Sunday, 8 April 2018

April and Salmon

April is the month when salmon fishing moves from winter patterns to summer patterns for returning fish, particularly chinook. Winter chinook and summer chinook have different habits. In winter, two- to three-year old winter chinook inhabit deeper water layers and are further off shore than summers. They are actively feeding, staying close to lunch and not migrating anywhere. Tide changes are your best bet, before a high tide and after a low tide.

In most areas, fishing is best in 80- to 140-feet depths, using the bottom as structure to find the fish. We are past, for instance, when herring stage off the Victoria breakwater before entering the inner harbour on a spawning run. In areas with needlefish, for example, the Flats, that inhabit the bottom layer of water, bottom bumping is standard practice. 

In water influenced by Puget Sound chinook, they have habits similar to those of Cowichan chinook. The latter circle the Georgia Strait for a year or more, before moving offshore. In October, for example, they have been caught in commercial troll fishery off Nootka and Kyuquot sounds. From Sidney to Sooke, in winter, the predominant fish are the US fish, and as some are three-year olds, this is evidence that they are ‘circling’ Juan de Fuca waters until moving offshore.

This year our fishing will still be affected by the Warm Blob that prevailed in recent years in offshore waters. The phenomenon reduces mixing of water from lower levels with surface levels and thus the stimulus for the food chain – deep water nutrients – has been absent. In part, this has negatively affected returns, and will also do so again this year. The Blob is subsiding and fish leaving rivers to migrate to the high seas this summer will find better ocean conditions and thus return in higher numbers in several future years.

Having said that, Cowichan numbers should be buoyant once again, as 4000 jacks, were reported to came back among the 26,000 returnees last year, evidence of a possible good year in 2018, too. Most of these fish come down Johnstone Strait, and mill the Saanich Inlet, Cowichan river mouth areas in September. In other words, they are not among the spring returning springs.

The summer pattern of mature fish begins in May. The original Columbians start down Juan de Fuca Strait bound for the Fraser River in this month. And Sheringham Point is the traditional first spot in our area to fish. This year, do note the killer whale restricted fishing waters and don’t mistakenly find yourself in closed waters in the Strait.

Summer fish are a whole lot larger than winter fish, being four- to six-year old returning fish, typically starting at 20 pounds, with legitimate 50-pound leviathans in mid- to late-May. Summer chinook, as they are no longer actively feeding, and trying to scent their natal river, typically reside close to shore in shallower water than they did as feeders. 

That they are no longer feeding, is the reason why the crack of dawn becomes the best chinook bite of the day – it represents the longest period that the fish might not eat in a 24-hour day. Along Juan de Fuca, however, the last two hours of the flood can be the best fishing of the day. This is true of Port Renfrew and inside waters of Sooke, Aldridge and Creyke points, for example.

And the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for salmon in southern waters, sets out the annual plan for stocks and fishing opportunities. Here is the IFMP for southern waters: It is a fat 587-page document. And while they say they want comments by March 13, my understanding is that the deadline has been extended one month.

Stocks of concern in southern areas start on page 102. And specific stocks on page 127. There are different numbers for Cowichan chinook in different parts of this report, however, the 2017 return is listed here as 23,000, of which 400 were taken as brook stock, and 11,800 were jacks, a huge number; this augers well for 2018.

The Fraser Spring 4/2s, Nicola, Bonaparte river area, are in poor shape, once again. 5/2s and 5/2 Summers will also have conservation fishery actions. Interior Fraser River coho came in at 30,000 last year, half way between the conservation goal posts of 20K and 40K. These are low numbers, and while DFO is managing to the numbers, they don’t get to doing freshwater habitat restoration/enhancement, just ratchet down the numbers.

The species and location specific fishing plans start on page 178 and continue, for more than 250 pages to 430. That’s where you look for any place you may want to fish in southern BC. There is a whole other plan for northern BC.

When you go fishing, make sure to look at the retention regs each time: On this page, you can sign up to receive regulation changes by email.

Now, remember that those biggies like slow moving baits, and bait is the best, or an artificial lure with some scent. And in most areas, your main territory of interest is back eddies in falling tides. That is because the girthy ones mosey forth at about 1.5 mph, hence, they don’t make it out of back eddies until the tide changes to flood. An example everyone knows is the west side of Clover Point on the ebb. It gives chinook as much as 6 hours to migrate along the Waterfront to Clover, where the ebb is moving at speed greater than 1.5mph, and thus there the bunch of them gather, until the flood.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Steelhead Flies

I just counted my boxes of flies. To my surprise, I have 20. Most are dedicated to a particular species, season, or both. Some house multiples of ones I use frequently, and thus break off/disintegrate more often, and I load them into specific boxes for use. If I make 50, it may take several years to go through them all, thus I don’t have to make them constantly.

Then there are those that are unusable. When I first started out, I decided to make a box of Muddler Minnows. When I found I could not spin deer hair, I decided the fly didn’t need the deer hair collar. I made 50 and called them Unmuddlers and thought that rather clever. On the other hand, because I found out they didn’t work, I still have a box of 49 that I will never use – and have never made so many ever again. I tie 3 and the fly has to prove itself before I tie several dozen. The trick is to resist using the third one if they prove wildly successful.

One box I use all the time, is labelled: Summer Steelhead. As you can see, there are flies of several types, not simply summer steelhead. I have caught summers in all 12 months of the year, in freshwater, so this box comes with me on most freshwater trips. I add to it from other boxes.

On the right side are summer steelhead patterns, including some skaters, floaters and backup winter steelhead flies. You will note that some have a guinea fowl feather as the last addition. The purpose is to change the profile of the fly, and thus give you another look when your first choice does not work or has been nipped by a steelhead that isn’t going to get fooled by that fly again.

On the coast, we can use generic patterns because anadromous fish, when they come into freshwater do not know what food looks like for some time, and thus, the fly doesn’t have to represent food, just be something that catches their attention. In moving water, the fly zips by the fish quickly, and if a decision has to be made quickly, the fish snaps after the fly and gobbles it up. In, winter, of course, there may be very little natural food in the water, though for some time, there are salmon eggs and salmon flesh.

Some flies work on both summer and winter steelhead, as well as cutthroat trout. An example would be a generic Popsicle-style fly, which I tie with marabou: red over orange over yellow, with medium sized bead chain eyes added last. Tied on a size 2 hook, these flies seldom hook small trout/smolts, but take larger cutthroat, ‘rainbows’ and steelhead.

The left-hand side of the box has multiple patterns for multiple circumstances. Starting at the top, the pink Muddlers are good on beaches for pink salmon. The epoxy minnow patterns are fished in spring when pink and chum fry are passing out of systems, as well as any system that has sockeye. An example of the latter is Woss Lake and down the Nimpkish, a long system so that minnow patterns work longer, sockeye being Juneish, before coho, chinook and steelhead smolts descend.

When passing through Campbell River, I always stop at the River Sportsman and pick up flies. They make the rather famished looking, snipped down Muddlers for pink salmon; however, blue is a good colour for Dolly Varden and they give discounts for buying in bulk. There are many north Van Isle rivers that have Dollies – look for them in saltwater estuaries before going up into the rivers.

The floaters in the second line of flies are the Goddard Caddis and Tom Thumb. The latter is a good bet for Dollies, and as generic a floater as they come. Keep some floatant in your vest for when you want a dry fly. A brown Muddler with a full collar can be made into a floater in a pinch.

The rest of the left side of the box is nymphs of different colours and sizes, size 4 to 10. On a day when you are fishing steelhead in a system with incoming cutthroat, too, these are very useful. You can change colour and size to match what the fish want. If you expect fish in certain spots of rivers you normally fish, but aren’t getting bites, change colour first, then size. The flies here are white, tan, light brown, brown, black, and all have segmentation and wriggly legs.

Most of the bottom line are stonefly nymphs and they are deadly. I think the reason is that they are big, easy to see and look like food. Note that you should always look at the bottom of the river you are fishing to check on the nymph population. Typically, they are gone by September, and last week, in March, I saw very few, the point being that nymphs cease to work for part of the year, when they are not natural food.

Caddis are the most common, through I have seen Mayflies in February. I am sold on white PMDs as visible a floater in size 10, and of course, it is a hoot when the fish whacks the fly. Dry fly fishing is all about watching that fly, keeping it floating rather than skating, and, on a subsequent float, if the fish hasn’t bitten, teasing it with a short skate or two.

The left-hand side of this second box, a winter steelhead one, is mostly bunny flies with bead chain eyes. Bunny is easy to work with, has lots of body and a wide range of colour – use size 2 salmon hooks, with their nice up-turned eye. To make the fly more visible, make tri-colour bunny flies. As ugly as it may be, red over chartreuse over black is the pattern that works best for me. Make sure before fishing them to take them in your fist, put it under water and squeeze the air out of them several times, then test that the fly will sink before casting it.

All of the colour patterns in the box work on winter steelhead. Think pink, purple and black. And note that in winter, after the rain and silt has scoured algae off the rocks, the water is surprisingly luminous. I think that’s why silver is better for eyes. Gold works better in summer. The two blue marabou flies await late November coho in the deepest part of the soft water.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Spring Has Sprung

While we are several weeks into our two-month cherry blossom season, the East seems to be covered in white stuff. Anyone know what it is? My guess is its jealousy. I have had to resist not sending Victoria cheer to my ‘friends’ in Eastern Canada. You may have noticed that the magnolia are coming out all over town.

So now it’s spring, there are a few things you might want to do to make your boat ship shape. If you have needed a new roof for awhile, you will be happy with a new, non-dingy canvas. The two commonly used brands are: Sun Brella and Top Gun. The first is light, bright and cheaper than the latter; its much easier to take window coverings off, as well as the whole canvas. Top Gun is much stronger, more water proof, and seagull droppings come off it easier than Sun Brella into which they sink and stain the cloth. Top Gun lasts longer but is heavier. 

I changed my bilge pump a couple of years ago, too. I was tired of going to the boat, with the typical float style, $50 pump having kicked the bucket, leading to my starter motor being in the water (I have an inboard engine) because it is the lowest thing on the engine. Replacing a starter motor every year is a pain, and more than $500. 

Two things were changed: the new water pump is $500 (don’t know the brand), and it whoofs the bilge in spurts. While the price stung at the time, it has lead to a much drier boat in the winter, no more starter motor problems, no more bus heater heat-exchangers ruined by being in bilge water, too. Since paying for the new-style much more sturdy, heavy duty pump, the dry boat thing is sure nice to go down to the marina and see, and the positives have made me forget the price.

The other thing I changed, because the battery used to kick the bucket more frequently, leading to the starter motor issue I mentioned, is that I got installed a Genius battery charger, $100, linked to shore power, and thus a 24-hour a day charge, that switches off power when not needed. Since then, every time I have gone to the boat in over two years, it’s sure been nice to turn the engine over and have it start up quickly and easily every time. That is the sound of money, and everyone who owns a boat knows that sound. 

Also, everyone who has a boat in the water in winter, and those with non-outboard engine configurations, is pretty happy when the engine is happy to start. If not, it ruins your day, and the rest of the week, having your mechanic solve the problem$$. Dri-Z-Air crystals in their plastic cup also help to keep moisture out of the cabin, and damage from mold.

I had installed a kill switch several years ago. Turn it to the off position when you leave the boat and you eliminate some of those battery failures and the $$ they result in, due to forgetfully leaving an electrical component on, for example, the radio. When adding such a switch, remember to have the bilge pump routed around the switch, as its purpose is to be on at all times to pump the bilge. 

For those of us who have a leg and prop behind the boat in the water all the time – the tilt mechanism does not lift the entire structure out of the water, although when trailering do tilt all the way up – it is time to give it its first clean of the year. Having had to replace a tarp for the transom and leg, I had not had the tarp on for at least six weeks and expected heavy growth when I went down this past week. I was happy to see how little growth was on the leg, as the sun has not had enough time and power to get to the stage of causing an inch of growth per week. 

Also, April is the month when barnacles start to lay down, something you will want to scrape off, particularly the propeller, regularly. Barnacles cause cavitation, and it is best to scrape them all off the prop, to prevent this, as well as those you can reach on the leg. It helps you pop out of the hole, reduces fuel usage on the plane and aids cornering, as well.

As for the tarp, the aim is to prevent growth by draping it over the stern, reaching out beyond the leg and prop. These days the tarps they sell are so weak, they shred in no time. The white and the blue ones are no good. I’ll let you know about the green ones in a couple of months, as this is the third time I have replaced the tarp in less than a year.

The tarp should have grommets on every corner, and a 6- X 8-foot tarp will fit most boats. To the ends of an 8-foot side attach boat lines and secure them to cleats on the sides of your boat, so as to position the tarp evenly over the stern – you want it to cover the transducer of your GPS/depth sounder, too. To make the other 8-foot side sink into the water, you attach weights.

I use four-ounce keel weights, one Gooped into place at each corner, and one in the middle – below the weight only. Allow 24 hours to dry, then stitch the swivels of the weights to the tarp with cloth based ‘thread’. Line for halibut rods, or fly reel backing works well, though you will have to get some more heavy-duty needles to cut through the tarp.

The next step is to fold the corner grommets over the weights. First Goop them again, fold and leave a heavy book on each one for 24 hours – newspaper between the two to pick up spills. For the middle weight, simply fold the bottom ‘hem’ over and Goop. The final step is to stitch all three weights into the tarp, as well as stitch the two grommets to the tarp as well.

If you get in the habit of leaning off the transom to scrape the leg/prop, you will get to know just how cold the ocean is. After five minutes, your arms will be too cold to continue. I mention this because falling in has to be considered a life and death situation. 

Pick yourself up one of those Mustang toggle-filled life jackets that lie in ribbons down your chest, as well as a waterproof hand-held radio. And do the novel thing of actually having both on your body before you pull away from the dock. May save your life.

It’s also licence time, and they are available tomorrow, Mar 26 on DFO’s site: “Licences can be obtained via any computer connected to the internet at or by using internet search key words “Recfish Licence". In order to print a licence on a personal computer, you will need a printer with 8.5 x 11 letter-sized paper, Adobe Reader, a compatible web browser, and a valid credit or debit card.”
Genius battery charger: the second from the left is the version I bought, $100:

Escaped Atlantic Salmon: For those who did not catch the article I wrote on DFO fibbing about escaped farmed Atlantics and rivers with adults and fry in them in BC, you may want to read the following post. It has had 3,000 page views across Canada in the past four days: