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: http://fishingvictoria.com/fishing-report/. For waters from Cowichan North, try the Island Anglers site for current tackle hotties: http://www.islandangler.net/. Do patronize our local tackle shops before hitting the water.