Sunday, 27 September 2015

Shore Angler Time

It is now time for shore and river anglers to get out and get your salmon. This week is peak coho season in Port Renfrew. See my article on this from a few weeks ago: Coho can also be angled from shore at Point No Point, Tugwell and Muir creeks, among other places on Juan de Fuca.

Do remember that the salt water boundary in Sooke Basin is the silver bridge. Above is deemed freshwater, but below, salt water regs prevail – and do check them before fishing. The most common places to fish are Whiffen Spit and Billings Spit. A flood tide can be particularly good at Billings. Gear guys using red/pink spinners and wool flies catch a good number of fish that they can take home. And it is exciting to watch the schools come closer and closer until people start hitting them.

Fly guys can be welcomed into the line provided you perform back and out casting, eliminating false casting and fouling everyone’s lines. Last year, when I wandered down to see how the gear guys were doing, I was instructed to go back to my car and get my fly rod. They were accommodating and I did the same. You lay the line on the water, lift the line off and back and cast on the forward stroke. In this way, looking only for a 50 foot cast, everyone is in synch for a good fish.

There are several other places where shore angling on salt water beaches will yield fish. These include, Cherry point, earlier for pinks, now for coho and chum. The same can be said for Cowichan Bay, just off the parking lot. Up Island there are many beaches with fish, Nanaimo before Millstream River, Nile Creek, the Big and Little Q beaches, and so on, all the way to Campbell River where river angling also produces ten minutes from the spit. The same can be said for a half dozen river mouths north to Port Hardy.

Get out and fish. There is nothing more instructive than actually doing the deed. Think of it as educating yourself over the years. More fish come with more time spent understanding your fishery, the structure of the beach or river, and the behaviour of the fish. If you are not doing that well, but someone beside you is, congratulate them and ask a few questions. People who are catching fish obviously know something that those not catching them don’t.

When you get home, keep a log of what worked, even if it wasn’t your catch. If you have a record, for instance, a silver Blue Fox No. 5 spinner with a red body, you will know something for next and succeeding years. If you are fishing rivers, the Stamp and Nitinat both offer up big chinook for those who don’t have boats to catch them in salt water.

I went out last week to see whether I could bring home a coho of less than 10 pounds for dinner. Anything bigger than that becomes a problem for fileting, and divvying up fresh fish, then delivering it to family and neighbours. I’ll deal with coho more thoroughly in coming weeks, but the gist is that because they have far more curiosity than the other four species, you put flash in front of their faces.

Typically spinners are far and away the best lure for coho. And as the season progresses there is a progression in colour patterns fished.  Red is an earlier colour and pink a bit later. So I Palomared a red Blue Fox, No 5 silver blade and tossed it into a place I have caught coho on many occasions.

Five minutes later a large mouth tugged against the lure and the fight ensued. When it was 70 yards downstream and my limber Rapala rod was some stressed, the fish left the water – a thirty pound spring. Sometime later the doe lay gasping in my hands, and I relieved her of the hook and subterfuge. I tailed her into the current for breath and serpentine release.  It is very uncommon to land a chinook on a spinner, although less so on spoons – the Gibbs Ironhead, Kit-A-mat, Illusion, etc. are ones that will do the deed – and far more success can be gained from a yarn fly below a float and horizontal presentation at nose level for a passive bite.

But as the day progressed, I neither saw nor touched a coho – evidence that they just weren’t in the system yet. But I fished a half dozen spots where past records show many coho have come to my lures. In each of these the pattern repeated: have one bit from a very large fish, and then release a chinook. Of all the fish I caught, the lightest was 17 pounds, all chinook. So I went home fishless because, wait for it, all the fish were too big. A problem that virtually never happens.

And a tale: while I was standing at a pool watching big fish shadow the depths, a guy told me he had been pulled off the rock by a big fish he caught the day before. When he finally landed it, it was so large they had a Swiss tourist put his head in the mouth. He assured me he could fish in the closed pool, implying he was aboriginal and thus had status rights. I don’t know about you, but I see more blonde haired, blue-eyed aboriginals in salmon season than the entire rest of the year combined.

