Monday, 29 December 2014

Q and As December – It’s a Wrap for 2014

The Hatch: This on-line fly fishing magazine is available at no charge. Ask to be put on the email list. See:

SFAB Concept Paper: Your SFAB board has put out a document, with request for comments to
Gerry Kristianson, or other board member, both editorial and substantive.

The paper identifies specific outcomes to address the following seven goals:

Since January 2010 when it was first formally articulated, the Board has steadily pursued the vision of “a sustainable and vibrant recreational fishery in British Columbia, providing broad social and economic benefits through diverse opportunities that recognize and respect other users of the resource.”

The framing of this vision was assembled around the following seven strategic goals, all of which were developed in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment, and after consultations with First Nations, other fisheries sectors, and environmental groups:

1.      Achieve healthy and productive marine and freshwater ecosystems that support recreational fisheries.
2.      Realize the full social and economic benefit of the recreational fishery.
3.      Maintain and enhance a consultative framework which provides for a supportive relationship between governments and the recreational fishing community, and encourages a healthy and respectful dialogue with other users through inclusive and meaningful processes.
4.      Ensure that the management of the recreational fishery is based on the best available information while taking into account local and traditional knowledge.
5.      Provide sustainable fishing opportunities which consider the needs of and foster the potential of the recreational fishery.
6.      Establish a framework for sharing responsibility for activities which benefit the recreational fishery.
7.      Promote understanding of the recreational fishery and recreational fisheries management practices.

Please provide Gerry K with your comments. I suggested two financing points. If the SFAB is to become a not-for-profit society, the preamble and purposes should be written in a way that allows for the society to be designated a ‘charity’ by the Canadian Revenue Agency, and thus to be able to raise funds with donation tax receipts going to donors. Further, to retain that helpful designation, political comments have to be kept out of the discussion.

Second, as there are 300,000 saltwater anglers in BC, a stamp, like the chinook stamp on our licences (or charged to anglers to affiliate with the society), would raise, for every $10 charged, $3 million and multiples of $3 million with additional $10 increments. Such funding would provide a seriously positive outcome for helping our fisheries.

The South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition (SVIAC) Newsletter came out this past week:

1.      With better Fraser chinook numbers, the SVIAC was able to convince DFO that Area 19 and 20 anglers should be able to retain one unmarked chinook of any length as of June 14. The hope is that the same measure will be authorized in 2015.

2.      Alpine Group Juan de Fuca Fishing Tournament last June was completely sold out, $65,000 in prizes was awarded and $19,500 was raised for the South Vancouver Island Chinook Revitalization Initiative.
3.      A meeting with DFO Pacific brass yielded progress on several fronts: Priority access for sport fishers for specific species; Resolution of the Fraser chinook issues; and, Southern Vancouver Island chinook revitalization.

The chinook revitalization has multiple objectives: to bring back the Sooke River to its optimum chinook spawning population through short term enhancement and habitat restoration, for the longer term goal.

With 1 to 5 million chinook smolts and netpens, the southern killer whale population is supported as is fishing in the area. A cost/benefit analysis will be done along with the socio-economic return to the Salish Sea.
4.      The 21.5 million Fraser sockeye return did not materialize in Juan de Fuca as warm temperatures and possibly algal blooms resulted in a 97% Johnstone Strait diversion. Ditto for Fraser Chinook. Inside fishing from Campbell River (22,500 chinook caught) to Nanaimo was terrific.
5.      The Malcolm decision was handed down this year and it reaffirmed that the Minister of DFO has the right to reallocate public fish, in this case, the 3% halibut quota from the commercial sector that had been given to the sport side.
6.      Commercial halibut fisherman, Bob Fraumeni, and owner of Finest At Sea Seafood Producers in Victoria pled guilty to illegally fishing for halibut in the inside waters of Juan de Fuca strait without holding the correct licence. The catch’s value of $14,164 was donated to the Pacific Salmon Foundation.
7.      The International Pacific Halibut Commission meets in January. The total allowable catch for Canada is 5.78 million pounds. Our representatives will be seeking 7.5 and a repeat of 2014’s halibut catch, which resulted in our area being extended to December 31, 2014.
8.      The 2015 Alpine Group Juan de Fuca Fishing Tournament seeks to pay out more than $100,000 in prizes in 2015. Pick up tickets at Island Outfitters, or on the SVIAC site.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Winter Steelhead Habits

River anglers are now waiting for rivers to drop and winter steelhead to appear in their runs. Wild winters enter on rising tides and anglers get to know their calendars. The Nimpkish peaks in November and December, the Stamp January and February, ditto for the Cowichan, February and March in the Nitinat, January for the Sarita, and the Gold. Hatchery fish also have the same patterns in most rivers.

Summer steelhead are also available. They can enter from May through December, and then over-winter until spawning in the spring, when water temperature rises and flows subside. And both species can move a lot in short periods of time. On the Somass, for instance, two hours after the high tide they can be five miles upstream of saltwater at the confluence of the Stamp and Sproat.

