“See the patches of green on the radar? That’s rain and heavy cloud cover. That’ll make us crash.” The pilot murmured with a sly grin through the static of my headset. He’s a grizzly man with a gray unkempt beard, crooked smile, and sarcastic sense of humor. I sat to the left of Ralph, with white knuckles and a stomach full of butterflies. It took mere seconds for the helicopter to rise weightlessly from the ground and begin our trek through the jagged Canadian Rockies.
After 30 minutes of flying over glaciers, dodging menacing clouds, and crude jokes from the pilot, we crested one final craggy peak that revealed the vivid turquoise water of Fortress Lake. Located in southeastern British Columbia within Hamber Provincial Park, Fortress Lake is a remote wilderness area teeming with towering spruce trees and an understory of thick vegetation. The lake is accessible by foot, taking hikers across 26 kilometers of rugged terrain, or by fly-in. In my case, the latter.
The first morning we hopped into a classic aluminum boat with a 9.9 outboard motor and self guided our exploration of the eastern leg of the lake. Our target: fortress creek, one a few glacier fed water sources that feed into the lake. We landed one beauty of a brook trout after swapping our streamers for nymphs and learning the depth of the lake’s shoreline through trial and error.
Lunch is offered to-go or served next to a wood burning stove in the dining yurt. Day one we opted to dine in and peppered the camphand with questions for fish knowledge and “secret” spots. Our afternoon proved to be much more fruitful. We threw on our waders (the guide lodge is stacked with all sizes of Simms waders) and made our way to Chisel Creek, approximately 500 meters east of basecamp.
Armed with 5 or 6 weights, large streamer patterns, and sink tips, we quickly found success along the seam of the milky inflow and the crystal clear lake water. Over the course of 4 hours, we never went more than 15 minutes without a fish in the net. Monster after monster, one seemingly more beautiful and deeply colored than the last.
After darkness fell, we again gathered around the big wooden table in the dining yurt and enjoyed a 5 star meal while swapping stories from the day. A chalkboard hangs in the corner for bragging rights. That’s where those who decide to record the length of their most impressive catch have a chance to do so.
Our second day started with a bang back at trusty Chisel Creek, an instant favorite spot. There were many fish rising, so naturally, we tossed around a few dry flies, but ultimately all fish were caught on heavy streamers with slow retrievals. When I say slow I mean very SLOW. Once a section was “fished out”, we simply slid down 50 yards and it was on again. Side note. Did I mention they have a shower yurt? A hot shower. And a flushable toilet? With a view. Far from the grotty facilities, one would expect in the remote wilderness. Ok, moving on.
On day 3, threatening skies cut our journey short, and our sarcastic pilot was back to pick us up before nasty weather held us hostage in Fortress Lake’s remote sanctuary. It was a bittersweet feeling. The brook trout are big enough to bend a 5 weight in half, but the heli ride in is enough to make you shit your pants (in a good way)! The awe-inspiring landscape combined with the amount and size of fish that encompass Fortress Lake is one you won’t soon forget.
Check out Allies youtube video from the trip!