Finally, during the early coho time, the Gun Club run on the Stamp, up to the Bucket, can be a glorious day under the sun. Lucky indeed, it is to stumble home with a 15 pound coho, while perfecting your suntan. The Stamp is best for new coho in September.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Coho Time

It is the third week in September and saltwater trolling time for coho. Check retention regulations (link below) for your area and get out there. In Victoria/Sooke waters, now that pink and sockeye are through, most coho fishing will be found in the offshore tide lines of Juan de Fuca Strait.

The wanton bite that happens when three species are targeting the same feed is over, and the remainder is Puget Sound and local stocks, largely on their own. In the distant past we fished the top 30 feet regardless of bottom depth, but in the past decade it’s best to think as deep as 100 feet and adjust until you find the fish. Scan your depth sounder for scratchy schools of bait and fish.

Fish by throttle, not speed over ground as measured by your GPS. When you add tidal push to speed over ground you can be fishing either too fast or too slow. Instead, increase your throttle speed to 800- to 1000-rpm which results in your fishing faster than water speed. Ignore your GPS speed.

Coho are the most excitable species of salmon and will snap after something interesting at much higher speed. Because they prefer higher speed that is the prime consideration. But higher speed is also an advantage in that it allows you to fish more territory in the same amount of time, thus increasing your chances of finding fish.

Tide lines are your best bet for several reasons. Tide lines are spots where two different plumes of water moving in opposite directions and at different speeds run into one another. They are evidenced by dark, or even light lines and all the kelp weed and flotsam pushed into the line is held there in the middle of the two lines. Tide lines are vertical ‘structure’ that extend down into the water because different currents exist under the water surface too; and any on the surface, have to flow somewhere after hitting one another and they can’t go up, so they go sideways or down.

A second reason is that plankton that can’t swim faster than the tide gets swept into a tide line and held there as long as it lasts. Ditto for bait fish that feed on them and also can’t swim faster than the tide. The coho are keeping up with lunch and thus there, on the moving side of the line, unless they are still staging, as does happen in Juan de Fuca. With all the recent rain we have had, this is the cue, the taste of water, for coho to stop staging and move on.

Another reason to fish tidelines is that they give you a defined place to fish, rather than moseying all over the place when you don’t find tidelines. This becomes self evident when you are out on a calm day and there seems to be an infinity of water, but ‘nare’ a drop of fish. Tide lines are one of the big three in fishing: being in the right place at the right time using the right thing.

Tidelines give you the right place, so stick with them. Fish back and forth across them if the moving side is not producing. You will have to be checking line for eel grass and dodging kelp which can be a major headache. But with your release clips set up properly, most weed will not get past them to the flasher or lure. Use one five feet above two stops under which the clip is attached, and then one stop below so the line cannot migrate to the ball (this seldom happens and the more frequent issue is the clip migrating up and moving the stops even higher, hence the reason for two stops above the clip).

Using the right thing is your choice of tackle. It used to be that red was the best colour, for example, that is why the red Krippled K was the best lure. These days there are multiple colours and multiple tackle that catches coho. The Madi, Lemon Lime, and Purple Onion, have to be added to the Betsy and Super Betsy, particularly the ones that are intended to give off an electric charge from electrolysis. Plaid will work or the good old fashioned red Hotspot.

Leaders are longer, usually 34 to 40 inches – as speed has a relation with leader length. The faster the speed, the longer the leader that will work. As for terminal tackle, spoons, hootchies and squirts are your usual choices. We don’t fish with plugs much anymore, which I think is related to having to debarb them. A Siwash hook used to be the best, with its long sharp point for penetration, but the least useful without its barb. Take the hook in a pair of pliers from point side to shank side and bend it 20 degrees to kirb it.

A 232 red and gold Tomic plug used to be a standard and I have found that old gear still works, if you are searching for something, er, new. In hootchies and squirts, favour red, pink, white, and clear combinations, Bubble Gum being one and the matching Yamashitas will also work. Mint Tulip and Irish Mist are good squirts – for ones that are not a pink/red combinations.

And these days the most interesting new thing in tackle are the slim spoons that have taken over: Coho Killers, Sitkas, and others. The plain silver, half silver and half brass and blue/ green combos, as much as 42 inches behind a flasher. It seldom pays to use bait because it is the most easily ruined lure and requires being lifted at least every 20 minutes, so you are sure you are towing something a fish wants to bite.

But the most important thing is being there at the right time. Before a high tide and after a low are the fishy hours. I am sure you can figure out how to get out on the water. Tell your wife/partner you are bringing home dinner. Just be there.

This DFO link gives retention limits in all saltwater areas of BC:

Sunday, 13 September 2015

The Canyon

Some fishing memories are peak experiences and will stay with you as long as your memory lasts. One summer steelhead, canyon river has offered up several of mine. A day in March when the river was too strong to be crossed, yet had to be crossed, four times – upstream – before I dropped a fly in a cut rock seam not ten feet long. And out of it a summer in the air that is the beauty of the invisible made visible.

Blue green water in a granite canyon all alone. My next fly in the same slit of water brought another summer to my fly. And then a third cast and third summer steelhead in the cool of winter – a fish that could have been in freshwater since the previous May. Several miracles in a few minutes, I having sweated upstream, hauling my body up a rock bank, rod thrown high in the bush, and hands grasping a dozen ferns each so I would not fall back out of the forest into the river and be swept away.

Another day, I crossed above a water fall in the same section of the river, and edged onto a rock face to look down. The rock face, slick with winter rain, bore a small dead animal. It was crouched down into death, and like a cat had sunk onto its forelegs and back, almost as if sleeping, and then died there anonymously. The spot was so difficult no scavenger, crow, or carrion eater had made it there to eat. The skin and fur were unrecognizable, perhaps an otter or beaver, I don’t know. But I moved the carcass aside and picked out what looked like a femur and have it today on my mantelpiece. It is the rituals we make of life that give our experiences meaning. Why it chose that place to die will always be a mystery.

The rock face was slick with rain and years of fir needles. Almost too slick to keep from sliding off and down into a pool 25 feet deep. And then another cliff on another day. I had looked closely at the topographical maps, and taken several times to find the right logging spur into a clear cut with its jumble of crossed stumps, Jimson weed, and fern.

I descended a hundred vertical feet to the bottom of the cut and then looked down the even steeper slope. It bent down before me and out of sight. At the time, I did not know that when a slope disappears, that means it is a canyon wall and vertical. Having looked down into the first growth cedar before, I had brought a bright red, high quality climbing rope, never thinking it might not be long enough.

I was so scared, I mapped out five separate legs from top to edge, and told myself I would stop at the end of each one, to decide whether I felt it was safe enough to take the next leg. The second last had a log so large I could straddle and sit on it while leaning out over the edge. Another hundred vertical feet, and only from a tree I had to edge down to in the silence of a canyon and tie my rope. Of course I had not left instructions of where I was going, just trusted my own good male instincts that I would get through. The usual.

Holding the line circled around my fist, rod in the other hand, I slid the wet, grey and white granite rock down to the river. The rope ended six feet above the gravel and I let go. Orange tailed coho fry scattered like melting nails. And after a half hour going upstream, I came to a canyon wall some 100 vertical feet on both sides, leading to a frothy chute. I would have to swim into it, then around the corner, where I could not see, to where I might haul my body out. So I said no.

I went back to my rope and jumped up and down to get enough of the rope in my hand, rod cork crunched between my teeth, and hand over hand haul my carcass back up to the tree. I hung to the bottom of the tree, its roots growing into rock like bent fingers, for a good ten minutes, figuring out how I would get to the top side of the tree, slide the rope in a circle around the butt, so I could untie the knot and make for that log that looked far above me.

When I finally made my way up the wet, slippery rock slope and took hold of the log – it was fifty feet long and several tons – it moved with my hand. That’s how slippery fir needles on wet rock are. No soil whatsoever. It took another ten minutes to work up the log and cross over, all the while knowing it could give way and roll right over me. It was my great good fortune not to have died, and once back on the top, on the edge of the clear cut looking down the 300 vertical feet I had just come up, told myself I would never do anything so stupid again.

But it is one of my peak experiences I return to it from time to time, Here is another: one of the bridges over this one-person, canyon river looks down 90 feet to the small summer river, white between rocks the size of cars. I had bought some black nylon rope that I knotted and let down the rock face, that, had I fallen I also would have been killed. At the bottom of the rope, I swung out wide and avoided the vertical drop for a less deadly route. (Of course, this means that it swung back over the vertical slope, and thus required a good scary crossing to pick it up on the way back up).

