Sunday, November 7, 2010

Squaw Valley - published BC Outdoors Nov/Dec2010

Squaw Valley/Silver Hills Loop
A Breathe of Fresh Air High Above the Shuswap River

Story by Trevor Shpeley
Photos by Travis Shpeley

I was pretty sure what I was looking at was a bear. It was cinnamon brown, it was big, round and hairy and it seemed to only have one ear. I gave it a second look and with a subtle shift in perception I realized I was looking at the back end of a bear while the front end was totally engrossed in ripping apart a rotten cedar log that was lying on the ground just off the Silver Hills Forest Service Road.

I stopped the truck to get a good look and after a quick stand up survey from the hungry bruin it was obvious that the bear ranked me only slightly above a Hamster in terms of the potential threat and danger I represented and with a contemptuous snort the unconcerned bear went back to his grubs or whatever tasty bug was on the menu that day. After watching him for quite awhile, I continued my drive around the wildlife-rich Squaw Valley/Silver Hills FSR loop confident that the bear was not the last forest creature I would be observing that day.

At just 50 kilometres long, the Squaw Valley/Silver Hills route is the perfect length for a day trip to escape the stale air and sullen heat of the Provincial campground in the valley below and enjoy a few hours of fresh cool breeze, animal viewing and maybe a little fishing or canoeing. For those who would like to stay awhile there are some limited opportunities for rustic overnight camping on some of the waters discussed here but it would be a bit of a stretch to call this a major camping destination due to the sometimes difficult access and the lack of full facilities at most of the small recreation sites.

It would also be a little optimistic to treat the lakes in this area as serious fishing destinations. That's not to say the fish aren't willing or that they aren't a joy to catch, especially the colourful little Brook Trout in Kathy Lake, it's just that the short growing season and limited nutrients in these waters tend toward adult fish being somewhat smaller though no less feisty than their cousins in the lower level, more fertile lakes.

If you are planning to fish, all the usual suspects apply. Leeches, Balanced Woolly Buggers, Mayfly Nymphs, Chironomids, Bloodworms and Sedge patterns all work well. The hatches are all delayed due to altitude and there are still plenty of sedges fluttering around in mid August.

Starting from Mabel Lake Road, ten kilometres North of the bridge across the Shuswap and six kilometres South of Mabel lake provincial park, the Squaw Valley road heads East into the forest from a small bridge across Mabel Lake Road beside a large sign for the Silver Hills Lifestyles resort. Old and yet still functioning iron irrigation pipes leading from a small water control dam are visible from the road as you climb through the Birch and Pine trees that line the creek tumbling down to it's rendezvous with the Shuswap River in the farmland below.

Before long the narrow creek valley opens up onto the working lands of the Squaw Valley ranch. Open hay fields and fenced pasture have been carved from the rolling hills and a large first nations inspired carving announces your entry to the ranch proper. People and animals live and work on both sides of the road so please watch your speed and be alert to unexpected company on the road you are sharing with these permanent residents.

Shortly after you leave the ranch you cross the parking area of the Lumby/Mabel Lake Snowmobile Club and face a choice of roads to your left and right. For the purposes of this article you want to take the road that climbs off to your right, the road identified on maps as the Silver Hills FSR but somewhat confusedly signed as the “Ireland Creek FSR on the road itself. Disregard the disagreement between the map books and the roadside sign and begin the long climb up the switchbacks from the valley bottom to the 4300 foot top of the ridge-line that separates the Mabel Lake valley to the West from the Sugar Lake basin in the East. The climb will be fine for any vehicle with reasonable clearance but a moment or two of inattention could result in a long lonely walk back down the mountain to the nearest phone.

Wildflowers carpet the road as you climb out of the valley and the Pine, Birch and Aspen of the lowlands give over to the towering Hemlock and Cedars of the ridge top. The forest floor goes from hard and dry to soft and mossy and small burbling streams cross under the road at frequent intervals.

Eventually you will reach the top of the ridge and it is possible to look behind you into Mabel lake and the lower Shuswap river while in front of you, Sugar Lake and the Upper Shuswap river valley can be seen in the distance. Picture yourself in the open space near the bottom of a capital “U” with the Shuswap river being the “U”. Spectacular panoramic pictures are possible but to get a good one you would want to time your visit to occur sometime outside of the forest fire season or the smoke in the valleys will make great pictures impossible.

Approximately 20 kilometres from the beginning of the road an unmarked side road heads off to your left and up the hill to Sigalet and Haggkvist lakes. The road to this point has been bumpy but fully passable by any vehicle with reasonable clearance. The road to Sigalet is fine with any high clearance two wheel drive but if you should decide to visit Haggkvist Lake by means of the short access road that splits off to the right about a kilometre up the Sigalet Lake road, you must, and I can't emphasize the word “must” enough, have a very competent four wheel drive vehicle. The road is very rough, very tight and involves a rock climb which would quickly tear the drive-train out of any vehicle not up to the task of navigating it. There are no campsites at the lake, no real boat launch and precious little room to turn around which should be OK because you aren't getting a trailer in there anyway.

For most people Haggkvist is best left as a walk-in lake however if you are observant and pay careful attention to clues on the roadside and the screen of your GPS, you may just find a hidden trail or two leading off the Sigalet Lake road that will save the adventurous float tuber a lot of walking and wear and tear on the truck.

Sigalet lake is a gorgeous little lake first thing in the morning when the fog is thick off the mirror smooth water and crisp window panes of ice trace the edge of the crude boat launch as is common for much of the short season. There are two or three small camp spots at this tiny rec site and trailering in a cartopper is no problem. The water is very clear and a depth finder is useful for mapping out the detailed bottom structure along the shoreline. Anchoring and casting works very well as does trolling a small leach or Mayfly nymph.

Back down on the main FSR assuming you haven't left your vehicle on the Haggkvist lake road as a permanent monument to your inability to heed a strongly worded warning, the road meanders about about the top of the ridge, passing through prime bear and Moose territory before beginning it's gentle drop back down the mountainside. Free ranging cattle are everywhere and as likely to be in the middle of the road as off it. When you come to them just drive up to them very slowly, they will eventually move out of the way once they realize you aren't the truck with the hay.

As in any backroad adventure, a GPS and a backroads mapbook will not only ease your navigation tasks, they will raise the level of your enjoyment, exposing you to sights and features you would drive right past without even being aware of them otherwise. Such is the case here for as you begin to head back down the hill you will spy on your screen a medium sized lake sliding by just to your left with no visible indications of it's existence. It will seem like you are driving away from the lake but not to worry, you will come back to it.

Ignore the tempting old grown-over fire road you come across that seems to lead straight to the lake and continue on until you come to another well travelled FSR that turns back almost 180 degrees to the road you are on, this is the Sugar/Holstien FSR.. Take that road for a half a kilometre or so and you will find a rough road heading up the hill to your left and your mapbook and GPS will confirm that this is the road that goes to Holstien lake. While not as severe as the road to Haggkvist, this is still not a road to be attempted in your family car especially one you might have some sort of attachment to. High clearance 2WD is good, 4x4 would be better especially if the road is wet.

Holstien lake is a relatively small piece of water, bordered in rich green grasses and open to the sky on all sides. There are a couple of decent unimproved camp sites at the end of the short access road but no other facilities. Holstien Lake would be a great place to just drift in a canoe with nothing but the sound of the wind and the occasional moose grazing the marshy shoreline for company. There are fish in this seldom visited water and there are even rumours of large fish being spotted but you couldn't prove it by me from the several trips I have made here. The smaller fish are tons of fun and there are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Once you get back to the main road it's only about another kilometre to Kathy Lake. Kathy has Brook Trout and Rainbows and they both come readily to the fly. The water is crystal clear and extensive mats of weeds are visible along the bottom making cruising fish tougher to spot but also pretty much guaranteeing they will be there eventually. The Brook trout in the fall move up into the shallower water and even the smallest fish look like a Van Gogh painting when you get them into your net.

