I've never had good luck on Pyramid Lake. Because it's close to town, it gets pounded pretty hard; fish are more wary here than other lakes, local anglers will tell you. That said, I watched Jo yank a 3-lb laker out of the depths last season on opening weekend. He had his spinning rod, while I was ripping a wet fly with more of a hope and a prayer than any sort of strategic plan. As you might imagine, I got flat-out skunked.
Pyramid Lake holds a surprising variety of species: rainbows, lake trout, whitefish...even the occasional brook trout, however, I certainly couldn't attest to any of that diversity myself. My success on Pyramid consisted of accidentally hooking a minnow on a spinner a couple of years ago and illegally catching one feisty rainbow. Last fall, I finally tricked a trout into eating a dry fly, but learned later that the season had actually closed a few days before. Oops. With very few expectations, then, on June 1, my friend Geoff and I decided to give Pyramid another shot, if only to get my aluminum canoe onto the water for the first time this year. We strapped the silver bullet onto the top of his car and had our gear laid out on the beach less than 20 minutes later. What I learned from Jo's hook-up in 2012 was that lake trout will go for a plunging, heavy lure. At Online Sports, Jasper's local tackle shop, there are photos of guys displaying huge fish pulled out of Pyramid Lake. A little detective work told me that heavy, hairy jigs were the tools they used to produce a hit.
The rig I set up was based partly on this beta, helped along with a healthy dollop of angler karma. The weighted streamer I tied onto my sinking line was actually procured from a tackle box that some friendly fisherman left at the local thrift store. Since my girlfriend volunteers there, she snagged this mix of motley lures and brought it home to her fish-obsessed boyfriend.
At first I had my doubts as to the effectiveness of using someone's random, rusting flies, but the homemade patterns were definitely tied with Jasper fish in mind. There were wooly buggers with a hint of flash, designed to seek out those big bull trout that make the Athabasca River home; there were red and black nymphs, perhaps with Medicine Lake rainbows in mind; and for my purposes at Pyramid, there was an orange, white and black hairy jig, with a huge, heavy head, designed to go deep.
After shooting the breeze with a couple of other fisherfolk who hadn't had any bites, we were starting to wonder if Pyramid had our number once again. Then, as we drew to the tip of the rocky island where so many couples recite their wedding vows, my rod bent in half.
"Yes!" I shouted, being careful not to grip the line too hard should the huge hit snap my leader. Geoff, who'd been skunked on Pyramid as many times as myself, was equally stoked. He reeled in his line as my own went screaming to the bottom of the lake.The take felt solid, and after fighting the fish a few meters below the surface I knew that the hook was set.
But then a sick sensation overcame me; I flashed back to the beginning of the day, when I set up my rod. I recalled noticing a tiny chip in my leader. While it passed a modest tug-test, I knew the beast on the end of my line was going to pull hard and heavy. I tried to keep as little pressure on the line as I could while still bringing the fish to the boat.
As if there wasn't enough excitement, suddenly, the wind whipped up, threatening to blow Geoff and I into the shoal. Two years ago, the two of us had tipped a canoe while paddling the frigid AthaB. The silver bullet—light, small and with its gunwales only inches above the waterline—is fairly unstable on flat waters, let alone a choppy lake. With an excited crew and an angry trout heaving its girth off the starboard side, we were flirting with disaster.
Fishin' buddy Jo with a nice lake trout from Pyramid Lake on opening day last year. Note the net.
The fight continued. As delicately as I could, I brought the fish to the surface, hoping to tire it out so I could get it to the boat and release the thing back to the dark depths from whence it came. We got a good look at it, its size and gorgeous colouring catching us off guard. However, as I got him near the shiny boat, the fish spooked. It gained new strength and plunged back down. My reel screamed, matching my own exclamations of delight.
As we considered our next move, another depressing fact made itself known: in our haste to get on the water, we forgot the net. This would make landing the fish in the rocking boat next to impossible. I cursed my stupidity and asked Geoff to ferry us to shore, where I could get out of the boat and fight the beast to the beach. Expertly, Geoff guided us into a flat spot while I let out some line and precariously put my feet on land. Everything was going great: the fish was exhausted, the boat was upright and I was on the beach, ready to haul in my first bona fide lunker on Pyramid Lake. That's why, when the rod went straight, the compromised leader finally giving way, it was so heart-wrenching. The monster lake trout—not to mention my second-hand lucky lure—would not be resurfacing. The battle was lost, preparedness giving way to overeagerness.
The fishing wasn't a total loss. We managed to pick up a few hits from some dancing rainbows and I eventually did reel in my first, legally-caught fish from Pyramid Lake: a small Rocky Mountain Whitefish. Geoff proved himself once again as a great boat driver and I learned that if there's a doubt about your fishing rig, to switch it out.
As for the elusive laker: I'll be back. I just need to find another box of pre-loved flies.