Sunday, 31 January 2016

DFO Letter – February 9, 1967

The following letter from DFO Minister HJ Robichaud to Frank Pomery is contained on the disk given to me by Tom Cole. Mike Rose was good enough to render the scan into text so that I could amend it. The various pencil underlinings and notes in the margins made for some hard to understand sections. Any errors are mine alone. Please excuse them.

Several things stand out: an unwillingness to impinge on commercial fishing through establishing corridors for sport angling, and thus  gives evidence of a stage when sport angling was not considered as important as commercial fishing; apparently, coho and chinook don’t bite lures in the summer in the Victoria/Sooke area. Could have fooled me; and, there sure were more fish around in the ‘60s.

There is a ton of historical information on the disks that came my way, and a blog of it all would be interesting to all of us. Anyone got a good name?

[Before the letter, some lures that have worked for me in Jan, 2016: pearl, green glow and green/yellow glow wire-rigged teasers with medium anchovy, Purple Onion, Madi, Lemon Lime, Plaid, green glow flashers and green Splatterback as well as White lightning Coho Killers.]

Ottawa 8,
February 9, 1967.
Mr. Frank Pomeroy,
1235 Montrose Avenue,

Dear Mr. Pomeroy,
Thank you for your letter of January 26th, 1967 in which you deal with the proposal for a two-mile net-free corridor in Juan de Fuca Strait to improve angling for salmon in the locality. Perhaps a review of the important factors bearing on this problem will be helpful to you. These are:
1) There is a two-mile buffer zone off the central east coast of Vancouver Island which is closed to salmon and herring net operations during the summer and early fall months. Apparently the anglers-feel this was instituted through representations by various fish and game clubs. This is not' the case. The action was taken to protect important salmon producing rivers along the Vancouver Island shore and to protect grilse and adult salmon present during the summer and early fall period from herring seining operations.
2) On the U.S. side of Juan de Fuca Strait, the Washington State authorities applied the three-mile closed area to protect salmon producing streams along their shoreline. My information is to the effect this was not done because of representations of the sports fishermenithstanding the large runs, the Victoria anglers again did not realize any appreciable increase in catches.

5) The regulation of the sockeye and pink salmon fisheries in Juan de Fuca Strait is the responsibility of the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission. The Commission is charged with seeing that the catch of sockeye and pink salmon in the convention area is shared equally by the United States and Canadian fishermen, and for ensuring that escapements are obtained to maintain or expand the stocks. Creation of a two-mile buffer zone in Juan de Fuca Strait would seriously increase the complexity of the salmon  although anglers have moved into the area since commercial fishing operations do not exist in the closed waters.

3) There is considerable evidence to show that the feeding habits of migrating salmon are such that they are not susceptible to a hook and line fishery and this results in sport fishermen being able to catch very few coho and chinooks in the locality. The migration pattern also suggests that many of the salmon, on reaching the eastern approaches to Juan de Fuca Strait, tend to move towards the American shore. Tagging experiments and fishing patterns on the U.S. side strongly suggest this to be the case. It is also a fact that only a very small commercial troll fishery occurs off Victoriaagain suggesting that hook and line fisheries are not successful in that vicinity. Certainly if the contrary were true, there would be a large commercial troll operation there. This matter, however, will be further reviewed by officers of my Department.

4) In 1966, the Canadian commercial catch of coho in Juan de Fuca Strait was somewhat more than a half million fish, the largest on record. In addition, the U.S. salmon net fleet in the eastern entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait and in Puget Sound landed an additional 600,000 coho. In all Canadian rivers flowing into the Gulf of Georgia, including the Fraser River, and to U.S. streams in Puget Sound good spawning escapements of coho were obtained in 1966. Departmental people in the Pacific Region feel that, based on the heavy U.S. catch and the good spawnings which occurred, some one million coho salmon escaped the Canadian commercial fishery in Juan de Fuca Strait. In spite of this fact there was little improvement in the sport angling,catches off Victoria which again seems to support the theory that salmon are not susceptible to the hook and line fishery there. Coastwise, the coho catch in 1966 was the greatest-on record; the chinook salmon catch was the best in the past ten years. Since good escape­ments of these species were generally attained coastwise, there is no doubt that the runs last year were good. This was reflected in excellent sports fishing catches in the Gulf of Georgia where the hook and line fishery is successful one. NotwCchinook and coho fisheries off the west coast and their findings will no doubt have some bearing on this particular point.
9) The establishment of a closed area extending two miles off the Vancouver Island shore in Juan de Fuca Strait would present substantial enforcement problems. This, ommission's problems 

