A Fabled Lodge Gets Re-launched at Rainbow Alley
Story and Photography by Peter McMullan
Pierce Clegg, a longtime guide and lodge owner in Smithers, British Columbia, summed up the historical change on the fabled Babine River system in a minimum of words.
“New era, new adventures and a new name,” he said, referring to the recently announced re-launch of the historic Babine Norlakes Trout Lodge, which is now known as Rainbow Alley Lodge.
The trout lodge, of course, has been a fixture on the 110-mile long Babine Lake since the early 1950s, and it is known to generations of fishermen. But after running it for many years, in conjunction with the Babine River Steelhead Camp, Pierce, and his wife Anita are stepping back to focus exclusively on the trout facility, which provides access to one of the most remarkable fly fishing experiences in B.C.
This has been an eventful year for the Cleggs, one all about new beginnings, stemming from the sale of their Babine River Steelhead Camp and with it the Norlakes name that has been associated with the two wilderness properties in northwest B.C. for more than half a century.
Mac Anderson was the pioneering visionary of sports fishing operations on these amazing waters, and with his early death in a drowning accident on the Bear River, it fell to Ejnar and Joy Madsen to continue with the traditions, some of which the Cleggs maintain to this day. Trout Lodge came first, featuring its beautifully hand crafted log cabins, built from horse-drawn timbers, and Steelhead Camp came a little later in the 1960s.
The Cleggs assumed ownership in 1985 operating Trout Lodge (now Rainbow Alley Lodge) in June and July before Pierce and his merry band of guides, cook and housekeeper headed down river to awaken Steelhead Camp from its nine-month slumber. Their task each summer was to get ready for the always eagerly awaited steelhead season that runs from the second week of September through to mid-November, when the often bitter northern B.C. winter takes charge.
In 2012, Rainbow Alley Lodge is offering a short, intense season. The opening is being curtailed to two weeks, starting June 24, and the Cleggs are limiting the operation to the provision of three house-keeping cabins, for a total of six fishermen at a time. This is prime time for Rainbow Alley, and its famous weed beds on Nilkitkwa Lake. The upper reaches of Babine River itself will also be fished, from opening day on June 16.
Rainbow Alley Lodge will swing back into full operation for the 2013 trout season, offering a choice of a full-service guided experience or the use of the three house-keeping cabins that come fully equipped with hot and cold running water, showers, flush toilets, stove and ‘fridge and unlimited access to suitable boats and motors. Mac Anderson and Ejnar Madsen would be delighted to know their dreams of opening this wild, remote rainbow fishery to the outside world lives on after so many years.
It’s hard to imagine more satisfying trout fishing. The Alley turns on when sockeye fry in the millions begin migrating downstream from Babine Lake, pouring out of the spawning channels that support prodigious commercial fisheries on the West Coast. After a long winter, the resident rainbow trout feed voraciously on the passing horde of small salmon, putting on weight and condition on an almost daily basis. As the warmer weather raises the spirits so too the stonefly make their annual appearance, encouraging the trout to look up – and the fishermen to anticipate an abundance of dry fly action.
It’s action that can continue over miles of water, from after breakfast through to the final minutes, as daylight gives way to dusk, the magic hour when the setting sun, the mountains, the forest and the still surface of the lake become one great scenic masterpiece. As light fades, the feeding trout become an audible rather than visible experience, offering a new challenge to the fisherman who must rely on touch, instinct and experience to tighten his cast at just the right moment.
Fry patterns fished sub-surface will tempt trout feeding on sockeye fry to make slashing attacks , while a dry fly provokes bold head and shoulder rises. Fishing dry is popular around Smokehouse Island, where the river broadens to form Nilkitkwa Lake, filtering over and around the weed beds further downstream. You can work a fly from the bow of the boat, set at anchor or drifting with the current. Or you can wade the river, fishing blind and always hoping for the onset of a stonefly hatch and the rewards that can bring.
Always the water is on the move, from Babine Lake out beneath the bridge that leads to Fort Babine and, quickening its pace, on through the wide expanse of Rainbow Alley and past Smokehouse Island. The current slows through Nilkitkwa Lake and then picks up again at the start of the Babine River, which flows through a protected forest corridor to join the massive Skeena River.
Few people know the Babine and Rainbow Alley fisheries better than Pierce Clegg , who has long fought to protect the watershed. It is good to hear him say that he and Anita plan to continue with their Rainbow Alley Lodge program “for the foreseeable future,” because that not only means anglers have a friend on the river, but so do the salmon, trout and steelhead.
[End Note: Peter McMullan and Pierce Clegg recently co-authored ‘Babine: A 50-Year History of a Renowned British Columbia Steelhead and Trout River’, published by Frank Amato, Portland, Oregon.