Sunday, 19 July 2015

More Pinks

I went out yesterday as the low tide in Victoria was 11.30 AM and I wanted to fish from Constance Bank as it pushed across Royal Roads to the east. Pink fishing is often better on the flood. I had some new gear in from Gibbs to try out. Their Madi and Lemon Lime flashers have been hot in the Victoria area – Cadboro Point to Sheringham Point – for several months this spring and summer.

My intention was to run through some of their Coho Killer spoon colours along with the Yamashita N224R squirt with a silver mylar insert and clear bead I put in. This squirt has a predominant pink stripe set in a pattern of clear, glow frons (the hue of Purple Haze fronds).

Four miles south of Trial, I assigned the gear to 61 to 71 feet for ball depth, with clips five feet up, in the only tideline for miles. The line petered out and I pushed my rpm up to 800 to cover, with the ebb, the distance to Constance Bank. While I did get a double header at one point, it was clear that the featureless water, meaning without tide lines, held few fish in highly localized, easily seen spots. By speeding up, I was rocketing along as high as 5.8 knots over ground.

As pointed out last week, it is speed over water that is the important consideration – and GPSs don’t measure that speed – engine rpm becomes a proxy for how fast you are moving. Leader length on the squirt was 34 inches; on the silver Coho Killer, 36.

Tidal action became clear on the west edge of Constance where it drops from about 70 feet to as deep as 348 feet. Within the currents caused by several hundred feet of water column compressed to only 70 feet, water must speed up, and change direction. The upwelling causes surface currents, along with a vertical eddy on the west side of the bank. Note that that eddy is more important to fishing chinook on the 140 foot ledge and halibut. Fish unrelated to bottom structure, but only to surface structure, i.e. tide lines, are unlikely to be in the vertical eddy; this means coho, pinks, sockeye and chum.

From thence forth, it was constant action in the tide lines at the tide change. When one fish was played and released, and rod put back out, then a fish was on the other rod. One unlucky fish got to come home with me for dinner because it came in completely wrapped in leader, with both singles embedded in the fish, and a big tangle. I would likely be wearing those hooks in my fingers, and opted to bonk the unlucky fish.

I released fifteen pinks, with, surprisingly, nine on the silver Coho Killer, and six on the N224R squirt. One would expect more fish on the pink lure, rather than straight silver spoon. Also, my speed over ground, showed clearly that the tide was still ebbing to the west. I assumed that the Race Rocks current reached low later than the Victoria tide, and the table, once home, confirmed that the current change was 1:08 PM. So a major bite, even before the flood started pushing the fish east. Good to know on another trip.

I should add that I opted to stop fishing to avoid harassing them any longer. In other words, the bite would likely have extended for many hours after I quit. Another unlucky fish came in with big chunks of flesh ripped out of its side. The size of the mouth suggested a harbour seal. I was surprised that a fish with such a serious wound would still be willing to bite at something, and interested in feeding.

All three flashers have a bluey, pinky hue that changes as you turn the flasher. This is the same as a Roadrunner spoon that I use in more remote spots, and I am betting it is a good reason why they are hot. Gibbs calls it Moonjelly and the Madi shows it off well. The third was Purple Onion.

It should be added, that like any quality flasher, each comes with a sound ball bearing swivel on both ends, something that is very important in a bait set up. When you add a large quality ball bearing swivel to the mainline and the top end of the bait leader, that makes four such swivels in the tackle; four being the best insurance for a consistent, fishy spiral on the bait. In addition, once gear has been used in saltwater and salt gets into the inner workings, it is better practice to err on the side of more rather than fewer ball bearing swivels.

On hootchies, on the other hand, it is flasher snap transmitted to the plastic bait that gives it a yanked figure eight pattern that stimulates fish to chase. In other words, a quick changer, or a figure eight knot is all that is required. Note that you should be using split ring pliers to open the quick changer, so that leader knot is slipped on without being frayed. The point being: you want your killer hootchies to last as long as possible, before they break off. As mentioned last week, you do not change a killer plastic bait’s leader because that normally eliminates the chemistry that makes the one a killer in a tackle box of ho hum producers.

If the stars align, I will be on my annual fly fishing camping trip to the North Isle for pinks for the next two weeks, and hence, no columns. On my return, I will try out more of those Coho Killer spoons. I am told the green splatterback has been good on the Oak Bay Flats for chinook – where there are needlefish rather than herring.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Pinks are In

The time has arrived for all anglers to get out and catch those pink salmon that muscle through Victoria in ‘odd’ years, bound for the Fraser. The run is predicted at the highest level: 4; meaning a run of 15,000,000 or more. These are eager fish and the most fumble-fingered and persecuted by the gods angler can catch his/her limit. If not it is time to give up fishing.

Tom Vaida’s Island Outfitters area report notes pinks have been in Sooke for the past two weeks. It is early for them to show in June and as early fish normally mean a bigger run, it looks like a good year. He points out it is time not to use bait, unless you are right on shore for chinook, because the pinks just keep shredding it. Best to use plastics. Closer to Victoria, I found the same to be true yesterday. My boat is moored at Oak Bay Marina.

I motored out, noting 25 boats working the Flats for chinook, and kept going south until I was several miles south of Trial Island. My logbook records show pinks as early as July 3 in this spot. When a tide line presented itself, I put out one rod, and before being able to put out the second, I had a pink on the first rod, ball at 65 feet.

My intention was to motor to Constance and give it a try tolling east, as tide lines south of Trial have not really been a hotspot over the decades. It was a slow flood all day with about a six foot difference from early morning low to mid-afternoon high.

My progress toward Constance was slow, as I was motoring into the tide, so I raised my engine rpm to 800. Fishing into a tide is the poorest way to fish because you cover so much less territory than running ‘upstream’, putting your gear in and fishing with the tide until you find fish. I intended to lift the rods and move, but found myself in the middle of a school.

While I tried my second rod at 90 feet, it became clear that 65 for the ball, five feet up for the release clip, was the zone. Over the next hour and a half, I retained three, released a dozen by turning the hook at the boat, had another half dozen on, and finally quit, to avoid harassing the fish anymore.

The short blank periods occurred when I was not in or crossing a tide line. And all the fish releasing, and going in circles meant the tide was carrying me east and I finished several miles south of Discovery Island rather than Trial. Hence I ended up fishing with or across the tide rather than into it.

There is nothing like so much action to put a smile on your face for the rest of the day. But there is more: useful fishing information for records – you should have a logbook to record all catches and other information – and to consider over the years in planning other outings. The best plastic was a Bubblegum squirt on a 34 inch leader. I tried a Fireplug which is pink with silver sprinkles in both a hootchy and squirt, catching nothing. A Bubblegum hootchy received a few bites, but the squirt of the same colour took 80% of the fish.

It is my practice to have two of every lure because, if you lose the hot one, your luck may be over for the day. Of course, I found I did not have another of the same squirt, hence, moving to the hootchy of the same pattern.

On the last hook turn of the morning, the hook broke and the squirt slid off the leader and I waved goodbye to an old friend. It is good practice to remember that you will find certain lures, particularly bait heads and plastics that out-fish others of apparently identical pattern and rigging.

It is best practice not to change these special lures, but t5o keep them as is, thank them for the hundred fish they catch for you over the years, and just accept you are going to lose them some day. The alternative – rerigging for hooks and sound leader – should be avoided. I have found that rerigged lures of these types invariably lose their magic and become just another also ran in the box. Best to keep them as best bets for as long as they stay attached to you.

The other thing to remember is that you will find other lures that catch fish at higher percentages and that they improve with age. It is good strategy to bring these lures along, as they improve with age. I know they are inanimate objects and what I have just said should not be true, but, darned if it isn’t. Pay attention to bringing your ‘team’ along and you will catch many more fish in the long run.

I also mentioned speeding up the engine. You pay attention to the RPM, not the speed-over-ground as read on your GPS. It is water speed you want to know. Speeding up allows you to fish more territory in less time, and find the fish.

The other thing, is that in summer, when coho, sockeye and pinks may intermingle, each species will take faster trolled lures, than on their own because there is more competition for food. And we all know that tide lines are two currents coming together. In the middle is where all the weed and baitfish get carried and kept. Find the food and find the fish.

Fish the moving side of the tide line as that is where the fish are coming from. If that doesn’t work, criss-cross the tide line because the fish will be in contact with food. Doing so, results in more work taking weed off the lines, but it also results, in much higher numbers of bites. You don’t have to jump to the lines on the first piece of weed. That is because with release clips attached to downrigger cable (rather than slip weights on the mainline), much of the weed that goes down the mainline, comes to rest on the clip at the cable, and so the lure is still working properly for some time, unfouled.

I then made a trip to Trotac to pick up some Radiant Bubblegum squirts, only to find they did not stock them anymore. According to them, Radiant is out of business – so I put an email into Radiant, as their website is still up. The closest alternative from Golden Bait, made by Yamashita, is the N224R Hopefully one of these will become my next hot baby.

The other useful item that got picked up is a split ring tool from P-Line. You may have noticed that these days, stainless steel from China, Korea and so on is anything but stainless. The split rings you use on flashers are heavy duty, along with quick-changers, and you must use a tool with a good quality alligator tooth on the tip end, particularly when these items have been in saltwater for awhile and need extra strength to open.

One final thing: the best flasher was a Glow Metallic Super Betsy from O’Ki. Check out their ‘green’ line on their site, as I am told the 925 Lemon Lime has been the ticket this summer. The thing about the Betsy, is that this is one of O’Ki’s flashers with built in electrical potential. The flasher sets up an electric charge with saltwater, set to a voltage, like a Black Box, that fish find appealing. You will find this useful, particularly if you have made the switch to braided line that does not have the electrical potential of stainless cable, to which you must add a Black Box to sweeten the electrical aura around the cable and tackle.

One final thing: every time you put out a hootchy or squirt, check to make sure the fronds are not fouled in the hook, slid up inside the plastic or whatever. Hold the lure in the air and inspect every single frond, unfouling every single one. Once you assign the lure to the water, check its action at the side of the boat. It regularly happens that the hooks rotate inside the lure head and thus the hooks foul the fronds. Rejig until you are satisfied the fronds are unfouled. This trick will catch you scores more fish in your fishing ‘career’.

Catch many pinks.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Oak Bay Flats

I you fish Victoria saltwater, you might want to give the Oak Bay Flats a try. In the past two months it has had periods of good fishing for chinook, something that in the past, has been uncommon in June. The traditional pattern for trolling is to fish in a square from 100 to 140 feet in front of the Great Chain Islets and the small islets to the east. Each tack of the square is finished by making a left turn, and in completing the square, a fourth left turn.

Boats were not fishing this pattern the other day when I fished, but on diagonal tacks following a bottom contour, east then west. I put my lines out in 130 feet, heading south, and the ebb quickly moved me into 175. When I turned back north, it took a half hour to make little distance up Trial Island.

A small note: if you have a land feature close to you, with another behind it, if the background gains on the foreground, you are moving forward over the bottom under you. If the background falls behind the foreground, you are going backward. This is a way to check the speed over ground reading on your GPS. Any time you are going, say, 1.5 knots or lower, give this a try, because you could be going backward and backward is taking you away from where you want to be.

After a half hour inching up Trial, I lifted my balls, and motored to 100 feet, where I let my gear out again. Precisely on the low low tide change, I got my first bite. After a really good tussle and a gong show netting, I boated a nice 10 lb hatchery chinook, who I decided to take home as a guest of honor.

It turned out to be a good morning. The second chinook I got was a mirror image of the first and, so, I had two hatchery fish of 67 cm, and pretty chuffed. I had been told by Steve Sinclair of Oak Bay Marina that Coho Killer spoons had been the recent ticket. He pointed out the silver, a deep holographic green, and what we would call a Cop Car pattern as the hot ones, and I had taken the silver, his first choice.

I had noticed in the weekly information from Tom Vaida, in the Island Outfitters weekly round-up, that Coho Killers, have, indeed been prominent in taking fish in the past months from Cadboro Point, to Sheringham. And gym buddy, Jeff Betts, also gave a nod to the Coho Killer on his Flats fishing, although I couldn’t quite prise the colour out of him.
I can see why the Killers work on the Flats. They are slim tin spoons with an unusual diamond shaped hook. And the predominant bait is needlefish, so the spoons are the same size. My spoons followed four feet behind a green glow flasher. The other rod – my Port rod, which is most easily seen from the captain’s chair – had bait. The bait was small anchovy, to mimic the needlefish, in a glow 602 teaser head, behind a glow green Farr Better flasher.

The bait also received two bites. The first I got close enough to see it was a chinook, and the second was a wild coho of five pounds that got released. This is early for coho, which is usually a sign that the main part of the run will be larger than usual.

I was fishing the 115 foot contour, with other boats fishing about 130. As there were two weedy tide lines on the flats, I spent most of my time, cleaning lines and dealing with fish, for the two hours I was on the water. Hence I did not see how other boats were doing. And there were several bait balls, which I assumed were herring blown through Enterprise Channel.

Note that using small anchovy presents a difficulty when using wire-rigged teaser heads because it is hard to keep the wire inside the bait until past the dorsal fin, the purpose of which is to put most of the bend, for a better spiral, in the tail end of the fish. Also, breaking the skin with the wire, presents the fish with a piece of metal, so less likely to get cleanly hooked.

The alternative of cutting the wire, means that when you want to use the teaser for larger bait, the wire is not long enough to put the bend behind the dorsal fin, which results in the best tail after head spiral. It is not a spin because a tail outside head spiral does not catch fish. Hence, unless you are willing to rig an awful lot of teasers for different sized baits, the best option is to be careful with small bait, and try to keep the wire inside the body from gill plate to as far as you can thread it on.

One final thing: fish the bait, or Port line deeper, on the bottom, because it is the easiest to see and thus lift when the water depth becomes shallower. The other rod, should be ten or more feet above the bottom. That is the ball depth, with the release snaps 5 feet above to take into account the diameter of the flasher spin.
Back at the dock, I spoke with one angler who had gotten skunked. The previous day, however, his boat caught eight chinook, the best lure being an Army Truck squirt, with the Coho Killer taking the rest. Time to buy some Coho Killers.