The Campground at Kathy Lake is the largest in the area with four or five spots. There are hiking trails in the bushes around the lake and quad trails in the vicinity.

The rest of the road down to where it joins Sigalet Road on the valley bottom is gentle switchbacks with the occasional eye opener of a drop to the creek bed to keep you on your toes. A picture perfect view of the surrounding farmland and the hills above Mabel lake presents itself shortly after you hit pavement and would make a great postcard to show your friends back in the dreary city. Sigalet Road deposits you back on Mabel Lake Road, two kilometres South of your starting point.

Quick side trips in the immediate area

Mabel Lake Provincial Park
Mabel Lake provincial Park sits at the South end of Mabel Lake and is a very popular spot for the trailer and motorhome set. 81 Vehicle sites, good boat launching, swimming and playgrounds combine to lure thousands of visitors every summer, especially when the Spring Salmon move into the lake in July and August. Even when the Salmon are absent however Mabel is known for good fishing for large Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden, Lake Trout, Whitefish and Kokanee. Trolling is most popular but try fly fishing with fry patterns around the creek mouths in early spring.

As always, check the fresh water fishing regulations before you fish any unfamiliar waters and if you haven't called ahead, watch for roadside signs in the village of Lumby advising as to the availability of campsites in this popular park. As of this writing single campsite reservations are not possible.

Cascade Falls
These approachable and very scenic waterfalls are reached by foot up a short, 500 foot trail that leads from the centre of a sharp U-shaped corner approximately 15K from Mabel Lake Provincial Park. Look for an unmarked two car parking area in the middle of the corner. The trail is not really suitable for those with walking difficulties but anybody else with moderate fitness should be fine. Take the trail to the left, the right hand trail leads to an outhouse and small picnic facilities.

The falls themselves spread a thin veil of water over a mossy rock face approximately 25 meters high into a shallow pool. For the classic waterfall picture, put your camera on a tripod and set your shutter to the slowest speed it will go. Digital cameras allow you to experiment a little until you get one you are happy with. Late spring is the best time to view Cascade Falls. Don't leave your camera in the spray too long!

Mystic Beach Trail
About two Kilometres North of Cascade falls, you will see a tree on the left completely covered in footwear of all descriptions. This is the head of the Mystic Beach trail. The short path down to the water is full of surprises including a small log cabin housing Goldilocks and the Three Bears, strange sculptures made of bones and moss, fantasy castles, bat houses, spider webs, old dolls in various degrees of decrepitude, and tiny wooden furniture. Almost everything else that can be imagined and some that can't will be seen here. There is even an “Inukshuk garden” along the shoreline at the end of the trail. This trail is not a commercial venture nor is it commercially slick but it is moody and interesting and it is lovingly maintained by those that add to it. If you visit, take nothing and damage nothing, a lot of people, many of them children have worked hard to make this enchanting little trail what it is.

Shuswap Falls, Wilsey Dam
The Wilsey Dam was originally constructed in 1929 by the West Canadian Hydro Electric Corporation. The dam was built as a “run of the river” type project at the site of the 21 meter Shuswap Falls with a spillway constructed just to the North of the falls. Later a reservoir was constructed by damming the outlet of Sugar Lake which added another 5.2 MW of generating capacity to the Wilsey site. The Wilsey Dam supplied most of the power for the North Okanagan for 22 years until 1951 and is still in operation today.

Today the Shuswap falls recreation site offers a large picnic area, 40 car parking, a hiking and canoe portage trail, viewing platforms and restroom facilities. Visit the Wilsey Dam in late spring for the most dramatic photos of the spillway in full flow directly beneath the raised viewing platform. The river is fenced off but dogs will have no trouble getting through to the river if they have a mind to and if they fall into the strong current, there would be little possibility of a rescue so please keep your pets on a leash in this scenic historic park.

The Cowboy Way - Published BC Outdoors, Nov/Dec2010

The Cowboy Way
Riding on the Trail of the Original Bucket Brigade

Story and photos by
Trevor Shpeley

“I wonder if that guy sees me?” was my nervous thought as I watched the grill of the huge Ford get larger and my chances of collecting old age pension get smaller. It didn't really seem reasonable that he hadn't seen me given that my 250 pound self was perched fairly high off the ground on the seat of my 400 pound motorcycle which had all my camping and fishing gear piled on top of it like some sort of hillbilly moving van. There was that and the fact that while the bike was wearing a subdued and tasteful green, I was wearing a bright yellow jacket that could probably be seen from space.

That wouldn't be the last time on this trip to trace the footsteps of the original Kamloops fish planters that I would have a sudden yearning for the comfort, payload and ability to soak up the impact of a large domestic automobile that the 4x4 sitting at home in my driveway offered.

My mission hastily conceived on a cold winter’s night over Christmas ale and a copy of Steve Raymond's iconic book, “Kamloops, an Anglers Study of the Kamloops Trout” was to try and experience the lakes of the Southern Interior Plataea in a way that was at least similar to the way the early pioneers might have. In other words, I wanted to be out in the open, exposed to the weather with my bed roll and fishing rod tied to the saddle behind me in a tidy yet manly way while I rode with my face in the wind, making my way from one lake to the next stopping only to fish, drink strong coffee and sleep under the stars while coyotes howled and the fire crackled merrily.

That was the theory anyway. The reality is, I don't own a horse. In fact, I have an unspoken agreement with the equine community that I will make no effort whatsoever to climb onto one of their backs and they in turn will refrain from biting, kicking or otherwise maiming me in any way. I do however own a motorcycle, in fact I own a bunch of them and one in particular, my 30 year old BMW seemed like the perfect steed for the task. It's reliable, it can carry a lot of gear and most importantly, it doesn't bite.

In Mr Raymond's book, he tells the story of how in 1812, the year that Fort Kamloops was built, the Kamloops trout as we know them today were limited to a small number of local lakes. They are all waters that are now or were at one time connected to the ocean and had been colonized by migrating Steelhead traveling inland from the Pacific Ocean and spawning offspring that were much less enthusiastic about the long swim back to the coast than their parents had been.

The fishing was fantastic for these huge silver trout and in time, the colonists started to wonder what would happen if they were to plant these hard fighting, fast growing fish in the hundreds of mostly barren lakes that dot the Southern Interior Plateau. They did this, both officially and unofficially on horseback with buckets full of fish kept alive on the long journeys by frequent water changes and tender loving care. After they had placed a bunch of fry or a handful of mature fish in a lake they would go back to their farms to wait and see what happened.

What happened was pandemonium. The fish fed wildly on the huge supply of food in the fertile lakes and grew to unheard of sizes in unheard of numbers. Incredible fishing stories from those times are still spoken of in hushed tones around campfires today. A commercial fishery flourished briefly and suddenly, people were coming to the interior of BC for recreation and not just cows, trains or shiny rocks. Resorts sprang up, guiding became a good way to make a living and the fame of the Kamloops trout spread.

For thirty years the industry boomed and then over time, settled into the quieter, yet still world famous fishery we know today.

And that brings us back to the here and now. Now being the summer of 2010 and here being the left hand turn lane at the intersection of HWY 5 and Paul Lake rd. The big Ford is getting closer and I'm watching the eyes of the gentleman at the wheel for some sign that he sees me and understands that he doesn't really need to cut the corner and turn yours-truly into an unsightly road stain. That recognition finally comes and with a mighty squeal of unhappy brakes I am granted reprieve and allowed to continue my trek down the pathways of my long passed benefactors.

