The southern interior of British Columbia is home to some of the world’s best small lake rainbow trout fishing. The City of Kamloops sits at the hub of hundreds of fishable lakes. These lakes offer a wide variety of angling experiences from wilderness hike-in to highway accessible, and from trophy to family fisheries.
Regardless of the type of lake you fish, time of year and elevation often dictate what lures or flies will work best. This is because lakes undergo seasonal changes in temperature and water chemistry that affect where trout live in the lake and whether they will be actively feeding.
Insect hatches are dependent on water temperatures and therefore affect daily feeding habits of trout.
Generally, one can expect good fishing immediately after ice off. Trout at this time of year are often confined to shallow water because of oxygen requirements.
The previous 5 to 6 months of ice cover often results in the deeper waters lacking enough oxygen to support fish life. Anglers should therefore concentrate their efforts in the shallow or shoal areas of the lake.
The shoal is defined as that part of the lake where sunlight can penetrate to the bottom and allow photosynthesis and plant life to occur.
This can vary from 3 to 7 metres in depth depending on water quality. The ice-off fishing generally lasts up to 7 days before physical and chemical changes occur that put trout off their feed. What happens next is important for all small lake anglers to understand. In most situations within 7 to 14 days after ice off a lake will mix or turn over. A lake in turnover is very turbid or murky.
It is not uncommon to have good success at a lake one weekend and return the next weekend to find less than 30 centimetres of visibility. The water will be filled with all kinds of plant matter floating, and the fishing will be poor. Surface winds cause the lake to mix from top to bottom. This results in mixing of oxygenated and un-oxygenated water and release of other gases that affect fish physiology. Trout will stop feeding completely or feed very little until the lake water chemistry has improved. It can take from 5 to 10 days for a lake to come out of turnover.
Lures worth trying at ice-off include flatfish types in patterns of silver, gold, black and silver and frog patterns. Dick Nite, Panther Martin, and Rooster tail spoons in smaller sizes are also good bets. For fly fishers try dragonfly nymphs, water boatman, shrimp, chironomids and leeches. Fish your lures or flies on the shoal or edge of the drop off where the trout will be concentrated. Remember fish are hungry during those first few days after ice off.
By early May, water temperatures have warmed enough for major insect hatches to begin. This is the time avid flyfishers have waited for all winter. Chironomids are the first and biggest insect hatch to occur. Adults of these small dipterans (true flies) look like mosquitoes but fortunately don't bite. There are literally thousands of chironomid species and their pupa range in size from a few millimeters to over 2 cm in length. Trout feed heavily on the pupal stage of this insect.
Predominant pupal colours include shades of green, brown, orange, red and black. During a typical chironomid hatch thousands of pupa rise from the bottom of the lake. Trout suck in the pupae as they struggle to reach the surface of the lake to emerge as adults. Hatches are heaviest during May and June but occur throughout the year. The successful chironomid fisherman is observant, looking in the water for emerging pupa to determine size and colour. Swallows and gulls often locate hatches.
One of the most effective ways to fish a chironomid hatch is with a floating flyline and pupal imitation. Varying depths can be fished by lengthening the leader and waiting for the fly to sink to the desired depth or by using a strike indicator and suspending the pupal pattern at pre-determined depths. Use a slow hand twist retrieve or allow the fly to wind drift. Remember to have a well anchored boat so that you have complete control over the flyline and fly. Chironomid pupa imitations can also be fished effectively with spinning gear. Use a float or bobber and a pupa pattern attached anywhere from 1 to 3 metres below the float. Cast the line out, again from an anchored boat, allow the fly to sink, and either let the wind drift your pattern around or wind in the line very slowly at irregular intervals. Chironomid pupa do not actively swim, but elevate almost vertically to the surface. After these intense feeding periods trout will often select a “dessert” item, such as a dragonfly nymph or leech.
By mid-May, good hatches of mayflies are occurring on lower elevation lakes. Mature mayfly nymphs actively swim to the surface, hatch into adults, and fly off to mate. Major hatches will occur over shoal and drop off areas as this is preferred nymphal habitat. This hatch provides the first good dry fly fishing of the season. Trout actively feed on the emerging adults as they struggle in the surface film and on fully emerged adults floating on the surface. Swallows and gulls often reveal a mayfly hatch as they feed on the armada of hatching “sailboats”.
