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Saturday, 11 July 2015

Trout Fishing Mid Vancouver Island

There was a period in my life years ago when I was really hooked on salmon fishing. Then one day about 25 years ago my rod and reel bounced off the back of a rented boat and disappeared in the wake behind. I never replaced the gear. The reason was I had just become the father of twins, a boy and a girl, and I knew that I simply wasn’t going to have the spare time to spend hours and hours fishing anymore.
Last year Linda and I bought a couple of kayaks and used them about 16 times on the ocean and on a number of lakes on Vancouver Island. We talked a few times about how it might be fun to fish from our kayaks on some of the lakes we had visited. This past Christmas Linda gave me a small tackle box and a gift certificate from Canadian Tire. I used it to buy a new fresh water rod and reel this past January. I also purchased a fresh water fishing license and because I am over 65 it only cost me 5 bucks. That was pretty sweet.
I met a guy who knows a lot about trout fishing in the Nanaimo area and he was my guru for a few weeks. I’m still using the same hook-up he showed me, a sinker that slides on the line above the leader, a tiny number 6 single barbed hook about 18 inches from the leader, and for bait something that looks like fish eggs that comes in luminous pink or yellow called PowerBait. (Don’t buy the orange ones made by a competitor. They suck and fall off of the hook too easily.)

My guru was a nice guy but not very reliable. He didn’t have a car and the two times we went fishing I had to wait for him for about 15 minutes. The 3rd time he didn’t show up at all. It didn’t bother me in the least. I’m more than happy fishing alone.

The city of Nanaimo has a number of small lakes that are stocked with young trout each year. So far I’ve fished at two of them and caught trout at both places. From what I’ve seen so far the local lakes are pretty shallow and it is not uncommon to get snagged on something like a rock or a branch and I have had to replace the whole hook-up a number of times. Fishing line is about 12 bucks for 330 yards, sinkers and leaders are about 2 bucks for about 8 of them, the tiny fish hooks are a little over 5 bucks for ten, and a small jar of PowerBait is about 6 bucks. It adds up. After a little more than 2 months of fishing I’ve been back to Canadian Tire to stock up about 6 times. (Is it just out here that hardly anybody at Canadian Tire seems to know much about anything they sell?)
Long Lake
Long Lake is just off the old Island Highway in Nanaimo. The lake isn’t very big, it’s about 1.5 km long, and there is a hotel at one end of it. Most of the lake is surrounded by expensive houses. You never get the feeling you are way from it all on Long Lake. There is a clear view of the traffic on the highway several hundred yards away and the lake is shared by jet skiers, rowers, and motorboats in the summer months. Still, this was where I caught my first trout back at the end of April casting from the shore. I’ve never had any interest in kayaking on Long Lake.
Westwood Lake

Westwood Lake
Westwood Lake is a gorgeous spot about 4 km south of downtown Nanaimo. It is a man-made lake but you wouldn’t know it other than the fact that there are some tree stumps sticking out of the water in a few places. It was originally flooded in 1907-08 with the intention of using the lake as a source for hydro-electric power. The old damn still exists and there is story that an old farm is under water at the south end of the lake.
Westwood Lake is not far from the local university. Gas fueled motor boats and jet skis aren’t allowed on the lake. It is one of Nanaimo’s favourite recreation spots with a small beach and a trail around the lake that is a bit over 5 km long that is used by joggers and people who just want to go for a long walk in the forest. There is also a camp ground close by.

Westwood Lake

Westwood Lake
The lake is about 20 minutes away from where we live and it is my go to place if I want to get a few hours in of trout fishing off the shore. With the warmer weather I have learned that the only time to fish at this lake is early in the morning. Access to the lake is from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Teenagers and others kind of take over the best fishing spots in the afternoon and linger on through the evening. One night I caught a trout with people swimming on either side of me but I decided that that was the last time I would attempt that. Everyone is supposed to be off of the property by 9 p.m. but some break the rules. It is not uncommon to find empty beer cans and other garbage lying around in the morning.
The lake is quite spectacular early in the morning as the sun rises over the mountains. A river otter often makes his way down the lake stopping occasionally to see what is going on around him.
I usually come home with at least one trout from the lake but I’ve also lost a fair amount of tackle on snags. Some of those snags are on other people’s old snags. I’ve yarded in some strange looking old lures including big ones that would be better suited for salt water fishing.
There are some guys who fish for nothing but bass and they use a different kind of bait than I do. Bass can get up to 6 lbs. and are known for the fight in them. Bass are a nesting fish that stay close to shore and don’t roam around much like trout do. Most bass anglers seem to do the catch and release deal.
It is pretty common to see a lone eagle gilding over the lake. A few weeks ago a guy who was fishing about 40 feet away from me threw a small trout he had caught back into the lake and an eagle swept in a flew off with the fish. The eagle was literally 30 feet away from me. I wish I had known the guy was going to do that. I would have got my camera out.
Nanaimo has pretty hot summers but there is always a bit of a breeze it seems. Twice now I’ve been at Westwood Lake early in the morning and the wind has been so brisk that the lake looks more like the ocean than a lake. On days like these there are lots of whitecaps.
Spider Lake

Linda at Spider Lake

Spider Lake is about 60 km north of Nanaimo and about 10 km west of Qualicum Beach. It is one of the prettiest smaller lakes on Vancouver Island with a number of bays and small sandy islands. I first discovered this spot about 15 years ago when I owned a place at Fanny Bay about ½ an hour’s drive away. It was a great place to take the dog for a swim after the peak summer season.
When we bought our kayaks last year Spider Lake was the first place we used them. It was also the first lake we went to to do some kayak fishing this year. Like Westwood Lake in Nanaimo no jet skis or gas fueled motor boats are allowed on the lake. Rainbow trout and small mouth bass are the 2 fish species found in the lake.
Fishing from a kayak is quite different than fishing from a boat or from the shore. For starters you only have 180 degree view of things. Everything one is going to need for several hours of fishing is kept between your legs including a small tackle box and something to drink. If you aren’t going to use something you don’t bring it with you.
Casting is not that difficult. What can be a bit tricky though is changing tackle. What I do is slide my rod with the reel end down to the front hatch of the kayak to change my hook-up. I also keep some prepared hook-ups in my tackle box that wrapped around wide wooden Popsicle sticks. More than once I have drifted onto the shore trying to sort out the line and tackle. No big deal.
Something else I figured out about fishing for trout from a kayak is that if you are trolling while paddling you are probably going too fast for the trout to catch up to the bait. Tout aren’t as fast as salmon.

On our first day of kayak fishing Linda and I spent about 6 hours in our kayaks. Most of that time was in the afternoon when trout don’t often feed. We beached our kayaks on a little island so we could stretch our legs and get a bite to eat. I did catch a small bass that bit my bait while my line was dangling in the water and threw it back but other than that we weren’t having any luck. I decided to do some more casting off of the little island and caught my first Spider Lake trout about 15 minutes later.

Taking a break.
For some reason Linda wasn’t having any luck fishing with me. One evening we were on our 4th or 5th trip to the lake and Linda still hadn’t caught her first trout. I wondered if she might lose her enthusiasm and pack it in on fishing altogether. The rod and reel she was using was one I had bought at a yard sale in Washington State a few years ago. The reel was one of those cone shaped deals where the line comes out of a small hole. I prefer a spinning reel. I looked up her reel on the internet and apparently a number of proficient anglers use them.
I think it was about 7 p.m. when I pulled in my first trout. It was the biggest one I have caught so far, 16 inches long and about 2-1/2 lbs. Then I caught a 2nd trout moments later. I was almost embarrassed. I didn’t want her feeling that she was jinxed. Fortunately a few minutes later she caught her first trout. A few days later she went out and bought a new reel because her old one kept jamming. I think she was getting ready to kick some ass!

Linda's first trout.

My 2-1/2 pounder.

