Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Q and As – January 2015

Halibut: The season opens February 1, coast wide, with a maximum size of 133 cm. The daily limit is one, with a possession limit of two, only one of which may be over 90 cm. Halibut have to be entered on your licence immediately and the annual limit is six.
2014 sport retention was 140,000 pounds below the total allowable catch; this implies a good, long 2015 season in Victoria that is the major fishery that ends the season in BC.
Dave Narver: The Washington Fly Fishing Club Foundation does something we should foster in BC, at fly clubs and perhaps for the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, the folks who bring us trout.

My brother sent a note saying some resources of the Foundation go to helping wounded veterans. Club members teach wounded vets to tie flies, and then take them fly fishing (from boats). Their excitement is terrific when they hook trout using flies that they have tied. It's a huge morale booster for them.

Supporting the activities of the Foundation is one of the best things the Club does. For example, I donated my 8' pram for a silent auction at the annual fundraiser. The Foundation issues a charitable tax donation receipt for the estimated value of each donation, based on current prices for replacement cost of boat and accessories. I got a deduction for $850 and the pram sold for $350, proceeds going to the Foundation. It’s win win win all around.

Victoria Boat and Fishing Show: The biggest boat and fishing show on Van Isle will be at Pearkes Arena, Feb 22 – 24. For info see: You can reserve a booth by contacting Kevin Blackburn: Island Outfitters and BC Outdoors are also sponsors.

SFAB: The final minutes for the year-ending meeting Dec 13, 14, 2014 is in my inbox. A 34 page PDF, I will send to those who request it.

The executive summary focuses on one main issue – funding for urgent fisheries management [this is a mechanism issue]:

“SFAB Chair Gerry Kristianson reviewed the background of SFAB’s ongoing efforts to secure federal approval for a recreational fishing licence fee increase to fund urgent fishery management needs in Pacific Region, and recent discussions in Ottawa, where SFAB was advised that the federal User Fee Act posed an insurmountable obstacle. SFAB Executive has drafted a new proposal based on advice that Ottawa may be receptive to approving new programs focussed on implementation of the Recreational Vision. The SFAB Chair has therefore circulated a draft document asking the federal government to establish and fund new programs to support implementation of the Recreational Vision. If Ottawa should decide to source federal funding for these programs through new recreational fishing licence fees, the SFAB proposal states that any such increase should be consistent with SFAB’s previously-approved conditions. Members were asked to provide feedback and endorsement to support formal submission of the proposal by the SFAB Executive.”

2015 Salmon Forecast: Based on ocean temperatures, unusually warm in 2014, the extremes were unprecedented and do not bode well for future returns, especially with an El Nino expected in 2015. This could well mean in the south coast area, low Fraser chinook, and thus much higher fishing for Fraser pinks, rated at 4 this year, which typically brings 15 million fish.

Interior Coho: you will recall the Cohen Commission recommended that DFO place more emphasis on the Wild Salmon Policy. Connected with that, interior conservation constraints are expected to continue for some time, but ‘DFO now has Wild Salmon Policy abundance benchmarks for Interior Fraser coho. So there will be more information available for 2015, but the expectation is for an iterative approach to determining appropriate management for this population going forward.’

Salmon Enhancement Program (SEP): Presentations included the following:          

1.      Importance of angler cooperation with chinook tagging/sampling programs for understanding productivity issues.
2.      Concern over trend of reduced fish size for chinook in recent years, in the context of broader studies linking such trends to increased fishery intensity.
3.      SEP has been reviewing/experimenting with different hatchery release practices that have improved survival rates and is considering releasing hatchery fish at multiple times and/or at different weights, instead of all at once, to improve survival rates.
4.      DFO is working with other scientists to develop a better understanding of factors affecting productivity in SoG, including seal predation.
5.      Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) initiative: A new database has been established and the hope is to interview long-time anglers and First Nations to record their experiences with changing trends over time.

Regarding item 2, side discussion suggested, from DFO, that net pen chinook tend to stray at higher rates than from hatcheries.

Chair, Gerry Kristianson responded: I disagree that straying is a negative, since current salmon populations were established via colonization. Is the size issue related to age class or other issues?

