Words :: Feet Banks. Sponsored by Jack Link’s.
This gig started off perfect and only got better…
Thursday, just after 4 PM—an unexpected email from the Mountain Life boss:
Feet, Sarah is dropping off a box of Jack Link’s for you. What’s your favourite adventure to do while eating Beef Jerky? Go do it. –Glen.
I knew exactly what it was and exactly who to call: fishing trips, and my old buddy from high school Brad Knowles. Besides his finishing his checks in hockey, that brief stint as a DJ in a smalltown country bar, or that time he smacked the tar out of the toughest guy in our high school, Knowles is best known as The Pemberton Fish Finder, a fishing guide/personality who use to pull 100,000+ views per month with a cable-access fishing show he made coming out of high school and now spends 11 months of the year helping people find fish or learn to fish in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of southwestern British Columbia. (On the 12th month he takes a holiday… to go fishing.)
“We’ll leave Monday night,” Brad enthused when I told him we needed to go somewhere to eat beef jerky and fish, “and get back Wednesday. There’s a lake outside of Kamloops; ten-pound rainbow trout. I got a sweet coffee percolator, and we can just drink coffee and eat beef jerky. Buddy, we’ll never have to get out of the boat!” I chucked a couple apples in a cooler (to keep the scurvy at bay), hastily packed some camp gear, and hit the road with a crate of Jack Link’s, a brand new Redington fly rod, and a freshly printed fishing license folded into my wallet, high hopes, and a cleared schedule—Fishing Road Trip!
“No matter how good the fishing is near home, we’re all fascinated with the idea of going somewhere else to do it.” Renowned Canadian fly-fishing philosopher Jim McLennan wrote this in the summer 2015 issue of Fly Fusion magazine. McLennan then argue that a true fishing road trip needs to be at least two nights and the focus needs to be set squarely on the prospects of fun.
“And” he adds, “the peripheral components of such a trip—who you go with, where you stay, where and what you eat— are a big part of the fun and the memories the trip creates.” For Brad and I, that peripheral fun starts as soon as we’d cleared the last (only) stop light leaving Pemberton. Our food voyage began by tearing into a couple Jack Link’s Beef Steak Strips.
“As a diabetic, there’s not that many options when it comes to gas station snacks,” Brad explains. “With this, the protein offsets any sugars. I can eat nuts and seeds, but these taste a lot better.” Those meat snacks sustain us for the next three hours—plenty of time to catch up on how the kids are doing (Brad has four to my one) and swap stories of the old days and fish tales, with plenty of time for laughs and comedy in between (ask Brad about the baby born with no eyelids).
A fishing trip is always better when shared with an old buddy. The drive also gives me time to pull up the history of Jack Link’s on the internet, and hot damn if Brad and I aren’t stoked to learn that it was on a fishing trip with his kids in Wisconsin in the mid 1980s when Jack Link (he’s a real dude!) decided to use his grandfather’s 100-year-old sausage and smoked meat recipes to create the kinds of quality meat snack he couldn’t find on shelves anywhere. The first “kippered beef steak” snack proved an instant classic and through quality meat, premium ingredients and good old hard work, Jack Link built an empire.
Just before we leave cell range, Brad and I stop for gas and borrow a hose to wash the road-mud and grime off Brad’s boat—a beauty flat-bottomed 14’ Marlon. A few last texts to the family and a fishing buddy hoping to join us the next morning, and we’re soon bumping up a forest service road en route to a lake I know better than to ask the name of. “Lakes like these…there a thousand of them around here,” Brad explains, “and they all cycle. Sometimes they’re full of small fish, sometimes there are monsters.
You just try new spots and remember how it was last time, and when a lake is on like this one is right now…that’s priceless.” Even before we hit the water, the lake lives up to Brad’s hype—empty camp spots, dry firewood, a trio of loons calling across the water.
We launch the boat immediately to try some chironomid fishing before dark, forgoing a formal dinner and opting for Snack Sticks in order to get our lines wet before sundown. The fish are not biting but neither Brad nor I are overly concerned. We’ve got two days of fishing still to come, and what looks like at least one night of camping in the rain.
“It makes sense this stuff was invented on a fishing trip,” Brad says. It’s the next morning, early. The rain that pummeled our tents overnight has eased to a drizzle and I have a one-burner stove precariously brewing coffee on the boat floor while Brad waves his pepperoni-stick-breakfast at me. “Look at this, the wrapper is key. You don’t want something where you are handling the food, then you have to wash the oils or odours off your hands before you tie on a new fly, or after releasing a fish. This way, you can just eat it, and when you get a bite you just put’er down and start reeling.”
