Sunday, February 26, 2012

Urban Treasures - March 2012/BCO

Urban Treasures

We all do it, it's in our blood. When we arrive at our favorite fishing spot we immediately crank up our boat-motor or start hoofing it toward our favorite haunt which just happens to be at the extreme end of a long lake or at the terminus of a seven kilometer hike. Does that location offer better fishing than the spot we started at? Maybe, but probably not.

That's just the way fishermen are wired. If it's close, if you can see it from your living-room, it can't possibly be any good. If it was any good it would have a hundred people fishing it right now. We travel to far away spots to “get away from it all”, to sit and meditate on the beauty of our surroundings with nothing but ducks and bugs for company but how many times have you driven all morning to your secret spot only to find a 20 minute wait at the boat ramp and everybody and his dog already ensconced in your favorite spot? Chances are you could have stayed close to home and had the place to yourself.

Urban waters have a few things going for them. Rivers flowing through town are often much more fertile there than the same river is upstream due to the tendency of human and industrial biological pollutants to end up in the river. Instead of causing harm the extra fertilizer creates a plant friendly environment which in turn encourages the insects to multiply until they eventually find their way inside of fish which just keep getting fatter. The Bow River in Calgary is a great example of this; a typical freestone stream above Calgary with limited fish production it becomes a world class trout river after it passes through town. This phenomenon is not limited to big cities, anywhere you have septic and fertilizer run-off occurring you are going to get a spike in the numbers of larger fish caught, provided of course the pollution isn't enough to kill the river outright but that doesn't seem to be happening as much now as it used to.

The other benefit as you get close to a city is brood-fish. Fish hatcheries tend to be within easy driving distance of a town because supplies and accommodations for employees are much easier to acquire when you aren't perched on a rock beside a wilderness river in the middle of nowhere. In the case of trout, eggs and milt are harvested from live fish and they can reach huge sizes before they are retired. In this case retired usually means released into a local lake along with the usual bucket-loads of fingerlings and catchables. What that means for the fisherman is an afternoon of catching 10-inch fish with your kids on a pond in the middle of the city can suddenly take a very interesting turn when your five year old son finds himself with a 15-pound trout on the end of his plastic Buzz Lightyear fishing rod. If he lands it, it will be the memory of a lifetime but he probably won't and it will still be there when you sneak away from your office at lunch-time to do a little work-day fishing.

Not every town has trophy fishing in it's midst but a surprising number of them do. The following, in no particular order is not meant to be a comprehensive list but instead is a small sampling of some of the fantastic fishing that can be found without going to the bank for a gasoline mortgage or being away from home long enough that your kids forget who you are.

Vancouver/Lower Mainland
Vancouver probably doesn't even really need to be in this article for people to know about it's excellent fishing. The city is surrounded on three sides by water, the mighty Fraser River and all the huge fish that live in it run right through the Lower Mainland. There are many smaller rivers and creeks that at times hold steelhead and large sea-run cutthroat. Really, most of the fishing in the Lower Mainland could be called “Urban Treasures.” There are a few spots however you may have overlooked and these are heavily stocked lakes, probably closer to your house than the nearest Wallmart and they regularly receive plantings of retired, double digit brood-stock.

People drive right past these treasures on their way to “better” water but the truth is, the fishing in these inner-city put-n-take lakes can be incredible for very large fish, not all of the time, but a very significant sometimes. Lafarge and Como Lakes in Coquitlam, Green Timbers in Surrey and Mill Lake in Abotsford all receive retired brood fish. Try a sparsely dressed fly tied with brown Chenille on a 2x hook, it looks like a trout food pellet. Is that cheating? I don't know but it's a tried and true method of fishing for brood-stock and these are fish that have reached the end of their reproductive life so a person can take one home without having to feel too bad about it. Try checking the Fresh Water Fisheries Association website for stocking times.

Kelowna sits directly on the shore of Okanagan Lake which at 135-kilometers long and 230-meters in depth is bound to have some decent fish swimming around in it and it does. If you have the boat and the time you can certainly troll around and catch 10-20 pound trout within spitting distance of your office but there are a couple of other locations less than 10 minutes from city center that offer nice fish without the specialized gear requirement of the big lake. Shannon Lake on the Westside is a perfect example. To call it a lake is stretching the definition of the word “lake” a bit, pond would probably be more accurate. There is a golf course ringing half the lake, houses lining the other side and a small regional park in one corner. Every year the Freshwater Fisheries Association strings out some netting in a bay near the golf course and fills it with catchable trout so youngsters can try their hand at fishing without the need for a license or fancy gear but that's not why Shannon Lake has been included. What makes Shannon interesting is the bass. Big largemouth bass. The houses around Shannon Lake were built years before sewer systems made their appearance in the area and the fertile runoff from the septic fields and the golf course have created a small weed filled productive piece of water. The big bass fishing isn't as hot as it once was but you still hear of six and seven pounders being caught and there are lots in the four-to-five pound range. The heavy food load also produces big perch, much larger than most are accustomed to catching. You can fish from shore at Shannon Lake with no difficulty but to catch the large ones, bring a float-tube or pontoon boat.

