Read CHAPTER I of Fishing in British Columbia With a Chapter on Tuna Fishing at Santa Catalina , free online book, by Thomas Wilson Lambert, on

The Rainbow Trout Names Distribution Appearance Size in British Columbia Its Food Fly-fishing for Sporting Qualities Possibility of New Species being Discovered.

The Rainbow trout (Salmo irideus) is a true trout of the same genus as, and closely allied to, the common trout (S. fario) of the British Isles, where it is also now acclimatised. It holds the same position in every stream, lake, and river of the northern part of the Pacific Coast of North America as the brown trout does in the United Kingdom. Unless the water, for some local reason, is unsuitable, it is met with everywhere, until further south it overlaps with the cut-throat trout, which ultimately seems to take its place.

In the small mountain streams it is very plentiful, and is generally called the brook, mountain, or speckled trout, and when of larger size is known locally as the “red side” a name which often very aptly describes it. The name “rainbow” is not much heard or used locally.

In the different lakes and rivers the fish varies a good deal in size, numbers, colour, and appearance so much so that when these waters are better known the naturalist may be inclined to name and describe several varieties of rainbows, perhaps even may discover new species.

This fish is confined to the west side of the Rocky Mountains, save in the head waters of the streams which take their source from these mountains and then flow east. Often two streams flow from a lake, one east and one west, and the rainbow is found in both; a good instance of this is found in the Kicking Horse and the Bow rivers. The latter flows east from the divide, and the rainbow follows it for some distance into the prairie; but as this river ceases to be a mountain stream and becomes sluggish and discoloured traces of the fish cease. But in the clear streams of Eastern Canada, near the great lakes, its place is taken by the spotted trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), a beautiful and game fish, member of the char family, unknown west of the Rockies.

In appearance the rainbow is well worthy of its name, and may justly claim to be the equal in beauty, if not the superior, of any of the Salmonidae. It is clean-cut in shape, perhaps rather lither than the brown trout, and when large it is not so deep. The colour on the back is an olive green, with the usual characteristic black spots, and at the side a few red ones; laterally the green shades off into silver and sometimes gold, while along its side from gill to tail flashes the beautiful rainbow stripe, varying from pale sunset pink to the most vivid scarlet or crimson; often the effect is as if a paint-brush dipped in red paint had been drawn along the fish’s side; the belly is silvery white; the anal, ventral, and pectoral fins being coloured in proportion to the colouring of the individual fish. The general appearance is very striking, and in a fine specimen is certainly one of great beauty. When fresh from the water and in brilliant sunshine the fish rivals the object after which it is called; the living rainbow on its side shows a play of delicate colour which it would be hard to surpass or to equal, even in the heavens.

From the fly-fisherman’s point of view the fish may be said to run up to 4lb. in weight; by which statement it is meant that the fly is readily taken in both stream and lake by fish up to this size. Mr. F.J. Fulton, of Kamloops, states that he has never landed a 5lb. fish on the fly, and he is an authority on the Thompson River. Personally, I have never seen a rainbow over 4lb. which I knew to have been caught with the fly; but I have seen a model of a fish of 12lb. caught with the fly in 1891 in Kamloops Lake by Captain Drummond. There is, of course, not the slightest doubt that the fish grows to a much larger size. Mr. Walter Langley caught a rainbow of 22-1/2lb. on a small spoon in Marble Canyon Lake about May, 1900, and the photograph of this fish was published in the Field. I have also seen very big specimens which had been speared by Indians in the Thompson and sold as “salmon”; two of them I weighed myself and found to be 15lb. and 12lb. respectively. While, therefore, there is some evidence to show that these large fish may be caught with spoon and minnow, it may be stated as a broad fact that the rainbow is not often caught with the fly over the weight of 4lb., and that up to this size he takes it freely.