The shoal and drop off are prime areas to concentrate your fishing efforts at all times of the year because this is where the majority of trout food is living. The long hours of interior sunlight provide the basis for rich submergent plant growth that is home for insects and invertebrates that trout feed on.
As the hot summer weather settles in bigger food items such as dragonflies, damselflies and caddisflies begin to hatch. Take a look around the shoreline area of the lake for signs of emerging insects. Most emergences occur during daylight hours and generally between mid-morning and late afternoon.
Mature dragon fly nymphs crawl along the bottom of the shoal towards shore to emerge as adults. Nymphal imitations should always be fished close to the bottom. Damsel fly nymphs swim just subsurface towards tulle or bulrush patches to hatch into the adult. Mid-June is a good time to be looking for these migrating nymphs. Fish imitations in the top two metres of water and retrieve them in the direction the real nymphs are swimming.
The caddisfly or sedge hatch can provide spectacular dry fly fishing. The larval stage of these insects are case builders using bits of vegetation, pebbles or sticks to form their house. The larva eventually transform into the pupa, which when fully developed, cut their way out of the case and swim actively to the surface. The adult caddis emerges from the pupal case and dries its wings before scampering across the surface film in an attempt to get airborne. This drives trout crazy! Anglers often see trout slashing the surface in an attempt to capture their lunch.
The Tom Thumb fly is a classic imitation of the adult caddis. Spin fishermen can also fish the caddis hatch. Tie on a Tom Thumb or similar adult pattern about a metre below a float. Cast the float and floating fly out and retrieve it in 10 to 20 centimetre lengths pausing at regular intervals.
It’s important to remember that the majority of food sources move slowly through the water. Retrieving lures or flies should be done slowly. The same can be said about trolling. It’s best to use oars or an electric motor so that you can vary your speed and have more control over boat direction. Follow the edge of shoals or drop offs as this is where the majority of fish will feed.
During non-hatch periods trout will always feed on shrimp, the staple diet of all productive interior lakes. Gammarus, the most common species found, attain lengths of over 2 centimetres and are typically olive green to dark green in colour. Shrimp live in the dense vegetation of the shoal and drop off areas. A predominant diet of shrimp helps impart the deep orange-red flesh colour of our trout. Fly fishers should fish shrimp imitations close to the bottom. Flylines are manufactured in a wide range of sink rates to allow effective coverage.
During the hottest months of July and August, many lakes suffer from the “summer doldrums”. Fish are cold blooded and trout become very lethargic with increasing water temperatures.
Often, they will feed almost exclusively on zooplankton. Zooplankton are the red or green “water fleas” that swim around in a glass of lake water. Lures with bright fluorescent green or pink can sometimes provide action during these hot conditions. Anglers should take advantage of late evening and night fishing, when water temperatures have cooled down.
Trout come back on to the shoals during these cooler times, searching for big food items such as dragonfly nymphs and leeches. Casting or trolling imitations of these food sources can produce surprising results. Fishing during the summer doldrums can be tough but still rewarding.
By mid-September falling air temperatures and autumn winds begin cooling lakes down. The late fall period, right up to freeze up, can be an exciting time to fish interior lakes. Trout feed heavily in order to gain as much body fat as possible before winter sets in. As in the spring period, most lakes in the fall will turn over. Water temperatures cool down to a point where surface winds mix the entire water column, resulting in turbid or murky conditions. The fish again stop or limit their feeding until the water chemistry has re-stabilized. Lures with fluorescent orange or red colouration work well at this time of year. Fly fishers should consider using leech, shrimp, bloodworm (chironomid larva), dragonfly nymph and water boatman patterns. During late fall (close to freeze up) trout will feed in very shallow water often in less than 1 metre of depth.
Flyfishers can do particularly well with floating lines and shrimp or shrimp patterns cast right into the bulrush or tulle patches. Many of the popular fishing lakes in the southern interior have BC Forest Service recreation sites located along their shores. Most of these sites offer designated camping areas with picnic tables and pit toilets. These sites are now user maintained so please pack your garbage out when you leave. There is also a good selection of lakes with commercial fishing resorts that offer a variety of accommodation styles and services including boat rentals.
Many of the most popular interior fishing lakes are stocked on a regular basis by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC. Fisheries staff of the Ministry of Environment manage lakes in a variety of ways so that diversity fishing experiences are available. This will result in lake specific fishing regulations such as gear, catch and seasonal closures. Anglers are advised to always check the Regulations for the most current regulations that may apply to a particular waterbody.