The Campbell is an exception. Its summer run has split into two with most arriving in summer, but more recently, a contingent coming back in January. River anglers need to understand many rivers and their calendars to find the most fish. This takes decades, but if you know two dozen Island rivers, you will be rewarded with fish and knowledge that is its own reward – what can be better than a river, afterall?

There are two kinds of steelhead water: pass-through and holding. The farms on the Somass have a long inside bend where you can see the fish moving up through the slow water, waiting just below where the current is faster, and then moving up into it. In the Fraser, steelhead have been clocked at 24 kms per day upstream. As Island rivers are short, this means they can be anywhere, and this is why some anglers opine that steelhead are where you find them, not necessarily in the same high-percentage spots year in year out.

In pass-through water, you can fish your way down it, then walk back up to fish it again, because in the intervening time, steelhead will be, yes, passing through. Holding water, where steelhead stop and wait, typifies where steelhead will be found for longer periods. They are: heads of pools, tailouts and runs. Runs are 3-to 8-feet straight lines where there is a bottom crease under swirling water above, moving at walking speed.

Steelhead are associated with rock rather than wood. In runs, the bottom rocks create back eddies in the current where steelhead will sit without having to put out as much energy staying in one place, for example, one foot above bottom. Stand on a bridge some time and watch your river. If you spot a steelhead, it will invariably be close to rock, and swimming slowly, meaning where it is there is less current.

Fishers look for first water to find the bityest fish and so they are constantly on the move. They move from one hot run to another. If on the water with boats, that is when you pick up fish that are not necessarily in the best runs, as in, they are where they are. After catching a fish, come back in summer and look at the bottom. Winter flows create runs that in summer don’t look like much, but higher water means faster flows and those minor dips become holding water. Think of current as a wall. Steelhead don’t waste energy and so they are seldom found in current.

Another thing, in winter, there are deep pools where steelhead spend time on the bottom in torpor. River temperatures are often colder than the ocean and thus cold-blooded fish aestivate in cold weather. An example is the pools in the Ash River.

Summers tend to spawn earlier than winters, thus keeping the two species apart and not blended together. Both types of steelhead tend to move back into tailouts as the season progresses; these are slow water, and the fine gravel is well aerated and thus some tailouts are spawning spots. But do get to know your river well. You will find spawning water that you would not predict unless you had seen fish in it digging redds.

You will also catch more fish if you know your river. Our logging-gravel-choked rivers change their bottoms in high winter flows, moving thousands of tons of gravel and silt, eliminating and creating runs every year. In one of mine, I had caught many fish at a certain spot where they came up through a fast riffle and then stopped in deeper slower water to rest before moving on. In the winter in question, the run had been eliminated by gravel pushed directly below it that breached the surface, and a channel had been gouged on the other side of the river, where there had been none.

As I had caught steelhead in the spot, which was simply a backwater now – a place steelhead seldom will sit as they favour oxygen-enriched water, I made a few casts into water that was less than knee deep, clear, slow and an awkward spot for a fish, clearly in view of predators. Steelhead will not sit where they feel threatened.

As luck would have it, I got a sharp bite and the fish moved directly across into the current and then downstream, me glumphing along trying to keep up. Six hundred yards later, having crossed the river three times trying to stay with the fish, I was on my knees in the shallow water, looking down at the water trembling the fish.

When I tried to lift the steelhead, I had to stretch my arm way out to my fingertips, and the tail in my other hand was more than half way across my chest. I held the fish in the current until it was ready and pushed my hand aside to serpentine downstream. On my knees, it came to me that it was my first winter steelhead exceeding 20 pounds, a stellar member of any river on the planet’s gene pool. And it was caught in a spot no other angler who didn’t know the river well, would have wasted a cast.

One more thing: getting first water is more than being the first to fish a good run early in the morning. Steelhead can bite, or not bite, or be spooked by an angler that preceded you, or have moved up or down. But the important fact is this: steelhead come back on the bite later or at different times in the day. You may be an hour behind the last angler who received no bite, and catch a steelhead yourself. Steelhead are bity fish and it is good there are laws protecting them as they are bold beyond good sense. And that is a good thing, for us anglers, giving first water all day long, the better you know your river.

Have a nice Christmas.


A nice summer steelhead. Compare its size with the rod. The cork is a foot long, the reel is four inches across. That’s how big the doe is, and another good story for another time, the rod being a six weight, and the usual, almost drowning.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Salmon Outlook – Netpens for Killer Whales

Salmon Outlook: DFO has released its Salmon Outlook for 2015, a summary of stock numbers for the entire province and all five species of salmon. I have attached the PDF to the email sent to list members. Numeral 1 is a weak stock, while numeral 4 indicates a strong stock.