Between the south end of Okanagan Lake and the north end of Skaha Lake is the isthmus of land holding the city of Penticton. Okanagan Lake has already been discussed and that which is true about the big lake also holds true for Skaha with one very significant difference. Skaha has smallmouth bass, some of the biggest smallmouth in Canada in fact. It has been said that the next world-record smallmouth is likely to come out of Skaha Lake. Fish the rocky dropoffs around the shoreline and the patches of weeds dotting the sandy plains of the shallow shoals. You can fish from shore or with a pontoon boat or even a large boat, just be sure to head back in when the inevitable afternoon wind kicks up. Use streamer flys, poppers, leeches and Whooly Buggers if you are fly fishing or try small to medium spinners, spoons and plugs if you are a gear chucker.

Swan Lake is a medium sized lake beside the highway just north of the city. It doesn't look like much, in fact although I live in Vernon it was years before I ever fished it. It looks more like a huge flooded field than a productive fishing lake but productive it is! Swan is the first lake in the area to ice-off in the spring and that is the time most people fish it. The lake is heavily stocked every year and because of it's shallow depth and remarkably consistent lake-bottom contours, weed growth and hence food production is prolific. A lot of the fish are taken by ice fisherman every year but those that survive, get large fast. Stories of nine pound trout are not uncommon in the spring. The fly in the ointment is the very condition that allows for lush weed growth means that the fish could be literally anywhere and your best bet for locating them is the age-old practice of following the fishermen. There are usually a few old-timers out there and they know the lake and it's habits. Of course you run the risk of finding yourself camped out with 10 other boats catching nothing because everybody followed the first guy out when he looked like he knew what he was doing when in fact he probably had no idea where to go either.

Everybody has heard of the Columbia River and the huge fish that swim in it. Trophy trout, fat tasty walleye and now unconfirmed reports of northern pike tempt the out of town angler to make a trip into the West Kootneys for a chance at these large fish. There is no need to park on the highway as far from any town as you can get and bushwhack to that special spot down the hill and across the tracks, the whole river is productive. Fish don't care if they look up through the water and see wild birch trees or the window of an elementary school, it's all the same to them, good habitat is good habitat.

I lived in Castlegar during the 80's and when I had a few minutes to spare I would walk the hundred feet down to the river and start fishing. If it was daytime I usually fished for Walleye, in the evening I fly-fished for trout. Nowadays, the fishing has if anything, improved. The fish are larger, they are easy to find but the trout in particular are no push-overs. Be prepared to fish small dry flies in difficult currents and don't take a boat on the water unless you really know what you are doing. The Columbia is no place for the novice boater to get his feet wet because that won't be the only part of him getting wet, it's a very wide and fast river with deadly whirlpools and unless you know what you are doing, you need to stay out of it. Luckily there is no need for those shenanigans as there is plenty of great shore fishing to be found and no need to drive anywhere to find it.

Logan Lake
The village of Logan Lake is perched oddly enough on the shores of Logan Lake. After a great burger in the local hotel it's a quick stroll across the crosswalk and you are fishing one of the great understated lakes in BC. A small unassuming lake, Logan is very fertile and when it hasn't been winter killed, it is fair to expect large, difficult to catch fish. I caught my first 10 pound trout in Logan Lake which I thought was pretty good until a women caught a 16 pound fish off of the campground-dock the following year. Logan Lake has on and off-years but it is always worth a try if you can resist the urge to drive right past it on your way to the other famous lakes in the area.

Dragon Lake is not located right downtown in Quesnel but it's close enough that I have included it here. It's a large lake that is ringed by houses and is popular for water-sport enthusiasts in the summer but in the spring and fall, it belongs to the fly-fishers and what a fly-fishing lake it is! Large fat fish come readily to a fly and they come in good numbers. A so-so day at Dragon is better than a fantastic day anywhere else although of course there will be days you would swear you that you had been dipped in fish repellent. Bring a good selection of chironomids, leeches and of course, dragon nymphs. In the fall a micro leech under an indicator fished just off the reeds can be deadly.

Whistler is surrounded with decent fishing opportunities but one in particular stands out for me. Alta Lake is home to some very nice sized cutthroat trout and is strictly catch and release fishing with a total bait ban. The lake is very close to downtown Whistler and although shore fishing is possible, it is better with a boat or float-tube. Cutthroat are generally ambush fishers and like streamers, leeches and Wooly Buggers but at this lake for some reason they are also partial to chironomids fished under an indicator close to structure of some sort like a floating log or a dock.

You may not have trophy water sitting right downtown where you live or you might be surrounded by it. The point is, before you cast your eyes over the horizon for that perfect fishing spot, take a glance down at your feet, you may already be standing in it and after all, where are you going to catch more fish? In your boat with your line in the water or driving down the road in your truck listening to AM radio while you travel hours away from where the fish are to a spot where other fish might be? Take a chance this year and fish the waters that are so well known that nobody really knows about them. Leave the secret far-away spots to the masses!

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