Sunday, 29 June 2014

High Stick Nymphing – June

June is the month on Van Isle to dead-drift nymphs for rainbows in rivers that enter or leave lakes. This happens all over Vancouver Island so this calendar item should be on every fisher’s list. A few examples include: the top end of the Cowichan from Greendale. You can wade down a half mile and then walk back up; it is no longer a secret that the best example of this is the Elk River that flows into Upper Campbell Lake; and another is the Big Q where it flows into Horne Lake.

But there are dozens of lakes and streams where this concept occurs and it will take you a couple decades to figure out all such spots on Van Isle – even north of Campbell River will take a decade. The Elk has the advantages that it is in a gravel basin, so it is open, warm, easily waded (but take a staff anyway) and has thousands of rainbows spawning in June. It also has cutthroat that are opportunistic and there to scarf down eggs.

The Elk also has Dolly Varden up in the pools of the canyon. Cuthroat typically spawn in early fall, but can be sporadic around the calendar, particularly where they are sea-run fish (not in Campbell Lake because it has a dam. But add the Quinsam, a very gentle river, for sea-runs, which the hatchery stocks). Dolly Varden spawn in late fall when triggered by water temperature reaching 10 degrees Celsius. They spend the winter in deep pools, and then, where possible, pass back out to the ocean. Rivers like the Cowichan also have Browns which are more disposed to swung Woolly Buggers and meaty flies.

You will be fishing a 4- or 6-weight rod. Your sink tip line will end in a poly leader that also sinks. Stepped down leader to 4-pounds or an integral leader that descends in test to tying on your fly. The fly is typically some version of a nymph, and there are dozens of examples, half-back, gold ribbed Hare’s Ear, Pheasant tail and so on, in size 8 or 10 hook. I make a version so simple it drives dextrous fly tiers bonkers because theirs’ and commercial nymphs are works of art.

Mine simply works and that’s enough for me: use a gold bead head, crimp the barb and slide the slippery bead over the barb (small hole first) and to the eye. Wind on black thread and take some rubber leg material. Make a ‘V’ and tie it down opposite the point, legs pointing to the rear. Use needlepoint black thread from Michaels which is bushy and tie it back along the shank from the bead eye to the V, securely tie in with thread and then back the thread up to the bead eye.

Wind the needlepoint thread back to the eye and then down the shank and back up until the fly has a nice plump body. Wind the thread behind the bead eye, tie in a few wraps, cut the needlepoint thread off and tie in securely. Then a ’V’ of rubbery leg material tied in behind the bead, legs pointing either forward or back. Knot off the tying thread and use enough clear nail polish or Hard as Hull, so that you leave a clear hard back and throat – an alternative to the half back. And voila, that’s all. My flies work as well as or better than works of art, and take a fraction of the time to tie. Digital facility does not reside in my digits.

Use an improved clinch knot to tie the nymph on, and pull the knot away from the hook eye so it helps with the natural movement of the dead drifted fly. In nymphing, you do not stand above the fish because the whole point in dead drifting is to mimic a nymph that has lost its rock and is tumbling as it passes downstream. You stand beside the fish, not above, which means that you have to sneak into position having spotted fish and stand still (so you don’t scare the fish), because this aids the tumble. You rod tip is high and passes downstream with the progress of your nymph. 

The reason is that you also have to be in contact with the fly, so that any uptake is spotted and immediately struck. And you do not stand above the fish because the nymph will swing past the fish, connected to the tip of the rod, and this is not the natural tumble a real nymph will present. It is an art to get high-sticking down, but it can be deadly for June fish.

It is a great satisfaction to take such a technique, get it working correctly, and then spend June with your Backroads Mapbook, finding where rivers enter or exit lakes. There are dozens and dozens of such locations on our island that has, if you can believe it, 123 watersheds. So get that gleam in your eye in the winter, planning your spring, and catch and release them rainbows in June. Oh, and there are some lovely March fisheries for cutthroat doing the same thing, even a few rivers where the sea-runs come in in January. And…

Note: A couple of good fly tying books: Skip Morris’, Fly Tying Made Clear and Simple; Bob Jones’/Paul Marriner’s, A Compendium of Canadian Fly Patterns.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Climate Change and Pacific Salmon

It is generally accepted that climate change, with its increasing temperatures, will have negative effects on BC salmon. DFO put out a paper in 2009 that studied more than 350 related papers, covering Korea, Japan, Russia, Alaska, BC, WA, OR and CA: Beamish and Riddell, well-known names to sport anglers, took part. Do read it as it is much more than I could summarize along with my own observations in an article of this length. Use caffeine, too.

Factors include: offshore weather patterns, decadal shifts in the Aleutians, winds, ground water discharge, iron concentration, El Ninos/La Ninas, ocean currents, temperature, ice cover, ocean migration patterns, run-timing, interspecies competition, coastal upwelling, ocean acidity, zoo- and phyto-plankton effects and then in freshwater, precipitation and form of precipitation, snow pack and snow melt, increase in ice-free periods in lakes, temperature, size and timing of freshet, composition of stream- or river-type chinook, coastal versus lengthy migration into interior rivers and so on.

Surprisingly, commercial catches have risen dramatically in Russia and climate warming is seen as a good thing into the middle of the 21st century – because ice effects in fresh and saltwater depress salmon numbers – while competition between chum and pink fry results in size and productivity differences greater than other factors right now. Similar ‘local’ variations occur, and sometimes opposite results can occur in different regions from the same stressor.

Sockeye are the first species to come back, and can be as early as April in the Hobiton River on Van Isle, May to September in the Somass, May to June in Skeena and Nass, and from early June to September in the complex, multi-component Fraser run. Sockeye are the most sensitive to temperature, and diversion from west coast to Johnstone Strait can result from a one degree temperature change. Fraser River entry is also partly triggered by water temperature. In fresh water, sockeye tolerate 20 degrees C, and then begin dying. I once stood on a balcony over-looking the Somass confluence and the bottom of the river was littered with what looked like silver bars. It was sockeye dying and little wonder, it was 42 C in the shade where we sat in Margaritaville, sweating like pigs, doing nothing.

The farther a run must go upstream, sockeye to the interior, for instance, the greater the pre-spawn mortality with respect to temperature; but greater marine fat levels brought back into the Fraser result in lower mortality, implying that several factors can affect the portion of escapement that successfully spawns. You will recall Dr. Kristi Miller’s work on the Viral Signature – meaning disease – of Fraser sockeye can result in up to 90% pre-spawn mortality.

And if there is greater ice or rain precipitation, eggs can be wiped out. And sockeye typically spend a year or so in a lake before migrating. Higher temperatures are thought to result in higher fry mortality in saltwater because they may be too small to survive the ocean. Longer periods of sunlight on saltwater are consistent with greater algal blooms, in Georgia Strait, associated with higher mortality of smolts. And when the ocean is warmer, sockeye don’t grow as well, and thus do poorer on entering rivers to migrate the distances.

The Fraser River accounts for 30- to 40-% of all BC salmon production. Because numerous stocks of sockeye, pink and chum are near the southern limit of their range, the early impacts of climate change should be detectable in these stocks first. Warm water during spawning results in earlier hatching of fry and higher fry to smolt mortality.

Chinook with their large bodies have difficulty entering coastal rivers depleted by long, hot, summers, with a lack of precipitation. The same can be said for their and coho fry surviving a long hot summer in rivers. Poor development in rivers leads to coho, sockeye and chinook doing poorer in saltwater. It is not yet clear whether the mechanism that causes ocean-weather regimes to shift will be exacerbated or muted by increasing levels of greenhouse gasses.

Coho come on the tail end of chinook runs, but tend to hang on beyond all other species, waiting for the high rain falls of late autumn and even winter before entering side-streams where they preferentially spawn. Less rain, means fewer coho, which are the second most temperature sensitive of the five species, because the side-streams become isolated pools in summer, with coho fry frizzling in summer temperatures, waiting for fall flows to escape. Most of our rivers have had their trees logged in the past century, resulting in very open, gravel moonscapes that further elevate temperature. Go look at the San Juan for such a devastated river. On the other hand, walk the easy trail and pretty Big Qualicum with its forest cover intact and cooler summer flow. Vastly different productivity.

Where it rains is important, too. I have stood on a gravel bar extending from a side-stream, measuring 25 by 20 by 12 feet deep. Four days later, because the main-stem had received much rain, but not the tributary’s watershed, the entire tongue had been blown out and the water was 12 feet deep. The higher and more concentrated the rain, the greater the problem.

Chum are notoriously poor at spawning in good locations. They tend to spawn on the highest rains of fall and when the river drops, up to 90% of eggs are wasted. So, less, rather than more rain, would conserve them, forcing them to spawn within the river’s usual banks.

It has also been shown that BC populations north of 50- to 55-degrees latitude oscillate in ocean numbers differently from those of more southerly rivers. Warmer weather allows cold water predators like hake and mackerel to move north and eat more salmon. Predation is a big problem, even in Alaska where 75% of Prince William Sound pink fry are lost to predation during their first 45- to 60-days in the ocean.

Temperature differences in the north east Pacific play a role in sorting out different salmon species to different areas. Along with higher temperatures above the water, currents flowing north to south split the near shore and off shore regions and also distribute salmon for foraging. Higher temperatures will influence marine distribution.

Salmon also stray from their own rivers by as much as 10%. Pink and sockeye are now reported in the Beaufort Sea. Chinook are the least temperature-related strayers. I have witnessed pinks and sockeye in rivers where there are no historical runs. Oddly, I have noticed sockeye – because they are so easily identified as red fish before coho turn – spawning in the same patch of gravel in succeeding years, even though the river has no identified sockeye run.

There has been a decline in hatchery coho in Georgia Strait since the mid-‘80s, while wild coho have remained stable but at low levels. Growth, survival and abundance occur earlier in the year for wild coho than hatchery coho. Growth between July and September is inversely related to marine survival, indicating that faster and earlier growth may improve lipid storage, increasing the chances of survival over the winter. This study suggests that fish farms have caused a 50% decline in salmon numbers:

Monday, 16 June 2014

Summer Chinook

In a flurry of emails Friday 13, 2014, DFO updated Chinook regulations for local areas. Victoria waters are Areas 19-4, 19-3, and 20-5 – Cadboro to Sheringham points. Ten Mile Point to Sidney Harbour are Sidney waters and comprise Area 19-5.

For your reference, find DFO’s BC tidal waters segregated into Areas here:

The regs for chinook in Victoria waters, June 14 to midnight July 18, to protect Fraser 5-2s, are:
a daily limit of two chinook salmon which may be wild or hatchery marked between 45 cm and 85 cm or marked greater than 85 cm. The minimum size limit is 45 cm. Then, in a further email, it was added that only one salmon may be greater than 67 cm.

During the same period to July 18, the regs for chinook in Sidney waters are: a daily limit of two chinook salmon which may be wild or hatchery marked between 62 cm and 85 cm. The minimum size limit is 62 cm. Then it was added that only one may be greater than 67 cm.

In Fisheries Notice 0485, the most recent Albion test fishery for Spring and Summer 5-2 Fraser chinook indicated 45,000 to 85,000 fish, more than the previous test figure and more than the pre-season Salmon Outlook estimate of 25,000. Updated numbers will be available Monday, June 16.

Seven emails, and, whew, I think we got that straight. Now, why does it matter? Ah well, I fished Oak Bay on Wednesday, June 11. And wouldn’t you know it that I caught and had to release a wild chinook of 20- to 22-pounds, a fish that on Friday 13, I would have been able to keep. Hmm.

Wednesday was an unusual day in that the ebb turned at 8:43 AM but there was not another tide change until midnight, meaning that it flooded all day long – a long slow flood. So I moseyed into McNeill Bay, expecting it to be still ebbing first thing. But it was not. It was gently flooding, when the current table for Race Rocks suggested it should still be ebbing.

Oak Bay has both tide and current changes and sometimes the flood pushes through Enterprise Channel and sometimes around Trial Island south. It varies simply on local conditions of where the water is pushing. It seldom matches the tables.

Based on the tide tables, the McNeill Bay trench should have been holding Fraser chinook that stopped and held, the shallowest part of Enterprise being 25 feet, with the trench, to the west, 50 – 60 feet deep. Chinook typically serpentine about 1.5 knots per hour, and so any tide opposing them of greater speed, keeps them in a back eddy until it is over, and then the push pushes them forward again.

But there were no fish in McNeill and I putted back trying to keep close to the yellow buoy then close to the tee box on the Royal Victoria Golf Club point. The purpose was to test the theory that some US chinook would divert down Johnstone Strait and present themselves in flood tide eddies at conspicuous points of land like Ten Mile Point and the golf course point.

And indeed it was gently flooding, and I hit the fish about 150 yards off the tee box. A place that you never fish when you fish the Flats – 75- to 130-feet sand bottom – and the rest of the fleet were about two miles from my spot.

The fish hit a small anchovy on a 602, pearl, wire-rigged head four feet behind a green-glow Farr Better flasher, downrigger ball at 30 feet – clip at about 23 feet. This is so close you should be able to see the smack if you were looking over the transom. Oh, and put out 25 feet of mainline before clipping in, to avoid engine noise and shadow. But this fish was not bothered by either.

The other positive factor was there were several herring balls with gulls, diving birds and seals between me and the Great Chain Islets. All surface balls must have something keeping them flush and thus caught at the surface ‘structure’. In this case, having putted through several, it was the divers and seals keeping them up, not chinook as I caught nothing. But I did get to look at the balls which were herring rather than what one would expect – needlefish.

I could not conclude my theory of west-bound US chinook was correct or not. The tide was slow and the fish could have been pushed through from McNeill. The tide continued building over the morning but tootling among the bumps in the area produced nothing more than a half dozen ling, which were let go, including one keeper. All were caught, oddly, on a hootchy, rather than the bait – Purple Haze, with a gold skirt. I will do more flood tide, back eddy fishing this summer to see what is produced.

Later, Ten Mile Point had a good flood push and a soft eddy, but I did not fish. At Trial, the push later came around both ends and joined up a mile east, creating a big back eddy between them that might well contain fish on another occasion. Anyone who catches a big spring in a flood tide back eddy, let me know. I would be keen to hear.

One last thing: in the olden days when the Peppers were the local hot fisher dudes, I can imagine them, along with Bob Wright in one of his fibreglass, lapstrake dories with a 9.9, two-stroke, rubbing the tee box, fishing cut plugs. There is no kelp on the absolute point, and it is a wall, implying a ‘V’ in structure below the water to hold chinook. Hmm, something to be checked out another time.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

DFO Hatchery Plans on Vancouver Island

I just got a terrific DFO table of the 2013 egg take projections for BC and thus the 2014 plants of fry, as well as some 2015 coho output. The overall projection was 586 million eggs, corresponding to more than a half billion fry put out. When you consider the entire Salmon Enhancement Program budget averages $25 million annually, and only 60% of that, or about $15.5 million goes directly to enhancement, a whole lot of work gets done for very little money.

The major hatcheries on Vancouver Island are: the Nitinat west of Cowichan; Robertson Creek, Port Alberni; Conuma, Nootka Sound; and, the Quinsam, Campbell River. There are smaller ones all over the Island, including, San Juan, Quatse, Puntledge, Cowichan and so on, with dozens of volunteer projects, the pink releases for the beach fly fisheries from Qualicum to Campbell River, for example. Also, there are many netpens for a few weeks of feeding and release, for example, in Sidney, and shortly, our local South Vancouver Island Angling Coalition, hopes for Victoria/Esquimalt.

Many hatcheries are doing interesting things. The Puntledge gets early summer and fall chinook, with work being done trucking early fish to cool water and then returning them when the rains begin in fall for spawning of both, as well as imprinting experiments on both runs.

A lot of science now gets done at hatcheries. Some, including the Nitinat, create habitat complexity in their raceways, use natural feed (krill) and do predator conditioning to produce smolts better adapted to release into the natural environment. This is in partnership with several universities.

Genetic-based tagging of chinook is used to assess size inheritability in hatchery fish. This work explores whether larger Chinook adults can be produced through fish culture by using older and larger brood stock. Chinook in enriched environments are already showing returns of larger, older (five-year) females on Vancouver Island.

Genetic-based tagging and delayed hatchery release of southern coho stocks is used to assess differences in marine distribution. The purpose is to answer questions like: do later releasees stay in Georgia Strait where they are available to sport fisheries? Anglers will recall more grilse in our winter fisheries, some of which would be these fish, but with the dramatic decline of Georgia coho in the late ‘80s, spring blueback fishing pretty much disappeared. I remember taking coho to five pounds off the Winchelseas on a regular basis in the spring. And Saanich Inlet used to have a Cowichan River blueback fishery in January until the early ‘90s.

Here are stats for the large hatcheries, in millions:


Robertson Creek




Big Qualicum

The one surprise here is the Somass system, that will produce 1.8 million sockeye returnees this summer, only enhances 100,000 fish, so a very healthy system. You may recall they elevated Sproat sockeye numbers by fertilizing the lake with basic elements. Last winter, while stumbling about, Spey fishing for late coho, I was surprised to find the Taylor, above Sproat Lake, still had sockeye waiting to spawn in January.

In addition to the table numbers are smaller takes for other rivers not included above; Chapman Creek, for instance, got 135,000 Big Q chinook fry and 950,000 pinks from the Quinsam. The Cowichan harvested 700,000 of its own chinook. Esquimalt Harbour received 200,000 Nitinat chinook. As is common for the other large hatcheries, the Quinsam specializes. It puts out most of the pinks we fish for all along Georgia Strait, a total of 15.3 million. The Little Q produces 38.45 chum; the spawning channel in the Big Q produces as many in its man-made stream. The Conuma, also takes chinook for many local Nootka Sound rivers, including the Burman, Canton, Gold, Sucwoa and Tlupana.

Closer to home, the Sooke River, popular with fly guys above the bridge and gear guys below, does its own egg taking. It is supplemented by the river and other hatcheries. Chinook eggs/fry are 602,500 from the Nitinat and 229,000 from Sooke itself. The De Mamiel coho take was 141,000 eggs.

All these numbers represent hatchery work and do not include river escapement that spawns naturally. If you want the table, send me a note.

Oak Bay Marina Saturday, May 31: While I slaved over my boat, other guys were not only out on the water but they were catching my fish. I grumbled, walking by a 20-pound hatchery spring taken on small anchovy on the Flats. And just as I was dragging my battery down the dock, another lucky angler flopped down the halibut catch of several anglers. Three flatties to 42 pounds taken on an unspecified – meaning he wouldn’t tell me – spire south of Trial. Herring and octopus.