Their summary is:

A total of 91 Outlook Units were considered and outlooks categorized for 84. Six units were data
deficient (ND), and one pink unit was not applicable (NA). Thirty eight (38) Outlook Units are
likely to be at or above target abundance (categories 3, 4, 3/4), while 28 are expected to be of some conservation concern (categories 1, 2, 1/2). The remaining 18 Outlook Units have mixed outlook levels (categories 1/3, 1/4, 2/3, 2/4). Overall, the outlook for 2015 has inmproved relative to the previous outlook (2014 for most species but 2013 for pink). Fourteen (14) Outlook Units improved in category (Areas 7 to 10 sockeye; Fraser Spring 42, Fraser Spring 52 and Fraser Summer 52 chinook; Area 3, Area 12, Haida Gwaii East, Skeena and Skeena High Interior coho; Areas 11 to 13 and Areas 3 to 6 pink; Areas 11 to 13, Georgia Strait and Areas 7 to 10 chum). Eight units declined in category (Early Stuart, Early Summer North Thompson, Fall Portage and Fall South Thompson sockeye; WCVI Hatchery chinook; WCVI coho; Georgia Strait West pink; WCVI chum).

Here is my summary of the 24 page document:

Sockeye: Fraser sockeye runs returning average or better, i.e., some harvestable numbers, include the Okanagan, Early Summer South Thompson, Summer Chilko (often a high component of the run, that will exceed its average level of 1.55 million), Summer Nechako (568,000 on average), Summer Quesnel, Summer Harrison, Fall South Thompson, Fall Birkenhead, with five year old sockeye from the extremely large 2010 run contributing to 2015 escapements. It looks like some fishing opportunities in Georgia Strait, and, depending on water temp, Juan de Fuca, with action required for low stocks like Cultus Lake.

Anglers will be glad to know that Port Alberni’s Somass sockeye (particularly the Sproat) are rated at 4, and thus spring action looks likely; as does the Port Hardy area for Quatse and some Nimpkish fish. Surprisingly, Rivers Inlet, its Owikeno run drastically depressed since the early ‘90s – once the second largest commercial fishery in BC, in some years higher than the Skeena/Nass – have showed some improvement in recent years, but unlikely to continue in 2015.

Chinook: Fraser 4-2s (Spius, Coldwater, Bonaparte) and 5-2s (Lower Chilcotin, Westroad, Birkenhead) that have disrupted Juan de Fuca June fisheries in the past few years show patchy minor improvement; ditto for Fraser Summer 4-1s, including the Harrison, with the Vedder looking better.

WCVI chinook from hatchery systems (Conuma, Robertson Creek, Nitinat) will offer medium numbers of fish to be caught in Nootka and Barkley sounds (no estimate of Marble Creek numbers for NWCVI and Quatsino).  Disappointingly, Cowichan chinook, the indicator stream for the Pacific Salmon Commission, continues below average (2,400 adults, 1,100 jacks as of October 22).

Coho: Fraser coho are below average in numbers but improving. WCVI wild coho will be in average numbers. Port Hardy area rivers will bring above average returns. Quinsam returns for the Campbell River area should provide fishable numbers, too.

Don’t fall off your chair just yet, but Georgia Strait coho (that crashed in the late ‘80s) to Black Creek, an indicator stream, and Cowichan coho are above the levels of recent years. Northern BC numbers are good in most locations for 2015.

Pinks: Fraser pinks should greatly exceed the average number of 13.4 million for odd-numbered years. The 2014 fry output exceeded 604 million – the average is 443 million. So the easiest salmon to catch should flood local waters in the coming summer.

Fly anglers who do the beach fishery thing, from Campbell River to Port Hardy, the even-numbered year prevails and thus angling should be decidedly average in 2015. South of Campbell River, volunteer netpen operations have shown wildly fluctuating returns. Shore anglers should sleuth in-season information before setting out for the Cowichan to Salmon Point terminal netpen runs.

Chum: Fraser chum numbers have been variable in the past few years, hovering near 1 million fish (should be double that for a healthy return). Current fishing plans are uncertain. Don’t expect large numbers in WCVI waters. Fishable numbers should return on ECVI in 2015. So the Brown’s Bay fishery should be on in 2015 and in terminal ECVI estuaries.

Chemical Contaminants in killer whales: During the South Vancouver Island Angler Coalition/Sport Fishing Advisory Board meeting last Thursday it was noted that though our area has not received netpens for chinook salmon that we have proposed for several years, DFO seems to have accepted our representatives’ suggestion that local waters need numerous netpens for chinook. Our fishery is largely USA chinook, and it would show wisdom on all our collected selves to put some BC, probably Nitinat, chinook in the ocean as our help for the endangered southern killer whales in our waters, with an excess for angling, too.

Recently the Raincoast Conservation Foundation did an op-ed in the Times Colonist newspaper, suggesting that fishing should be terminated because it kills killer whales in the Salish Sea. I sent them emails to point out, among other things, that low chinook numbers in Georgia are really the result of low Cowichan chinook because they stay inside and thus are the fish of preference in the winter. Enhancement efforts need improvement. So coming netpens look to be a big help in the ‘Salish Sea’.

It was also pointed out by Jeremy Maynard, an SFAB chairman from Campbell River, that the issues withy the southern killer whales are largely the result of chemical contaminants. I found a really good, succinct discussion of the issue and suggest that everyone read it:

It does indeed show that contaminant levels of these peak predators – POPs, PCBs, dioxins, furans, etc. –  are very high; however, southern killer whales can have levels as much as four times higher than northern pods. The main problems are reproductive failure and immuno-suppression so the animal gets a disease. This may explain the dead female killer whale found near Courtenay with a near-term fetus in the past week. 
Necropsy to come. Inside Chinook, the preferred prey animal, have much higher levels of chemicals than those found in northern BC waters. And during summer months, killer whales eat more mature chinook, with lower fat levels and thus have to eat more contaminated prey than northern populations.