DFO answered: The obvious issue would be fisheries that select for size, so we need to look at that. The challenge with straying, especially with large hatchery production, is the risk of overwhelming smaller wild populations.

I recall that Robertson Creek (Stamp River, Port Alberni) hatchery chinook have strayed all the way from the Conuma (Nootka Sound) to the Nitinat. That is a significant range. Also to remember is that many hatchery chinook are not able to spawn naturally. Also, net pen chinook could be diploided, assuming salmon can be treated like rainbow trout for freshwater that are routinely so treated to render them sterile; this also makes fish bigger because all food goes into producing mass, not the third of energy required for production of milt/eggs.

Another fact: Clayoquot wild chinook are at extinction levels in the six streams, total escapement only 501 fish in 2012. It would be interesting to know the effect of the 22 fish farms, the chinook ones shown to have ISA and, as I recall, PSMI, viral diseases, in Cohen testimony. Or, are a couple of netpens in the area warranted, considering that the local populations are at extinction levels, and hence there may be no genetic base to protect?

The rest of the report has many interesting subjects and thought provoking discussion. If you want the PDF, let me know.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Winter Chinook In the CRD

Strategy for winter chinook in the CRD and other areas is the same because fish behaviour is the same. And, chinook are the only species in our waters 12 months of the year, so anglers should concentrate on understanding them to catch more fish. Other species are caught in the two months of the summer when they pass through.

It used to be the case coho were found as pan-sized bluebacks in January and February, Saanich Inlet, for instance, and in April – June in mid-island waters, for example, the Winchelseas, as three- to five- pound fish prior to migrating to open ocean. They were, and hopefully will once again be found (with anticipated success of the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Salish Sea project), in surface waters in tide lines caused by restrictions in land structure below and above the water.

Both migrating adult chinook and nursing chinook are alike in their behaviour: they are relentlessly structure related for their entire lives. In winter, though, these fish are deeper, and far more commonly found related to bait. Adult fish, on the other hand, bite reflex waning, are not as commonly found with bait, other than when both come to reside in ebb tide back eddies. Their location is related only to the tide pattern, not feeding.

Summer chinook are moving relentlessly toward their natal rivers. In contrast, winter chinook are nursing, putting on weight, and not migrating anywhere; so winters are not found tight to shallow rock shores, nor are they going anywhere. They are staying close to lunch. Consequently, reading bait schools becomes far more important in winter, and staying close to them through the tidal change that moves them about.

Winter fishing is more reliable than summer, but for smaller fish. It makes less sense to fish back eddies tight to shore because bait, commonly herring, is found in mid-water depths, not related to shore. This winter bait pattern also includes herring staging to ripen before spawning. This is why we fish offshore of the 115 foot mark off Ogden Point where bottom falls away, and in the open water to the west that contains the bait.

The same pattern applies to other Island waters. For example, the mouth of Bamfield harbour typically turns white with herring milt in January to early March. Prior to this, herring stage in Rainy and Vernon bays in deep water. The same can be said for the Deep Bay, Fanny Bay, Denman Island waters with herring coming on to shoreline kelp in March.

In many areas the alternative bait fish is needlefish – pilchards and anchovies are more commonly found in summer and at west coast fishing spots. Change in bait species can result in changes in the hot lures in water only a few miles apart. For example, Clover Point to the Breakwater typically has herring (sometimes you read needlefish, the difference being they are almost always on the bottom, so reading bait on the bottom, think needlefish, not herring – often read right over the outfall pipe at 110 feet.).

Clover Point is a hootchy spot, but Oak Bay, a huge flat on the other side of Trial Island, is needlefish water and thus squirts catch far more fish. Last week, the Cloverleaf, Purple Haze and Glo-Below hootchies prevailed on the Waterfront, but in Oak Bay, Pickle Green, J-79 and Jellyfish squirts were the trick.

If you troll the long flat from Clover to Trial – you are scratching a fish, and it takes 45 minutes, so picking up lines and moving makes more sense than fishing through – you will be changing to squirts just after you pass directly south of Trial at 120 feet.

