Sunday, 18 December 2016

Chinook Behaviour

If a saltwater troller were to understand only one species of salmon, it would have to be chinook. That is because they are in our local waters ten to twelve months of the year, whereas, the other four species are in our waters about two months per year, and in the case of pinks, it’s two months every second year.

So our bread and butter fish is chinook. There are three patterns for chinook. First, before they come on shore, chinook are found in mid-water levels in the open ocean unrelated to structure, because there is no structure in deep water. They are the feeders that have left our shores in spring, and still keeping close to lunch out in the open ocean. As they move toward shore, they take on their structure-conscious behaviour once again and so display this characteristic most of their lives.

On the west side of Langara Island in Haida Gwaii, if you fish west of Lacy Island you are intercepting chinook that are about to make first land fall, meaning they are not lined up with structure yet. The strategy is to put out 85 pulls of line and troll a cutplug. Because the bottom is 250- to 300-feet deep, and you are taking them well above the bottom, this is the evidence they are still green fish. 

Once chinook are lined up with structure, you will take them on surf line rock piles all around Langara. Cohoe Point and McPherson Point are just two examples. On a big flood, the chinook are blown away from land, following the feed and so angler boats will follow the tide lines until they are many miles out into Hecate Strait and south of the two points.

And chinook can already be structure related far out to sea. The 13-mile bank off Gillam Channel, Nootka Sound is only one example. Another is The Rat’s Nose off Ucluelet which is 25 miles out and 250- to 300-feet deep. You fish the bottom layer at 250 feet, and once when we were out there, a strong flood blew all the bait and fish off the bank. We took halibut and chinook miles off the bank that were at the same depth, but in 500 feet of water. Halibut don’t spend much time 250 feet off the bottom, evidence of the strength of the tide. 

We went in circles, picking up a fish every 15 minutes or so. Behind us, on the Nose, radio chatter made it clear that no one was catching fish. Again, this is evidence that the tide had moved the fish, not that the fish intended to be in mid-water, off the bank. So there is a difference between open ocean chinook, not structure-aligned, and on-shore chinook that have returned to being structure conscious.

The earlier phase of being structure conscious, occurs during the feeder stage once chinook have moved from their estuary, where they may reside as much as six months, unlike other salmon species. A good estuary example is the bank off Lulu Island where we fly into Vancouver, approaching from the west. So they are structure conscious from freshwater until they move offshore, as much as two years later, as three year fish. They present themselves for our fishing as winter feeders, the season we are now in.

We all fish deeper than in summer, usually 100- to 150-feet deep in the Juan de Fuca to Sidney waters where Victoria anglers commonly fish. An example would be putting the rods out at 110 feet half a mile off Constance Bank, then trolling to intercept the northwest corner. The edge of the precipice is about 110- to 125-feet deep (the shallow top of the bank can be only 65 feet), but the approach water is about 300 feet deep. You only catch fish right at the edge of the bank, not in the deep water. That is, the fish are only where there is structure.

But feeders will follow bait that is mid-water and that moves around based on keeping close to its own feed. When herring stage in February off Ogden Point in 200- 225-feet of water, suspended at 110- to 140-feet, this is a spawning related position in deep water, a ripening period, not a feed issue. The feeder chinook are found with them because the herring are lunch. 

The point being, if you are not registering bait on your depth sounder, you should move toward bottom structure, i.e., shallower water. I have noticed over the years that the pattern of fishing 140 feet in 180 feet of depth, is less common off the Waterfront than it used to be in the ‘90s. Part of the reason is there are fewer salmon and the other part is there are fewer herring. Feeders will not stay where there is nothing to eat. If they did we’d call them strayers, not feeders.

The third phase of a chinook’s life is the summer migration of three- to seven-year-old chinook for spawning. These fish migrate much closer to shore, and hence, we fish them in shallower water, usually up close to shore structures, like Otter Point, the Trap Shack and so on. Chinook tend to migrate on-shore within about 100 miles of home waters, so the theory goes, tasting the water for their own river.

So the Rat’s Nose fish are likely mostly American headed for the open Pacific shore rivers south of BC. However, as pointed out above, the chinook found off points of land in Haida Gwaii such as Kano at Rennell Sound, and Cape Henry around the corner from Englefield Bay, can and do migrate as far as California – you pick them up in May at Englefield. 

When Tasu Sound has a lodge, the tight to the wall fish can be caught in the spectacular vertical point just out of the Sound’s opening. Truly one of fishing’s most iconic spots, the Wall is so deep you are fishing so close to the rock your rod tip is almost touching. In part of the Wall, you are actually underneath the over-hang of rock, just above your head. You bob up and down with the surge as much as five vertical feet, your heart going, as Peter Gabriel put it in Solsbury Hill, “Boom, boom, boom.”

And this mixture of behaviour/spawning destination occurs at surf line rock piles the entire length of remote BC saltwater trolling. A good example on Vancouver Island is Ferrer Point in Nootka Sound. This is a fishy spot all summer long for chinook migrating down the Pacific Northwest. Then by the third week of July, and on into late September, local Conuma Hatchery chinook come to dominate the stocks. You tell them apart by colour. The darker black the tinge of their skin colour, the likelier they are from the Conuma River, close at hand.

But the pattern changes the closer the fish come to home. Once having turned the corner, say at the Nitinat Bar, all the chinook are now for either Puget Sound or BC destinations. Note that Swiftsure, thirteen miles south, is both a nursery for feeders, and a nip in bank that has chinook destined for US Pacific shores.

Robertson Creek chinook occasionally overshoot Barkley Sound to the Nitinat Narrows, and Nitinat fish overshoot to Port Renfrew. And the latter would be distinguished from the, on average, larger Harrison River chinook, in that few to none are ‘white’ chinook, or forty pounds plus. But, the point is that by the pre-terminal phase, chinook are on-shore, and we fish them all the way in to their natal rivers on shore. Chinook destined for the Fraser, which includes the Harrisons, are fished for at Saturna Island, and then are picked up on the Fraser side of Georgia Strait, that they find by crossing water, without being structure related.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Bait Fishing and Planers

I have always preferred to fish bait in saltwater trolling. My early years were spent in Saanich Inlet, and I learned from those like John Rose that I should be using a planer, and roller guided Peetz rod and wooden reel, loaded with wire line.

When I switched over from downriggers to planers, my catch statistics went up dramatically. And over the years I came to understand that downriggers were okay at first light, and down to 50 feet, and then planer rods caught way more fish, until about 2pm when downriggers could once again be put out, about 140 feet.

I think the difference was that early fish were less wary than later in the day, and would whack a lure close to the boat, until the sun was on the water. From then on, we lowered our planers as the hours wore on down to as much as 350 feet. If memory serves me correctly, the conversion rate was that down to 150 feet, it was 2 to 1, meaning, that every two feet of line let out resulted in one foot of depth (and of course this was easy to determine as the Peetz reels had a line counter in the reel). From 150 to 350 feet the conversion was 3 to 1 – 3 feet let out for 1 foot down.

The issue was drag, and the wire line, being so long, and having more drag than mono, and no 10-pound weight, meant that depth was more difficult to achieve. The various old timers said that beyond 350 feet, there was no point letting out more wire line as the drag resulted in zero depth added, no matter how many feet of wire line were let out. And as the turning radius was longer and having downrigger anglers cut behind you meant there was no point letting out more. Note that before planers, rocks in nylons were let out to extraordinary lengths, more than 500 feet.

I came to the view that in the daily period when planers caught more fish, the main reason was that the lure was farther away from the boat and its engine noise. Saanich Inlet is pretty much dead calm because it has only one entrance point at Wain Rocks, the current is imperceptible and thus as quiet water as you can get in fishing.

And, of course, planers were better all day when fishing for winter feeders, and all chinook, other than fall spawners (most for the Cowichan), because you seldom needed to go beyond 250 feet. So most of my Inlet ‘ancestors’ used only planers all day long, and never ever used downriggers at all. And it was only on long sunny days and over less than 4 summer months of the year that lines would be out to 350. 

John Rose and Bob Redgrave with his 35 foot wooden Chris Craft and the others (Jimmy Gilbert, laconic Harold who bought Gilbert’s Boathouse, etc.) were terrific anglers and once they realized I was in fishing for the long haul, freely gave me their nuggets of wisdom. I committed them all to memory and their largesse has resulted in hundreds of extra fish over the years, before I moved in the mid-90s to the Waterfront, and finally, wistfully put my planers away – they being next to impossible to control in water with high tidal speed and criss-crossing currents. 

I came to realize that because Saanich Inlet was and is so specific in terms of gear and trolling pattern, and that by the mid-seventies, when I started, there were fewer fish, that it was a great place to have learned because you had to do it exactly right or you would get skunked. If anyone else remembers some of the gear considerations I do not mention, send me a note.

