Frontier Fish

When  Vancouver-based mountaineers first began exploring around and beyond Mount Garibaldi in the early 1900s, they encountered vast mountainscapes that soon became the focal point of their clubs’ activities. Beyond the allure of the regions countless mountaineering challenges, these early visitors were equally enthralled with the overwhelming beauty of what they took to be a pristine wilderness.

In some regards the Garibaldi landscape was too pure. For example, despite providing some quality habitat, Garibaldi Lake was completely devoid of fish. Garibaldi Lake was formed relatively recently (geologically speaking) when a massive lava flow from Mount Garibaldi slammed into a glacier and was frozen in its tracks, leaving behind what is now known simply as The Barrier.

This vertical wall blocked off an ancient valley that subsequently filled with water to form Garibaldi Lake. Since the lake’s outlet flows underground through The Barrier to become Rubble Creek (named after the frequent landslides falling from the Barrier’s unstable volcanic rock), no fish population was ever able to colonize Garibaldi’s glacial-fed waters.

And so, despite the celebrated “purity” of Garibaldi’s pristine alpine expanses, its earliest proponents foresaw the district’s potential as a tourism destination and hoped to develop the landscape in that manner. From the beginning they set about building trails and identifying the best  sites to hold summer camps (Paul Ridge, Black Tusk Meadows, Singing Pass, etc). A few years later when these mountaineers began advocating for the creation for a provincial park to preserve the Garibaldi wilderness (mainly from logging and other industrial activities), plans for the development of alpine hotels and a road through the park were key elements of their campaigning.

While the Great Depression and Provincial-Federal government squabbling prevented these more ambitious developments from coming to pass (thankfully, most would argue today), other more modest environmental modifications were pursued.

In 1928, for example, 2 years after Garibaldi Provincial Park was established, 5,000 Kamloops Trout eggs from the federal hatchery at Pemberton were planted in a promising tributary stream of  Garibaldi Lake (Mimulus Creek), and an additional 12,500 were placed there again the next year.

“Kamloops Trout” were a popular game-stocking fish because of its size and strong fight that was believed at the time to be a distinct species. It is now considered a sub-species of Rainbow whose excessive size was probably caused at least as much by environmental factors as it was genetics. The widespread stocking of the Kamloops Trout throughout BC has, according to some fish researchers, led to a substantial decrease in the genetic diversity of the province’s rainbow trout population.

According to the BC Ministry of Environment’s fish stocking database, there has been no further stocking at Garibaldi Lake since 1929. And none further was needed.

When some recreational anglers reported the successful catch of 3 mature trout in 1933, 4 years after the last stocking, the Vancouver Province was ready to deem Garibaldi Lake the second successful stocking of a barren lake in British Columbia. (Does anyone know the first? We don’t.)

Even by 1930, the fish seem to have flourished. In that year the Vancouver Province (a zealous booster of Garibaldi Park throughout this period), joked that the fish should be renamed “Pontoon Trout” since they resembled the pontoons of a  float-plane which had ushered one of their journalists to the lake to write a feature article.

Scientifically, the Garibaldi experiment was a resounding success. The trout population continues to thrive in Garibaldi without further support through stocking.

Garibaldi continues to offer decent, if not outstanding fishing, but angling has never become one of the park’s major attractions. However, a friend of mine did catch what he claims was the “skinniest trout ever”: 17 inches long but “thin as a broom-handle.” A product of the marginal alpine environment, isolated genetic population, or simply an aberration? (Any icthyologists in the house?) In any case, freak fish or not, for enduring and thriving amongst Garibaldi’s once-barren waters, these trout deserve recognition as some of our region’s hardiest and most successful pioneers.

Fishing on Garibaldi Lake, opposite The Table. Circa 1960s. Photo by Cliff Fenner.

***

Earlier this summer Pique Newsmagazine published an interesting feature on the history of fish and fishing in the Whistler region entitled “The Ultimate Whistler Fish Story”. Check it here .

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s