Published on Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Since Dave from Currie Artworks, who resides in Whistler, informed me that Alta Lake was ice-off in early April, I have been eager to visit it. Despite of the mild winter, spring’s weather turned sour. It has been either windy, rainy, or both. It kept this fair weather fisherman at home whining for weeks. At last, some consistently warm days have arrived. Nina agreed to drag the boat out to Alta Lake yesterday, probably just to rid the cabin fever and shut me up.
We started fishing at Alta Lake in 2006 and have been back a couple of times each year. It is definitely one of my favorite lakes to visit. Many friends have questioned why that is the case, because a trip to lakes in the Thompson/Okanagan region would yield some stronger, bigger rainbow trout. Alta Lake’s rainbow trout rarely grow larger than 14 inches long, while its cutthroat trout lack the fight that you would see in an interior rainbow trout. I do not really have a good reason for liking it. Perhaps Whistler’s scenary appeals to me, perhaps I simply enjoy looking at cutthroat trout that are completely covered in fine spots. For whatever reason, I’ve returned year after year regardless whether the fishing was good or bad.
We decided to arrive at the lake just past 1:00pm and fish until the sun set behind the mountains. It was a rather late start because in the past, I’ve found that it tends to get breezy in the afternoon before calming down in the evening. Too often we arrived in the morning, only to be pounded by white caps after a couple hours of calmness. Wind is one element that can suck all the energy out of a fisherman on the boat. On those days, we usually ended up leaving before the evening bite.
It was almost 2:00pm once our boat was set up. The sky was clear with a few small patches of clouds that did not seem threatening. As expected, it was a bit breezy, but it seemed to balance very well with warmth from the sun.
I decided to bring Nina to a spot where we have caught numerous trout during most outings. Still not too familiar with flyfishing, she chose to use a spinning setup for this trip. I outfitted her with a tiny spoon that we picked up in Denmark last winter. The entire setup was rated 4lb test, perfect for everything that swims in this lake. Meanwhile, I chose to use a 4wt setup with a clear intermediate sink line. The fly of choice was a brown wooly bugger, which has been successful for both rainbows and cutties in this lake.
It really did not take long before we found some action. After a bite slipped through me, Nina had the first hook-up. The subsurface fight indicated that it was a cutthroat trout. The yellow flashes soon confirmed our guess.
After releasing her first fish, it only took fifteen more minutes before the second fish attacked her lure just several feet from the boat. This fish dove deeply, the bend in the rod suggested that it was a good sized fish. Nina kept the tension on the line while the mysterious fish circled below the boat. When it surfaced, both of us were screaming with excitement. It was what we had come for, a solid, long, spotty cutthroat trout that I estimated to be around 18 to 20 inches long. The absence of scars and firey orange cutthroat mark made this a perfect specimen, not to mention it was Nina’s first large cutthroat.
Despite of her instant success, I failed to produce. I proceeded to miss a couple more bites and briefly hooked onto a small fish. It was time for a move.
We shifted two more times without anymore bites. Maybe it was a bad idea that we moved in the first place. Never move from a spot where the fish are biting, lesson learned. Nina managed to connect with one more cutthroat trout and a very small ambitious rainbow trout, but overall we were not feeling many bites. At 5:30pm, we decided to give the original spot another go.
It was indeed the hot spot! Once anchored, a fish grabbed my fly after a few casts. It also escaped before I could touch it. At this landing rate, my day was looking bleak. That frustration quickly evaporated when I hooked up again. I took my time to ensure that it stayed on the hook this time. At last, a sigh of relief was let out when the cutthroat trout was scooped up by the net. It was dwarfed by Nina’s early catch, but I’ll take it!
There seemed to be a school of them. After releasing the first fish, the second fish came within a few more casts, followed by the third fish. All of them were in the same weight class, suggesting that they were congregating and feeding at the same place.
In total, both Nina and I caught three cutthroat trout each, but her giant catch earlier in the trip stole the prize!
If you ever wish to try out a Lower Mainland lake where catch and release is mandatory, then Alta Lake can be a very good option. Give it a go, you just might be pleasantly surprised like us.