Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Joys of Boating

The other day, sun climbing from Mount Baker, I drove through sleepy Oak Bay Village before 6 AM. The day before, I had started the boat, and listened to its purr of money, got the downriggers out, rigged the rods with flashers, bait holders and spoons, so that I would be ready to go when I cast off the lines. On my fishing day, I rigged one line with a large anchovy in a 602 teaser, behind a Farr Better Flasher in green. The bait had been moved from freezer to fridge the night before, so it would be unfrozen enough to insert the wire, and bend it behind the dorsal fin, before inserting the treble hook.

Heading out from Oak Bay Marina through the gap at the Turkey Head, I throttled up. The bow rose above my eyes and stayed there. I gave it more gas, but it would not settle, so I tried the other obvious thing: I tilted the leg down, and as it descended the boat came up and settled flat at cruising speed. Ah, the joy of a boat that treats you well, when you treat it well with regular infusions of cash.

The tide was ebbing, and following my own advice, prior to fishing the Flats, where fish had been brought in in the past few days, and other boats were already fishing, I turned the corner to fish an ebb tide back eddy, until 9 AM, when the flood would begin, and I would join my confreres on the Flats.

My own advice is that in summer fishing, when big springs are relentlessly heading east at 1.5 MPH close to shore in shallow water, it is best to fish the ebb tide back eddies where they will fin forward, but stay put, until the tide turned and flood push them east, toward their natal river. By the time I had the slow spiral on the bait, that I use in summer for large fish, rather than the slightly faster spiral for winter fish, the boat had been carried to the west end of the eddy.

I swung the boat around, heading east, into the ebb. After ten minutes, it dawned on me the ebb was strong enough that the boat was not gaining any ground. The GPS speed-over-ground feature registered zero to half a knot. Mighty slow. Several Grady White and Trophy-style boats motored past me en route to the Flats. I was happy to see them go as it meant they would not be fishing in the restricted area that comprised my back eddy.

Another ten minutes went by and it was clear I was going nowhere. I hit the green button for the ball, disconnected the release clip, and throttled up. At six knots, the boat soon putted up to the head of the eddy, whereupon I sent the ball, release clip and bait down to 33 feet. Then the boat made a loud beep, beep, which is what it does when the key reaches the first d├ętente prior to starting. But I was not starting the boat, and the beep, beep continued blasting in my ear. 

Several minutes of this rattling odd behaviour ensued until it dawned on me that the ongoing beep must also be an engine warning sound. Oil pressure was fine, the temperature was not over heating, and the fuel tanks registered lots of gas. At which point, I hurriedly got the ball back up threw the rod and gear into a glumph before the transom and throttled up.

I gave it lots of gas, but no matter how much I gave the engine it would not speed the boat beyond 7 knots, nor reach the plane. Then a tremendous backfire almost deadened my hearing, followed almost immediately by another in-board engine backfire bigger than the first. 

It was time to make for the marina and hope the engine was going to make it back from Trial Island. I had been here before. One summer, more than a decade ago, I was fishing pinks four miles south of Trial, in a well-developed tide line. My main engine began over heating on the temperature gauge, and smoke began pouring from under the engine cover. I throttled up onto the plane and behind me left a cloud of smoke, flames coming out and beginning to melt the gas line to the kicker.

At this point, I killed the main engine, and started the kicker. I had to sit on top of the engine cover smoke making me disappear into purple haze, hand wrapped in a towel, to hold the hot tiller. As the minutes went by, the boat stopped burning, my rear end began to cool, and my heart came back to near normal. I waved at a boat going by, they waved back and kept going, not understanding I was in trouble.

But, I thought, I’ll just putt my way home. Several other boats went by, waving at my growing frantic wave, but not stopping to help. The kicker kept putting. After two hours, the light beginning to move well into the western sky, Trial Island was still some miles away, and the ebb tide was carrying me away to the west. Wind began to rise from the north east, bringing waves up to four feet. I was going nowhere, and was not going to reach safe harbour, going like this.

I had to make the difficult decision that I had no choice but to restart the main engine and hope it did not overheat until I reached safely. Soon, up on the plane, things began to look a little happier. It was with relief that I passed the south tip of Trial. Then through a seven-foot standing wave, that sent everything in the cabin flying. The boat landed so hard, I thought the hull would break.

The engine began its skyward climb into the danger zone. Soon it was higher than the boiling point of water, and heading for 250 degrees, as I passed the golf course corner at full blast. On shore, golfers leaned on their drivers and one pointed at me. The reason was that I was leaving a blue cloud of smoke. I passed the Oak Bay Beach Hotel at rocket speed, and full bore made it through the Turkey Head gap, with flames coming out the back end. At way over reasonable speed, I made fast for my slip, hoping the boat would not explode before I had it tied off, and could grab the fire extinguisher.

To my great good fortune, another boater on the dock, seeing the long line of flames from my engine, raced to my slip, and grabbed the bow line, while I hit reverse. The engine died, the flames grew higher and I exited right over a gas tank that could explode, extinguisher in my hand. From the dock, I aimed the CO2, fearing the engine was going to blow apart, taking me with it. The other boater handed me a hose, and I doused the back end with water, enough to fill the engine compartment and separate flame from gas tank. 