Nanaimo Lakes

Nanaimo Lakes
About 5 weeks ago we decided to check out a place called Nanaimo Lakes which is about 35 km south west of Nanaimo. There are 4 lakes and I believe they are called First, Second, Third, and Fourth Lake. Don’t ask me which one we went to. All I know is was the one with a campground. The lakes are owned by a forestry company called Timberwest. We talked to 3 middle aged gals who had just come in from kayaking and they told us that there was rainbow and cutthroat trout in the lake.
A few days later we travelled out along the dirt road that leads to the lakes to do some kayak fishing. It is pretty obvious that a lot of clear cut logging has happened in the area in the past 100 years but never the less the mountains looked spectacular. My guess is that the lake we were on is also a man-made lake as we could see tree trunks sticking out of the water in a number of places. We didn’t pick the best time of the day to go fishing (a hot sunny afternoon) but we thought we would give it a shot. I caught a trout about 15 minutes after we started fishing by what appeared to be the remnants of an old dock. That was the only trout I caught that day. Linda kept getting snagged on the submerged logs and had to fight the wind that kept blowing her down the lake. She got a bit annoyed with that and said she won’t fish there again. Once again she was skunked!

Nanaimo Lakes
Fishing on a windy lake in a kayak isn’t that much fun, too much drifting and not being where you want to be. We might go back if the wind ever dies down.

Cameron Lake

Cameron Lake
Cameron Lake is on the way to Port Alberni. It isn’t far from Coombs where there is a tourist trap with goats on the roof and Cathedral Grove where thousands of tourists stop every year to see the giant Douglas fir trees. Kayaking at this lake was one of Linda’s picks. On the day we were there the winds were howling and there was no way we were going to go across the lake. We got there early in the morning and decided very quickly that we would stay close to shore. We didn’t get as much as a nibble in the 3-4 hours we fished and we wouldn’t go back there unless we knew the waters were calmer. Still it is a very pretty lake. You can see an old railway trestle on the other side of the lake at the bottom of a mountain.

Snack time.
Cameron Lake
Old train trestle Cameron Lake.
Horne Lake

Horne Lake
We went to Horne Lake about 2 weeks ago. It is located several kilometers past Spider Lake down a dirt road. The last time I was there was about 15 years ago. It’s a pretty big lake and very deep in some spots. The day we were there the skies were overcast but like most days in the past few months it didn’t rain.
There is a tourist attraction close to the lake called The Horne Lake Caves. It attracts people from around the world but I’ve never had any interest in going into a hole in a mountain.
As far as trout fishing goes we didn’t get as much as a nibble. The surface of the lake was flat the whole day and we didn’t even see a ripple where a trout had come up to snatch a bug. Someone told us later that the trout are quite active in the late spring feeding on some kind of black bugs but after that feeding frenzy is over and the weather gets warmer they head to the bottom of the lake and stay there until it cools off in the fall.
There are lots of water skiers on the lake so it isn’t exactly tranquil.

Horne Lake
Secret Lake

Secret Lake
Secret Lake is a name I made up. It has another name. All I will say is that it is close to Port Alberni which is about a 45 minute drive from where we live. The reason I am not saying what the name of the lake is because it is very small and it doesn’t need any more people traffic.
There are no signs that indicate where this lake is. It is open to the public but is on privately owned land. I first went and checked this lake out about 3 weeks ago after taking care of some business in Port Alberni. I ended up driving 5 miles down a dirt road before I realized that I had missed the cut off. I had to backtrack. The only thing indicating the lake’s name is a hand written sign nailed to a tree asking people to pick up their garbage when they leave or the lake access might be curtailed. I spent about an hour or so casting from the shore but didn’t get a nibble.
I knew that there were trout in this lake and made a plan. I had an old inflatable rubber raft in the shed that hadn’t been used in about 15 years. I blew it up and it didn’t seem to have any leaks. About 2 weeks ago I took off for this lake at about 6 a.m. with the raft in the car. The short road to the lake is deeply rutted so I parked the car a short distance way. There is a perfect spot to launch a raft at the lake.
Steering a rubber raft isn’t that easy particularly when trying to fish. I headed across the lake and started casting when I got to the middle of it. Within an hour I had caught 4 eleven-twelve inch trout, frying pan size. I was pretty excited. I hadn’t caught that many trout so fast before. I got back home by 10:30 a.m.
Up to this point Linda had only caught 1 trout fishing with me. She isn’t what you would call “a morning person”. I really wanted her to go with me to this “Secret Lake”. She could use the raft and I would fish from shore. I noticed that they were selling cheap rubber rafts at Wal-Mart for 20 bucks and bought one. Linda seemed to think that even at 20 bucks it might have been a waste of money.
We headed up to Port Alberni at about 6:30 a.m. on a Friday with our Starbuck’s coffee in hand. We managed to each carry our rafts that we had blown up, our fishing gear, and small backpacks down to the lake. We wore our life vests as one little hole in a rubber raft is all it takes.
There was only one other person out on the lake. He had some kind of floating chair devise and propelled his craft by using flippers. We launched our rafts and headed for the same spot I had been to a week before. At first there was no action and Linda was having some trouble with her fishing gear and was having trouble trying to steer the raft. There was also a bit of a small wind that moved us along when we didn’t want to. I asked Linda how she was doing and she kind of barked at me. OK, I thought, time to be quiet and let events unfold.

Secret Lake
Secret Lake
I caught the first trout and because it was only about 8 inches long I threw it back. Then Linda started pulling one trout in after another. This all took place in less than an hour. I had my fishing buddy back! I caught 4 trout also. By this time we could see some folks fishing from shore but they didn’t seem to be having any luck. I’m not sure if they appreciated our “Whahoos!” We talked to the guy in the floating fishing chair, a really nice young guy but he had only caught one trout by the time we left. On the way home I got Linda to agree that buying that cheap Wally Mart raft wasn’t that bad of an idea.


Diver Lake, Brannen Lake, and Quennell Lake
Diver Lake and Brannen Lake are both located within the Nanaimo city limits.  Altogether Nanaimo has about 18 lakes. Yesterday I took along an older neighbor to try our luck at Diver Lake. It isn’t the prettiest spot and you can see a car dealership in the distance. We spent about an hour and a half fishing here off of the shore but all we dragged in were weeds. The lake close to shore is infested with weeds.

Diver Lake
I decided to check out a few other lakes. We drove over to Brannen Lake close by. There is nice view of some farms across the lake. There is also a prison next to the lake which is a bit creepy. We fished off a floating dock for about ½ an hour but didn’t have any luck. Waterskiing seems to be pretty popular here and while we were there one lone ski boat was roaming around. The wake from their boat made the narrow dock bounce around. I crossed this lake off of my future fishing haunts.

Brannen Lake
We drove out to an area called Cedar which is close to the Duke Point ferry terminal south of Nanaimo.  I had heard that Quennell Lake was a good place to fish for trout. It took a while to find a road with access to the lake that wasn’t private property. There is a privately owned campground called the Zuiderzee. (I think that’s Dutch.) The lake is quite pretty but the campground and the number of small mobile homes reminded me of the movie Deliverance. An older lady who seems to run the place told us that they charge 5 bucks to launch a kayak. We might check this place out in the fall.

Quesnell Lake
A Seasonal Thing
As much as how much I’ve really enjoyed fishing for trout, I think we might be doing far less of it if any of it in the coming months. We’ve had a pretty brutal summer here on Vancouver Island this summer as far as heat goes (Global warming?) The one saving grace is that there is always a breeze so we don’t feel the heat as people in some other places do.
We have had a number of forest fires including one at Dog Mountain by Sproat Lake near Port Alberni. There isn’t much doubt that freshwater fish have been under a lot of stress due to the warmer temperatures and lower water levels. Sport fishing has been banned in streams & rivers due to the low water levels in them. Where we live water usage has been severely curtailed.
It may be time to give the trout a break and get back to it in the fall. I know I’m hooked enough on the activity that I fully expect to do some fishing this winter. Rain or shine.
The Thrill
Most of the trout of I have caught are about 12 inches long. I give most of them away. Linda eats a few of them. It isn’t that I don’t like eating them but more that I don’t trust either of us cooking them the way someone who knows what they are doing does. Apparently they taste great smoked.
At 12 inches the trout we catch aren’t really big fish but I have to confess it is a thrill each time the rod tip starts banging away.
I’m very glad that I rediscovered fishing.
We’re off to Hornby Island on Tuesday to do some camping and kayaking. We’ll leave the rods at home.

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