Sunday, 31 August 2014

Even More on Trailers/Boats to the West Coast

A previous column covered items for your trailer before hauling your boat to West Coast Van Isle:

Here is more info, as I count down the hours to moving north to Quatsino Sound.

Trailer Tires. Check all tires for pressure. I found one with nothing, and it was not the tire, but  a faulty valve stem. Also, I purchased a used, galvanized, five nut, 14” rim with a new tire, for a spare. Nothing worse than having a flat in the middle of nowhere.

Tire Pump. Pick up a pump that plugs into your cigarette lighter, one that will realistically pump 50 psi.

Axle heat. Stop every hour and feel the axle housing for heat. Warm is good, hot is not.

Changing a Tire. Take along the block you normally put under your tongue jack. If you leave it out, the tongue jack can get the rear axle (assuming a tandem axle) off the ground to change a tire. Or, put it in and you can get the front axle tires off the ground. Take WD 40 for lug nuts, particularly ones used in saltwater. Take a lock for your trailer, where you leave it.

Surge brakes. These trailer brakes cause a lot of noise as you tow and use your car brakes, when the surge brakes kick in. I have heard of people cutting the surge brake line, but leave this one to you. Your car hitch must match surge brakes, so check your trailer on-line, and phone your car dealer to make sure the two match.

Boat Battery. If your boat battery is more than a year old, or not in best condition, consider picking up a back-up battery so you are not left dead in the water. Take distilled water for the cells.

Extra Propeller. Again, you could be dead in the water, if you ding your propeller and have to attempt limping back in waves and current. Do remember that the extra vibration, or knocking the leg/engine outside of its tolerances (mine is 6 one thousandths of an inch) can cause serious problems. Also, before leaving home, take the prop off, clean, grease and replace cotter pins that have broken.

Propeller. Powerwash the boat and scrape the barnacles off your leg/engine/propeller. Barnacles cause cavitation and rapidly reduce the props ability to get you up on the plane and stay there. Scrape them off, buff with a drywall ‘sponge’ and spray paint. If you paint the leg/engine, first use Zinc Chromate so the paint does not make the leg/engine an anode. Not good for boat electrical potential for fishing, if you use stainless cable. Not good for the leg. The paint chips off first.

VHF. Buy yourself a handheld VHF in case your boat’s VHF goes offline. Take a cellphone, too.

Bon Ami. Clean all windows with Bon Ami/Windex. And take a six pack of paper towels.

Foam Sealant strips. If you have a hatch, forward window, etc. check all for possible water leaks, strip off old strips, scrape track with a putty knife, clean with Bon Ami, and replace all old strips with new. Use clear, marine caulking in all ‘joints’ or where you see air.

Toggle life jackets. These ones, Mustang for instance, you will actually wear, so you have it on when falling out of the boat. And make the first rule that if someone does go over, that another life jacket is thrown overboard, before getting in fishing gear and going back to pick the person up. Also, take a set of stairs that fit on your gunwhale. Some boats will have legs that can be climbed up and swim grids, with steps. Other types of life jackets, keyhole ones for instance, really only serve as something soft to sit on as they are a pain to use.

Flares. Check to make sure yours are less than four years old, an age where they are not legal, and may not work. Buy a flare gun because you can buy flare packets every four years, and turf your old ones.

Distilled water. Check and fill battery cells before setting off, and keep the distilled water on board, for batteries as well as freshwater cooling.

Radiator fluid. If you have freshwater cooling on your boat, and perhaps a bus heater, take a gallon of radiator fluid with you and check hoses for leaks.

Valve cores. Take a spare tire valve core, and the tool for removing a malfunctioning core. Leave them in your wallet.

Battery leads. Clean all leads to the battery, along with both posts. Emery board, or a drywall sponge will do a good job.

Boat wiring. My boat is from the ‘80s, so the past winter, I had the dash, all the gauges, and all its wiring replaced, along with a new harness for the engine. If you have intermittent power on dash items or tap the gauges to make them work, you have electrolysis in the wires. I once followed a lead more than two feet, finding rusted wire inside its vinyl covering, then decided to take the entire line out and restring a new one. Also consider a buss for new items. Mine has the GPS, VHF, and downrigger wiring on the buss I put in, and still has a couple of loops left for new items.

And if you have any must-have-electronics on old wiring, fix them too, for instance, my blower needed a patch, with the remaining panel slated to be pulled this winter.

