Our Man In Canada
March 22nd, 2004

Famous British Columbia
Fly-Fishing Waters
By Art Lingren

The Bill Nation Kamloops Area Lakes

Bill Nation became the undisputed master of British Columbia's Interior trout fly-fishing. Rod Haig-Brown relied on Nation for information about Interior fly-fishing for his classic, The Western Angler, published by The Derrydale Press in 1939.

In the later 1947 trade edition of The Western Angler, Haig-Brown paid tribute to Nation saying that:

he brought to Kamloops trout fishing the most original mind it has yet known. In a very real way he made the Kamloops trout his own special fish and his active mind seemed never to rest from thinking about them... He was a really good fly-fisherman himself and as fine a guide as man could want—excellent company on the water and tireless in searching for fish even on the worst days...

Other men may solve more Kamloops trout problems than Bill did, make more ingenious imitations and develop more perfect ways of fishing them. But for me and for many others Bill will always be the true pioneer of the fishing, the man whose life was closer to those particular fish than any other man's has been or is likely to be. (pp. 114-117)

Arthur William Nation, a quiet, small, bespectacled man, was born in Bristol, England on June 29, 1881. He emmigrated to Canada and ended up in British Columbia, fishing the Kamloops area in the early 1920s. At first he guided around the Little River area, but in 1927 he moved his headquarters to Paul Lake and continued to operate out of Paul until his death in November 1940.

His unique letterhead states that he is an Anglers'Guide:

  • Specializing in fly-fishing and in trout fishing tackle of the finest quality

  • Offering Fishing, among others: Paul, Knouff, Le Jeune, Hyas, Long, Dee, Jewel, Pillar, Hi Hume, Big Bar, Canim, Mahood, Murtle, and the two Beaver Lakes: The Thompson, Adams and Little Rivers, with a guarantee of at least 100 trout a week — Taupo and Rotorua districts in New Zealand.

  • And Originator of the Nation's Special and Silver tip trout flies and the new series of nymphs of the dragon flies and sedges.

  • With Special flies for large rainbow and steelhead trout, including six original patterns tied personally, $2.00 a dozen.

  • Offering Hardy and Allcock tackle.

  • With Headquarters at Echo Lodge, Paul Lake, Kamloops, BC.

    Nation, a man of the times, was a masterful fly-fisher and guide who came to the Interior when waters yielded large fish and many of them. Even with railroad and primitive road access, getting to the Kamloops area lakes and streams was a chore, and costly, so there were few fishers. In 1927 Nation headquartered at Echo Lodge on Paul Lake. The lodge, built by J. Arthur Scott in 1922, offered Nation's well-to-do clients appropriate accommodations in the heart of Kamloops fly-fishing country. His clients could enjoy the sport Paul Lake offered, but he could also take guests on day or longer trips to other exceptional waters, many that he advertised on his letterhead.

    The lake fishing drew many to the area because in those waters the trout grew large. By the time Nation moved his headquarters to Paul Lake, the fish were not as large as they once were. Nonetheless, every season fly-fishers consistently took trout in the three- to five-pound range. Mature specimens were averaging 8 to 10 pounds.

    Nation developed a number of flies for rainbow trout with some being the first imitations of insects in those still waters he fished and some are the first-ever imitations of certain species of insects.

    On his Nation's Black, British Columbia's first Chironomid imitation, consisting of a few strands of deer hair and black floss, he took fish up to 8 pounds. His Grey and Green Nymphs were the first-ever attempts at imitating a dragonfly nymph. Bulky creations, difficult to cast, and made fun of by some fishermen, Nation says that "The Special and the grey and green dragon nymphs account for the bulk of the larger rainbows. The largest on fly in recent years weighed 17 Ibs., and took a #4 grey nymph." Nation's Blue was an imitation of coupled damselfly adults, Nation's Red was an imitation of coupled dragonflies, Nation's Green Sedge and Nation's Silver Tipped-sedge were both imitations of the green sedge nymph, common to many Kamloops-area lakes. Nation's Fancy, Silver Tip and Special were more general wet-fly patterns.

    That he was an innovative fly designer, there is no dispute.' However, today's fly-fisherman would classify many of his patterns as fancy flies and not many have survived the passage of time. But it was Nation's skills as an observer of the natural world and as a fly-fisherman, adopting and improvising techniques to stillwater fly-fishing, that made his flies effective fish-catchers.

    Many anglers developed a special attachment to Nation's Special. Bruce Hutchinson in The Fraser (1950) says:
    His [Nation's] memorial is the Nation Special, the unique fly that he constructed out of his unequaled knowledge of insect life and the appetite of the Kamloops trout. No fisherman can afford to be without Bill's masterpiece.(p. 325)

    On examining Echo Lodge's Honour Book, Haig-Brown noticed that of the 119 large trout between 3 1/2 to 7 1/2 pounds, a Nation's Special deceived 46. The Jock Scott, with nine fish, was next closest.

    Wilderness, solitude, large fish and plenty of them are some of the attractions that past and present-day fly-fishers covet. It is true that Nation experienced all those things, but not all were serene days back in the 1920s and '30s.
    Canada did not have the Medicare system that we take for granted today. Throat cancer robbed Nation of a long life. He claims the cancer was a result of inhaling contaminated air when using a spraygun to paint the rowboats, probably with lead-based paints. He died rich in fishing friends but poor in material goods and the owners of Echo Lodge had to sell his fishing equipment to pay for his burial service. Located in the Kamloops Cemetery, his grave is marked with a memorial gravestone paid for by his fishing friends. It states:

    Erected in the memory of Bill Nation of Paul Lake,
    Kamloops, by his many fishermen friends and admirers.
    Died Nov. 27, 1940. ~ Art Lingren

    Continued next time.

    Credits: From Famous British Columbia Fly-Fishing Waters, published by Frank Amato Publications. We appreciate use permission.

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