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: http://onfishingdcreid.blogspot.ca/2014/02/wire-rigging-teaserhead-feb-23-2014.html. 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.