The route I chose included lakes that would have been within a few days travel for the early Kamloops fisherman and would also have played a significant role in the early spread of Kamloops trout across the plateau. I decided to start in town, ride out to Paul and Pinantan lakes, double back and head up the hill to Knouff, go back down into town, ride north to Kamloops Lake, and then cross over the hills to Lac le Jeune.

Paul Lake was one of the first lakes stocked by the government in their efforts to extend the range of the Kamloops trout. In 1908 they planted 5000 fry from the Shuswap into the lake and within a short time the now mature adults were spawning in the tributary streams and a vigorous fishery was born. A road was built in 1924 to accommodate people tired of bushwhacking into their new favourite lake and as I guide the bike through the ravines and tangled Birch groves I have no difficulty picturing this same trip taken in a wagon full of happy campers.

Things have changed a bit in the hundred years since the days of that first planting. People still fish Paul and Pinantan lakes and big fish still swim in those waters but the areas recreational qualities such as the large Provincial campground, beach and picnic area and the cottages that surround the lakes have taken over from the hard core fisherman. Today Paul and Pinantan lakes have become favourite vacation spots for Kamloops residents as perhaps they were even a century ago.

As charming as this area is it wasn't really what I was looking for in terms of fishing and camping in a rustic “old-timey” way so I didn't even get off the bike, instead I turned around and headed up the road to Knouff Lake.

In 1917 it took Len Phillips and his son five days to carry a bucket full of trout from Paul Lake up to Knouff Lake. It didn't take me quite that long, in fact it probably took the Philips longer to hitch up their horses and convince them that carrying heavy buckets of water up a hill for the better part of a week was a good idea than it took me to ride the short distance up HWY 5 to the turnoff for Knouff.

The Philips released nine mature trout into Knouff Lake that were then left to do their thing for three years and when a party of locals finally made their way back up to the lake to see if any of the trout had survived they were astounded by the numbers and size of the fish they found. Many fish over 15 pounds were caught that first day and within a few years, Knouff Lake became famous for perhaps the best lake dry fly fishing in the world.

I've fished Knouff many times so I knew better than to believe I was going to find fish the size of Harbour Seals slashing at giant Sedges on the day I arrived at the recreation site down the road from the tidy modern resort at the tip of the lake. My faithful BMW was perfectly happy cruising up the dirt road from the valley below but I was glad it hadn't rained and turned the dirt into the slick mud the area is so well known for.

I put up my old tent, the one optimistically rated for “two men,” which might actually be true provided one of the men was 22 inches tall and weighed eight pounds. It's not exactly sleeping under the stars but I could see the stars through the hole a Chipmunk up at the Cathedral Lakes had chewed on its way to my stash of sesame snaps. A total fire ban meant there would be no crackling blaze to lull me to sleep but that's OK, I was still getting plenty of heat from the burn on my leg where it had touched the BMW's hot exhaust pipe while I untied my tidy yet manly bedroll. Apparently my bike bites after all.

I looked out at the lake and then I looked back at the float tube tied to the back of the Beemer. Then I looked at the tiny bicycle pump I had brought to inflate the floattube and decided that it just wouldn't be right for me to harass the descendents of the Philips first fish so instead I squeezed a goodly portion of myself into the tent which had seemed so roomy just 20 short years ago and settled in to sleep under a sky I was sure hadn't changed at all since the first man lay down beside this lake and marvelled at the sight of it.

The next morning, still undecided as to whether or not cavorting teenagers were roughly equivalent to howling coyotes, I loaded up the bike and rode down into sleepy Kamloops for a Bagel and a Double Double. Thus fortified in the traditional cowboy way, I roared up the hill out of town and turned North along the huge lake that started it all.

You don't even have squint to imagine Kamloops Lake as it looked two hundred years ago. The ancestry of the grass and sage you see today could probably be traced plant by plant back through time immemorial. Stare at the windswept water and lonely hills long enough and you begin to understand what a brief blip in time we men occupy and how quickly we will be erased after we are gone. I find it hard to imagine a more suitable location for the birth of a legendary fish and I am mystified by the endless lines of motor-homes and transport trucks that stream by without even seeming to see it.

The road through the hills past Tunkwa, Leighton and Logan lakes is a delight on the bike. I glance longingly at Tunkwa through the trees with its grasslands reserve, feral horses and epic Bomber hatch and regretfully continue south to Lac Le Jeune. My newly discovered aversion to performing the twenty or thirty thousand strokes it would take for my small emergency pump to make my floattube seaworthy have made me shift the focus of this trip away from fishing and into pure sightseeing. If I hurry I can still get home with enough time off to grab my truck and get back out here for some fishing that doesn't involve more exercise than playing ping pong with a troop of caffeinated spider monkeys.

I've been to Lac Le Jeune before so I knew what to expect. The large provincial campground has been ravaged by the Mountain Pine Beetle but it is still a nice quiet place for family camping thanks to the vigilance of the Parks staff. The lake is ringed in cottages and private resorts and bucket sized swirls in the water attest to the fact that LLJ still fishes well.

It's been a long time since Lac Le Jeune was known as Fish Lake and supported a commercial fishery where a good fisherman could pull in $500 a month trolling for Kamloops Trout. There are accounts of incredible catches and nobody ever had too much trouble catching their 50 fish per day limit. Well I'm here to tell you those days are long gone and I for one am thankful. It's hard to picture Lac Le Jeune as it was back in those heady days but its pretty nice now and what would I do with 50 fish anyway?

On the ride back to Vernon I found myself reminiscing about my all too short trip through old Kamloops and I wondered if those early pioneers had any idea or real appreciation of what an amazing gift they had received in those first few years after they had sprinkled Trout across the Interior like Jonny Appleseed on a cider binge. Then I think back to the pictures of the smiling men and women with their long greenheart rods and planks covered with fish and I think, “Oh yeah, they knew alright”

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Summerland-Princeton road - Published BC Outdoors Sept/Oct 2010

The Summerland-Princeton road
A kinder, gentler backroad experience

Story and photos by Trevor Shpeley

Roughly following the old Kettle Valley Railroad which has recently become a popular section of the Trans/Canada Trail, the Summerland-Princeton road isn't the longest backroad you will ever see chronicled on these pages. Nor is it the most rugged, in fact this road is very well suited for most any type of vehicle including big dual purpose touring motorcycles as long as they are driven sensibly and with caution. What it is however is a riveting, beautiful drive past cottage ringed lakes, meandering streams and emerald valleys that lie beneath grass covered mountainsides that would not seem out of place on a Swiss postcard.

The Kettle Valley Railroad was completed in 1914 to allow for the transportation of silver from the bustling mines of the Kootneys, through the mountains and down to the BC coast. Considered an engineering marvel even today, the KVR was decommissioned in the 1980's and it's 600KM of track, bridges and tunnels left to fade gracefully into disrepair and eventual oblivion. Happily however this was not to be the fate of this understated treasure and in recent years, community fund raising and contributions from both provincial and federal governments have combined to partially preserve the historic railbed for multi-use recreation.

In 1992, large chunks of the KVR were proposed for incorporation into the Trans/Canada Trail network and what was once a little known rail right-of-way has since become known the world over as a unique sought-after destination for adventurous cyclists and hikers. The Summerland-Princeton road crosses the KVR railbed several times and many relics of the golden age of rail travel are visible from the road where the two paths run in proximity. You can even ride in a lovingly restored 1912 steam engine train along 16 kilometres of scenic track on the Kettle Valley Steam Railway. Check the website for schedules and more information.

The Summerland-Princeton road can be travelled in either direction but for the purposes of this article all kilometre references will be made from the Summerland end. Distances are approximate due to the vagaries of odometer calibration and an off road mapbook used in conjunction with a GPS device is highly recommended.