Also, oil spills have a great effect on marine mammals because they apparently do not smell them, and thus do not avoid the area. After the Exon Valdez spill in 1989 one northern pod lost 33% of its members in one year, after being filmed eating in a spill. Another pod, also so filmed, lost 41% of its members in one year, due to toxicity of ingested oil. Its reproductive success has been zero since 1989 and they approach extinction.

What we anglers can do is chip in and help out our killer whales by putting more chinook in the sea. Eliminating oil spills would help them breed. Also, there is research on this issue by Drs. Dick Beamish and Brian Riddell that you can look into.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Q and As – December

Pacific Salmon Foundation: The PSF’s Salish Sea projects seeks to understand the reasons why Georgia St., Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound salmonid numbers are a fraction of what they used to be even 30 years ago. In contrast, the open ocean shores of Washington, Oregon and California have far higher returns of salmonids. This year, for instance, the chinook return to the USA waters was 2.4 million fish.

The chief Georgia St. chinook run, the Cowichan, has been down to less than 3,000 in recent years (2015 Salmon Outlook not yet received, but 4,500 adults and Jacks returned by Oct 22.). The Cowichan chinook, is the stock most inside water fishers fished in the past.

The Cowichan chinook are a special stock because, unlike other BC stocks in our area, once their estuarial period ends they circle Georgia Strait for more than a year. They move up to Campbell River, cross over and come down the Powell River, Vancouver side then cross the strait again, heading west, before moving out to the open ocean. So they are available as winter feeders for far longer than other stocks.

Inside coho stocks crashed in the 1980s, with the Big Qualicum taking a big hit in ’86 – ’88. They have never come back and one possibility is that Georgia has had higher algal blooms in the intervening years and acidification, a condition coho don’t do well in.

Take a look at the salmonid PDF graphs from the project: Inside salmonids includes steelhead (the Englishman being a prime example of a once flourishing run highly targeted by anglers that went belly up).
Note that the BC coastal streams have higher survival rates. This implies there is something wrong in Salish Sea. Killer whales need chinook too for the winter months when they are the only salmon species available.

From Victoria west to Otter Point, the winter fishery has improved, but that is because the USA has stepped up its production of chinook. Had they not, our fishery may have been reduced to almost nothing.

The PSF points to other adverse conditions:  The Salish Sea ecosystem has changed significantly over the period in which salmon populations have declined. Changes have included increasing water temperatures, increasing acidity, more harmful algae, the loss of forage fish and some marine commercial fishers, changes in marine plants, more seals and porpoises, and the list goes on, including diseases.

If you are so moved, they would like your donation to help reach the $10 Million needed to fund the many projects: Here is a summary of what they are doing:

 SVIAC and SFAB Meeting: The South Vancouver Island Angler’s Coalition is hosting a member-focused holiday season get together on Thursday December 11th, 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. at the Esquimalt Anglers Lounge, 1101 Munro Street, Victoria (upstairs at the foot of Lampson Street by the launching ramp).

The SVIAC has this to say: Come on out and join us.  We see this as a chance for our member anglers to enjoy a small social gathering before the Christmas holidays really set in and to share a few stories about the 2014 fishing season. We’ll also spend a few minutes providing a brief update about tidal fisheries in our area and some insight into what the 2015 season may bring. We do need to seek your input on a couple of fisheries issues, so our SVIAC Victoria area Sport Fishing Advisory Board (SFAB) reps (Thomas Cole and Chris Bos) can act on your behalf at the upcoming South Coast SFAB Committee meeting in Nanaimo.
Door prizes, raffle, refreshments.

Tom Davis: At the Sport Fishing Institute’s winter splash conference our Tom Davis was presented the first ‘Bob Wright Legacy Award’ – details of this award and Tom Davis’s valuable contributions to the sport fishing community can be found at: BWLA 2014. Congrats Tom.

2014 Port Renfrew, Nitinat and Cowichan SFAC meeting minutes, Nov.13: A few selected items of angler interest:

Fishing: Poor with about 1/3 of the normal chinook catch. The season produced a record low crab fishery. This was largely due to the high intensity commercial crab fishery that went on day and night. Also, confusion over coho regs had a negative effect. By the end of September the Coho count was 7,000 for the San Juan with the majority to return in November.

Returns: Very good to the Nitinat, escapement of 35,000 Chinook, and over 4,000 Chinook returning to the San Juan. By the end of September the Coho count was already at 7,000 for the San Juan with the majority yet to return in November. It was noted that the Chinook egg take at the San Juan hatchery was cut back to 250,000 eggs from 1,000,000.  

Cowichan River, by October 22: The preliminary count was 2,400 Chinook adults, 1,100 jacks along with 4,200 Coho and 177,000 Chum.

Cowichan Roundtable discussions: The concerns of the recreational fishery were voiced by Martin Paish and Andreas Berglund at these meeting and Andreas stated it has been very difficult at times. Martin's hard work as our representative paid off with a retention of 1 Coho in the Cowichan River along with a Chum retention. This was not supported by Cowichan tribes but was supported by the department and took place in a very short time.

Groundfish/Shellfish: Brad Beaith, DFO, reported the 140,000 pound underage on Halibut. Consensus by members was if halibut regulations were to change they would like to see a retention of 1 large halibut of any size in the annual limit of 6.

New Transport of Fish Policy: Bob Gallaugher noted the new policy was eroding the sport fishery. Families cannot give their possession limit to another family member to transport and process for them legally. Before this change families could spend a holiday together fishing at a destination. The dad [for example] could take his family members possession of fish home to process with a note containing all the information required and his sons and daughters could carry on to their destinations around the country. Now that is not legal according to enforcement. There was no support for the new policy. A motion passed unanimously for DFO to withdraw the new policy before it destroys the recreational fishery. Better consultation would have helped.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Saanich Inlet e-Book and Hot Lures

Saanich Inlet e-book: Several times in the past year, readers have mentioned interesting stories about fishing Saanich Inlet over the years. I would like to see these stories collected as they form part of the fishing history of our area. Some who were central have already passed, such as Jimmy Gilbert and Charlie White.

I cut my saltwater fishing teeth in Saanich Inlet in the ‘70s and got to know some of the best anglers at the time, including John Rose and Bob Redgrave, among many others who taught me the Inlet’s fishing. Remember the laconic Harold, with the huge, floppy-hind-legged German Shepherd. He told me when asked: “Fish what you are best with.” Rather than a specific lure.

It was good advice. Large strip in a green teaser was the ticket, but making it work was the trick, until it became one of your best. Remember Angel Wing squirts, blue backs in January, 225 and 418 Tomic Plugs when Siwash barbs were legal. Tod Inlet on Boxing Day. Halls Boathouse, Chesterfield Rock, the Pink Lady, Glass House and Stone Steps.

I learned wire line and planer fishing, and that Saanich Inlet was, and still is, absolutely precise in where you caught and will still catch fish today, when they are there. While the Inlet is very calm, a great benefit to fishing, even in its relatively slow moving waters, you could predict accurately where the fish would be based on tidal flow.

For example, in the Bamberton run that anglers committed to memory, the reefs and pockets held fish based on the tide. Where the slag ‘slide’ at the south end of the docks is, marked a ‘V’ shaped cranny under water, that on the flood, most fish would be to the south of the slide hanging over that reef and on an ebb, the fish would be closer to the docks, hanging over the reef that formed the other side of the ‘V’. Then Jimmy’s Hole and…

It was so precise that on several occasions I said to someone I had along, “If we are going to get a fish it will be… right now.” And actually had the planer trip and the rod pop up and the fish was on. One of the benefits of the old Peetz roller-guided rods was that when the planer tripped, the rod jumped almost four feet. You would have to be in a coma to miss a strike. And the bells we put on rods tinkled over the water, and we could hear others also having good fishing, particularly in the dark with the only lights being the cement factory ones.

I first fished from a canoe at the marker off Coles Bay, drift-fishing Stingsildas. My wife at the time managed to catch a 12 pound spring on a summer evening with the new herring sparkling around us. She leaned into the fish, and the gunwhale slid to the water. I leaned out the opposite way and so we did not go under. And landed the chinook.

This is the luck of being young and foolish. She was eight months pregnant with our first child, and we were half a mile off shore. Either you swam to the marker and held on until someone spotted you, or swum a half mile to the Dyer Rocks. Or so I thought. That was the confidence and sheer luck of underprepared youth. Looking back, I see how foolish we had been. And, of course, we did not realize how cold the water was and we would have been in a very serious, life threatening situation if we had gone in.

Here is the point: I’d like everyone who has some Saanich Inlet memories to write them down and send them in. We will put together an e-book from the stories, so the history is preserved. My several lists to which I send this column do not have all the people on them who made the history, from the heyday ‘50s and ‘60s. So would you please let other anglers you know who fished Saanich Inlet that I would appreciate their taking the time to write your and their good stories down and send them in.

I have asked Mike Rose to be the collector of the stories, putting together a digital file which we will then shape into an e-book or PDF for distribution. His email address is: Please send him your stories. Mike mentioned he had access to some of the old Saanich Inlet Anglers Association scrapbooks and etc. Period photos would be good, too, if you can send them digitally. I have ISBNs and will handle the reporting requirements for the National Library in Ottawa. There is also the possibility of putting out a tangible, printed book, but let’s just get the stories in and take it from there.

Tom Cole also sent me a CD of memorabilia, and I will look into that, too.

Hot Lures: Tom Vaida does the Island Outfitters weekly fishing report. The hot tackle from a week ago that you might want to try are: bait: anchovy; teasers: green, UV Green, Bloody Nose, UV Chartreuse; spoons: G-Force, in Irish Cream, No Bananas, also Cop Car, Glow/Green Coyotes; plastics: Yellow, Purple Haze, Gray Ghost, Cloverleaf, Glow Below, Electric Chair; squirts: Pickle Green, J-79, Jellyfish; flashers: Gibbs Madi, Purple Onion, Green/Silver, Green Jellyfish, Silver Betsy.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

1. Winter Spring Fishing - 2. Halibut Regulations

1.      Winter Spring Fishing

With the wind and storms dropping, it is time to take to the water for the most consistent fishing of the year. Winter chinook, feeders, of 5- to 15-pounds, inhabit out waters in numbers from November to the end of March and sometimes April.

In the past, much of Georgia Strait was supplied by chinook from the Cowichan River that have habits that keep them in our waters for longer than other runs. Typically circling up to Campbell River and down past Powell River and Vancouver shores and thence back across the Strait, Cowichan fish were the primary catch and spent more than a year before departing.

From a high of 25,000 escapement, the average over past years was 12- to 15-thousand. In recent years, some escapements were less than 3,000 fish, until last year, when the number of Jacks alone was 4,000 fish, indicating much higher numbers for 2014 (not yet in hand). Their habits and run size were reasons that the Cowichan was picked as an indicator stream for Pacific Salmon Commission negotiations with our American counterparts.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation, in its current, Salmon Steward Newsletter, notes that its Salish Sea project has among its goals, investigating the causes of declined numbers, and methods to change those. It offers a good, preliminary discussion of the effects of toxic algal blooms, particularly in estuaries, affecting chinook that, unlike other species, spend as much as six months before moving offshore; and Strait wide numbers of other species, particularly coho.

Read the PSF SSN: Dr. Svetlana Esenkulova is the lead scientist in this work that has already identified three such blooms in Cowichan Bay in the past year.

In the past decade, the Victoria/Sooke area has received far more American chinook from their ramped-up efforts, and so our fishery has actually improved, but, of course, it would be preferable to improve Canadian fish numbers.

Two weeks ago, I reprised the drill for fishing winter chinook: Here are a few more things to think about. Of the five species, only chinook is relentlessly associated with structure. That means they are found close to rocks, bottoms, banks, choke points and points of land, typically in back eddies. But feeders, unlike mature fish, are not going anywhere. They are simply swimming around looking to put on weight by eating.

Mature chinook are most often found close to shore structures, even more so the closer they get to their natal streams. Not surprisingly, they move forward on the flood, that moves them anyway, and are found in ebb eddies waiting to be pushed forward. In addition, their feeding reflex declines, hence why more are caught at the crack of dawn after a night without food, regardless of tide pattern.

Not so with feeders. They are actively feeding most of the day, with peak periods associated with tide changes. You need not go out at the crack of dawn; it’s a civilized fishery that needs only a tide change during your fishing time.

Feeders also move around in their area chasing food. They will be near food, and will take lures trolled at a faster speed than mature fish will hit. This is a good thing as you will be able to cover more territory and have fish location scoped before the tide change. Bait reading on your depthsounder presents a good place to fish if you have no structure close by to investigate. An example of such a fishery is the Victoria waterfront that has two patterns: a close-in bottom structure related fishery on the bottom 110 feet down.

The second, non-structure related pattern off Victoria, is: trolling the 180- to 200-foot contour at 140 feet. Near the breakwater, February and March while the Gorge herring stage before spawning, is another non-structure example. At the other end, the Powder Wharf off Sidney has a dramatic structural change that affects concentration of chinook related to that feature.

One final thing, is that chinook are in our waters ten to twelve months of the year. The other species pass through in a two month summer window, and some, like pink, only two months in a two year period. So, spend most of your time trying to understand chinook as it will reward you with more fish.

2.      Halibut Regulations

It is time to converse with your local Sport Fishing Advisory Board members to understand the models being worked on for next year (I can send the PDF table to anyone who wants it). Here is the text accompanying the tables:

Recreational Halibut Management Considerations for 2015

Providing opportunity over a full season (February 1 to December 31) at the historical limit of 2 per day and a possession limit of 3 continues to be the primary objective of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board (SFAB) with respect to management of the recreational halibut fishery.

This said, and despite the government’s decision to increase to 15% the share of the total allowable catch available to the recreational and commercial sectors, the SFAB has been forced to devise ways in which to ration the recreational allocation amongst anglers by constraining both the possession limits and the size of halibut that can be retained.   

The measures put in place in 2013 and 2014 have been successful to the extent that the fishery  remained open from February 1 to December 31 in 2013 and will do the same this year.  For 2014, the Board recommended continuation of the experiment with an annual limit of six halibut and the “one and two” possession limit but with an upward adjustment of the maximum size on both the larger and smaller fish, to 133 and 90 cm respectively.  In late August, as soon as it became clear to the Halibut Committee that possession could be relaxed to “2 and 2” without any risk of early closure, this change was recommended and quickly implemented by the department. 

While one needs to be cautious about interpreting average numbers, there does seem to be a positive relationship between the decision to increase slightly the size of halibut that could be retained and the current harvest numbers.  While fewer halibut were retained in 2014, the average weight increased from 11.77 lbs to 14.24 lbs.  This brought us closer to our allocation, with 150,000 lbs. currently uncaught compared with 250,000 lbs in 2013.  The fishery remains open and there seems no reason why the 2015 fishery should not open on February 1 and continue to operate under the present rules until the beginning of the new licence year on April 1, 2014 [sic].

This provides time to review the measures now in place and try to determine whether any changes are warranted that might increase recreational opportunity and expectation while staying within the available allocation.  In carrying out this exercise, it needs to be kept in mind that we will not know the size of our share until after the International Pacific Halibut Commission has finished its annual meeting on January 30, 2015.        
As we wait for the 2015 allocation number, let’s assume for planning purposes three possibilities:  that the recreational sector’s 15% share is 100,000 pounds less than in 2014; that it is the same; and that it is 100,000 pounds greater.  We want local committees to review the current season from these perspectives and provide feedback.  We ask that any suggestions for change take into account the Board’s overall goal of maximizing the recreational fishery’s social and economic contribution while meeting the recreational Vision principle that “conservation of naturally reproducing fish and their habitat is the highest priority”.  We ask committee members to ensure that proposals are conservation based, measurable, enforceable, and able to be implemented at the beginning of the 2015 season on April 1.  
This document is being distributed to the SFAB family with the expectation that local chairs will want to give local committee members an opportunity to discuss the alternatives and possibly formulate policy motions.  Any proposals could then be reviewed during the North and South Coast regional meetings in early December.  

The Main Board has been unanimous in its determination to ensure that the halibut fishing season remains open as long as possible and I assume that this remains the case.  In discussing alternatives to the current rules it would seem prudent to consider them against this objective and the risk that the wrong choice results in a larger than expected harvest and imposition of a closure in late summer.   

The members of the SFAB halibut committee again wish to thank all participants in the SFAB process for their dedication and willingness to participate in discussion of this complex and often frustrating issue.

Q and As – November, 2014

Summer Steelhead Rivers, Northern BC: If you have ever wondered how the fabled summer steelhead rivers of northern BC lie in the context of the Skeena and Nass watersheds, here is a good map that also has the regulations regarding who can fish where superimposed on it:

These rivers have been written about since Zane Grey’s time and the better part of a century discussion over A. H. E. Wood’s description of ‘greased-line’ fly fishing, which, as a method is still argued about and performed today. A good discussion may be found in Trey Comb’s beautiful, Steelhead Fly Fishing, that has stories on many of the tribs and 14 lovely colour-plates of low water to big fat, bombers, for waking furrows in the wet. The sparser flies, Silver Hilton, for example, are laid on classic black salmon hooks, with their elegant upturned eye and folded back black wire.

You may know there are classified stretches, and sections that only resident anglers can fish on the weekends in the fall. The tribs of lore include: the only Nass trib, the Bell-Irving; and on the Skeena: Morice, Sustet, Kispiox, Bulkley and Babine. Our Rod Haig-Brown also fished our northern steelhead and wrote about them. Winter steelhead frequent these northern waters, too.

Weekly fishing reports can be found on many sites. Here is one with reports back to 2007: It also has archived reports to 1996.

Atlantic Salmon: As suggested by readers that I, or anyone else, should maintain photos and send in samples of fish that appear to be hybrid, or fully, Atlantic salmon, for DFO DNA analysis. Steve Baillie, from DFO in Nanaimo, answered my Scientific Licence Application to retain and forward such fish.

Of great surprise was the following answer: “Atlantic Salmon are not listed as salmon under Schedule VI of the BC Sport Fishing Regulations, therefore they come under Schedule IV (Finfish other than salmon). Again, they are not specifically listed here, so they come under Item 21 which allows a daily retention of 20 pieces, with no gear restrictions.

“So we don’t require you to have a Scientific Licence for retention of Atlantic salmon. I’ve included the website information on Atlantics, which has the identification and contact phone number for you to call the next time you find one in your landing net. I suggest you keep this letter in your boat should you be questioned by enforcement staff.”

He attached a sheet from the regulations: Exotic Alert: Atlantic Salmon in BC. This sheet has visual identification marks: in a nutshell: 8 to 12 anal fin rays (Pacific salmon have 13 to 19 rays); very noticeable, large, black spots on the gill cover (not common on Pacific salmon); and, may have very noticeably eroded or worn fins from containment in net-pens.

The phone number to call is: 1-800-811-6010. And if you intend on forwarding a sample to DFO, I was advised that a fin clip was enough, and that it should be frozen within two hours of capture, and kept frozen until it is in DFO’s hands.

In the sheet, if you catch an Atlantic: “DFO biologists are interested in acquiring as much information about Atlantic salmon recoveries as possible. Donation is not mandatory, but it does provide valuable samples for our scientific study. Keep the fish and report the capture by calling the toll free number [above].”

The sheet goes on: “Please note the date and location of the catch, as well as other details such as bait type and depth, if possible. If you choose to eat the fish, please retain the non-edible portions (head, gut, and carcass), frozen if possible. Otherwise, please keep the fish whole and freeze it if possible to prevent deterioration of the tissues. The department may wish to recover the fish from you.”
Baillie’s call to me said it was preferable to freeze within two hours and etc. The email address for the program is:

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Chinook Fishing Arrives

The calendar year for saltwater salmon fishing begins in November with the first 2- and 3-year feeder chinook coming into local waters to feed and grow. It’s time to take out your records and see where you caught them in the past and what you caught them on.

It is good practice to record every fish in a log book because the memory gets worn; it also gives date, gear, depth, location, description of structure, tide pattern and change time. If you use stainless cable and have a black box, record that reading, too. Waypoints you enter on GPS fishing charts serve purpose, as well; they will give you exact information on where, going over structure, you were.

It is also good practice to take local information from area reports and write that down too, for example, Island Outfitters’ weekly report; Tom Vaida collects lure, and other, data each week for many local fishing spots. And then Island Angler and Island Sportsman also give gear and fishing reports. My Vancouver Island Fishing Guide gives you information for both winter and summer salmon fishing around the Island.  

From the information you gather, make a fishing plan. Based on tide, decide where to fish, which direction to troll and the first three lures you will try. I am a firm believer that making a plan leads to catching more fish. You think things over to arrive at what you will do and that focusses the mind on taking positive action.

Let me give you two examples. When the tide is ebbing and I am fishing the Oak Bay Flats to Clover Point, there is a rock ridge just west of Trial Island that rounds up the fish and deposits them there over the six or so hours the tide falls. On many occasions I have caught a fish in this spot, and on the occasional day caught many winter springs here – 85- to 110-feet.

My records note this pattern and it repeats itself every year because feeder chinook have the same patterns related to structure every winter. Here is another. There is a spire in the west end of the Race that comes up to about 47 feet. Also, on an ebb, I once dropped a line just over the spire as the water deepened. I turned to the next rod, but had already received a bite on the one rod put out.

The record of that one fish in my log book has prompted me to, when fishing from Pedder Bay to Church Rock, drop gear coming off the spire, and many fish over many years. Then there is an empty patch before Christopher Point, then into good fishing again in Whirl Bay, which is good structure about 115 feet deep toward Church a standard, well-fished run in winter that often holds fish.

Having three specific lures in mind is also a confidence booster that focusses you on the fishing. It gives you a plan for the first few hours. One of the three should be bait (I always fish one rod of bait until convinced other tackle is better). It is true that bait requires more effort. You have to choose bait heads, wire rig them, then add already rigged leaders with a treble and trailing hook. Make a curve in the bait, greater toward the tail, test it beside the boat, re-rig and then lower it.

The bait rod should be watched continually because even a small tap can shred the bait, a distinct disadvantage compared with gear such as plastics and spoons. Spoons, plugs and Apexes all are fishing continually, and worry free. Bait should be checked every 20 minutes so that you aren’t towing a glob no salmon will bite. I put the bait line on the port side so that sitting at the wheel, it is the easiest line to check visually.

Don’t change speed once you have put down bait and the rest of your array. Changing speed results in tackle fishing differently from what it did beside the boat. With bait, increased speed can make it spiral out of control and make it slide back in the head so it no longer resembles a natural fish. Too slow and the bait may not spiral at all. Oh, and spiral is the right action. A circle is not the same thing as a spiral, the latter having the tail follow the head in a natural motion of an injured bait fish. A circle with the tail outside the diameter of the head will result in no fish, too.

This is the article on my blog that deals with the nitty gritty of wire-rigging a bait head: The photos give some colours. My winter preferences are pearlescent 602 – it glows – and glow green. But, of course, there are other heads that catch lots of fish: Bloody Nose, Purple Haze and Army Truck. Glow and UV properties are far more important in winter fishing because we fish so much deeper than in summer and there is less light as water depth increases.

Glow in flashers is also a good thing in deeper fishing. I use the simplest, green glow, UV, though Purple Haze is also a standard. Oki has a good idea, too, adding electric current, to some of its flashers, for example, the Glow Super Betsy, Gold Metallic. As the flasher is fished there is galvanic current produced in saltwater, the same principle as a black box. It attracts fish to follow and then it sees the lure.

The other two tackle choices will typically include glow hootchies/squirts and spoons. To a lesser extent do we fish plugs these days. In the past, before hooks needed to be debarbed, plugs were fished more often. Their long tip Siwash hooks aid penetration but without a barb the fish slides off more easily than other hooks. It helps to emphasize good fishing technique by keeping your rod tip high and thus pressure on the fish at all times.

Kirb Siwash hooks by holding the point to shaft in a pair of pliers (that means at right angles to the shaft) and bending down, introducing a bend for purchase in a jaw. The downside of this procedure is that it makes the plug move through the water a little to one side, but in winter, as we can increase speed, we can make it dart erratically, eliminating an off kilter motion, and also a good fish-mesmerising thing.

As for plastics, pick up what is current, but still look at your records. Oak Bay killers are Irish Mist, J-49 and occasionally Mint Tulip. The standard, Purple Haze, with a gold skirt, is probably the most common pattern used today in all local waters.