Peninsula Fly Fishers

No Bears Guaranteed
One of My Best Fishing Trips
British Columbia July 6-13, 2003

by Mary Nishioka

Flying into Pendleton
click any picture to see it full size

January 2004

I wanted one of my "big" fishing trips of 2003 to be in British Columbia. There were several vendors at the ISE Sports Show in January and I interviewed several of them. I didn't know much about BC fishing except for the following:

  • Alaska is too expensive.
  • I didn't want steelhead fishing on the coast.
  • I didn't want to stay in a lodge with a lot of other people.
  • I did want to land on a lake in a float plane.

The outfitter who best fit my criteria was Jon Sarver of 100 Mile Charter out of Williams Lake, BC. Jon has loads of personality and really communicated that he wanted our fishing group to have a great time. So, without references or knowing who else would be going with me, I booked a week with Jon. (Note: Jon will be at the ISE Sports Show in San Mateo January 28–Feb 1, 2004.)

The package included eight days, seven nights spread over three cabins at three different lakes. It included not one, but four float plane trips, furnished cabins at each lake, all of our food and booze, two boats with outboards at each lake and, at two of the lakes, float tubes and "non-tippable" kayaks. Jon is pretty flexible and, with advance notice, he can also provide guide service and will vary the days between the lakes. Cost for the week, $1,500 per person. Round trip from San Francisco to Williams Lake on Air Canada, $258.

British Columbia from a float plane

Jon had lots of pictures with many people in and around the cabins and catching loads of fish. It occurred to me that since we were in the middle of the woodsundefinedaccess is limited and mostly by float planeundefinedbears might be a problem. Jon assured me that we wouldn't see any bears. He told me that the two kids in the pictures were his and they cleared all of the trails every year and had never seen a bear. I asked him how many kids he started out with? After a little research, I decided that bear bangers were going to be the answer to the bear issue. I didn't have any faith in wearing a bell. With bear spray, you have to be down wind and no more than a recommended six feet away from the bear. If I encountered a bear within six feet of me, I was pretty sure that I wouldn't be capable of ascertaining wind direction and bear spray would be pretty useless except for the people who needed to get rid of the bear and retrieve my partially eaten body. I should have worried more about the mosquito spray and my partially eaten body.

Bear Defense

The cabins will sleep up to six in bunk beds, but four is probably most comfortable. My friends Diana Ross, Rebecca Blair, and Bill Kulhman took a chance and made the trip. We flew from San Francisco to Williams Lake, BC (via Vancouver and Quesnel) and took a taxi from the airport to the float plan dock on Williams Lake with a side trip to pick up our fishing licenses. Three other guys took the taxi with us and had been on our flights from San Francisco. They were a group of policemen from the East Bay who were returning for their seventh year with Jon, so that was reassuring.

Our first lake was Lang Lake. Jon doesn't usually put people up at Lang, but I wanted to include at least one location with stream fishing and this was it. Lang comes equipped with two boats with outboard motors. Jon doesn't provide float tubes or kayaks as Lang is long and relatively narrow and subject to strong winds. We had perfect weatherundefinedif a bit hotundefinedthe entire week, but understood his concern. The cabin at Lang is the smallest, but Jon had added an annex with a double bed the week before we got there so it was very comfortable for the four of us. He wasn't kidding about the food. Prior to the trip, he had forwarded a shopping list so we could make our food preferences. We were provided with loads of food: steaks, chicken, chops, fruit, veggies, snacks, cookies, booze, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, etc. In addition we had elk, caribou, venison, and moose after we let Jon know we liked game.

None of the cabins have running water or electricity. They are all provided with propane stoves, refrigerators, BBQs, and all of the necessary utensils. Lang has two sets of bunk beds in the main room and a double bed in the annex. You heat water in a bucket for the outdoor showerundefinedone bucket of hot water and one bucket of cold easily provided enough water for three of us to shower and shampoo. The outhouse is up the path. Jon also supplies all kinds of rain gear, sleeping bags, and boat safety equipment. With minor variations, this covers the set up at each of the cabins. The cabins at Lang and McNeill are old-time woodsy and cozy. The cabin at Pendleton is new and very spiffy.

Diana pulling more than her weight

The way I understood the story, the cabin at Lang Lake was originally built as an illegal cabin in the woods and occupied for years by Harold Jack Gawthorn. When Mr. Gawthorn disappeared, the Forest Service found the cabin and were going to burn it down. Jon heard about it and offered to purchase it as he has an Indian Card which allows him to have the only legal cabins at each of the lakes. Mr. Gawthorn's daughter has put up a memorial plaque to him outside of the cabin:

Harold Jack Gawthorn
3/19/31 – 4/3/91
"In the dark when the clouds go sliding by with the moon through the pines, in the night.
Jack may be seen as he runs with his team in the glow of the pale moonlight."