Every journey has a beginning and ours is in the sleepy village of Summerland. The quiet town of 12000 residents rests in the cool green hills above Okanagan Lake, just north of the city of Penticton. It is the perfect place to load up on fresh Okanagan fruit and locally sourced ice cream before you head out on your backroad adventure. From downtown, take the Prairie Valley road until you reach Denike road. When you come to a “T” intersection, turn right onto the Summerland-Princeton road. Set your odometer to zero at this point.

The first part of the drive has you climbing up from the Okanagan valley as Trout Creek descends through the valley to your left. Cattle roam freely beside, on and across the road and running over one is unlikely to win you any friends with the local ranchers, your insurance adjuster or the cow for that matter. Drive with care and expect livestock on the road at every turn.

Hawks surf the updraughts over the fields looking for tasty rodents on the ground while the local deer do their best to ignore you completely as they wander around doing whatever it is deer do when they aren't in any particular hurry. To treat this road as a 'point A” to “point B” thoroughfare would be to totally miss the point of the trip. Wildlife and scenic vistas are all around you every step of the way and it would be criminal not to open your eyes and take it all in so by all means, take your time and enjoy everything the area has to offer.

At K11, you come to the first of many Forestry Recreation Campsites. At the time of this writing there is no sign to be found on the roadside either naming this site or pointing out the access road however you will have no problem spotting the half dozen or so clean well-spaced campsites perched on the top of a precipitous hillside overlooking the Trout Creek valley. Watch for the access road that crosses the field to the camping area. The view is expansive, the breeze refreshing and there is plenty of room in the undeveloped area for overflow or a quick game of Frisbee with the dog.

20 kilometres in, the road drops down to cross Trout Creek for the first time. A small rec site of four campsites runs alongside the creek. Like most of the roadside recreation sites on this trip, there are outhouse facilities and visitors do a pretty good job keeping them clean. This seems like as good a place as any to ask you, the visitor, to also do your part. If you pack it in, pack it out. Nobody is going to clean up after you so a little consideration will go a long way towards keeping this area a destination worth travelling to.

For the next 10 kilometres you will travel alongside Trout Creek as it meanders through low brush and forested canyon on its wandering journey through the valley. Scattered unimproved campsites line the creekside and if you look carefully, you can see the continuing efforts of the Okanagan First Nations peoples and local forestry companies in rehabilitating Trout Creek to improve habitat for its namesake. Both Rainbow Trout and Brook Trout exist in the creek and although the fish have recently faced significant challenges, work continues towards this goal.

At K29, the valley opens up to fields of long grass sprinkled with the ruins of old pioneer cabins, rickety bridges and fences that look like they were made the hard way. Nesting boxes from the Northern Interior Bluebird Trail pop up here and there along the roadside and it goes without saying that the boxes should be left unmolested, even by people with the best of intentions.

This area is a photographers dream and on a sunny day the siren call of the burbling stream and the lush green field can be overwhelming but please remember that much of this area is the private property of a working ranch and should not be trespassed upon except by permission of the ranch owners. If you do secure permission to cross private property be sure to respect the gates and never, ever, leave an opening in a fence where a person’s livelihood can escape.

A large open camping area popular with the ATV and off-road motorcycle crowd sits just off the road at K32. This is also where the Glen Lake FSR meets up with the Summerland-Princeton road and leads up into the hills towards the Headwaters lakes, Brenda Mine rd and points beyond including Hathume Lake, Penask Lake and many others before finally dropping down into Bear Creek Park across the lake from the city of Kelowna. To take this route you would want to have a high clearance vehicle and a solid understanding of how to use the previously discussed mapbooks and GPS.

At K36 you can look through the trees and spy the impressive newly rebuilt spillway and curved concrete wall of the Thirsk Lake reservoir dam. The dam and spillway were raised 15 feet in 2006 in response to crippling water shortages downstream in Summerland that necessitated the complete shutdown of water flow in Trout Creek for a time during the summer of 2004. The 2005 Trout Creek Water Use Plan Agreement which called for a 96% increase in water storage capacity, expanding the Thirsk Reservoir by 3100 million litres also set triggers for water restriction that have helped to ensure the water is never again turned off to the fish in the creek while still maintaining a reliable water supply for the residents of Summerland.

Reports suggest that fish populations are rebounding in Trout Creek however the expansion of the Thirsk reservoir has resulted in the flooding of the recreation campsite there and the decommissioning of the lake access road. Visitors are greeted by a tall chain link fence that runs alongside the road the whole length of the lake but happily, there are a number of traveller friendly waters just a short drive down the road.

K46 is the end of the dirt road and the start of the Osprey Lake cottage country. People have been vacationing in the Osprey Lake area for a very long time but the area has lost little of its slow paced country charm. Bruce Merit, owner of the Osprey Lake Retreat has lived on Osprey Lake for five years and in that time has seen the fishing improve significantly in numbers if not in size. Four pound rainbows are still found occasionally among the generally medium sized fish more commonly encountered and trollers happily rub elbows with flyfishers on this popular lake. Bruce recommends flyfishers bring along some Pumpkin heads in various colours, a selection of micro-leaches and to tie their Chironomids with a peacock or dubbed fur thorax.

B&B's and private campgrounds are sprinkled liberally throughout the lake zone and range from the rustic to the truly decadent. Travellers with time on their hands could do far worse than to spend a few days enjoying this area.

A quick left turn onto Aguar rd at K49 will lead you down a short drive to the recreation site on Link Lake. Smaller than its neighbour Osprey Lake, Link is much better suited to flyfishers and is reputed to have somewhat larger fish. It is also better sheltered from the prevailing winds and on the day I was there earlier this year there was a huge Chironomid hatch in progress. The recreation site is roomy and trailer friendly. The Mountain Pine Beetle has had its way here but the site has fared better than some of the other campgrounds in the interior.

At K50, You will come to the Tee-Pee lakes store and resort. The three semi-private lakes collectively known as Tee-Pee lakes have had a continuously operating fishing lodge since at least the 1940's. I remember seeing their ads in BC outdoors for as long as I've been reading the magazine and as a young teen, I finally got to go on a trip to this fabled (for me anyway) destination. The trip marked a number of firsts. It was my first trip to a real fish camp, the first time I got to accompany my Dad and his cronies on a guy weekend and the first time I ever had a fishing rod yanked out of my boat by a fish.

I had only turned away for a moment when there was a scrape, then a splash, then nothing but a ripple where my fishing rod had been. I was devastated, fishing rods didn't grow on trees in those days, even less so than now, but after only about 10 minutes of making long faces at the water, the bubble float my nymph had been suspended under popped to the surface and I was able to grab it and the fish that had tried to steal my gear. The Rainbow was all of nine inches long and it was delicious, made more so by the heartfelt relief of recovering my rod.

I learned two important lessons that day. One, it aint over till it's over, a little patience will often get your gear back provided something on it floats and two, always hang on to your rod, a fish doesn't have to be huge to pull it over the side.

It's been more than 30 years since that trip but other than the addition of some fancy new cabins and the subtraction of a few trees, the resort hasn't changed much at all. There are the same old wooden cabins and the lakes still look and fish pretty much exactly as they did back then. A happy half hour spent watching the spawning channel proved to me that there are still some decent fish to be had. If you go, be sure to pick up the key to the gate at the store BEFORE you head up the road to the lakes.

For the truly adventurous, Eastmere and Westmere lakes are two walk in lakes being managed as quality fisheries in the hills high above Osprey lake. If you decide to try and find them, you are going to need a good four wheel drive (a truck, not an AWD soccer-mom special) and you are going to need that mapbook and GPS. You are also going to need to bring a friend that you can talk into walking back down the mountain to get help if you get stuck.