And then the rest of the know-how included setting up the bait properly. The only bait and teaser we all used were large strip and large Strip Teaser, both from Rhys Davis. If memory serves me (often it does not) the large teaser used large herring strip from the left flank and that it spiralled to the right. A Super Herring strip teaser used the right flank cut and rotated to the left (Tom Davis correct me if I am wrong).

John Rose bought whole large herring and cut his own strip. He prized the strip from the left flank, and used it in preference to the right flank. I never got into cutting herring, other than cut-plugs in remote water and West Coast Van Isle. Once, when we were jawing boat to boat, he told me I wanted to take the rod as it had a fish on it. It was the rod behind me, and thus he saw the strike before I did. He didn’t shout it, just slowly drawled out, in his Scots accent, that I would want to tend to my rod, knowing I was by that point proficient enough in the catching that he didn’t need to shout across the water. 

I was told that the Large Strip Teaser worked better – in Saanich Inlet – than the Super, and came to agree, as I tried both and sure enough the large caught more fish. I don’t know why the fish preferred this rotation, but they did. The trick was to push the strip all the way in to the front inside bevel evenly, then put the toothpick through bait and teaser, snipping the toothpick tight to the teaser. Note that if the teaser had crud in the front end, you took it out with a knife point and reinserted the strip. Then always checked the spiral (this means the tail follows the head, the bait does not spin, with the tail in a tighter or wider circle, as in not-spiralling) before assigning the gear to the water.

Note that with planers, due to the extra time involved in reeling in all that line and letting it all back out, it makes sense to get it right, because you will not take the fishing time to reel in something to check it. The spiral was a one second roll, or one second flop, not faster, not slower. Spiral speed was changed by bending the tab on the teaser’s back end out for a faster spiral, or in for a slower spiral. You used two single kerbed, Octopus style singles tied with sliding knots, with the trailer behind the strip’s tail end, the leader flush with the strip.

And if you were using a flasher – not everyone did – the metal hanger on the front end of the planer, that gave it its sink or trip, was bent down slightly in the middle of the top section, because the roll of a flasher would sometimes make the split ring attached to the planer trip, meaning migrate to the front end, and thus the rod fly up just like a strike, but there was no fish on the line. Heart attacks are great when there is a fish on the other end, but not so great when there is none. And of course, when a planer trips you must bring it in to check it, which is a waste of fishing time.

One final note, that when a planer trips and there is no tugging, meaning no fish, if you are fishing an artificial lure, you can feel there is no fish, and set the planer again. You brought the rod tip forward, relieved any pressure, then smoothly moved the rod tip back several feet. On the planer, the split ring would migrate back to the highest point of the metal hanger, and thus when you held the rod and waited, once it caught, the planer would tip down and the resumed pressure on the rod meant the planer was fishing once again, at the depth you had put it to.

Planers are heavy gear, and I put mine away, when I moved to the waterfront where planers are not used. The extra sound of rushing water where there is higher tidal movement and currents, I think muffles the boat/engine sounds and thus planers are hard to handle, rod tip going down into the water and up to the sky, navigating the water. Now I use downriggers with braided fabric line (boat electrical potential issue is eliminated). All of my planer gear is in my garden shed and I would take it out immediately, if I were to move my boat back to Saanich Inlet.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

A Trailer Tale

John, the garden artiste (he cuts my lawn) and I were standing, thumbs in our imaginary suspenders and chewing imaginary green shoots, as my neighbour across the street backs from his driveway, pulls across the street to in front of my house, and moves off, clipping a non-resident Lexus on his way to the Save on Foods for some chewing t’baccy. 

He gets out of his van, suspenders amply filled with girth, and assesses the Lexus, waves no problem, “Just our tires rubbed,” and drives off down the street.

The artiste and I saunter into the street to find the quarter panel dented, the tire and rim scraped, bumper pulled forward and the flashy headlight, the kind that blows your brains out at night when it comes your way, a bit cracked.

“I reckon that’s $5,000 damage, including painting the hood,” I venture. Having run into a deer on the highway, and having the same expensive headlights shifted a tad, and finding they cost $1,500 each and repairing grill work, and hood damage I couldn’t see, coming in at $3,500, I think my estimate might be low.

“I reckon,” is all John answers and we go back to lawns and computers. Well, it comes to me that my boat trailer that I hoped to put in my driveway and park my car on the street, just puts my car in the way of damage from my otherwise good dude neighbour, that he won’t tell me about.

So, I have to run it out to the Alderwood, RV & Boat Storage, behind the Waddling Dog, and pay a $1,000 a year to store my trailer that I don’t need stored… and two years goes by, in which, two years of Victoria weather pounds my trailer, until I have to go and see what, if anything, remains.

The trailer is still there, the tires are not yet flat, and when I plug in the lights, both signals work. But the wheel on the front end, that you use to raise and lower your trailer onto the ball of your tongue in your car’s hitch receiver, won’t turn. I find some WD 40 in my tool box and empty the entire can into the grease box on the top. Well, the crank cranks until it locks – in both directions – but the trailer will not raise or descend on any ball.

I call on honest Ed, my good aboriginal buddy, who owns the lot, and we both look at the crank and crank it for all we’re worth, but to no avail. The lift won’t lift or descend. “Balls,” we both say and a lot more colourful words. 

“&)()()))(^%^&%^%$^, eh,” Ed says.

(*))(*&^&*%^&$^&%*&, eh,” I answer. I find I can swing the wheel out of the way, and he says he will drop the ball clasp on my ball, adding that he can hold it while I move the ball into place. The purpose is to see if the brakes work, as well as the brake lights.  

I try moving off and he soon signals that the brakes on one side are locked, so the tire is not turning. We exchange more cuss words.

“Eh?” he ventures, but adds that it looked like the tire wanted to turn, so I might as well go around the block and see if it will unlock. “Tryn hit somethn.”

“Yeah, eh.”

As I’m pulling out of the storage site he laughs and waves me to stop. It turns out that to prevent theft I have put a lock on a kryptonite chain through a trailer wheel (that I forgot about) so I rummage out a second can of WD 40 (you can never have too much WD 40), empty it on the rust encrusted lock, and look at my keys.

On my key chain, there are two keys that I have no idea what they do, but thought they were boat ignition keys from before I had it changed. I insert one and, by Jminy, it fits in smoothly, but won’t turn a millimetre. 

“I’ll get the bull clips, eh.”

“Yeah, eh.” And I stand philosophically over the lock I forgot I had and the keys I didn’t know I had, but had not thrown out, being too superstitious to throw away anything that looked like it might still be of some small use some day. Good thing I didn’t throw them away.

Soon, honest Ed, is putting the jaws of death on the lock, and it is refusing to do anything. I give it a try, but honest Ed is larger than I, so I soon give them back and find my hacksaw in my tool box – I found out eons ago never to be anywhere where your tools are not. Hence, my toolbox, my main one, has been sitting in my stagecoach for the past 30 years.

My hacksaw goes: “D-d-d, eh,” but the lock refuses to show a cut, and honest Ed soon is back jumping on the bull clips, and finally the rusty lock does what we want which is get cut.

“Won’t be needing this anymore, eh,” honest Ed says and pitches my cut lock far into the blue sky. It returns to earth far down in the next lot, which looks, sort of, like a cross between a composting yard and dump. Hast la vista lock.

I pull out the kryptonite chain, and almost fall off my driver’s chair when, going in a circle, all four wheels on my double axel trailer turn, and brake. “Well, Lawdy, eh?”

But the crank on the wheel still won’t crank, and I am thinking that I am going to have to have a tow truck come and pick up the trailer and take it to Sherwood, and get it fixed, as in ka-ching. 

“Naw,” says honest Ed. “Ya just go git another wheel assembly, cut this one off, and put the new one on, eh?”

Ed, my good buddy, has just saved me several hundred dollars. According to him, they are generic, and any one rated at the same number of pounds just gets bolted on the trailer in the same spot and Tonto’s yer uncle. 

Well, I’m gittin a new wheel assembly at Sherwood and the best song the Eagles ever writ is playn on the radio, Desperado, and I almost fall off their ‘client’ stool because, at $50, the wheel and crank is far cheaper than the usual boat bill, which usually comes in at $1,500.

“It may be rainin, but there’s a rainbow above yeh”, Don Henley sings, and I agree, as the December sun sets in the west, meaning I have to reconvene with my good buddy, honest Ed, another day.

On this cautionary tale, my garden artiste thumbs his Stetson far back on his forehead and sez, “You couldn’t jest lift the trailer up n prop it aginst the house, like?”

“Not when it weighs 1,700 pounds, eh,” I give back, tryn not to souwnd kriticle.

The artiste raises an eyebrow, spits out some brown ‘baccy juice and we go back to lawns and computers. The moral is, as all of us afflicted with boats know: no boat related problem is ever simple, or fixed in one day, or for fifty bucks. Eh?