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The Knouff — Badger ConnectionBy Bill Luscombe,
Early October can be the best time to fish the lakes of British Columbia´s southern interior. With the cold nights and warm days the trees turn colour, the waters cool down and the trout are recovered from their spring spawning ordeal and are raring for a good fight. Forty minutes north of Kamloops lies some of British Columbia's best fly-fishing lakes. For years I have returned there each spring and fall and each year these lakes produce large, beautiful Kamloops rainbow trout, sometimes in copious quantities. Knouff (Sullivan), Little Knouff, Badger, Little Badger, and Spooney Lakes all lie in this area and each has its own character.
Knouff (Sullivan) Lake is a medium sized lake with a large population of moderate to large rainbows (one to 10 pounds). This lake is one of the most scenic I have ever fished. Earlier this century the entire valley around the lake was logged from shoreline to mountaintop, but it has all grown back to form a lovely fir and pine forest with not a trace of logging in sight. Its beauty is one of the reasons I keep going back year after year and its ability to consistently produce large rainbows, often on the dry caddisfly, is the other.
There are four islands in Knouff Lake, all with ample shoals and weedbeds. Just south of the islands on the eastern half of the lake are several sunken islands covered with weed that offer some of the best fishing in the lake and a short search on a sunny day wearing a pair of polarized sunglasses will reveal these sunken treasures readily.
Knouff Lake Resort stands at the north end of the lake and is a good, low priced "fishing camp" style resort to stay at. It has a number of cabins varying in capacity from four to eight people and a large tent/truck camper area immediately to the east of the cabins for those who wish to camp. The resort has recently built a large shower house and new boats and outboards are available for rent at a reasonable price. There is even a small store where you can purchase basic foodstuffs and flies. The Knouff Lake Resort makes an excellent base camp from which to visit all the other lakes in the vicinity. There is also a small Forest Service campsite halfway along the west side of the lake, but it is right against the main road and does not offer much peace and quiet, so I prefer to stay at the resort.
Driving north on the gravel road past Knouff Lake will take you along the west side of Little Knouff Lake. This lake is very shallow, having a maximum depth of 5 meters (15 feet). Under normal water levels Little Knouff is barren due to winterkill. In years with high spring runoff though, trout from Knouff Lake enter Little Knouff via the spawning channel that joins the two and can offer good fishing at these times. When you drive by this lake keep an eye open for rises. If you spot any it may be worth giving it a try. Unfortunately, there is a fellow developing a lot and building his house on the northeast corner of the lake now and it takes away from the natural beauty a bit. There is no lodge or campsites on Little Knouff so you will have to camp at Knouff or Badger.
If you continue north for another mile past Little Knouff you will come to Badger Lake. There is a private campsite for trailers on the southeast corner that you will encounter when you first spot the lake, but you must continue along to the Forest Service campsite further up the east side to gain public access.
The Forest Service campsite at Badger Lake provides many spots for tents or truck campers. Toilets, fire pits, and picnic tables are supplied, and there is ample room to launch a car-top boat or bellyboat. The sites are user maintained now because the old garbage cans attracted bears and were removed.
Badger is a favourite of mine, although it was better a few years ago. It used to be designated as a trophy lake because of the very large rainbows it supported. Unfortunately, a number of years ago the lake was accidentally overstocked with trout fry and the "trophy" designation was removed to try and clean out the excess. Big trout are still there however . . . a few years back I nailed a beauty in excess of six pounds and several smaller trout in the two pound range, all in an afternoon. Hopefully with the removal of the trophy designation the fish population will be reduced and the average trout size will again increase to its original immense proportions.
If you row your way across Badger from the Forest Service campsite to the western shore you will encounter a small straight. This straight leads to Spooney Lake, southwest of Badger. Spooney is nearly round in shape and has its entire shore lined with marl shoal and weedbed. The fish are not quite as large as the trout in Badger, probably because the big ones fear the shallows of the straight, but they still average in the two pound range. The shoal and drop-off areas are highly productive and a late June-early July evening spent here during the caddis hatch can produce your limit in less than an hour. A damselfly nymph, leech or scud cast or trolled along the drop-off during the day will consistently produce fish and the lake's small size and timbered surroundings help to shield it from the wind. Be sure to take your camera if you visit Spooney, it is a beauty.
If, instead of turning left at the fork into the Forest Service campsite at Badger, you stay right, you will travel a very rough road for about 2 miles to Little Badger Lake. The road is not passable for a two wheel drive vehicle anymore; you need a 4x4 with lots of clearance to get through. My Jeep Cherokee made it to within 400 yards of the campsite, but there is a very rough washed out creek crossing just before the campsite that I didn't want to chance losing my oil pan on, so we parked there and launched our bellyboats just south of the washout. As it turned out, we found a very good path to the lake further to the south right off the main access road. If you keep an eye open, you will spot it on your right side just as the lake comes into view. The path is less than 50 yards to the lakeshore and wide enough to pack and launch bellyboats or even smaller cartop boats.
Little Badger is a small lake and bellyboaters can cover the entire lake in a few hours. The fish aren't large, but there are lots of them and they fight very well. One pound fish (12 to 14 inches) seem to be the average, but we saw larger fish jump although we weren't lucky enough to hook into any.
Little Badger sits in a bit of a depression surrounded by forest. Its waters are crystal clear and because of the poorer access you often find yourself alone on this beautiful lake.
All four of these lakes have good caddisfly hatches in the spring, as well as the standard trout fare of scuds, leeches, and chironomids. Fly-fishers would be well advised to stock up on these patterns and pack at least half a dozen of each in their boxes when they head out. The chances of hitting into some very large trout are better than average and you may lose a fly or two before the day is out.
To get to these lakes head north from Kamloops on Highway 5 to the Heffley Creek turnoff (about a 30-minute drive). Turn right onto the Heffley Creek Road and follow the signs to Knouff Lake. For those who want a shorter route, drive past the Heffley Creek turnoff for another 10 minutes or so and you will spot a small sign on the left that says "Vinzulla" and a turn to the right. Turn there and follow that road up the valley until you meet a "T" intersection (about a 15 minute drive from the highway). Turn left here and you will come upon Knouff Lake after another mile's drive.
The Knouff - Badger area of High Country has been one of my annual destinations for well over 10 years now. With the combined efforts of the various provincial government ministries and the B.C. Fishing Resorts and Outfitters Association to manage the fishery and viewscape as a prime fishing/tourism area, it will continue to be a most excellent place to cast a fly and pursue the famous Kamloops rainbow trout.
Bill Luscombe has been hunting and fishing for most of his 42 years. He has been flyfishing for 20 years. He instructs flyfishing, and has done so for the past 12 years. He also instructs the federal FSET firearms course and the BC CORE hunter training course. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and has been writing freelance since 1987. He has been published in BC Sport Fishing Magazine, Outdoor Edge, BC Outdoors, Western Sportsman, Island Fish Finder, and the BC Hunting Guide.
Bill Luscombe was born an army brat and raised in Ladner (Delta, BC) where he was raised hunting waterfowl and pheasants. He presently resides in North Cowichan on southern Vancouver Island where he has lived and worked full time as a professional forester since 1982.
He presently works in Nanaimo for the BC Forest Service and continue to write the fly-fishing column for BC Sport Fishing Magazine as well as contributing articles freelance to various outdoor magazines in western Canada. Bill Luscombe is also a BC Director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.
"Catching fish is not hard. You simply need to understand what makes them tick. If you think like a fish, you will catch fish. It´s as simple as that."