BTW – If you see a pair of jeans with mud soaked up to the pockets stuck to some branches over a washout, you probably shouldn't take that as a challenge and try to cross it anyway. Don't ask me how I know.

Back down in the valley on the paved road heading west once again you pass through the community of Bakier and alongside Chain Lake. Chain is very long and narrow and has cottages and B&B's most of the way around it. The fish are not huge here but it's an idyllic lake to putt along in a small boat on a long afternoon and it's not always about big fish right?

Several small to medium sized campsites line the roadside on Chain Lake and these are the last rec sites before Princeton.

From Chain Lake to the grasslands near Princeton and beyond the road is a motorcyclists dream but would not be too big of a handful for travellers with large trailers or motorhomes. The valley is carpeted in Lodgepole Pine and hidden driveways discourage high speed travel. The inhabitants are an eclectic mix of rugged iconoclasts, gentleman ranchers, sprawling retirement estates and plain hard working country folk. They co-exist in a harmony that shouldn't really work but does somehow. Million dollar homes stand next to house trailers and nothing looks out of place.

10 kilometres from Princeton the terrain turns to wide open range land and the rest of the trip is a roller coaster ride past cattle grazing the grassy hillsides among the groves of birch trees whose leaves twinkle in the breeze and narrow wooded ravines with their resident deer, hawks and porcupines.

At 87K the Summerland-Princeton road ends and this phase of your trip is over. From this point you can take a short drive into the historic town of Princeton and take advantage of all the amenities it has to offer. If you haven't had enough backroads travel, continue on across the hwy and take a drive up to Coalmont, Tullameen and beyond on one of Southern BC's most scenic lightly travelled roads, but that would be another story for another day.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Published BC Outdoors, Summer 2010

Fishing the Christian Valley
More lakes than you can shake a graphite stick at

Story by Trevor Shpeley
Photos by Travis Shpeley

It was a summer long weekend two summers ago and I had a yearning for a couple of days fishing at a quiet lake I had never fished before. The location I chose is six kilometres up a remote 4x4 road, there are only about four campsites and the fish aren't reputed to be particularly large. This meant that the chances of multitudes of casual car campers or trophy hungry fishermen invading my mountaintop getaway was fairly slim. I was all set for a peaceful weekend with only a couple of like minded souls for company, or so I thought.

I arrived to find the lake shrouded in thick morning mist, not a soul in the campground and only the sounds of dripping dew and the soft plop of rising fish to keep me company. I hit the water without bothering to set up camp and was having a great morning until the tell-tale clatter of an approaching vehicle caused me to pull anchor and head for shore to claim my campsite.

When I arrived I took in the unlikely sight of an old van and about 22 feet of vintage American automobile pulling into the common area. How they got those two overloaded, completely unsuitable vehicles up that road I'll never know but as soon as they had shuddered to a stop they split open and spilled their contents like hatching spiders on an unsuspecting garden path.

A whirlwind of teen testosterone tore through the open doors of the two vehicles, each armed with swinging hatchets and cracking voices permanently set to maximum volume and within seconds, the peace of the mountain lake was destroyed by the thwack and wang of dull steel turning dead trees into kindling, in preparation for what could only be a long sleepless night for yours truly.

I shared a shrug with the two harried guardians of our shining future and loaded up my boat to set out for greener pastures, greener in this case meaning with much less of a boisterous youth-group presence. Luckily for me I had chosen to spend my long weekend in the Christian Valley and with 16 of the Boundary Country's approximately 20 lakes in close proximity, I had plenty to choose from.

The Christian valley is located in the sparsely populated area between the Okanagan and West Kootney regions of Southern BC. The fishing described in this article is mostly to be found on a rolling Plateau of lodgepole pine that lies in the shadow of Big White mountain. For detailed directions and helpful information such as road conditions, local history and other points of interest, check out Murphy Sawchuck's excellent backroads article in the May 2010 issue of BC Outdoors Sportfishing.

Lakes in the Christian Valley tend to be Mesotrophic which means they are considered “Moderately productive” and will generally support a smaller, slower growing fish population than those of the more fertile Eutrophic lakes such as those found in the central interior and Kamloops regions. That's not to say you can't find big fish here, it just means you are going to have to work a little harder to find them. However if catching plenty of small to medium sized fish in idyllic surroundings is to your taste, you would have a hard time throwing a rock in any direction here without it making a splash in a lake that would meet your needs.

Before we get to the lakes themselves, a few tips to make your exploration and fishing more productive.

Buy an outdoor map book AND a portable GPS. Back in the day I would never have bothered with either. I don't get lost easily and I know enough about BC terrain that I have little difficulty finding my way out, or to, anywhere. I've since come to understand that venturing into the woods without either of these indispensable tools is not only foolhardy, it's self limiting. A good set of backroad map books such as the fine offerings from the Mussio brothers and a half decent GPS with removable storage and backroad mapping software will set you back about as much as a good flyrod and I guarantee it will do more to improve your fishing than any $300 stick of high end plastic could ever hope to do.

Using the maps and a GPS unit together will make the task of forest navigation much easier than using either one on it's own. I use the books to figure out where I want to go and the GPS to make sure I'm on the right track to get there. I find it very useful to be able to look at the GPS and see that the road I thought was the right one is actually leading me away from the lake I was trying to reach. I've lost track of how many times I've found a lake I didn't know existed within 100 meters of a roadway I had travelled dozens of times just by watching my GPS as I travel.

The one thing the map book and a GPS won't do is tell you which lakes have big fish and I'm not going to do that in this article either. Tracking down the big fish water is half the fun of catching a big fish and there are a few tricks you can use to make the task a little easier.

The first place you want to visit online will be Fishwizard. ( Fishwizard is a website run by Gofish BC that will tell you how many fish and more importantly, what kind of fish have been stocked in any of the lakes they service. I recommend viewing the tutorial and be patient, the Fishwizard site can have it's off-days.

When big fish hunting you are looking to find lakes stocked with AF3N or Triploids. These fish are altered in the egg to be sterile when they mature resulting in a longer living, faster growing, brighter fish since no energy is lost to the reproductive process. They also tend to be larger, sometimes much larger than their unaltered, sex crazed brethren.

High numbers of stocked fish usually represent high angling pressure and an out of the way, hard to reach lake with regular stocking of smallish numbers of AF3N fish is usually worth checking out.

The second place to look would be the fishing regulations. Look for special regs such as “fly fishing only” “catch and release only” and restrictive bag limits such as “one fish over 50cm” These special regulations suggest that that water is being managed as a quality fishery and it would be reasonable to expect larger fish to be present.

Of course the usual fish hunting rules apply. The farther a lake is from the road, the better chance it has of having quality fishing. It's a sad commentary on our fitness as a society but the face of the average angler staring down a 3k hike with 40 pounds of gear on his back is likely to become the face of an angler staring down at his map book trying to find a decent lake closer to the road. Your lazy neighbours loss is your gain when you take the path less travelled to the lake less fished.

The lakes of the Christian Valley

*Be sure to check the freshwater fishing synopsis for closures and special regulations for any water you are considering fishing.*

Bisson lake is at the far Northern end of the Christian Valley/Kettle River roads. Accessed by a rough 4x4 road this smallish, high mountain lake is bordered by fields of crumbling basalt, old growth fir and Cedar trees. The fish in this scenic lake can be moody as with any high altitude lake but the beautiful surroundings make the trip worthwhile. A forestry site tucked in the trees at the side of the lake has room for four or five small camps. I wouldn't try to reach this lake in a car or other low clearance vehicle unless I had a real strong desire to find out exactly how much it costs to get an off-road wrecker out into the middle of nowhere.