Tools. Take a full set of tools, a ratchet set, and a floating propeller wrench.

Compass. Check your boat compass before starting the engine, and then after starting. If it moves, you have a magnetism issue, and either move it or take back-ups. I bought two handheld compasses for this trip. And, note that most metals have magnetism, so you don’t need to be putting electricity through a circuit to have your compass deflect. Putting a compass on a simple brass hinge will deflect the needle.

GPS. Check your chip for the area you want to boat in. If it does not have the area, buy a new chip. And get the right one. At Trotac the other day, we went through a half dozen chips for my GPS, none of which had Quatsino. My boat has a Vancouver Island to Dixon Entrance chip, which I was assured would have the entire west coast. I checked it and it does. A hand held back-up GPS is a good idea, too.

Paper Charts. Always buy the paper charts, so you have a back-up for your GPS. Don’t leave harbour in fog without a functioning GPS. You will hit things at full speed.

Radar reflector. Pick up one and mount it. A useful item at night, and in fog.

Spotlight. Pick up a 2 million candle power spotlight, charge it and take it.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Hunting Fish

Various Van Isle estuaries present the real opportunity to do some fishing that is as high adrenaline sport as it gets. Several I have fished grant this: Conuma, Eve and Cluxewe, with the last being the best as it offers several hundred yards of flat expanse before the bermed river.

I will investigate the Quatse in Port Hardy next week, and the Salmon should also have some of this water because it is estuarial for miles. The park before the Campbell River should offer this, too, as when you look across at Painter’s Lodge you can see how flat the bottom is. Look for rivers with flat estuaries, bars and drop offs. Perhaps the San Juan, though the fish, coho, slip across the bar quickly and more frequently at night. Do remember that fish coming in are the most turned on. If the fish in front of you are stale, move below them to new fish.

Fishers usually start out with gear, and then, as their knowledge improves, move to fly fishing. Need for knowledge is key. I have done the hunting thing among other fly anglers without them understanding what I was doing, nor when explained, able to turn and do it themselves.

First is the right kind of bottom. You are looking for largely flat, sandy bottoms, so that you can move around with ease in depths from thigh to waist. Bottoms of stones, rocks, weed, higher gradient, or slippery do not lend themselves to hunting fish. You are reduced to standing and casting from a single spot. Not hunting, meaning: spotting the fish and going after them.

Then there need to be the right fish. You want schools of many fish. Pink and chum are the best targets because you can see them, as they move across the flats more easily than other fish. Chum tend to float in schools of several hundred, while pinks tend to move with lazy purpose and a little deeper in the water column. Coho is the species of highest interest because of their speed to smack and run – the surprise of it – and their muscle power going away. But usually their schools are small, meaning they are less easy to see.

Sockeye are the least bitey of the salmonids, though the Muchalet fish are not. I have fished fruitlessly for chinook at many estuaries. However, Moutcha Bay, before the Conuma, has some high drama spring fishing in the month of September (check the regs first). It is common to see schools of hundreds dashing around in the saltwater bay, beyond the estuary. When fly fishing from a small floating boat, 30 pound fish crashing around and beneath you, you instinctively lift your legs out of the water to keep from getting whacked. The adrenaline of being among the fish is a large attraction. You feel their energy, and it turns you on.

These terminal Chinook charge around moved by steroids, and you need to anticipate where they are going to be, or they could be dozens of yards past the fly if you cast to where you see them. Steelhead are in ones or twos and do not lend themselves to hunting, though their high bite index means you may catch one you did not know was there.

High numbers of fish, and ones you see, are key. Typically you will be fishing with a sink tip floating line, or with a sinking tip added ahead of the fly line. This gets you in the fish zone quick enough, in this case a water column of three to five feet. Add a little wind to make the fish relax and you are ready to hunt.

There are four variables to consider to put your fly in front of the nose of the fish, at the right depth, at the right angle. These are: tide, current, wind and waves. But, first you need fish moving across the flat, with the kind of behaviour that spells interest. Dorsal fins from pinks, and easy porpoising, though this is a behaviour exhibited much more frequently in, and is much more important to, salmon fishing in rivers.

As always, jumpers are not biters, they just tell you where the fish are. Now, taking the four variables together, you have to position yourself, by moving around in the water so you can place your fly in just the right spot. In waves that are two or more feet, is the added interest of having to jump each time a crest goes by you so, well, it goes by you, not over you.

Tide means height of tide and whether ebbing or flooding. Flooding is better because the fish are coming at you. Current means tidal current and river current – and both may be going in different directions, and at different depths. Wind means the prevailing wind direction. In Johnstone Strait, it may be blowing as high as 25 knots, though 15 is more common, and affects your cast and flight of fly. But high wind makes the fish relax and have much greater inclination to bite. They are all jazzed up.

Waves allow you to see fish sideways in their windows, a real wonder of nature. And the flashing of pink salmon just has to be seen to be appreciated – bars of silver going off like strobe lights all around you. Waves also affect you as they wash into you, move you and move on. Reflected waves, with the right timing, make crests of incoming waves higher.

Add all this together, and when a fish bites that you have intentionally gone after and made all the right adjustments for the jolt of adrenaline is its own reward. You don’t even have to actually land the fish to get the jolt, because the whole point of this method of fishing is to make the fish you see bite your fly. Not Red Bull, but it does give you wings.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Q and As – August 17, 2014

Gary Cooper, fishing-show maker and all around bon vivant, is giving a seminar at Pedder Bay on August 24, 2014 at 1PM on how to catch salmon. Kevin McAughtrie, Manager of Pedder has this to say: “Gary and I are now planning Gary’s second seminar: a general discussion on fishing the Juan de Fuca Strait. Once again, we ask for pre-registration at 250-478-1771. The event will be free of charge.”

Pedder Bay RV Resort and Marina is at 925 Pedder Bay Drive, in Metchosin.

Salmon Regs: Currently the Regs in Area 20, and 19-1 to 19-4 are: two chinook salmon over 45 cm, one of which may be over 67 cm; four sockeye; and two hatchery coho, and on Sept 1, one coho may be wild. For updates, see:

In Sidney, Area 19-5: 2 chinook over 62 cm, one of which may be over 67 cm; two coho, one of which may be wild; and four sockeye. See:

Fraser River Sockeye Update, Aug 17: Test gillnet fishing shows a higher diversion down Johnstone Strait than Juan de Fuca. Two weeks ago, when I was doing my pink fly thing, a gillnet opening in Johnstone put gillnetters up and down Johnstone, about 2 miles off shore. Oddly, they were fishing parallel with shore, rather than perpendicular.

The Johnstone test showed 14% Early Summer-run, 46% Summer-run and 40% Late-run Fraser sockeye. In the Fraser, proportions were 44% Early Summers, and 56% Summers. Some 2,077,700 sockeye have passed the Mission counting fence.

The Fraser discharge declined to 2,781 cubic metres, 25% below the historical average of 3,699 cubic metres. The Qualark temp is 19.7 degrees C. Sockeye begin dying at 20 degrees C.

I noticed on the news the commercial sockeye taken in the Fraser looked puffy, mushy and grey, not silver and healthy. Hopefully they will migrate upstream with a lower pre-spawn mortality than noted in the DFO Miller Viral Signature research, put on the Cohen Commission record. It showed as high as 90% of some sub-components died before spawning.

Campbell/Quinsam pink salmon numbers: I asked David Ewart, Watershed Enhancement Manager, at the Quinsam Hatchery what number of pinks would return to the system in 2014 (I having seen record numbers north of Campbell River). He answered that it should be high: “Well over last year’s 1.0 million. Ocean conditions appear to have gone from 1- or 2-% survival to probably 10%... Something good happened out there.”

I’ll say. I have never heard of survival approaching 10%, and nature only needs 1% to equal the run size of two years previous. We have had a La Nina. Presumably the Aleutian Low Pressure system blew enough to stir up nutrients from the deep, and probably something else happened.

I also asked when the spawning obstructions in the Quinsam were eliminated.

“In 2005, the Quinsam Fish Passage Project opened a series of cascade blockages that were hindering salmon migration in the early fall. Although fish could get through these areas on higher flows, climate change has had an effect in lowering river levels in recent years in the summer and early fall when Pinks migrate. This was significantly impacting them by creating high spawning densities in the lower river and low egg survival to the fry stage.” 

The project “opened approximately 20km of upper river to the next set of falls at the outlet of lower Quinsam Lake.  Pink adults now migrate to this area and spawn in some really good spawning habitat in the upper river. Combined with recent winters of stable flows (no floods), and really good ocean survival, the pink population has exploded. The Quinsam hatchery now only takes a minimum number of eggs to act as a “bank account” for the river in case conditions turn poor. The hatchery is still taking eggs to restore other South Coast Pink populations, if and when required.”

Interesting. The Quinsam pinks comprise the eggs/fry of about 15 volunteer projects on Georgia Strait that anglers fish for on beaches from Salmon Point, south of Campbell River, to Nanaimo, and even in Cowichan Bay, where the first staging spot is Cherry Point and then in the park near the marina. I suggest you give Salmon Point a try because it has a pub on the beach. You can angle some ale and when those dorsal fins come by, amble to angle some fish.

David also sent me a table of returns of all five species of salmon since the Quinsam opened in 1973. In 2013, for instance, some 13,000 coho returned; 4,400 chinook;1.035 million pinks; and 25,000 chum. I can send the table your way, if you want it.

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Swim

I am known for being daring around water. As in: It’s not so deep, and, It’s not so fast. And then being swept downstream to heave out my carcass where I catch a handhold. The first time I went in in waders, I did not know the gasp reflex the body has with temperature change and that the mind loses grip on reality the first 20 seconds – you think you are going to die. Even on subsequent dunkings, the mind tells you you are going to drown. You just have to live through it, or you do drown.

So, on my recent, annual, camping trip to the north of Van Isle, to fly fish for pinks in rivers, estuaries and on saltwater beaches, I was presented with a good four hundred yards of open water as the tide had not receded enough. This water stood between me and thousands of milling pinks on the beach, so numerous and bity, a 25-fish release day was realistic. Most water would be thigh deep, but many channels dipped deeper.

Not knowing the path, and being the first fly guy to cross (I wake at 5AM), didn’t have tracks to follow. I did what should result in a safe crossing: I waded upstream several hundred yards, searching for visible bottom. I knew there was algae that made it disappear and had crossed on a lower tide, so, catching the second angler coming behind me in the corner of my eye (someone I had to beat to the fish), decided to forge ahead.

Arms over my head, I waded up to my belly button, then on tippy toes. My waders’ zipper chose this moment to ‘open’ a little and the first drops of water splatted my shirt. I soldiered on, up to the top of my waders and then, over my head and several gallons of ocean cold water hit my warm, sleepy body. Many muffled expletive-deleteds, and my hat rose above the surface, with only one choice. I had to swim to the other side. One hand pushed the fleece vest in my hand into the water, and the other used my fishing rod to do the same.

So I came to the other side of the water, proving even when you might die, you don’t drop the rod. The stones were wet, fist sized, and I held on with my rod hand (and rod – I break a few). I began heaving myself up the rocks, all of which slid down so I almost could not get out of the water, it was so slippery and vertical. Rocks sliding beneath my feet, I climbed the bank ten times to climb it once.

Sloshing along, I came to the other fly guy who was putting his vest and etc. back on. He shed them thinking he had to save me. “Ah, er, you cross at three finger log, here,” he said. He was a foot shorter than me, and dry. Hmm.

Lying on the beach, feet up on a log, I let two gallons of ocean drain out of my waders. My zipper now gaped, totally ruined. Then I looked at the fish, and worked myself onto my feet, and across the beach to a small point, where the jumpers jumped. My Fuzzy Pink soon tightened my line and the silver of a fish’ flank.

It was truly spectacular. In twelve casts I received 13 bites and released 11 fish. The cast I received bites from two fish, was the only one I landed neither. And then the cold. Jumping up and down, thigh deep, to keep from shivering too hard to cast. After turning the hook on fish 20, I fell over. I headed to shore, but was so cold my feet would not do what my brain told them. I fell onto barnacled stones, ripping both palms apart.

Tide now receded, head bent down, I sloshed the open water, then strode on, breaking into a run up the stony bank to warm up. Back at my tent, 10:00 AM and rising beyond 75 degrees. I ripped everything off – to keep from freezing. Ruined waders, soaked rain coat, soaked wallet, receipts/bills stuck to one another. Boots, waders, fleece vest, wet shirt, soaked pants, soaked socks. All ripped off.

I spent the day drying everything and fixing my waders. I snipped a pot scrubber in lengths, found marine caulking and caulked the pieces up the zipper, found some duct tape and, in Red Green fashion, found it would stick to itself when wet. So three layers of duct tape, waders turned to the outside. Strips of white socks this time, caulking, duct tape.

Next day? I crossed at three finger log. My left foot sprang a leak to remind me not to be dumb again. Caught double the fish of the day I almost died. Fabulous.