August 6, 2020

Fishing for Gerrard Rainbows and Bull Trout on Kootenay Lake

Kootenay Lake was renowned for its trophy-sized Gerrard rainbow trout. In recent years, these iconic giants have shrunk to a size more typical of trout in many other lakes in B.C. There are still plenty of trout – both rainbow and bull – to be caught in Kootenay Lake, but they are now so abundant that they have literally eaten themselves “out of house and home.” These two fish-eating species have outstripped the supply of their main prey in the lake, kokanee.


Bull trout. | Jeff Burrows. 
 
Recovery of the kokanee population will help return some balance to the lake’s ecosystem, and ensure the long-term sustainability of its rainbow and bull trout. To this end, the Provincial government has partnered with stakeholders (BC Wildlife Federation, West Arm Outdoors Club, Creston Valley Rod and Gun Club, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC) to sponsor a competition that will encourage anglers to harvest these predators of kokanee in Kootenay Lake. By turning in the heads of your catch of rainbow or bull trout, you will be entered into a draw to win one of many prizes – most notably, a Kingfisher boat equipped with a 115-horsepower Yamaha outboard motor, valued at over $50,000. See details of the competition here.

If you would like to try your luck at catching some dinner (and maybe even a new boat), Jeff Burrows, Senior Fisheries Biologist in the Kootenays, has some fishing tips for you.


How to Correctly Identify Your Catch

Before you start catching and harvesting fish in Kootenay Lake, it is very important that you can tell the difference between the predatory rainbow and bull trout that need to be harvested, and the kokanee that need to be protected.


Gerrard rainbow trout. | Barrie Kovish.

Since there are very few of them, and their food (zooplankton) is abundant, the remaining kokanee are growing larger while the sizes of their predators are shrinking. This means that a kokanee these days can easily be as large as a rainbow trout, and both rainbow trout and kokanee can be a bright silver colour. 




Bull trout. | Barrie Kovish.

In general, to avoid catching kokanee, you can redirect your catch towards trout by using bigger lures, and trolling faster.


Kokanee. | Brian Chan.

Tips for Catching Rainbow and Bull Trout

Kootenay Lake is big, and the most effective way to find and catch rainbow and bull trout is to troll for them from a boat. When trolling, you must consider three key variables: speed, depth, and lure selection.

  • Speed should be varied, but in general, focus on the range of three to seven kph (two to four mph). Do not be afraid to troll your lures in the upper range of five to seven kph (three to four mph). 

  • The usual trolling depths for rainbow trout on Kootenay Lake are very shallow, often right near the surface from autumn through to late spring. This makes fishing accessible to anglers without downriggers. In the heat of summer, rainbow will be pushed downward to more preferred temperatures. Since bull trout are typically found deeper in the water column (to depths of about 30 metres, or 100 feet), you’ll probably need to use downriggers to get your lures down to them. Finding the correct depth for summer rainbow or bull trout requires a fishfinder; using your downrigger, lower your lures to the depths that match the indicated depths of the fish “arcs” that you see on your sounder’s screen.

  • Effective trolling lures for both rainbow and bull trout are Luhr Jensen Krocodile spoons, Apex Hot Spot Trolling Lures, and Tomic or Lyman plugs (the four-inch size mimics the lake’s one-year-old kokanee). Another great method for catching rainbow trout in Kootenay Lake is trolling bucktails. Local guide Kerry Reed also provides ‚Äčtips for lure selection and depth.


Bucktail 215 and Green Apex with treble hook. 



Krocodile spoon.


A small Lyman plug.


"Police Car" apex. 

Lake Access Points

Public Boat launches

  • Sunshine Bay Regional Park on the Upper West Arm – from the launch site on Sunshine Bay Wharf Road, it’s a short and scenic cruise east to the main lake; pay attention to the federal navigational signs and lights.

  • Balfour boat launch – Balfour Wharf Road.

  • Queens Bay at Balfour – there is informal beach launching at Balfour Regional Park at the end of Meadow Street.

  • Kootenay Bay – just south of Main Lake Ferry terminal.

  • Kaslo Bay – Kaslo Bay Road, southwest corner of the bay.

  • Lost Ledge Provincial Park.

  • Lardeau Point near the north end of Kootenay Lake – Kootenay Street.

  • Argenta – there is informal beach launching for smaller trailered boats on Argenta/Johnson’s Landing Road near the mouth of the Duncan River.



Angling at Queen's Bay, Balfour. | Jeff Burrows. 
 

Shore Access

Although less effective, it is possible to catch rainbow trout by casting lures or baits from shore. Shore fishing is accessible by road, and then walking short trails to the water. If using bait, casting with a rubber ball as a float will extend your casting distance. Otherwise, cast and retrieve Krocodile spoons.

Northern half of the lake

  • Mouth of Coffee Creek – park at substation, find the trail and walk down.

  • Mouth of Kaslo River – north bank access.

  • Mouth of the Duncan River – Argenta access.

  • Queens Bay Wharf Road – from the beach, walk to the point.

  • Lost Ledge and Davis Creek Campgrounds – cast from shore.

Southern half of the lake

  • Columbia a.k.a. “Blue” Point.

  • Explore other points.

  • Mouth of Lockhart, Sanca, and other creeks.

Kootenay Lake bull trout caught in the Duncan River. | Will Warnock. 

‚ÄčAuthors: Paul Askey, Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, and Jeff Burrows, Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
Images: Steve Brown, Jeff Burrows, Barrie Kovish, Brian Chan, Will Warnock, Karen Frazer.