Clark lake is a walk-in reached by a 1k trail starting near Lassie lake on the Lassie FSR. As with most of the lakes identified as “walk-in” the trailheads are marked by brown 4x4 poles at the side of the road with the lakes name in white lettering. There is a small forestry recreation site available for those that make the trek.

Upper and Lower Collier
The Upper and Lower Collier lakes, are also being managed as walk-in lakes. Lower Collier lake is reached by a 1k trail from Sago Creek on the Beaverdell/State FSR. Upper Collier is approximately one kilometre past the first lake.

The Collier lakes are popular with folk who don't mind a little exercise along with their fishing and visiting anglers would be well advised to stock their boxes with a good selection of Leeches, Flying Ants and Mayflies. Both lakes have good shoals and fishing is best in Spring and Fall.

Copperkettle lake is a short hike from a trailhead located off the kettle River road approximately 66km North of Westbridge. The lake has a small campground and a self sustaining population of Rainbow trout. Chironomids work very well here as do Sedge patterns in the early summer. Copperkettle fishes well throughout the open-water season and visitors can expect lively top water hatches all summer long.

Cup Lake sits right on the side of the Lassie FSR and as you might expect, receives a fair amount of angler pressure during the summer months. Visitors in the late fall and early spring however can expect to have this pretty little lake almost entirely to themselves. For something a little different, set up your camp on the larger island out in the middle of the lake. A small forestry site gives you somewhere to park your gear while you tease a leech past either of the islands or bob a chironomid over a muddy bottom for steady action on the heavily stocked lake.

Another walk in, Joan lake is a medium sized lake with a small picnic area and lovely sandy beach beside lightly tea stained water. I walked the 1km to the lake earlier this year about two weeks after the snow had melted off the nicely groomed trail that winds through the wetlands and old blowdowns. The smell of wet earth and standing pine that scented the cool breeze was exactly the medicine I needed after a long cold winter and I left the lake in a much better frame of mind than when I started out.

Fishing can be good on this lonely lake and it is large enough that you will have no problem believing you are the only person there, even if you are not. Pick flies with a little flash in them and if you are like me and you have a spouse who enjoys a sandy beach, bring them along for a picnic and a lazy day in the sun.

Lassie lake has the largest campground in this part of the Christian Valley and that combined with the inspiring view of Big White looming over the North end of the lake make this one of the most heavily visited lakes in the area. Stocking numbers reflect the heavy angling pressure and ensure the fishing will be good no matter how many people show up on a long weekend.

Don't be fooled by the abundance of pan-sized fish in the lake, there are bruisers in there that will drag the rod of an inattentive fisherman over the side and into the depths forever.

A rough gravel road will take you to this small lake which can be found a couple of kilometres South of Cup Lake. There is a small Rec site at the lake.

Nevertouch was once very popular with the generator and 24 hour Elvis-station crowd. A large forest fire in 2007 changed all that but the lake with it's feisty top water loving trout still remains and fishes well. Flying ants, Elk hair caddis and other high floaters are all good bets throughout the summer. Check with BC Forestry as to the status of the recreational site if you plan to camp. If you go, beware of the standing burnt timber which can come crashing down without warning at anytime. This is not a place to let your kids run free.

Sandrift 1,2,3
The Sandrift lakes are three very pretty lakes with very different characters. Sandrift 1 has extensive lily pads and a family friendly campsite with approx eight clean campsites. This is a great lake for the kids to fish and just about anything chucked in the general direction of the water will bring in a tasty breakfast. Sandrift 2 is more of a grasslands sort of lake with a a few campsites while Sandrift 3 is a walk in off the Sandrift FSR.

The fish in these three lakes aren't real picky but don't be surprised if the “snag” you feel when your line stops dead starts to swim away.

A popular walk-in, State is located just South of the Sandrift lake chain. The fish population is self sustaining and the lake is managed as “Flyfishing only”. Dredge a Leech along the drop-offs or fish a mayfly nymph or Chironomid on the shoals. The ever popular flying ant, is also a good bet .

Thone lake sit alone in this article as the only lake accessed off the East side of the Kettle River. Reached up the Thone creek FSR, just off the East Kettle FSR, Thone lake is relatively deep with steep drop-offs quite close to shore. The fish in this tiny mountain hideaway are feisty and quick to bite. There is a good Caddis hatch in early summer and shoreline fishing is quite possible.

The Kettle River
The Kettle river in the upper reaches supports a reasonable population of small trout and whitefish and for a nice getaway from the kids before they wake up it's tough to beat an early morning stroll up the river with a light fly rod catching and releasing a few of these surprisingly picky fish. Check the regulations before you go as rehabilitation efforts are underway and regulations are subject to change.

One quick note on the trails used to access the walk-in lakes. Many of these trails are wide enough for quad off-road vehicles. Please respect the spirit of the term “walk-in” and use your feet instead of your wheels. Walk-in lakes provide a special sort of relatively untouched outdoor recreation and many go out of their way to experience it. Don't ruin the experience of your fellow outdoors persons by introducing engine noise to what should be the natural sounds of an undeveloped lake.

Monday, March 29, 2010

One toe over the line,

One toe over the line,
A fisherman's primer for middle age
By Trevor Shpeley
Photos by Travis Shpeley

Published BC Outdoors Magazine, April 2010

My doctor made a face like that of a bulldog chewing a wasp.

With the enthusiasm only a person who is sure they have an inoperable tumour can muster I detailed the physical problems that had been plaguing me. Every morning I hurt as though I had worked out yet in reality the closest I had come to a gym was picking up Blizzards from the Dairy Queen next door. My joints hurt, eyes were fuzzy, someone was regularly hiding my car keys. He let me ramble on for about 15 minutes and when I was done he asked me, “How old are you?” I had just turned 45 and told him so. He informed me with far more brevity than I had allowed him, “go home, get over it, you're getting older. It happens to the best of us” I left his office to face my life as a middle aged man.

I don't feel middle aged but my body is telling me that I am; so is the cute girl at the grocery store when she calls me sir and offers to carry my groceries. Certain irreversible changes occur in most people at around 40 years of age. Your eyes lose their ability to focus on close objects even though your long range vision might be perfect. You can't consider a hike up a lonely mountain trail without thinking about the heart you've been ignoring for four decades, and your fingers, former wizards of manipulation, start to feel like hotdogs wrapped in rubber bands. You've reached your best-before date and it's time to make a few adjustments.

If the preceding paragraphs don't describe your own recent experiences, please go back to your x-box and skinny-leg jeans, the grown ups need to talk.

I've been fortunate in my life to be blessed with exceptional eyesight. You can imagine my shock when I tried on a pair of reading glasses at the grocery store and looked at the palm of my hand only to see dozens of little lines that simply weren't visible without them. I took off the glasses and looked again just to be sure and there was no mistake, my vision was flawed. The $10 reading glasses declared it and the $75 opticians appointment confirmed it. The $75 Optometrist suggested I buy a pair of $10 reading glasses....

Cheap reading glasses work fine if you don't mind swapping them back and forth with your regular polarized glasses but why not pick yourself up one of the really nice polarized lens/reading glass combos available at your local flyshop? The optics in these bifocal type glasses are superb, but like most things in life you can expect to pay for quality. If you would rather not contend with bifocals you can get very good clip-on readers that attach to your sunglasses and flip out of the way when not needed.

These speciality lenses are available in a wide range of tints and coatings and a quick internet search will help you to find a suitable pair in your price range. Be sure to stop at the grocery store and try on a few pairs of reading glasses to find the right magnification before you order.

When you are at home tying a few flies you can't beat a large magnifier with a light around the outside of the lens. Your tying will improve, and you will tie more flies and not become fatigued as quickly due to eye strain. There are plenty of smaller magnifiers that attach to your bench and are widely available but I find it hard to beat the large unit that looks like you stole it from your dentist. In fact go ahead and steal one from your dentist, it will teach him for jamming needles the size of umbrellas into your gums for the last 40 years. When you are middle aged that's called “being a character.”

Now that you can once again tell the difference between a #12 black/red rib and a #14 black/copper rib, it's time to focus on the balloon animals you use for hands on cold days. I feel your pain, when the weather is cold I will sometimes leave an unproductive fly on my line for hours because I can't face the prospect of tying another microscopic fly on an invisible thread with fingers I can't bend. Fingerless gloves help a lot and there are some fine ones available, but the flexibility you had even 5 years ago just isn't there anymore. Fortunately, there are solutions as long as you are willing to stretch your sense of tradition.... just a bit.

The first thing you need to accept is that a tiny piece of metal is not going to turn your carefully tied fly into a hideous beast that no self respecting fish would cross the pond to spit on. We've all seen the little kid with the giant brass snap swivel bolted to a #10 Spratley out-fish everybody else in the boat. Repeatedly.

A very small clip or barrel swivel is not going to scare a fish under most conditions. Tiny steel loops that allow you to quickly and easily change flies are readily available in almost any tackle store and are nearly invisible in the water. I overlooked these little gems for years until I noticed that a friend of mine who also happens to be one of the finest fishermen I know uses them regularly and still catches more fish than me. I use them now, my fingers thank me and yours will too.

Another dexterity related problem can be tying tippet to leader. To solve this, buy a pack of barrel swivels in the smallest size you can find. (Buy them in black and pay the extra 50 cents for the good ones.) Tying on all new tippet becomes a snap and there is the added benefit of eliminating the floro/mono line cutting issues sometimes encountered with direct line connections. A swivel placed between leader and tippet will also aid in turning over extremely long leaders while chironomid fishing.

All fishermen take pride in their ability to tie knots; not just any knot but the right knot for the right application at the right time. That sounds great in theory, but once the age-train starts building up steam and chugging up the long hill towards checkered pants and bad hairpieces it's time to accept a little help in the knot tying department.

Knot tiers have been around almost as long as knots, and are well worth the frustrating few minutes of fiddling required to become proficient in their use. Whip finishers in particular are very easy to use, once figured out and nail knot tools are absolutely indispensable on the river when your leader gets so short the fishes teeth are actually cutting your flyline. Fly shops carry many varieties and the proprietors will be happy to point you in the direction of the models that are the easiest to master.

In true frontier fashion and in light of an almost legendary reluctance to spend money on things I can build myself I put together a real nice boat rack that allows me to load and unload my boat by myself. Unfortunately this process is usually accompanied by a lot of grunting, swearing, slipping and back wrenching twists as the boat teeters between peacefully resting on the top of my rack and violently tumbling back down to the water leaving nothing but a dented truck and a fisherman shaped smear in it's wake.

Of course there is no need to put yourself through that kind of annoyance, (and danger.) When you absolutely must put your boat on top of something by yourself, automatic boat loaders take all the grunt work out of getting your boat on and off your vehicle. These devices work from the front, back or side of your vehicle and generally work very well. Autoloaders don't run cheap but how much is six months recuperation from injury worth to you? After you decide which type of loader suits your needs your local boat or RV dealer will be able to set you up and your days of fearing the end of day pack-up are over.

Once the boat is on the ground, you need a decent set of wheels to move the cumbersome beast to the water. These come in a number of varieties from the type that permanently attach to the transom of your boat to those that attach with brackets to the sides. Very light dollies that make long treks to the water with a fully loaded boat nearly effortless are also available.

Don't forget that although your boat moves like it's weightless on a good set of wheels, it still has mass. If that boat has your motor, battery, lunch, safety equipment, fishing gear, dog, etc loaded into it then it has a whole lot of mass, and if the path to the lake is steep you better have a friend to help you or at least have a total disregard for personal safety and property loss.

It's hard to believe when you look at me now but I used to race mountain bikes; I could hike all day into far away lakes and many times I did. The farthest thing from my mind was the family history of heart disease and diabetes but I think about that a lot now that I'm pushing 50. In fact it's a factor in every decision I make these days. I've learned to enjoy multi-grain bread, I try to avoid fast food, I walk to the store and I no longer think vegetables are something food eats. I look at every hill I walk up with an eye towards it's survivability, and I think a lot about how long it would take an ambulance to find and rescue me given that I spend most of my free time as far away from pavement as I can manage. If you are over 40, it's time to add a new dimension of safety to everything you do outdoors.

When far away from civilization everybody should have a reliable method of communication. Satellite phones are nice but not really practical due to cost. Normal cell phones have range limitations but are still better than nothing in a pinch as small bands of coverage can be found in the oddest places.

The best bet for my money and it really doesn't cost a lot of money is the “Spot Messenger System.” For the price of a good flyline you get a small waterproof satellite messenger unit, and for about that much money again you receive a year of Spot's monitoring service. With the Spot unit you can send messages such as: “I'm OK”, “send assistance”, “a prerecorded special message,” or “send search and rescue, emergency!” Your messages go to whomever you want and they get a google earth map with your location pinpointed on it; they can even follow your progress online if you choose to allow it.

OK, I know that the last time you were able to get a good look at your legs they were like mighty tree trunks. Well, guess what? Things have changed over the last few years. Your legs may turn to jelly halfway across the river you used to cross at will and before you know it you'll be swimming and shedding gear like a sinking shopping cart full of pop cans . The old tree trunks just ain't what they used to be and you'd best take some precautions before you tackle the flow.

Firstly, you'll need a wading staff; your favourite tackle shop will have plenty to choose from. A good wading staff should be collapsible and have a good long loop to wrap around your wrist. It should be longer than a typical hiking staff or ski pole, and about shoulder height will allow you to get some decent triangulation when the river starts to push.

You will also need a good inflatable vest or harness. The type that auto inflate when they hit water are the best and they should all have a manual inflation valve in case of propellent failure. Vests typically have roomy pockets, and harnesses can be quite comfortable on hot days because of their open design. This is not an area where you want to try to save money so you should go with a vest that your dealer or fellow fishers recommend. When the water starts tickling your nose is a lousy time to find out your fancy new vest is useless.

So is middle age a big deal? Not really. It would be foolish to ignore the fact that your body is changing with age, but you're not going to fall apart like a cheap lawn chair the day after you turn 40. As long as you are willing to make a few changes in your normal routine and maybe pick up a few gadgets designed to make your life easier there is no reason why you shouldn't be buying cheap licenses and telling outrageous lies about the fish you never caught for many years to come.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review

Stillwater Selections, a collection of proven patterns - By Phillip Rowley

Learning with the Pro's, Stillwater Fly Tying Volume One – By Phillip Rowley and Brian Chan

Reviewed by Trevor Shpeley

The first time I met Phil Rowley outside of watching one of his presentations was at a course he was teaching at the ski resort in Fernie. I was immediately struck with how friendly and unassuming he was in real life as opposed to some other media personalities I have been acquainted with who were one person for the camera and another for the stream. I was also struck by how easy it was to pry him away from his teaching duties and get him into the nearby St Mary river for a little “on the water training” When push comes to shove Phil fishes because he loves to fish and he talks about fishing because he loves to talk to people who love to fish. He is very genuine and it shows.

Phil is no stranger to the members of FlyBC. In the 25 years since he started fly fishing he has written for most every fly fishing magazine in North America, put out a number of benchmark DVD's, marketed a line of stillwater specific tying materials and is currently splashing around in the waters of television while working on the New Flyfisher series.