Very romantic, but Jon said that most people in town think he went to Cuba after he got tired of the winters.

Diana across the first pool at Lang Creek

The cabin at Lang is not right on the water, but a very short walk up from the Lake. We fished the lake and caught rainbows and whitefish. To access Lang Creek, you take the boats across the length of the Lake and then take a short hike to a very small lake with a small boat to row across to Lang Creek outlet. Jon and his kids have cleared seven miles along Lang Creek and we fished, at most, about two miles of it. Very pretty with lots of rainbows. The second day I started fishing the first pool and Diana joined me. I figured we would be able to fish it for about twenty minutes and then have to move downstream. We fished the same pool all afternoon and it never let up. There wasn't anything they wouldn't take and I tried to find something. Terrestrials were taken as soon as the fly landed on the water. Other dry flies were taken after very short drifts. I used several nymphs just to see if I could pull something big from the deeper water but kept catching the same size eight- to twelve-inch bows (and some whites) all day.

Mary with nice rainbow at Lang Creek

Jon had said that we would hear fish jumping at night and to go fish them in our pj's. Our last evening at Lang, Bill wanted to fish a cove we hadn't yet been to and, except for Bill, we were all ready for bed. It was around 8PM but still daylight so Bill and I (me in my pj's) went and fished the cove. We were hoping to spot the mama moose and her baby, but didn't. In fact, except for many varieties of birds and one single squirrel at Lang, we didn't see any wild life at all. The woods in British Columbia are very different from those in California. In California you might see four hundred trees on a hillside and in BC there will be four thousand. I asked Jon why we weren't seeing more squirrels, chipmunks and stuff. He said that you can get two dollarws a piece for squirrels.

Fishing in pj's with Bill
Cabin interior at Pendleton

Next lake is Pendleton. This is a beautiful lakeundefinedthey each wereundefinedwith the newest and largest cabin. There were five other lakes within easy hiking distance at Pendleton, so we had plenty of fishing opportunities. The first morning, Diana and I tried out the float tubes (you need to bring your own fins) in the cove just behind the cabin. From the overhead shot you can see the logs in the waterundefinedthese are submerged eight to twelve feet. The water is crystal. I caught a dozen or so rainbows in an hour. Bill and Rebecca returned from Small Pendleton and reported over one hundred fish in the boat during the morning. Rebecca earned the official title "Fish Slut" after she complained she was "so tired of sitting in the boat catching fish after fish." The two of them had many double hook ups (most ten to twelve inches) and Bill sacrificed one of his fish when Rebecca caught and landed a twenty-incher. I hooked and played a twenty-four inch rainbow at the north end of the lake, but lost it on 5X tippet.

Jon Sarver, Rebecca and Mary checking fishing map at Pendleton

The last lake is McNeill, and our last stop. Again, a magnificently beautiful lake. I haven't described the lakes because I can't do them justice. They are jewels and must be seen to appreciate them. McNeill and Catherine Lakes are a fifteen-minute walk from each other. If one isn't fishing well, the other one is jumping, but McNeill is supposed to have monster trout that Jon fishes with luresundefinedthirty-pounders.

Jon told us about Skinny Lake, which he didn't recommend that Diana and I try for, as it's a pretty tough hike. He said it would take about forty minutes and was mostly uphill. Bill and Rebecca like to hike, so they took the challenge. Rebecca said that it was more like an hour-and-a-half and all up hill, as you had to go up and over two ridges before you went down to the Lake. The fishing was good, but they said that they needed a boat because the trees were so thick that there was no place to stand and cast. It was a very hot day, and Rebecca gave Jon her opinion of the hike, the trail (lack thereof), and the lake. He advised that there was a boat at Skinny, but that no one had been there for at least four years, so it was probably covered over with new growth. When Rebecca heard that no one had been on the trail for four years, she went a little ballistic, and Jon said, "But you knew where you were going, didn't you?" That pretty much sums up trekking in the BC woods.

Mary, Rebecca, Bill and Diana on porch at McNeill
Classic outhouse at McNeill

Our last morning, Jon flew in and picked up Rebecca and Bill. The weather had been perfect all week. After Jon, Bill, and Rebecca took off, a sudden shower turned into a driving rain and then whiteout hail. The ground was covered. It was mostly gone by the time Jon returned for us, so it's a good thing we got pictures.

Rebecca with nice rainbow at McNeill

Will I go back? I booked nine days for 2004 before we left Canada. This is semi-adventure fishing. You are on your own out in the woods, but have the comforts of cabins and not having to hike in with your gear and food. This was a great trip, and I highly recommend Jon and 100 Mile Charter. He really took great care of us, and I am really looking forward to this summer.

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