In the Spring and Fall, my favorite thing to do is chase bull trout in the Kootenay River, I usually fish the bigger middle stretches of the river accessing them with the jet sled. The Kootenay is really only fishable in the fall and spring. The water is low and a gorgeous clear aqua blue. By mid-spring, its banks swell with silty grey glacial run-off and it is nearly impossible to fish.
In the Summer, as the Kootenay River’s waters rise, and a dam in Libby Montana creates the international waterfront playground known as Lake Koocanusa. By mid-winter, this massive and deep lake is transformed back into a typical glacial river. It is also the winter home to a healthy population of what may be the largest bull trout in BC. These fish are migratory and travel up the river and deep into its tributaries to spawn in the fall. They return to the lake, or whats left of it in winter. My thought was that with the water that low all those huge bull trout milling around eating everything in sight waiting for the water to rise to start them on their spawning journey would be easy pickings.
Tom is my usual co-pilot on Kootenay trips and he agreed with my thoughts on finding bullies in Koocanusa. It’s quite stunning to see the transformation caused by the fluctuating water level. The river cuts through what now looks like a lunar landscape. The lake bottom is surrounded by steep, gravel-lined cliffs a hundred feet tall. Vast flat sections made of mud, rocks, gravel, and the occasional tree stump that refuses to let go of the lake bottom. We navigated this seemingly alien terrain in the Tahoe for a good while before finding a suitable placed to launch the boat. A flat rocky beach with a little bit of a steep bank to negotiate to access it.
The new modifications to the jet sled have been working great. With gear all stowed I ripped on the cord and the jet fired up and we peeled around downstream right into a 40km headwind. “Oh, It’s gonna be one of those days” I yelled to Tom above the whine of the engine. He just nodded his head and pulled his hood. a little tighter. Waves kicked up by the wind buffeted the hull and made for an uncomfortable ride. I awkwardly had to counter steer the boat into the wind to stay on course.
We were headed to where the Elk river dumps into the lake. 45 minutes later we arrived and the confluence was just muddy shallow veins cutting through the silty bottom of Koocanusa. I decided to save some wear and tear on the jet’s impeller by not attempting to head up one of these veins. We found a few nice looking runs to fish in the main stem of the river.
Two weeks prior the water was clear but the Kootenay is a sensitive river and when run-off starts it turns quickly. The water wasn’t quite that ugly shade of chocolate milk that epitomizes a blown out river but it was going to be tough water to fish. The wind was nearly impossible and forced us to wait in between casts for even the slightest lull so as not to wind up with a streamer hook stuck in the face. Then, of course, the snow came. That was fun. Then 45 minutes of some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever fished in. Ok, we didn’t actually fish in it. We just had enough time to throw on some down and the rain jackets before being assaulted by a sideways rainstorm. We hunkered down in the boat with our backs to it and hoped to wait it out.
The rain ended and the sun came out for a little before the wind and rain returned for another round. It went like this for a few more rounds and by 6pm we called it quits and were motoring back upstream with a nasty bank of clouds following us closely back up river. Another fishless day. Well, Tom caught a couple of suckerfish but I’m pretty sure he is telling everyone he got skunked too.
It has been a long tough fall to Spring season of fishing. Few fish and some of the nastiest conditions. Everything has been a challenge. It has been tough to find fishable water. It has been tough to access it and it has been tough to fish in. I am so ready for summer to get here and those long warm days of easy fishing.