My first bite of the day (from a fish) doesn’t come immediately but the coffee is still warm when my rod tip starts that tell-tale twitch of an interested trout. A well-timed (or lucky) tug and Boom! I’m battling what feels like a big rainbow—the infamous Kamloops trout. Long considered by experts to be among the greatest game fish in the world, the Kamloops trout is so different in behavior and appearance it was once thought to be its own species. Scientists later reclassified it as a local variant of the regular rainbow trout family.
As far back as the mid 1800s, fishermen told stories of a trout with more size and stamina than a regular rainbow—trout of 15-18 pounds were routinely caught in the lakes around Kamloops but reports of trout as large as 30-55 pounds also began circulating.
Surely, much of these were exaggerations but by the early 1930s scientists had determined that spawning streams and lake conditions in central and southeast BC were slightly cooler than other areas and this affected. This, along with other environmental factors like elevation, seemed to affect fish temperament, and development and has let to experts and fishers alike to believe that while the Kamloops trout may not be genetically unique, and rarely grow larger than 5-7 pounds nowadays, they’re still pretty special. And I have one on the line. One of the joys of fly fishing is the equipment itself— a lightweight rod with a tiny bug on the end offers a very different angling experience than dragging a strand of heavy, flashy lures.
On the fly, it’s just you and the fish. Or in this case, me. The fish peels line, I let it run, reeling when I could, letting it run again. Did the rain stop falling? Or did I just zone that out, caught in the flow state of giving and taking with this fish, drawn into an ancient battle humans and fish have engaged in since the beginning of time? I know before we see it that this will be the largest trout I’d ever fought on the fly. Reel, reel, tight line, tip up, over here…then in the net, in the boat, then back in the water for the release.
“Give him time,” Brad encourages as he films the release. A large fish can take a couple minutes to regain strength after a big fight and these are some of my favourite moments in fishing—just holding onto the tail, watching the gills pump, feeling the strength return to this wild animal, this beautifully coloured living torpedo I was lucky enough to trick into biting a clump of red feathers and hair designed to look like a leech…
The fishing is great all morning. Brad hooks some nice ones, I do too, by any other day they would be great ones, but we know there are larger fish out there. And then, just when our buddy Mark shows up and joins us…things slow down.
We try different flies, different troll speeds, chironomid fishing in windy conditions…it’s slow, but that’s fishing. I’m not sure whose idea it is but at some point, a plan is hatched….
“Let’s take a strip of that Jack Link’s and use it as a lure. If it’s good enough for us maybe the fish will be into it too.” Technically, Jack Link’s counts as bait but bait fishing is legal in this lake so Brad hooks on a strip with a nice tail to give it a “realistic” motion in the water (to a swimming leach I assume??) and away we go…
In a lake that averages between 10-20 feet of depth, with low vegetation on the bottom, anything that looks like a leech should have a decent shot, even if it smells like Jack Link’s grandpa’s secret herbs and smoker recipe. Mark hauls in a beautiful rainbow on some kind of nymph pattern but otherwise, the afternoon fishing is quite leisurely. But the sun is out, the lake is empty, and Mark, Brad and I are happy to be there.
The Jack Link’s lure gets a few nibbles and it gets more waterlogged, which makes it more realistic, according to Brad. Has he done this before…? And then it happens. Bam! A bite on the jerky lure, followed by a big strike…and I’m holding the rod. Game on.
This fish decides to put on a show—it jumps and twists, sending water droplets sparkling like jewels across the lake surface… but it stays hooked, and after a healthy back and forth I get it to the boat. Another beautiful trout, even more with the afternoon sun bringing out the green/blue colours on its back. A quick photo, then back in the water for the release. As the fish swims away there’s only one thing to do. Celebrate with some beef jerky and tie up another Jack Link’s lure for the evening bite!
Part of the joy of fishing is who you’re with, another part is where you are. Old friends in new places might not guarantee a successful fishing road trip, but it’s a heck of a good foundation to start from (especially if your friend is a career angler and fishing guide!) Catching fish is, of course, also important, but not 100 per cent essential.
Part of the allure of fly fishing is it’s not easy to do. Often, it’s timing, the fish are eating, and you are there for it. Sometimes it’s skill, you have the right fly and you put in the right place at the right time: you’re doing something—many things—right.
But just as often, it’s luck. Using a Jack Link’s lure to entice Kamloops trout is not standard procedure, and it didn’t work again the entire trip. But luck counts too, and it makes for great stories. Besides, as Brad pointed out as we headed for shore at the end of day two, “All the more jerky for us…it’s a long drive home.”
Important information: Always check regulations for any new body of water you fish and be like Brad and pressure-wash your boat and propellor thoroughly if you move from one body of water to another to ensure you aren’t harming your favourite spots with invasive species, viruses or plants.