Down the canyon in the two o-clock sun of an eighty five degree day were the shadows of 50 summer steelhead, pooled up in green water, illuminated by the sun. Each side was a vertical rock face. The canyon was a chute, twenty feet wide and straight up rock. I unfurled my cast back into the narrow opening and forward to where the fly landed among the fish. Its small splash shattered the school and they disappeared downstream around the corner. I left the fly there for several minutes, but they did not come back.

I knew at this spot in the canyon, there was a water fall 15 feet high several hundred yards downstream, and had fished up to it before from below, sometimes taking several steelhead in the six foot wide tailout. The walls were vertical, but hollowed out by millennia of silty winter flood water and the pool below was a perfect circle.

While inching down the far side, I came to a point where my left foot had its boot on two inches of rock outcropping. There was a willow growing out of the rock, and another narrow ledge on the far side. I reached for the willow in my left hand and had it take my weight. As I began the turn, I grabbed with my right hand and swung out over the canyon, holding onto a sapling half an inch thick. My right foot landed on the ledge, and I was able to bring my left foot under me. That swing is one of the two most important memories I have from fishing rivers on my own on Vancouver Island for decades. And that one I was mid-fifties. I will never forget trusting that willow and swinging my body across the open space.

Round the corner where the steelhead had retreated, I found them in a shadow on the far side. At that point I lost my balance and fell down into the river up to my neck. The fish bolted all around me. There was little current here because the water was deep. So I continued down, holding the canyon walls with my hands, into a bowl where I listened to individual drops of water fall out of the forest ten stories above me, and plop the water in an echoey room of rock.

The walls were wet and slippery, and I was chest deep in the shadows, hoping I would not go over the edge. When I came to the lip, it was round, worn, green granite with water over the top only six inches deep. I was not in danger, looking down at cutthroat trout swum up the canyon ten kilometres. They wavered in their line and I watched them for a long time. I will always have these memories. And there are others. I am sure you have your own.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Q and As - September

Q: With the recent rain, are any Vancouver Island rivers open for fishing?

A: The Nitinat River is now open for retention of salmon, specifically 2 chinook, only one over 77 cm and 2 coho until the end of September. Oct 1 – Oct 14 the river has a salmon closure. On Oct 15 there is retention for 2 coho and 2 chum until Dec 31.

Please note that while this is one of the best opportunities for a shore angler to go home with a 30 pounder, please fish responsibly. Gear anglers should fish with a dink float setup that has a leader with a yarn ‘fly’ and weight as the tag end of the mainline. After casting, the float is allowed to run down stream with its fly at fish mouth level. When the spring mouths the fly passively, the float goes down, the rod is truck and, voila, the fish is hooked in the mouth.

It is not sporting to cast a weighted lure, without a float, across the school and reel in, snagging a fish on most every cast. That is harassment, and I hope anyone doing so gets a ticket.

Typically the Stamp also allows chinook retention, and has a larger flow than other Island rivers. I will let you know when it is opened. Chinook need 10 to 12 inches of water to migrate upstream, and many smaller streams may still not have had enough rain after our summer of drought.

Q: Are there any new coho limits on Van Isle saltwater?

