The large floating spruce branch appeared out of nowhere, right in front of my boat on the Kootenay Lake. In very early morning light, I left the marina at Schroeder Creek and quickly put my two favourite bucktail flies out on each side of the boat. And yes, I may have been paying less attention than I should have while I poured some steaming coffee from my thermos. There it was, right in front of the boat. I turned very hard to port, and ten seconds later, turned hard back to starboard. That manoeuvre should have insured that I wouldn’t get snagged up, but the starboard rod arched back and the clicker on my drag seemed to yell at me to do something as line peeled from the reel. I cursed on my way back to grab the rod. After all, this tangle was going to take valuable time after I had diligently awakened at 5:30, in order to be on the lake while dawn broke. I had to put the boat in neutral, allowing me to start gaining back my line. Several times the branch seemed to twitch while I reeled it in and I presumed it was rolling through the water. When it was within 30-feet, I saw that my branch was actually a very nice fish. I could see the white leading edges of its lower fins and that, combined with its lethargic battle, made me realize that I had hooked a rather nice bull trout. When my net slipped into the water, the nine-pound bull put on its best attempt to escape; however, I was inviting it for supper, and I won. There would be no catch and release this time.
Throughout the Kootenay country in southeast BC, bull trout are colloquially called Dollies, short for Dolly Varden. The colouration of these two members of the char family is identical, with both having white leading edges on their lower fins, and white and even pink spots, which are smaller than the pupils in their eyes, over a dark grey to brown skin. Bull trout have a very large head that, unlike its cousin the Dolly Varden, dominates its entire body and rightly so. The bull is an eating machine. Everyone who has caught one is amazed that even if the bull’s stomach is extended with over a half-dozen large Kokanee, it still tries to eat at least one more, and ends up with a sharp-hooked spoon, plug or fly in its jaw.
Bull trout have been accused of being the downfall of more important sport fish, like salmon and Gerrard rainbows. With that mind set, various sporting groups have tried to reduce their numbers by paying bounties for their tails, and even using pitchforks to throw them out of their spawning beds. At one time, they were even caught with commercial nets and sold in grocery stores. Today, however, we realize that all things in nature are an important part of the overall balance. Bull trout are protected and must be released in most areas that surround the Kootenay Rockies. Places such as Washington State and the province of Alberta have strict laws forbidding the retention of bull trout in their attempt to save them from extinction. However, the giant reservoir lakes of the Kootenay area such as Kinbasket, Revelstoke, North and South Arrow Lakes and of course Kootenay Lake, sport a strong population of bull trout, allowing anglers to retain one bull per day, while they angle for the more glamorous Gerrard rainbow trout. There is obviously enough food in those systems for both species of fish.
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