The interior region of BC is home to many world class lakes. One of these gems is Sawmill Lake (also known as Burnell Lake) near Oliver BC. The access road to this lake is somewhat maintained and depending on the time of year it can be daunting in anything less than a two wheel drive truck. There are some washed out areas and some large rocks in many places along the road. Once you brave the access road you will find a pristine lake with many camping site to be had. There are a few boat launches around the lake that are near the camping areas. Depending on the time of year it can either be very busy or not have a soul in sight.
Sawmill Lake is a catch and release, artificial fly only lake that has some medium to large (I have personally caught a few 7-8 lb+) rainbow trout. I have had the best luck fishing chironomids on a 20+ foot leader under an indicator. The last time I was there (in August) there was lots of surface activity but I was unable to key into what the fish were eating off the surface but chironomids where still working. Fishing with a long leader (20’+) can take some practice but another option is to fish a sink tip or a full sink line with a shorter leader. This method involves getting your line out and letting your chironomids sink until it’s on or near the bottom of the lake. Then your retrieve should be in an extremely slow manner and get ready to hold on!
There are two strains of rainbow trout that have been stocked in this lake, Pennask and Fraser Valley. If you’re not familiar with these two strains of rainbows you can usually tell right away by their behavior. The Pennask strain will usually break the surface (very energetically!) in hopes of escaping. I have had these fish jump 3-4′ out of the water and many times over as I’ve reeled them in. The Fraser Valley strain differs greatly as they rarely break the surface and they instead dive down to the depths of the lake. It is vital that you properly set your drag on this lake as when the fish hit, they will hit hard and you need to be prepared for a hard fight! Another thing to consider is to ensure you have a lot of backing as both these types of fish will strip your line to the backing almost every time.
Sawmill Lake can be very productive in the spring after ice off and in the fall. There are fish to be caught in the heat of summer but they are few and far between as this lake gets quite warm. During the spring and fall this lake can be very busy so please be sure to be mindful and courteous of others. The wind direction will most likely change many times through the day, so a double anchor setup is extremely important. There are many different colours of chironomids that reside in our BC lakes. The key is to try and match the hatch that is happening that particular day or time of day as different chironomids maybe on the menu throughout the day. I have good success with any color chironomids with or without a white tuft and white bead. Usually with a “computer” bag and a red wrap. Fly Fishing Sawmill Lake is a great pleasure and I highly recommend to all anglers to experience this south Okanagan gem!
Good luck & Tight Lines!
Sam Van Kampen