6) If a buffer zone were established, it would seriously hinder salmon net operations, especially those of the salmon purse seines in the vicinity of Sooke near the eastern entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait where much of the operation is conducted along the shoreline. Adverse effects would also be felt at the western entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait where there is already a problem of over-crowding through large numbers of fishing vessels. For example, during the peak of the season up to 400 salmon gillnetters and 125 salmon purse seiners operate in Juan de Fuca Strait. The end result would be a reduction of the Canadian commercial catch of salmon in Juan de Fuca Strait.

7) A reduction of the Canadian catch of sockeye and pink salmon in Juan de Fuca Strait would mean that the Canadian share would have to be made up in the Fraser River and its approaches. Here the pink salmon especially are inferior in quality to those caught in Juan de Fuca Strait. This would result in immediate protests by the fish buyers and processors.

8) There is evidence that as a result of tagging experiments and other data, coho salmon migrating through Juan de Fuca Strait are predominantly Canadian, perhaps in the ratio of 60% to 40%. Since the U.S. fishery of the salmon occurs mostly after they have passed through Juan de Fuca Strait, any reduction in the Canadian effort could only make more coho available to the U.S. fishermen without, as has been mentioned on several occasions earlier in this communication, any real benefits accruing to the anglers in Victoria and vicinity. Here I should mention that a special committee of Canadian and U.S. fishery scientists is studying the however, is not considered a major factor against establishment of the closed area since, were such an area established, the Department would have to make arrangements to patrol it effectively.

My Department is, however, concerned with the problems of the anglers and will be conducting scientific studies this year to determine the availability of salmon, especially coho to sport fishermen in the Victoria/Sooke locality and the susceptibility of the salmon to the various types of lures. I would also like to add that my Deputy Minister and other senior officers will be meeting with representatives of the Amalgamated Conservation Society in Victoria later this month to discuss this entire matter.
Yours. very truly,
HJ Robichaud


Sunday, 24 January 2016

Fly Fishing for Winter Steelhead – Weather and Etc.

Fly fishing for winter steelhead presents several challenges. The first is cold air. Air below freezing soon builds ice ‘footballs’ in your line guides. These then impede fly line, and the surface also gets covered in ice. While you can snap the football out easily, not so with ice on fly line. Both guide and on-line ice sooner or later cracks the surface of the line and chunks come flying off, ruining the fly line.

There are two solutions: don’t fish in cold weather; and, at the end of the season, pick up those fly-lines that are being cleared at low price. An example for me, was an Airflo Sixth Sense full sink line I got for $20 bucks – a line to sacrifice when conditions are bad. It also has the advantage that because it is heavy, it casts heavier flies; just what you want because you want to tie heavy winter flies, that cause hinging unless the line is heavier than the fly. This particular line also casts farther than most, always an advantage in deeper and thus farther across rivers.

Note that the Sixth Sense line was made to have zero stretch, the advantages being that you sense the bite sooner and the strike sets the hook more securely, again because the fly line does not stretch. That is Ariflo’s spin on it, though I have not noticed it myself. One last advantage of this line is that it is a green colour that shows up well in winter water.

Get in the habit of pawing through the end of the season line container, as for $20 you can pick up several for the same price for one of those lines in-season. I picked up another Airflo Forty Plus switch, Spey line with a clear intermediate head, intended for overhead casting. Its great advantage is that it has 35 feet of clear head, so in those ultra-clear waters, winter or summer or beach, you don’t have to worry about lofting 10- to 20-foot leaders to get the fly away from the very visible fly line that spooks the fish.

For heavy flies, lay some lead on the up side of the hook – it makes the fly ride head/bead-chain-eyes up rather than turning over and riding head down, a condition you can easily see when the fish you catch has the hook upside down, the point in its beak, and, of course, you will catch fewer fish because the fly doesn’t look right to it (the other side of this one is that because steelhead are opportunistic and as aggressive as any fish in the river, they will bite an upside down fly) - and thread in securely.