For the Victoria Waterfront, the Angel Wing, and Army truck patterns are good back-ups, while the Irish Mist and Mint Tulip are go-to back-up squirts in Oak Bay.

Similarly, Sidney is predominantly a needlefish area, and squirts rule. Add the Electric Chair to the Oak Bay squirts and you have a place to start. Also, needlefish presence, makes small anchovy and small strip the baits of choice, whereas in herring areas, medium anchovy is best.

This includes waters west of Victoria. Teasers of choice are the Bloody Nose and Glo- Green, although my favourite is the Pearl, a cream/glo/602 pattern that is highly visible in the deep. From Pedder Bay to Otter Point, the larger baits and same teaser colours, as well as the Purple Haze, a colour that fishes better in Sooke than waters east.

The other lure of choice in winter is spoons. They are more effective on winter chinook than summer chinook. Partly this is because winter water is clearer than in summer, thus smaller lures with high reflection make sense, along with some UV/Glow properties. Note that these two properties are different. UV means light waves that we can’t see, but that fish can, and they show up as Dayglo in the deep, dark winter waters – look at one under a black light and you will agree.

Glow properties refer to emitting light from the lure so that it is visible, in the same way a fluorescent light is. The best example are some Radiant spoons that literally glow all day. I once left one on my night table and it boomed out visible light all night long. Oh, and all glow lures should have a flashlight shone on them before being consigned to the deep. The non-Radiant surfaces hold light for only 15 to 20 minutes, and thus need recharging, whereas longer lasting glow does not. The difference becomes a strategy consideration.

In addition, spoons as we all know are the best, most reliable lure for continuing to fish without having to be checked. There is no bait to slip on its wire, no fronds to get caught on one another, or plastic skirt to slide up the leader after a whack that pulls it forward, but does not trip the release clip. Note that you want a kirbed hook on a spoon.

Spoons have the added advantage in clear winter water because they need not be paired with a flasher – you can use a dummy flasher attached to the downrigger line if you wish – and thus any fish you catch gives you the satisfaction of fighting only the fish, not the flasher and its sideways shear. Some west waters top spoons include Irish Cream and No Bananas, along with Cop Car, which is called a glow with gold between the scales. In Victoria to Sidney waters, try glow colours and the half glow/half green spoon we call a Coyote spoon.

Finally, before going out, do check the Island Outfitters web site for the most recent hot lures in your area: For waters from Cowichan North, try the Island Anglers site for current tackle hotties: Do patronize our local tackle shops before hitting the water.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Winter Steelhead Fishing - Lures, Floats, Flies

January and February are the peak months of river angling on Vancouver Island because the highest number of fresh winter steelhead fill the rivers. The most well know are the Cowichan, Stamp, Campbell and Gold. There are wild runs of winter steelhead in dozens of our rivers, though usually in small numbers.

Most anglers will not discuss the less well-known rivers because of the low steelhead numbers and desire to protect them – solitary fishing is also a good thing when you have gotten up in the middle of the night and driven up to several hundred kilometres to be there are first light. The books of Roderick Haig-Brown will give you many rivers to get to know, and joining a fly fishing club will, over the years, with their fish-outs and general discussion, help you build an extensive knowledge that is the price of long term admission and satisfaction.

Regardless of system, it is winter steelhead behaviour that is the key to catching them. They are bold beyond good sense and their aggression is why we can catch them, admire them and then release them unharmed. I have seen a summer steelhead move 50 feet to intercept a fly; that is how aggressive they are. In winter, though, the water is generally cloudy, deeper and swifter than summer lows when fish get pooled up and wary. In winter, falling, clearing water after rain is the best time to fish.

There are three methods of angling for winters: floats, lures and flies. The most commonly used method is floats. Typically a ‘dink’ float is threaded on the mainline, and slid up from the tag end, and adjusted so the weighted end just misses the bottom. The simplest weight system is putting some lightly crimped pencil lead on the mainline tag end that is left deliberately four inches long when tied to a tri-swivel. A leader of 10 lbs mono – lower in clear water, higher in cloudy water – of up to 2 feet is tied to the swivel as well.

The reason for a short leader is to keep the lure at weight level rather than floating higher, something that is much more important in fly fishing that does not use weights – no more than four feet leader.

At the tackle end, typically small, simple lures – Spin ‘N Glos, Jensen eggs, Lil Corkies, plastic beads, bait (where allowed), yarn and Gooey Bobs – are slid above a black steelhead hook (kirbed, octopus style), size 1 to 5, with a bead between lure and hook. Bait curing is an article in itself, as well as Roe Bags.

Float fishing is the most consistent method for winter steelhead. You cast the float out and run it down current. If it disappears you strike the fish, or adjust the float. Then you cast a foot farther out and run the rig down current. By casting out sequentially farther, you are able to contact all the water in a run, tailout or pool head from one side of the river to the other side of the fish bearing water. Go back to this article for steelhead behaviour and fishing:

In cold weather – from 5 degree C to below freezing – rivers are colder than the ocean and fish tend to, well, freeze and not move as friskily to a lure. In other words, fish the absolute best part of the run, a number of times, as a fish in torpor will rarely move even a few inches. On the Gold once, I ran a drift 40 times down a narrow run that I was assured had a steelhead in it, without a nip. Then, when I had given up hope, I received a bite and landed a 14 lb buck.

Finally, add scent to a lure where allowed. It really makes a difference. Jensen Eggs are scented with aniseed and not considered bait in the regs, for example.

The alternative to float fishing is lure fishing. Depending on depth, temperature and water speed there is a wide spread of lures of different weights, allowing more or less penetration. At the lighter end are most spinners, the Mepps Blue Fox line in size 4 and 5, in red, chartreuse and pink, Bolos from Luhr Jensen in the same colours, but higher weight to volume ratio. At the large and heavy end are the high quality Gibbs lures, including the Ironhead, Koho and Kit-A-Mat in the same colours.

Note that lures are cast out across from you and reeled in slowly across the run. Although you adjust each cast to reach a slightly different radius of the run, note that the lure is running across the fish bearing water, rather than running directly down it, as is the case in float fishing. In other words, you are fishing less of the fishy water, and the colder the weather, the less likely you will catch a fish. Think spinners in warm weather.
On the other hand lure casting is a pleasant, simple method of fishing. Use a 9.5 to 10.5 foot rod with a quality baitcaster reel with 35 pound braided line and 15 feet of 20 pound mainline mono. A bait caster will cast father than a spinning reel and thus has an advantage.

Fly fishing for winter steelhead is the third method. In winter, if you concede a skunk before going out – which is a reasonable expectation – then a take or a landed fish is a great positive surprise. These days most winter fly fishers use Spey or Switch rods because they allow you to cast with a much shorter load behind you in the higher waters of winter, that push you back into the trees where there is zero room for the back cast of a single-handed rod.

The beefier, short D-loop rods, allow for the heavy, ‘nasty’ rigs of winter. By the end of the day, your arm will feel the weight of dragging line from the water on every cast. On the other hand, you can change tips all day to reach the bottom. I suggest you get a pouch and keep all the tips from all the fly lines you have ever had, as one day, a decade down the road, you will find good use from the Quad-tip system that by today’s Skagit modified methods, is from a different olden-day dimension. For example, I have several Leadcore tips that I try never to have to use, but that will reach any bottom you are trying to penetrate. Added to that are tips made from Type 3 to Type 6 full sink line, and so on. Use nail-less nail knots to form loops on tips and fly line.

Fly fishing reaches its greatest likelihood of presenting properly to a winter steelhead in shallower, slower runs, and swung flies through tailouts, which offer the same conditions. Just as important as deducing higher percentage fly water is the fly you use. Two styles of flies lend themselves to quick assembly, weight and use: marabou creations and bunny fur flies.

Use contrasting colours as the point is to make the fly easier for a steelhead to see and dash for. My simplest high-percentage Popsicle style fly has medium bead-chain eyes, then red over orange over yellow on a size two, black salmon hook. In bunny, my ugliest fly of high percentage, is black over chartreuse over red, also on a salmon hook. For shallower water, bead chain eyes are optional.