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The Coquihalla Highway provided the escape route out of the rain drenched Fraser Valley. As the kilometers rolled past I noticed two things. The first being the rate at which my truck burned through the 69.9 cent a litre gas.....time for a tune up again. The second was of more positive nature, the gloomy and unsettled weather was being left behind and there was blue sky and huge puffy white clouds ahead. Taking highway 5A at Merritt the road wound its way past Nicola Lake which was glass calm. Swallows in huge numbers swooped and dived along the top, a sure indicator of insect activity. The same held true along Stump Lake, only a slight ripple on the surface of this wind prone lake. Debating the opportunity here I grudgingly pressed on taking a right turn onto the gravel road leading to Roche Lake. As the road climbed its way up, the clouds seemed to gather slightly. Coming around a corner the lake glistened in the sun, its glassy surface interrupted by small rippley patches.

It was mid-morning and as the boat was wrestled to the water there were chironomids everywhere. They had gathered in swarms in the cover of the bushes, the pulsing clouds of them could be heard emitting a drowning hum. Launching the boat eagerly onto the lake, a few quick pulls on the oars put me out onto the lake. Adult chironomids skittered along the surface and crawled along the gunnels of the boat. There were chironomids of all sizes and colors. Most were of a medium size(#14) with some large ones(#12).
Smaller chironomids from say size 16 through to 22 were abundant yet less noticeable than their larger companions.

A gentle breeze had picked up and the puffy clouds had started to condense above. The sun still blazed through the openings and the boat was gently ushered along the drop-off towards a small shallow bay. There was some feeding activity along the edge of the reeds which lined the bay. The odd swirl and rise broke the calm surface. With the abundance of chironomid on the surface, either adults in flight or others struggling in emergence on the surface, the amount of surface feeding was proportionately quite small.

Setting the anchor within casting range of the reed lined shore I rigged two rods, one with a floating line and strike indicator, the other with the floating line only. At the point where the reeds began to show out of the water there was about 7’ of water depth. Using the rod rigged with the indicator I set the distance between the indicator and the fly to about 5’. A careful cast placed the fly along the edge of the reeds. The fly (a#14, black body, silver ribbed chironomid with a small white bead head) would hopefully sink to within a foot or two of the bottom. The breeze caught the fly line on the surface and provided a slow drift, the indicator worked its way along the reed edge. The second line sported a #16, black body, red ribbed chironomid weighted with a few wraps of #.010 lead in the thorax. This was cast directly into the narrow openings in the reeds. A slightly heavier leader(5#) would fair better when dealing with the reeds which are hooked frequently. Allowing a few seconds for the fly to sink, the retrieve is slow and steady. An hour passed by with both lines being fished without success. The fish continued to rise around the area yet they seemed to be uninterested in anything being offered. The cloud cover had increased and the sun was having a harder time penetrating the darkening mass. I opted to change both my lines, removing the indicator from one and changing from a beadhead pattern to a small (#16) olive body, red ribbed unweighted chironomid pupa. The other line was changed to a tiny #18 Griffith’s Gnat, a dry pattern which can be fished as either an emerger or as an adult. On about the third cast with the unweighted chironomid, the slow retrieve tightened quickly and upon raising the rod tip the rod bent deep. The water churned with disapproval as the fish struggled. The line pulled through the guides as it raced towards the reeds. Putting the 4# fluorocarbon tippet to the limit the stubborn fish was wrestled into control and soon was brought to the boat. A nice sized Rainbow about 19” long just starting to show its color, indicating it would be in spawn this season, was promptly released by wiggling the hook free.

For the rest of the afternoon the fishing continued, slow but steady, with a fish every half an hour or so. Changing flies seemed to have little effect, the most critical thing seemed to be depth, slightly sub surface, within 18” of the surface. By late afternoon the cloud cover was dense and a cold breeze brought the hatch to an end. The feeding activity remained somewhat unchanged, a fair amount of surface rises and swirls. The surface remained dotted with hundreds of chironomids halted in the surface film as they struggled to emerge. There was even less response from the fish to the chironomid pupa and eventually the change was made to a small leech pattern. This often proves effective when heavy feeding has persisted through the day. Unfortunately this was not the case and after an hour of persistent casting and retrieving a couple of slight tugs was all there was to show. Pausing to reassess the situation I glanced at the other rod which had lay untested in the boat beside me. With half hearted ambition I readied the rod and straightened the tippet. As I stripped out the line and began casting a small swirl broke the surface about 40’ away. Directing my cast towards it, the fly gently dropped onto the surface about 6’ away from the disturbance. Instantly there was a boil at my fly, pausing for a second I raised the rod high and at the same time the line tightened to a spectacular fish which cleared the water by at least two feet. The fish jumped and jumped, spending as much time out of the water as in. Finally it was brought in control and the tiny fly unbuttoned from the fishes nose. A great fighter, about 20” or so, was released to reward someone on another day. Somewhat impressed by the immediate response to the dry fly I waited for the next fish to show. A couple minutes passed and growing anxious I pulled the anchor and took a couple strokes towards some swirls well out of casting range. As the boat glided towards the swirls I began casting. Once again I placed a cast within a few feet of the swirl. A couple seconds passed then I gave a slight pull on the line, enough to make a tiny ringlet appear around my fly. Once again, an immediate slash at the fly and the line slithered through the guides. Not halting at all, the fish pulled out all the free line and the reel screamed as the fish made a direct path into the reeds. A couple seconds later I stripped in the line, both fish and fly gone.

By now it was actually starting to get dark and as I fumbled to tie on another fly I noticed that the surface action was increasing rapidly. Fish could be seen feeding methodically on emergent chironomid all around me. For the next hour the activity intensified and almost every cast produced a fish or at least a swirl. As I rowed the boat back in semi darkness I reflected on the day. Should I have been fishing the dry fly earlier? Was this only a brief opportunity on which I capitalized? As normal, more unanswered questions but more experience to reflect on.

by Pete MacPherson
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