Monday, 12 May 2014

Big Spring Thing

The past winter’s CRD chinook catches suggest we are witnessing an improvement in fish numbers and stock composition. There have been more fish in the teens and early twenties, something uncommon for more than twenty years. And, of course, in the past decade our winter fish have been mostly two- and three-year Puget Sound chinook, because Cowichan and Fraser numbers – other than obvious components like the Thompson that are doing well – have been so depleted.

These larger fish, many clipped, represent both three- and four-year feeder chinook. In the past, the winter fishery was two-year feeders with the occasional three-year fish to 15 pounds. But for feeders of three- and four-years to be here – a 25 pound chinook in January is a feeder as it is not on a spawning run – that implies more fish, including a distribution into local waters because there are more fish and thus they use more area to nurse. A statistical thing.

In Alaska they experience winter feeders of 30- to 40-pounds, even though these are five- and six-year fish. Also, west off Langara Island in Haida Gwaii, represents a fishery for feeders into the 25 lb range, as you catch them on cutplugs at 80 pulls in water of 250 feet or more. They are feeding or coming onto shore from the open Pacific for the first time.

Locally, the first big springs of summer are here. We have regs to protect Fraser 4-2s and 5-2s: March 1, to June 13, Subareas 19-1 to 19-4 and 20-5, Cadboro Point to Sheringham Point, the daily limit is two (2) chinook salmon per day which may be wild or hatchery marked between 45 cm and 67 cm or hatchery marked greater than 67 cm in length.  

It is time to switch from fishing deep structure. Change the mono on your reels to new 25- to 30-pound test, or try a braided line of 35 – using a figure eight knot because braid is slippery. Now is the time to fish 40- to 80-feet, and closer to shore and rock, rather than mud/sand structures.

While the ebb is the best chance to catch springs in a back eddy before the flood pushes them on – the west side of Clover Point being an example because it has several miles of ‘dead’ water that the fish swim through to Clover and wait, meaning more fish in the back eddy than where there are back eddies one after the other, say the Bedfords to Christopher Point in Sooke – this year it makes sense to fish the back eddies on the flood, too.

There are so many chinook bound for the States – 2.4 million chinook to the Columbia, Klamath and Sacramento – some will divert down Johnstone, meaning they will be migrating the opposite direction through Sidney to Sheringham, as in out to the open ocean, and thus be waiting in back eddies caused by the flood tide. The Sooke side of Otter Point for example or off the Oak Bay golf course, a place we seldom fish, but because the current rockets through Enterprise Channel on the flood the whole area from the Yellow Can Buoy to the Tee box will likely hold big US springs.

As the summer wears on, it makes more and more sense to put scent on lures because Chinook bite index falls the closer they get to their natal rivers. And, of course, this behavior also is what makes the crack of dawn the best time to fish, the chinook having not eaten all night, the only gap in the 24 hour day. Large anchovy and even the much larger large herring make sense for larger fish that are migrating – they don’t know the local bait size as they are just passing through, unlike feeders that do key in on bait size as they reside in an area for several months.

The Betsy is the best flasher for Sooke, rigged in the Farr Better Flasher method, so the fish is not pulling out the hook because flasher shear slowed the tackle. While we expect big springs to follow the shoreline all around, say, Pedder Bay to William Head, Albert Head, to Esquimalt Harbour, to the Breakwater, and thence to Clover Point, do consider that the US fish – not those for Puget Sound – have a higher bite index and a thousand miles before lining up on shore structure. This implies that Constance Bank should have more big springs this summer, and ditto for other off-shore structure. Swiftsure, for instance, would get big Chinook both coming into Juan de Fuca and going out of the Strait aimed for Cape Flattery.

When fishing 50 feet or less on the downrigger, play out 25 feet of mainline before clipping-in; this places tackle farther from motor noise and hull shadow. As we troll slower for big springs, make sure your bait spiral works at fishing speed beside the boat, before sending it down. And haul out those old Pal 3 Dodgers, putting bait six feet behind.

The SFAB is on Our Side

Gerry Kristianson, one of our sport fishery’s brains trust, is the Chair of the Sport Fish Advisory Board. The SFAB is celebrating its 50th year of advocating on behalf of sport interests with DFO. Our ‘good’ buddy, Minister Gail Shea, gave a special award to the SFAB for its contribution to sport fishing in Canada. Her staffers thought it should go elsewhere, but apparently, she is finally starting to understand that sport fishing puts $8 billion into the Canadian economy annually – $1 Billion in BC – which can only be a good thing.

The BC government has been negotiating a draft deal in Haida Gwaii, regarding drawing great green swatches of ocean that our aboriginal friends want hived off from commercial and recreational fishing, so they can do their food and ceremonial thing, as well as for economic purposes – read commercial harvest. There are three such plans slowly progressing, and you will recall the WCVI judgment earlier this year, accepting aboriginal right to commercial fishing here.

Two of the areas the Haida want are west off Langara, where there are both sport and commercial fisheries, as well as Denham Shoal off Englefied Bay. But the process has not included sport, commercial, nor DFO (admittedly, DFO backed out as the process funding was from the American Moore Foundation, so BC is not at fault for not asking).

In a five page letter, Gerry has this to say: “Although the Sport Fishing Advisory Board was not invited to play a role in development of the Haida Gwaii Draft Marine Plan, and has never received a formal request with respect to consultation on the Plan, the Executive members of the SFAB have decided to offer the following observations with respect to Version 2.1. Many parts of the document refer to management areas over which neither of the authoring governments has jurisdiction and we feel it would be dangerous if we did not make clear our position clear on issues that affect recreational anglers, if only to avoid future misunderstandings. We think it essential that discussion of tidal fisheries management issues not proceed further in the absence of federal government representation [nothing can be done without DFO as they have the power] supported with respect to recreational fishing issues by participation of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board.”

And there is another issue. More aboriginals now make their living from both the commercial and sport fishing sectors. So the MAPP process goes against some of their own jobs. For example, the Haida now own West Coast Resorts – Hippa, Englefield and Whale Channel – which are high-quality, high-income, fly-in sport fisheries. Englefield’s fishery is Denham Shoal, so the losers in this area are, well, aboriginals.

And BC seems to have forgotten – probably the Deputy Minister changed – that it is a signatory to the Vision for Recreational Fisheries along with the SFAB and DFO, which is about access to fish and more fish.

“We urge the provincial government, as a signatory to the Vision… to honor its commitment to the principles… and especially to the promise: “Prior to making decisions on recreational fisheries management, governments will seek advice through appropriate inclusive, transparent and accountable consultation processes.” The Haida Gwaii MAPP process has not met this requirement.”

I can forward Kristianson’s PDF if you want to read it, and will keep you posted on developments as they occur.

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