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I’m Trying to Catch a Kamloops Trout with a Hall of Fame Fly Fisher. No Pressure

EXTREMELY BC: Mo Bradley is hauling them in. What’s his secret?

By Mark Hume 13 May 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Mark Hume is an environmental writer and former Globe and Mail reporter who has twice received the American Fisheries Society Haig-Brown Award. He wrote Trout School with Mo Bradley.

[Editor’s note: Mo Bradley is a master angler who was part of an elite group of fly fishers that, starting in the late 1960s, developed new tactics for catching Kamloops trout. In 2012 he was inducted into the Kamloops Sports Hall of Fame.]

Somewhere far across the lake Mo Bradley has made an important discovery. I can hear his muffled voice, barking in one of the 27 pockets on my fishing vest. By the time I find the little handheld radio — not in the breast compartment where it started the day with the tippet material, and not in the side pouch where it sat with the dry fly box, but inside on the left front, where the dragonfly case used to be — his voice has faded to almost nothing. There is a hiss. Then silence. I hold the radio to my ear, but can’t make out a thing. It is as if his words have been swept away by the dry wind swirling over the grasslands of the Stump Lake Ranch, on a plateau southwest of Kamloops, British Columbia. Here, amid meadows of bunch grass scented with sage and sheltered by forests of stately ponderosa pines and hardscrabble Douglas firs, are some of the world’s best rainbow trout fishing lakes.

I can see Mo’s boat, a small white-and-blue flat-bottomed Rebel punt, anchored fore and aft precisely where he’s been all morning, close against the shore in a little scallop of a bay. His arms are up, and although his rod is too thin to see from this distance, I know it is bent in a deep arc. Again. That’s three for him in 20 minutes, and I know they will all have been big fish.

Kamloops trout, a strain of rainbow known for their great beauty and fierce fighting power, often feed by cruising the lake margins. Typically they don’t hold on station, like a bass will along a favoured weed bed. They keep moving, relentlessly prowling.

Sometimes they will stay in an area to browse, perhaps on a localized hatch of chironomids or mayflies. When that happens, it is possible to figure out the pattern of their movement by tracking the rise forms in the water and casting into their path. But sooner or later the trout start to hunt over a wider area again and move out of casting range. The challenge to a fly fisher, then, is to find a place where they can be intercepted. I might anchor off a point, at the entrance to a shallow bay, at a creek mouth, or over a weed bed that drops off into a deep trench. On this morning, I have tried all those places, while Mo has set anchor and stayed in one spot, waiting for the fish to come to him. Now, apparently, they have — just as the batteries on his radio faded.

“I’ll have to shout from now on,” he yells across the water, holding up the dead radio.

Dragging up my anchor, which comes draped in a tangle of rich aquatic weeds, I spin the little boat and start the long row across the lake to get the whole story. The spring wind, rushing into the rain shadow of the Coast Range, keeps trying to push me east. I draw a sightline onto shore over the stern, lining up a grey hump of rock on the hillside with a small pump house where a swirl of swallows is nesting. A coyote comes over the ridge and hunts in tussocks of bluebunch wheatgrass. Nose down, ears up, just like me.

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If you don’t know, ask Mo. Among Mo Bradley’s contributions to the book Trout School are detailed instructions for tying 13 signature flies, and advice for a more respectful and ecological way to fish. Photo by Mark Hume

It is hard rowing against the wind, but I can’t pause on the oars, because every time I do I start to skitter sideways. I pull alongside Mo, an elfin figure bundled in a parka much too big for him, just as he is playing his fourth fish. It skips and jumps around the boat, trailing a spray of water, a silver-bright rainbow weighing about four pounds.

“Well, my friend!” Mo beams. “You better get in here. The bay is full of trout. Full!”

I drift down below him 100 feet, set the two small anchors in the springy weeds on the bottom, and start to cast. I switch from the rod with a dry line, excessively long leader, and a tiny black chironomid to one with an intermediate sinking line and a mayfly nymph, which we had tied the night before, dreaming of a moment just like this.

“Cast in right to shore and bring it out s-l-o-w-l-y,” says Mo, and I follow his instructions. “Move in, tighter to shore,” he says

I do.

“Put that cast right to the bank.”

I do.

I don’t catch anything, but he gets another strike. And another, landing a splashy fish, which he releases.

“There’s loads of trout in here,” he shouts, wiping his hands on the towel he wears around his neck like a scarf for just such moments. “Loads!”

I move closer to his boat. Match his every move. But here’s the thing: On a Kamloops lake, there is sometimes a sweet spot. I might nose up close to a guy catching fish. I might match his fly and mimic his retrieve. But he catches and I don’t, because he is casting in front of feeding fish and I am behind them, or off the side, or too far ahead.

After Mo gets another four-pounder, I pull anchor in frustration, row with the wind, and stubbornly stake out my own piece of water. I stick with the mayfly nymph and the sinking line he advised. The casts are effortless. I breathe, I cast. The rod bends and lifts the line against the changing sky. The line unfurls and on the forward cast drops a speck of a fly to the surface. It has pheasant tail barbules tied to imitate an insect’s wing case and thorax, with hackle feathers for legs. The filaments move in the water, and slow inch by slow inch, I draw it back to the boat.

I soon get lost in the unfolding of the day: the stampede of clouds, the shadows racing on water, the sound of wind stirring grasslands and forest beyond.

And then it happens. At the entrance to a channel, I hook a very big trout. It runs and jumps and dives down to the weedy bottom, surging against the bucking rod, the line going out in angry, sudden bursts that make me catch my breath.

“Well done!” shouts Mo from far down the lake, laughing as I hold up a trout. “Ho, ho!”

It is 20 inches long and I guess its weight at three to four pounds. It feels much heavier in my hands; solid and still. I cradle it next to the boat. Cold lake water slops up my jacket sleeves and my hands go numb, but I hold the fish as long as I can. A rose blush covers its rhythmically beating gill plates and a pink brushstroke runs down each side. Its dark-green back is stippled with black spots; its eyes are golden with inky orbs, and when its mouth gapes to draw in a pulse of water I see rows of small, sharp, white teeth. The fish lies calmly, and then, as I open my hands, with a tail thrash it is gone.

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‘It feels much heavier in my hands; solid and still.’ The author Mark Hume with a rainbow he caught and released on a different day in one of the world-class trout lakes near Kamloops. Photo by Claire Hume

Adapted with permission of the publisher from the book Trout School: Lessons from a Fly Fishing Master by Mark Hume with Mo Bradley, published in April 2019 by Greystone books.

Do you have an Extremely B.C. true story to share on The Tyee? It could be amazing, terrifying, sublime, hilarious, life changing. We publish written essays like the one above, or may be willing to interview you and convert the conversation to an ‘as told to’ written or audio piece. In that case send an email telling us the basics of your tale. If you prefer to share a video or audio piece, please do. We can’t guarantee we will publish every one, but we do pledge to review all we receive and get back to you. Send it to info (at) thetyee.ca with the subject line ‘Extremely B.C.’ And yep, we pay!   [Tyee]

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