimated our catch on the best day to be over 700 fish; but, owing to exhaustion and the necessity of cooking our supper, after being seventeen hours on the water, we did not feel equal to removing our fish from the boat, and during the night a raid was made on them by mink, which are very plentiful round this lake. Though it was impossible to say how many had been carried off, 650 was the exact total of fish counted on the following morning. If allowance is made for a rest for lunch, and time taken off for altering and repairing flies and tackle, it will be easily seen that this number of fish caught by two rods in one day on the fly constitutes a record which would be very hard to beat on this lake or any other. The best I was ever able to do again, with another rod, was a little over 300. But the conditions of the weather and the fly on the water were never quite so favourable. At the time mentioned this lake was little fished, and the Indians with their fish trap would catch in one day far more than we accounted for; but since the lake has become better known, and the fish trap has been abolished, it cannot be too much impressed on fishermen in this water that only the large fish should be retained. In 1903 we only kept eighty-four fish out of a total of 300 landed, and these weighed about 60lb.
This lake is a natural hatchery for trout, and its waters are alive with them; it is about four miles long, shaped like a boomerang; the margins are shallow, with a thick growth of rushes, among which the fish lie, feeding largely on a small brown fly, which may be seen on their stalks. In order to catch these, the fish may be seen jumping up and often shaking the fly into the water. The best sport may often be had among these reeds in the more open places; but the fish must be held with a tight line, and prevented by main force from taking refuge among the roots of the rushes and entangling the cast among them. When this occurs a long willow wand with a salmon fly hook attached is an excellent means of landing a good fish, which could not be touched with a landing net.
The water of Fish Lake is very clear and always warm, suggesting the presence of some hot springs in the lake; though, if this is the case, it does not prevent its waters freezing in winter. The water in the centre of the lake is very deep, and fish may always be seen jumping there of a larger size than those usually caught. Few fish can be caught there by trolling a minnow or spoon, only an odd fish or so being the result; though a minnow or small spoon be trailed behind the boat for a couple of miles on the way home, nothing is caught. The fly is the only lure on Fish Lake. The average fish is from 1/2lb. to 1-1/4lb., though fish of 2lb. are common, while anything over 3lb. is unknown. I have seen several of 3lb., but nothing over it, and if larger fish lurk in the depths of the lake they have never been caught by Indian or white man. There is nothing but rainbow trout in the lake, and in general colour and appearance they vary very little, being handsome, bright-coloured specimens, very game and strong; the flesh is firm, and excellent eating when fresh caught. The altitude of this piece of water is between 4000ft. and 5000ft., which causes the nights to be cold and sometimes frosty even in August, while a cloudy day in these months is often chilly, causing a dearth of natural fly and some falling off in the sport. Should the wind be strong enough to prevent fishing on the big lake, there is a small lake at the western end which can be entered by a shallow channel, and often provides just as good fishing as the large one. Almost any ordinary Scotch loch flies are suitable for this water, a brown wing being perhaps the best, with a red body; the Zulu is a killing fly, as also a minute Jock Scott, size being the chief matter of importance. The fly must not be too large. On our arriving one evening at the lake in most beautiful weather, two fishermen, who had just left the water after fishing hard all day, informed us that it was fished out, for they had only caught thirty fish of about 1lb. each; but the next day we caught 300, and the fishing was the same as ever, for the flies they had been using were Thompson ones, and the tail fly on one of their casts would have been too large on some Norway salmon rivers in low water.
It would be hard to conceive a more ideal place for fishing than this most beautiful lake, situated on a high plateau, surrounded by its reedy banks and flanked by woods of pine and birch, with waters of the deepest blue swarming with fish, while overhead is a cloudless sky. Ten years ago it was but seldom visited, now it is somewhat of a summer resort for the people of Kamloops; but it cannot be said to be overfished, as the season is very short—June, July, and August. Before and after that time the cold interferes with the rise of fly and the comfort of sportsmen. Formerly it was necessary to take a tent, and camp on the shores of the lake; but now an enterprising individual has put up a stopping house, which affords good enough accommodation for anyone visiting the lake, and also the use of boats. The last time I visited the lake, in 1903, the fishing seemed just as good as ever, and it will probably be some time before there is much falling off in this respect, unless the number of anglers who visit it is very much increased in the next few years. For though doubtless more fish are taken by the fly, yet the Indian fishing and the fish trap have been done away with. The latter would probably account for an immense number of fish, which are now saved to the lake; furthermore, there is no poaching of any kind, and the infamous otter is unknown in British Columbian waters. At the same time, the importance of returning small fish cannot be now too much impressed on all fishermen who try this water.
Even in case Fish Lake should in time yield to the effects of over-fishing, there are five other lakes known within a radius of a mile or two, which are believed to be just as full of fish; though, owing to the sufficiency of Fish Lake, their capabilities have been little tried, and it is chiefly on the reports of Indians that their reputation stands, though a few fish have been caught from the bank in one or two of them. It would be quite easy to put boats on them should the need arise, and larger fish are reported to abound in some of them. Very probably the Indians are quietly fishing some of these lakes after deserting their old quarters. In fact, all through this part of the country there are many lakes, some occasionally fished, and others almost unknown, and all abounding in trout. A boat is necessary in all such lakes as have been alluded to; nothing can be done without one. Mr. Walter Langley uses a collapsible boat, which can be packed on a horse's back, and with this he has tried many lakes known to the Indians; his 22lb. trout was caught from this boat. In 1902 he visited some lakes on the opposite side of the Thompson, about thirty-six miles from Savona's, and reported the most wonderful fishing to me. With a companion, he fished about five days, and brought back 700lb. of salted trout; his catch included more than fifty fish of 4lb. in weight, and the average fish was about 2lb. There were no small fish in the lake they fished, and all were taken on the fly.
Mr. Langley had accompanied me in 1900 to Fish Lake, where we had excellent fishing; but he reported the fishing on this lake to be far better, owing to the large size of the fish; in fact, he described it as the best fly fishing he had ever enjoyed. It may be noted that they had several Indians with them, and a large number of the fish caught were consumed on the spot, as a fish diet on such expeditions is a matter of necessity, in order to limit the number of pack horses required. It is fortunate that Indians are by no means averse to this article of food and seem very fond of fish of all kinds. Before the white man came to the country it must have been at many seasons of the year the staple article of food, and it is for this reason that the Indians know so well all the lakes and rivers where fish can be caught, making therefore good guides to a white man in search of new fishing grounds. But it must be remembered that the Indian does not use the fly, so that it is often necessary to make very careful inquiries from them as to the manner in which they catch fish in any fishing grounds that they may recommend; and such inquiries are very difficult to anyone not acquainted with their peculiarities and the Chinook jargon.
Many weird fish stories might be told about Fish Lake, but they become wearisome, and enough has been said to give some idea of the fishing to be obtained. It is, indeed, somewhat unique in its reality, and requires no Western embroidery of detail to be added to the facts quoted. These facts show, by the way, the immense fertility of the rainbow, where conditions are favourable, its fly-taking propensities, its boldness and voracity; all of which qualities will commend themselves to English fishermen, and confirm the enterprise and judgment of those who have introduced the fish into this country, where it seems to bid fair to equal, if not even to surpass, itself in the same good qualities.
It is in the nature of a digression, perhaps, but as it has a bearing on the primitive methods of obtaining fish, the following account of a peculiar kind of fishing may be of interest here.
There is a large lake in the interior, up the Cariboo road, where the half-breeds indulge in a curious form of sport. A large portion of the lake is very shallow, and when it is frozen over the bottom can be very clearly seen. When this is the case some of the half-breeds go out on skates and mark trout through the ice, which they then pursue and attempt to drive into the shallowest parts near the shore. A fine fish is driven about until he appears to be quite exhausted, and finally is driven into shallow water, where he often hides under weeds at the bottom; a hole is then cautiously cut in the ice above him with a knife, through which he is speared. A fish about 15lb. was once sent to me which had been caught in this way; it was not a trout, but the large kind of char, commonly known as Great Lake trout.
There is another lake called Mammit Lake, about twenty-five miles from Savona's and about fourteen from Fish Lake, which affords very good fishing. It is a large piece of water, about fifteen miles long, surrounded by open bunch grass hills, and can be reached from Savona's by a good road. Its name is derived from the large numbers of white fish called mammit which abound in its waters, and can only be taken by the net. This lake is little fished, but several fishermen who have tried it are loud in its praises, notably my partner in the big catch on Fish Lake, who informed me that he had better sport on its waters, owing to the larger size of its fish, which appear to run about 2lb. or so in weight, and few either smaller or larger. The evidence tends to show, however, that it is somewhat uncertain, possibly owing to its extreme liability to a good deal of wind, which may put down the fish or even prevent a boat from venturing on the lake. It would seem advisable for anyone who might wish to visit this water to arrange to camp there for a week or more, in order to be on the spot to sally forth whenever the fish are rising, for it would appear that this lake resembles Scotch lakes in the fact that the fish come on the rise at certain irregular times during the day, and in the intervals only a few can be caught by hading or trolling. I only once visited this water in August, but was entirely prevented from fishing owing to the high wind. The salmon had also entered the lake, and their presence is supposed to militate against good sport. July is the best time, and there is no doubt that very good fishing can be obtained there, while the lake is easily reached from Savona's, though there is no hotel accommodation, and it is necessary to take a tent and provisions for camping-out purposes.
Nicola Lake is about fifty miles from Kamloops, and can be reached by a bi-weekly stage. There is good fishing in the lake and in the river which flows into the Thompson at Spence's Bridge. The lake is a fine piece of water, over twenty miles long, and about a mile in breadth, nearly equal in size to Kamloops Lake. It has been but little fished, except by a few local anglers, and is full of very beautiful trout. I spent the summer of 1891 at the small hotel at the foot of this lake, but fished chiefly in the Nicola River, which flows out of it. The sport in the river gave me full occupation, so that very little time was devoted to the lake, for every day I caught as many fish as one could carry back to the hotel, mostly small, from 1/2lb. to 3/4lb., with one or two better fish of 1-1/2lb. to 2lb. At the place where the river left the lake I used almost to fill a boat with large chub and a few good trout; in the lake I made a few fair catches of a dozen or more fish about 1-1/2lb. But all the information I gathered then and since about this lake points to the fact that the best fishing is at the other end of it. In the river I used to catch a few fish very beautifully coloured about 3/4lb., with red and black spots on a golden ground; in fact, I mistook them for brown trout, being ignorant of the fact that these fish were unknown in British Columbia. It is my belief that these were cut-throat trout. On a calm day fish can be seen moving all over the lake, which probably contains very large fish. Mr. B. Moore, now residing in Victoria, British Columbia, had a cattle ranch at its east end, and has often told me of the excellent sport he used to enjoy, both in the lake and the river which runs in there. Two hotels on the shores of the lake give good accommodation and keep a boat.
In the autumn a little silver fish, about 1/2lb. weight, runs up the streams from the lake in large numbers for spawning purposes, and is sometimes netted; it is very good eating, but takes no bait of any kind. The flesh is deep red. Locally it was supposed that these fish were a species of char, but in a pamphlet published by the Government of British Columbia on the fisheries it is stated: "There is another smaller form of the sockeye salmon, found in many of the interior waters, that appears to be a permanently small form, which is known to writers as 'the little red fish,' 'Kennerly's salmon,' or 'the Evermann form of the sockeye,' and which in some lakes of the province can be shown not to be anadromous. This form is often mistaken for a trout. It has no commercial value, and does not 'take a fly' or any bait. The Indians of Seton and Anderson lakes smoke them. They give them the name of 'oneesh.'" This is undoubtedly the fish which runs up the creeks from Nicola Lake in the early autumn to spawn in large numbers, at first bright silver like a salmon, turning to a crimson colour.