A: As of Sept 11, the coho limit in areas 12, 121 and 123 to 127, West Coast of Van Isle becomes four. Fraser coho have now passed and WCVI are rated at 4 this year. The following weblink gives you the water-specific area closures:
As of Oct 1, in Areas 18 and 19, you may retain two coho, one of which can be unmarked. Separation Point to Chery Point, as of Nov 1, both can be unmarked/marked.
And from Owen Point in Port Renfrew and the rest of Juan de Fuca, Area 20, you may retain four coho, 1 of which may be unmarked.
Q: How many Fraser sockeye have there been?
A: The cumulative total of early, summer and late sockeye, respectively, are: 347,000; 1,333,000; and, 109,000 = 1,789,000. This is very low. The question is how much prespawn mortality has there been. Apparently not much, but I am not aware of Dr. Miller’s viral signature work being done on the fish.
By comparison, the Alaska pink run has exceeded 177 million, with a total for all species (includes sockeye) now at 227 million. While Alaska does ocean ‘ranching’ of pinks, the question is why the difference in numbers, particularly when the Stamp, Port Alberni figure was a healthy 1.8 million sockeye. It may prove to be fish farm lice on fry, but this can’t be suggested plausibly at this point.
Q: What about Fraser pinks?
A: DFO has reduced its pre-season estimate from about 15 million to 6, or poor pink numbers, with 59% of Johnstone Strait fish and 67% of Area 20 fish being Frasers. In other words, there are pinks still showing up in ECVI estuaries, and some Juan de Fuca fish are destined for Puget Sound.
Q: Where are the Fraser sockeye now?
A: The Fraser run has more than 100 subcomponents and sockeye spread out into their natal streams all over the interior of BC. In addition to saltwater seines in Johnstone and Juan de Fuca, there are river counting fences, wheels, hydro-acoustic sites and other quantifying methods, including eyeballing the numbers. There is a considerable amount of work done by DFO to figure out returns, as the following stream by stream counts indicate: 
The sixth upstream escapement report was released by DFO this week [Sept 5]. Sockeye in 
the Nahatlatch River are reported to be in the early stages of spawning.
Sockeye in the Upper Chilliwack River are at the peak of spawn. The Nadina
River Channel was operational the evening of August 14th; 18,267 sockeye have
been counted into the channel to date.  Fish in the channel are reported to be
primarily holding and in good condition.  The counters at Gates Creek and the
Gates Creek spawning channel were operational August 7th, and 9,039 sockeye
have been counted into the channel with an additional 8,964 sockeye counted
into the creek upstream of the channel to date.   Sockeye in the channel are in
the early stages of spawning. The counting fence on Scotch Creek was
operational on August 9th; 3,498 sockeye have passed through the fence to date.
Most sockeye observed are reported to be in good condition, but some have
lesions.  Visual surveys of Early Summer-run streams that are tributary to the
North and South Thompson Rivers began on August 10th.  Sockeye have now been
observed in the Lower Adams, Anstey, Eagle, Lower Momich, and Seymour Rivers as
well as Cayenne Creek.  Sockeye in the Upper Barriere River are reported to be
nearing peak of spawning.  The first aerial and ground surveys of the Bowron
River were conducted on September 2nd.  Sockeye are reported to be nearing the
start of peak spawning activity.   The Chilko River hydroacoustic site was
operational on August 8th.  Sockeye numbers continue to steadily increase with
very few observations of pre-spawn mortality to date.  Carcass recovery efforts
began on September 1st.   Most sockeye appear to be in good condition.  The
Quesnel River hydroacoustic site was operational August 13th.  Sockeye
migration into the system has remained steady but overall migration levels are
relatively low.  Visual surveys of the Quesnel system began on August 27th. 
Sockeye have only been observed in the Horsefly River thus far, and fish there
are reported to be either holding or in early stages of spawning.  The Stellako
River hydroacoustic site was operational August 22nd.   Sockeye continue to be
in the early stages of migration into the river.  Visual surveys of Summer-run
sockeye streams in the North Thompson drainage began Aug 11th. Sockeye in the
Raft River continue to be reported to be in good condition and nearing the peak
of spawn.  A visual survey of the Bridge River was conducted September 2nd.
Sockeye are reported to be near the peak of spawn.   The Birkenhead
hydroacoustic site became operational August 26th.  Sockeye migration past the
site is still in the early stages. The counting fence at Sweltzer Creek (Cultus
sockeye) was operational as of July 20th; 240 sockeye have passed through the
fence to date and 25 sockeye have been retained for broodstock.”

The Cultus number is promising, given that in one recent year there was only one fish, and another where samples proved positive for piscine rheovirus.

A: One last thing: I sent in two unmarked chinook heads from the Oak Bay Flats in June. While they had no Coded Wire Tags, the June CWT fish from Juan de Fuca are from, with percentages: Georgia Strait – 3%; WCVI - 3%; Lower Fraser – 17%; Upper Fraser – 27%; Puget Sound - 20%; Lower Columbia – 20%; and Upper Columbia – 10%. In other words salmon show up in odd places.

A: One more last thing: The 13 pound, three year old, male chinook I took on the Oak Bay Flats last week, bit on a Spatterback Coho Killer on a Gibbs Lemon Lime flasher at 110 feet. The Spatterback is a combination blue/green spatter on a slim spoon resembling Flats baitfish, which are needlefish. The same lure and Flasher did the deed for Lance Foreman in Port Renfrew last week, also on springs, most 2 and 3 year old fish.

A: Okay, yet another one more last thing: Jeff Betts sent along this link to an interesting DFO site that shows current flow for a particular day and tide pattern. Interesting: