With the rain we have been having in the past week, good numbers of chum are now coming into the Sooke River estuary above the bridge, the deemed saltwater boundary (so fresh water rules apply). The river is a fly fishing only body of water, too. On Thursday when I was out, the river had a fair number of coho, as well that were hitting, both small California Neils and green and yellow bucktails, 1.5 inches long (buy at Canadian Tire).
I checked at the Fair Grounds by De Mamiel Creek, where there were a few chum migrating up the Sooke. The creek was low, so it was unlikely that it was passing coho upstream. Most of the coho spawn in this side-stream, so it is good practice to check at the Grounds as they will stage in front of it for several days. Please pay the $2 charge to fish on the grounds.
A decade ago, most fishers fished at the park and did not go upstream to the trail by the Sunriver Estates (which also did not exist at that time). The reason, I think, is that in the past there was good structure in the river at the grounds, and so it became a natural place for salmon to stop and wait for a flood. But in the intervening years, the structure has been eliminated, leaving a saucer shaped river, devoid of any reason to stop, and thus the schools just lift with the tide to higher in the estuary.
This is a good place to learn to cast and fish for salmon. There is a good trail system that gives anyone who isn’t fishing a good opportunity to stroll along and watch the action. Typically there is enough room to spread out and plentiful chum for a good mile up the river and around the corner to the farm pool. Do note that on a high tide of 9 feet or higher, you will have to wait for it to fall or you will have a 400 yard crossing that is above your waders. Either cross before the high from the farm pool, or intend to fish through it.
On Thursday there were many chum at the Clay Bank corner and below on the few choke points that with the right tide level offer lots of fish, that come right up to the top of the tide before slipping back, or committing to the river.
My flies were not producing as well as I would have liked – a purple Flashabou creation that looks more like a pom-pom that a football cheerleader would wave about; and, a double egg pattern in Orange Globrite Chenille and size 2 circle hook, preceded by a purple chenille egg – even though they have worked well in the past. Purple and white are good colours in a tea-stained river like the Sooke. But other colours, pink for instance, is a good fall back, including egg-sucking leeches in pink and purple.
The week prior, and the day I was out, small to medium sized flies worked the best. My California Neils were safe at home in another fly box and hence did not help my cause. I didn’t have the Canadian Tire ‘bucktail’, not to mention everything else I was throwing at them didn’t work. So I got to take photos of other anglers catching more than I: Dale and a large coho, and Tom Lester with a medium size coho.
Other differences were that I was fishing water of six to 10 feet deep, making it difficult to hit the zone – shallower water reduces the height of water not in the zone and thus it is easier to hit. Also, I noticed that my sink tip, floating fly line was thoroughly water logged and thus made it hard to hit the zone. That also meant that as I stripped the line in it sunk and so, during casting, the forward stroke was trying to lift line as much as three feet under water – a pain in the rear end.
The successful anglers were fishing much shallower water – a tailout, and small run between riffles – that were less than three feet deep. Much more time in the fish zone, and also fly placement in the small run where the fish stopped for a few minutes was right on the money. Fish moving up are usually more bity, and if the fish you are fishing are stale, move downriver to fresher fish.
I subsequently moved down stream to where the path first grants access to the gravel stretch below the two choke points. As the tide was rising, small schools of chum were moving up and falling back. They usually are evidenced by small waves at the lead of the school, and a fish or two touching the surface. One interesting behaviour of chum is that when their mouths hit the surface, they take a mouthful of air, and as they cruise down to the bottom they release it. On the surface, you see small trails of bubbles, evidence of turned-on fish.
I also switched flies to a single egg of Globrite Orange Chenille on a Mustad 9174, size 6, live bait hook. A very small fly indeed and a freshwater hook, so either wash the fly, or it will rust. Remember to cast ten feet in front of the fish wave, as the lead fish are in front of the wave and thus if you land in the wave, most of the fish have already passed by.
Stand in the middle of the river at this point, as it tends to make the fish stop and turn, rather than continue up – in other words you are becoming structure in an otherwise structureless stretch of water. If you are with another angler, have them stand in the middle as well, for the same reason. In knee deep water, on my own, I began taking fish, on a minimalist fly. A nice ending to a nice day.