All of this other near-death experience raced through my mind as, just the other day, my boat slowly, achingly made the golf course corner tee box, backfiring so loud, I closed the door between us. I opened the forward hatch and prepared to jump and pull the toggle on my life jacket. There was no way I was going to kill the engine. The anchor and line were in the forward compartment, minutes away. The kicker may not be able to beat the ebb home. 

The backfires grew louder, the boat speed slowed to five knots, and I shot the Gap, too fast for the tethered boats beside me. If I didn’t slow down, I would hammer the boats on B dock and hit my finger fast enough to lift the bow right out of the water. I had no choice but to back off on the gas. 

To my great relief, as speed slipped down to 2.3 knots, the engine came clear and clean, as though nothing had happened. I turned past the kicker of my neighbour, hit reverse, then hit neutral and grabbed the stern line and slid it over the cleat. Thank god. Oh, to be on the dock separated from an engine that might blow. 

I went straight for Gartside Marine services, just by the parking lot, and, fortunately, Kelly, their office person, was already in working, and drew up a work order, before I left, shaking, to my car. Ah, the joys of boating. The last time it was a completely new engine, that was $13,000 at the time, in 2003. No doubt a new engine is far above that price today. Will my insurance cover the problem? We’ll see.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

DFO, Salmon and Killer Whales

The Sport Fishing Institute sent around a note – link at bottom – this past week asking for sport fishers to send a letter to DFO on the closing of sport fishing to put more chinook in the tummies of Southern Resident Killer whales. So, I wrote a letter to Dominic LeBlanc and also put it on one of my sites: Please write your own.

It is a cut to the chase piece that notes the problem is long term intransigence by DFO for both salmon habitat restoration and protecting killer whales. It is below. Immediately below is my second note to LeBlanc:

Hi Dominic (Letter also sent to Justin Trudeau, Andrew Weaver, Elizabeth May, Adam Olsen, Martin Paish, Chris Bos, Rebecca Reid, Sport Fishing Institute).

I sent a letter to you this past week noting that the chinook/killer whale problem is not going to be solved by closing sport fishing in selected areas. I have written on fisheries policy for 25 years, and the answer is: significantly increasing habitat restoration funding and netpens for chinook.

In the past four days, since posting the letter to my Fish Farm News and Science site, it has had an unprecedented response: 8,500 pageviews so far, virtually all from Canada. I used to write letters for ministers in the BC government, and know lists of issues are kept, and preparing responses is a meticulous, time consuming and costly activity. 

If 8,500 responses had been received, it would have shut down the branch preparing them for months. That is how big a response BC has to your ill-conceived plan that will solve nothing, other than make British Columbians angry. My plan will solve the problem. Please read it again.

After buying the Kinder Morgan pipeline with BC taxpayer money, you need a significant win in BC or you will be shut out in the next election. You will recall that BC was the balance of power in the last election.

DC Reid

Here is the first letter:

Hi Dominic et al

I want to tell you that it is greatly disappointing that after 40 years of DFO managing BC salmon into extinction, here we are today, with you eliminating recreational fishing in areas of the Salish Sea/Juan de Fuca Strait for killer whale food, when the real solution is for DFO to have been doing freshwater habitat restoration and hatchery epigenetics work at a rate that would have seen salmon stocks stay at the same level as in the 1960s.

What you are doing now is with almost extinction levels of Fraser chinook, feeding almost extinct killer whales that DFO has not been doing enough for over the decades, and finally, when it won’t save the whales, eliminating a sport fishery, and they will likely become extinct, anyway. Note that from the east all we hear from DFO is how 500 right whales are on the brink. Note that 76 BC orcas are only 15.2% of your eastern right whales.

Note the attached shot of a 1960’s morning’s sport catch from the Nahmint River, a small drainage in the Alberni Inlet. Where are the Nahmint and dozens of other chinook runs today, DFO?

Two things are required immediately: far greater money spent on freshwater habitat restoration, and netpens of chinook.
Freshwater Habitat Restoration

I think $100 million needs to be invested each year for the next 10 years to catch up. If you look at what $1.5 million did to the Clay Bank on the Cowichan River, it shows that money doesn’t go very far. I suggest you give the money to the Pacific Salmon Foundation because it leverages money 4 to 7 times, and the public, particularly students and sport fishers do most projects.

I spent more than a week’s time figuring out from DFO’s patchwork of data/reports (because DFO doesn’t have a final number) that there were, before escapement, 73 million salmon in the ocean. In perspective, this is 99.8% of all the salmon in Canada. Your eastern Atlantic salmon are a measly .2-to .4-million, or .2%.

In my estimation, there are four major problems that have lead to the downward spiral of wild BC salmon: lack of freshwater habitat restoration, DFO, in-ocean fish farms and climate change. We can change every major problem except climate change. 


I recommend an immediate establishment of a dozen netpens of 2 million chinook fry each. Use Robertson Creek and the Nitinat hatcheries for Juan de Fuca Strait, and Cowichan – a river that has had a large turnaround in the past few years – for Strait of Georgia. That means 24 million fry each year for the next ten years. The point is that it has to be done quickly to save the killer whales, and though it is 4 years to adults, if we wait, it is those years plus 4 years to adults. 

Pay attention to the issue of triploiding for netpens and epigenetics for an increased Salmon Enhancement Program in the specific rivers. And pay attention to the work done by the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition, Sooke netpen operation using Nitinat stock, now releasing its second crop. Funding comes from members, mostly anglers. And a seal cull would help.

Finally, after buying out Kinder Morgan, you liberals are in deep trouble in BC, on two major issues. You need to do something major quickly, and a recent poll shows that BC holds salmon as dear as Quebec does French.


DC Reid

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Stonefly Patterns

I now own 21 fly boxes. Not that I need another, but I bought a good number of stonefly flies at Nile Creek Fly Shop and got another box in the process – they display so nicely. Stonefly flies have become popular in the past five years because they catch a great number of Vancouver Island salmonids.

We are fortunate to live in an area where we have both resident and anadromous salmonids. The former spend their entire lives in freshwater, the latter spend time in both salt- and fresh-water. Resident fish key in on the actual food and thus prefer a fly that mimics those insects. People all across the country know only resident fish and know well that such fish can be extremely fussy, preferring, for example, only one species of Mayfly nymph, and if you don’t have the pattern, you will not catch fish. The problem can be even more difficult for dry flies that mimic adults, particularly their size.

Anadromous fish on the other hand, feed on ocean feed for part of their lives, feed that may not have any freshwater look alike, and then feed in freshwater on what they find. The important point is that they are less selective about what they will glom; that is the reason we use attractor patterns for steelhead. They feed aggressively, and that colourful chunk of ‘food’ swinging quickly across their vision stimulates an instinctive feeding/aggression - we don’t care which - whack at the fly. The speed with which the patterns move also makes the fish make an immediate decision to bite, rather than leisurely picking off a tumbling bug, some of which they may miss anyway.

And that is where stonefly patterns come in. There are stoneflies in the water, along with Mayflies, Damsel flies, Caddis flies and so on. And specific nymph patterns are all for wet fly fishing rather than dry fly fishing, an important distinction. The technical form of nymph fishing is sometimes called: high stick nymphing. On Van Isle there are many rivers where you can do this in the late spring, the Elk being a well-known example, but only one of a number of such fisheries. Get out there and look for others.

While you can buy stoneflies of any size, or make even smaller flies, actual stoneflies are often larger. I use size 2 to 8 hooks (and mostly 4 and 6) and simply pick up a bunch of different colours, with or without carapaces, and wriggly legs, based on past success. Technically they are called searching patterns, but one that mimics a lot of food in the water, and targets fish that feed on a variety of food sources in the ocean and rivers. 

So, stoneflies will catch cutthroat, Dolly Varden and steelhead along with some resident fish. I think the larger size works better for fish that have max a second or two to see the fly and attack it. Large is better in the swing. Technically nymphs don’t ‘swing’ but any kind of volitional food swims, and thus swing/strip is the action of a living thing. 

Stoneflies are used in the warm months. Look at the rocks at your feet. You want algae, that slippery stuff – but not didymo – and to find nymphs eating their way across the rocks. Most rivers will have nymphs from May to September. Once you see there are no more nymphs, it is time to move to a different fly. Also, when salmon come in, they push other salmonids aside, and make them switch to target salmon eggs. It is quite distinct when the season’s nymphs are all hatched that anadromous fish stop biting on stonefly flies, and it is time to switch to attractors that prevail through the winter until May when you once again see the new season’s nymphs on the rocks. And switch to dry flies only when you see fish on the surface.

Also note that in canyon rivers, ones that receive melted snowpack, and infertile ones, you will find that attractor patterns out-fish nymph patterns. Part of the issue is the extra water, flash floods, and no algae for nymphs to eat. Extra water has these effects: there is more volume and thus the concentration of fish is lower; the water is moving faster and prevents fly penetration; and, it erases choke points that are key for catching fish. Fish are on the downstream side of a choke point (or in the tailout above), and in most rivers, other than canyon ones, these can be as much as a half mile apart. Get to know your river, get to know it’s hotspots. And make haste between them. 

Note also that higher water means the danger of being swept away is greater. In addition, fewer spots allow you to cross. And because river beds change over the winter, you need to make sure each spring that where you want to cross still is a crossable spot, and not another foot or two deeper. And, if you can only cross a river here and there, take account of that fact in planning your day. It may be better/safer to bushwhack into a spot, come back to the trail, and bushwhack into the next spot. 

Finally, choice of fly line is important. Full sink for winter rivers, with their deeper, faster water. Use a long sink tip fly- and sinking running- line for the crossover months, and finally, a floating line with a lighter sink tip for lowest water. Take along a second reel with your choice of a second fly line. It is very annoying to find yourself hitting bottom with a line with too much sink, and breaking off flies, as well as leaders and attached sink tips. The stretch of fly line – as much as 20 feet – that results from being stuck on something that won’t give way, can ruin it. 

Here is a link to find stonefly patterns, life cycle info and background text: