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.

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