He is also, should you happen to have not been paying attention, one of the prestigious members of our very own pro-forum where he takes time from his busy schedule to answer your questions both big and small with the kind of enthusiasm you just can't fake. I was therefore thrilled when I was asked if I wanted a copy of his new book “Still Water Selections” and his new DVD, “learning with the pros” to review for the FlyBC website.

Stillwater Selections, a collection of proven patterns:

By Phillip Rowley, published by BC Outdoors Magazine

book coverThe first thing you will notice about Stillwater selections is that although they are not fraternal twins, there is a definite family resemblance between this book and his previous offering, Stillwater Solutions Recipes. Gone is the cool little self propping feature of the recipe book but the chocolate brown, spiral bound heavy gloss paper and landscape orientation feels both familiar and welcome on the tying desk.

The second thing you notice is that this book isn't just “all about Phil.” As Phil himself says in the books forward, “this book was written to inform and educate fly fishers” “it is intended to be an educational reference to BC designed and inspired patterns.” Phil's goal in Stillwater Selections was to introduce the readers to new patterns, new techniques and new tiers that they might not be familiar with. FlyBC veterans will recognize many of the names attached to the various patterns, names such as Ken Woodward (Woody), Todd Oishi(Tyson), John Kent(JohnK) and Ron Thompson(Phisherman). There are also more well known names you would expect to see in any collection of this type, Brian Chan, Gord Honey and Steve Jennings. Together they add up to an exciting blend of proven ability and burgeoning new talent.

Phil confesses in his introduction that while he has in the past been guilty of tying flies that look great but are complicated to tie and not as lifelike in the water as they could be. In this book Phil leans towards simple patterns that display a lifelike silhouette and exhibit convincing behaviour in the water. Stillwater Selections assumes the reader to posses a basic understanding of fly tying but honestly, I feel that any reader who has mastered putting a hook in the vice and can tie a knot of some variety is going to be able to tie flies that will work well on almost any BC lake if they follow the instructions as written.

The first pages of the book are given to knot tying. You can have the best fly in the world but it's just a decoration if it comes off your line the second a fish takes an enthusiastic interest in it. Stillwater Selections shows the reader in intricate detail how to tie enough knots to handle almost any fly fishing requirement as well as a short tutorial on how to use a nail knot tool, a skill valuable to all fumble-fingered fly fishers and one never properly explained in the instruction manual that comes with the deceptively simple little devices.

From knot tying the book is divided into eight sections laid out roughly in order of importance to the fish's diet:

Chironomids (20 patterns)

Scuds (3 patterns)

Damsleflies (3 patterns)

Leeches (8 patterns)

Dragonflies (5 patterns)

Caddis (7 patterns)

Mayflies (4 patterns)

Waterboatmen and Backswimmers (5 patterns)

All sections start with a chart showing the availability of a given insect to the fish throughout the seasons as well as when you can expect the most activity from any stage of the insects development. There is also, (and in my personal opinion this is the books real strength,) a number of bullet points for each insect that pretty much cover everything you really need to know about the food source without having to fight your way through a lot of text just to find the nuggets you want. A good and very typical example would be this excerpt from the section on Chironomid Pupae:


* 3/8 to one inch, hook sizes #8 to #18

* Chironomids tend to be larger in mud bottomed algae type lakes, try pupa patterns from #12 to#8
* In clear water marl/Chara type lakes, chironomids are smaller, #10-#18 work best
* #12 standard hook is an average pupa size and a good starting point
* If trout do not appear to be selective on size, try using a pupa pattern one size larger so your fly stands out from the naturals.


* Black, maroon,brown,olive, shades of green, tan
* Dark day, dark pattern, bright day, bright pattern.
* Pupae use trapped air and gasses to aid pupal ascent and adult transformation which gives pupae a distinct silver glow.
* Pupae can change colour as they absorb or replenish trapped air and gasses.
* Chironomid pupae have prominent white gills. Chaoborus pupae do not have white gills.
* Use super white beads in algae stained waters, they do not foul with algae as natural or synthetic materials do.

With this simple yet effective technique Phil manages cram a lot of valuable information in a relatively small space without forcing the reader to decide what is trim and what is tasty steak, it's all steak, no fat here and no trouble digesting what you take in.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is laid out in a “landscape” orientation. The pages are wider than they are tall and are stiff enough that propping them up against your vice or back wall while you tie is not only possible, it's the obvious way to use the book.

boatmenOn the left page of the opened book is a large clear picture of the fly being presented. A short biography on the flies tier or originator is followed by a history of the fly itself and some tips on how, where and when to fish it. A separate window displays the materials needed to tie the fly and for many experienced tiers this is all you will need. For those that would like a little more instruction, especially since many of the techniques discussed are relatively new to most people, a detailed step by step photo-intensive tutorial occupies the facing page for each pattern.

All in all Stillwater Selections is a very useful book, especially to someone like myself who places high value on flies that work well and are simple to tie rather than flies that may dazzle your fishing buddies but have all the life and appeal of a coat hanger tied to an extension cord when in the water.

I daresay most will find something they hadn't thought of within it's pages and for those just starting out, you could save yourself a lot of time and trouble by starting here.

I enjoyed Stillwater Selections very much. I will (and do) recommend it to anybody wishing to both simplify and improve their stillwater fishing.boatmen2

Learning with the Pro's, Stillwater Fly Tying Volume One

By Phillip Rowley and Brian Chan,

produced and directed by Mike Mitchell

dvd coverIn addition to Stillwater Selections, Phil and his longtime friend and fly fishing legend, Brian Chan have released a DVD titled “Learning with the Pro's, Stillwater Fly Tying Volume One” produced and directed by BC Outdoors senior editor, Mike Mitchell

Learning with the Pros showcases a dozen or so very effective BC Stillwater flies and focuses on several tying techniques that may not be familiar to all BC tiers. Each fly demonstration is preceded by a verbal description of the materials needed as well as a recipe screen you can pause on to ensure you have everything you need. The macro video is very clean and well focused and the background is neutral enough that detail is not difficult to follow.

Phil and Brian take turns demonstrating various ties and both have a soothing, easy to follow narrative style. It is worth noting that while they are both master tiers, their techniques differ enough that it is to the viewers benefit to observe them both do the same techniques in very different ways as it demonstrates very well that there is more than one way to scale a fish.

I learned many things I either didn't know or didn't fully understand just by watching them tie on the crisp high definition video. I learned for example how to properly hold scissors while I tie, how to double up materials very neatly and how to glue a Peacock thorax without making it a matted crusty mess. I've been tying quite awhile, you would think I would know those things but I didn't. I do now though.

Every fly demonstration is followed by a trip out to a very rainy Morgan lake to discuss and demonstrate how to properly fish the fly that was just tied. If you ever wanted to know how to fish chironomids naked, what leader to use and how to tie it, etc, you won't want to miss these sections. I love that it's obvious they couldn't care less about the rain, they're there to catch a few fish, have some fun and spread a little of their knowledge while they do what they would probably be doing on that day anyway. It's clear that Brian and Phil love their jobs.

So there you have it. Stillwater Selections and the Learning with the Pros DVD. To be honest I was a little nervous about accepting the assignment to review this book and DVD. I don't know Brian and Phil real well but I know them both at least casually and I respect them both tremendously so I had to ask myself, “what if I don't like the book?” “What if the DVD is as sleep inducing as some of the other tying videos out there?” “What if Brian and Phil know where I live?” I'm happy to say all those worries turned out to be a non-issue. I thought the book and the DVD were great. I'd buy them myself and actually use them which is a little unusual for me, I tend to do my own thing but this book and DVD merge seamlessly with my own style of tying and fishing so I expect to see these on my desk for some time. Check them out for yourself, I think you will too.

Stillwater Selection and Lerning with the pros are both available on the BC Outdoors website: