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.