The fly is taken best during the months of June and July, when there is a rise of the stone fly in the rivers, and flies of all kinds are plentiful in the lakes. At this time, indeed, natural fly seems to be the main article of the fish’s food. But the small fry of the salmon and of its own species are also devoured in great numbers, and in late summer there are grasshoppers as well; these are very plentiful, and are eagerly snapped up as they fall into the water. No doubt a further great source of food supply is the spawn of the salmon, which must be very plentiful on the spawning beds. It forms the usual lure of the Indian fishermen.

The feeding-grounds of the rainbow are the eddies and the back-washes in the swift-running rivers, into which flies, grasshoppers, and other food are carried by the current. A very favourite haunt is at the mouth of creeks and streams running into a lake, or where a large river runs into or out of a large lake. Food is naturally plentiful at such places, and at certain times the fish gather there in great numbers, splashing about and chasing the small fry. They will then take a silver-bodied fly most greedily.

In many of the smaller mountain lakes where fly seems to be at certain seasons the rainbow’s sole food, no other lure will attract it, but with the fly great numbers may be caught. The fly-fisher also scores among fish gathered at the mouths of creeks swollen by summer floods. The minnow, also, both natural and artificial, is useful in these conditions, and it will account for much larger fish, up to 10lb. and even over; these monsters have probably forsaken a fly diet and taken to small fry. But there is no doubt that the rainbow is, quite as much as our own trout, a fly-feeder, and that it takes the artificial as readily and, owing to want of education, and, perhaps, also to natural boldness, with even greater freedom and less regard to the nature of the lure or the skill of the fisherman who throws it.

So far as strength and gameness go the rainbow is fully the equal of the brown trout, and, in my opinion, its superior, though, as its play is often aided by the very strong water it frequents, its strength may sometimes appear greater than it would in our smaller streams. For this reason fishing for rainbows in British Columbia has always seemed to me to resemble sea-trout fishing more than the fishing for brown trout; perhaps less skill is necessary, but there is a stronger fight.

The rivers and lakes of British Columbia are at present an angler’s paradise, and will probably long continue to be so. And it promises the additional interest that the fisherman is not treading a beaten and well-known path. There is pioneer work for him to do. There are many problems for him to solve and discoveries for him to make. In the numberless lakes and rivers stretching far up through northern British Columbia to the Arctic, it is not unlikely that several new species of the Salmonidae await description.

The big-game hunter has shown what secrets may lie hid in so wide a land, for since these northern regions have been explored for big game and gold (from the date of the Klondike rush in 1898) no fewer than four new species of the sheep family have been discovered; a pure white mountain sheep, for instance, has been found to exist in great numbers. “Heads” of this sheep are now quite common, but it is a most curious proof of the general ignorance of the country ten years ago that such a remarkable animal was then entirely unknown. Had any explorer in those days reported seeing such an animal without bringing any tangible proof to support his story, he would have been universally regarded as a most unique liar, in a part of the world where such people are far from uncommon. The enormous moose heads recently brought down from Alaska and northern British Columbia were undreamt of not so many years back, and the Alaskan grizzly is, too, I believe, a new species.

It is, therefore, far from unreasonable to believe or to hope that as the country is opened up the fisherman will also achieve new conquests. As yet they lie before him, for he only follows slowly in the footsteps of the pioneer and the big-game hunter; he requires a railway and an hotel, and he must be able to dispose in some manner of his catch, which he cannot do unless he is at least near some settlement. I have conversed with numbers of prospectors and hunters from all parts of the north-west, and they all have the same account of teeming rivers and lakes. Many a weird fish story have they told me, but none have really been fishermen; they have simply caught fish for food, and have not noted them much except with a view to their edible properties. It is, therefore, highly probable that, as these strange waters are gradually made accessible to the angler and become as well known as the more southern rivers of British Columbia, many interesting facts will become known too, and new varieties of trout and other fish will be discovered. Even those southern waters are, in truth, little known, and several interesting matters which could well bear investigation will be put forward in these pages.