We were invited to hop a helicopter to fish at British Columbia’s Fortress Lake last fall. We’d sold out of ownership of Fortress Lake Retreat and our old business partner was closing in on selling his shares and told us he had a few empty seats. We thought “what a great time to go up and do a little fishing and filming of the shoreline one last time“.
Upon arrival we were offered a boat and all the time in the world to catch brook trout. Given that it was likely our last trip to Fortress Lake we decided to forego the boat and spend our weekend doing a shoreline wade from just east of the dock around to the mouth of Chisel Creek. As so ever-familiar to our 11 years of ownership, we sighted brookies just off the shoreline shoal and fished light tippet and micro leeches and beadhead nymphs under a small indicator, using the windline to drift our flies slowly down-current to the fish. It’s a set-up and system that we’ve used on western lakes, pothole lakes, and alpine lakes along shoreline and mid-lake shoals. It’s extremely effective; feeding and cruising trout on similar lakes and shoals can’t help but be here.
There was a time that Fortress Lake reliably produced stud brook trout for everyone that visited. A true 5+lb brook trout came to anyone that could cast 50 feet and had the patience to let their fly sink to depth and do the proper retrieve. But 10 years ago there was a bitter cold spell during winter, and the region was the coldest spot on earth for 2 weeks. That spring we arrived to a massive avalanche at the west end of the lake – stretching several hundred meters across the outflow at about 30 to 60 feet in depth. The biggest, oldest brookies immediately were sparse; the entire season we couldn’t catch anything over 3 lbs, most fish 1 to 2 1/2 lbs. There were oodles of trout, just nothing big. Since that time the population structure has essentially remained the same, albeit there are a few of the old brutes showing from time to time. 90% of the catch is between 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 lbs, as represented in this video. These fish show extremely well and are wonderful to catch, it’s just not how it used to be. When you spent 11 years as owner of the lodge enjoying that kind of fishing, it’s hard to go back when it isn’t the same.
One birthday mid-August, I stood in one spot just west of the dock. It was a windy, drizzly, choppy day and we were socked in, keeping our guests’ float plane flight out. I could see the brookies stacked just off shore. I tied my leech 3 feet under indicator and cast upwind, drift back and caught fish. For kicks because it was my birthday and Amelia was keeping the yurt fire warm and my cake was in the oven, I decided to see how long it would take before I didn’t catch a brookie. I got to 10, 15, 20. Then it went up to 25. There was no way I’d get to 30 successive casts. My 29th cast again produced a colorful brookie, but as I released it I no longer saw any shadows off the break. It was not to be. So 29 straight casts remains the number if you are so obsessive. Do note that Fortress Lake can shut off to a brutal opposite as well.
Fortress Lake Retreat is in the good hands of new owners that appear to be doing a great job with solid reviews and we wish them all the luck in all facets.
For anyone hiking to camp you do have to stay at the campgrounds on the north or east shore; you can hike around or paddle across and walk the Chisel shoreline and enjoy the sight-fishing. You can also apply for a BC Parks Park Use Permit to camp at the Chisel Creek fan; for the more adventurous you could do the same for the outflowing Wood River. That’s a great option for anyone who packs in a pack raft to get around the lake.
We wanted to do our favorite style of fishing Fortress Lake justice through a fun video, so please enjoy in 4K!