Cold air also means cold water. On below zero days, rivers will be 0- to 4-degrees Centigrade; the river is colder than the ocean, and this make the fish hunker down and not move an inch to a fly. This means you have to plumb every last inch of water in a run to bonk the fish on the nose. So fishing takes longer, meaning, you will get to fewer runs in the day, so plan for only a few highest percentage spots.

In some waters, the Campbell, for instance, you can put a small split shot between the fly and the fly line, because it offers both ‘fly fishing only’ and ‘artificial fly’, the latter definition, intended to cover, dink float gear fishers using a yarn fly with weights, allows a fly angler to do the same. Do note that it is not the case on many other rivers, the Cowichan, for instance, which is fly fishing only, not artificial fly.

On the Cowichan, the winter standard is a stonefly nymph in the upper section of the river, with a split shot on the leader. As mentioned, this is not legal, and should be avoided. The simple solution is to weight the fly as above.

The second challenge in winter fishing is the reality that with rain, rivers are deeper and farther across. The deeper the water, the more difficult it is to put the fly near the fish. And, summer runs may not exist in the winter, and you should know your rivers well enough to understand the 3-D structure in all seasons, something you gain over years of repeated fishing. There is, for example, below Woss a run on the Nimpkish that has a terrific run in low summer water, but in winter, another run which is right beside it, but out of the water in summer, comes into its own; this is a rare occurrence in any river, and you need to get out and figure them out. The up side is getting to fish a lot more.

In winter, you will be forced back into the trees on most rivers, the Stamp being a good example, in its farm regions. The room you had to do back casts for single-handed rods in summer, typically doesn’t exist in winter. For this and the need for long casts, a switch or Spey rod comes into its own. Single Spey casts, for example, require ten to 15 feet of room beside and behind you, not 60 or more. Also, the line in a D, or loop, tends to lay on vegetation and immediately lift free. The alternative of a hook turning into vegetation is more likely with single-handed rods, and leads to lots of frustration.

The other advantage in these rod types is that they loft those heavy winter flies with ease, as well as the ‘nasty’ rigs of winter, where you have a heavy sink tip that you have to haul out of the water on every cast all day long. A single or double Spey comes in very handy in the process because the initial move lifts the line out of the water’s grip and sets it out on the surface so you need less effort on the second or subsequent part of the cast to get that fly and tip out into the river.

Another winter reality is that in faster moving water – a winter river, deeper than in summer, has to move faster to put the increased amount of water through the run in the same amount of time – is that you can shorten your leader. In salmon and steelhead fishing you can cut down, except for ultra-clear water and hunkered down fish, on leader length to four feet because the fly moves faster across the fish, making the fly line more, well, invisible – the fish has less time to spot and track the fly and the water is more turbid, so there is less need to separate fly and fly line.

The final challenge is to choose the right water to fish. The givens are deeper, colder water, and fish less likely to move. Where you have caught fish before on the same conditions, you will catch them again. It is individual fish behaviour, not schooling behaviour that tells you where to fish. Plumb the good water, and this includes that first foot of the top of a run because steelhead often move right up and under this ruffled water and it is the easiest to reach. You will catch dozens more fish over the decades if you cast into this water, rather than walk into it; this one is corny but works.

As depth is a challenge, it makes sense to fish the soft and the shallow. Soft water is that middle of the pool – not run – water where current is least, and while not a high percentage water, as it is pass-through water rather holding water, sometimes fish stop because it needs to use less energy than in faster water. Plumb such water, quickly.

And tailouts are a natural place for steelhead to stop. They are moving slowly, and the fish, having come up a run, may stop for a time, before passing through the pool to its head. Later in the winter, tailouts are more productive as some spawning takes place in them, and thus fish slip back into these waters or hold prior to leaving the system. The reason for fishing tailouts is that they are higher percentage water, higher than the pool above them, and mostly because they are shallower, it is much easier to be in the zone. Do note, however, that it is not sporting to intentionally fish spawned out fish late in the season.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Winter Steelheading – For the First Time

January and February are the peak months for winter steelheading on Vancouver Island. Most east side rivers have winters, as do most west side. And summers are in the water at the same time, but their presence is more limited to west side rivers, with some Johnstone Strait drainages added in.

The winter rivers plumbed most often include the Cowichan, Stamp, Campbell, Nimpkish and Gold, the first four of which have hatchery additions. Do note there are fly-only sections on some of these rivers so do check the regs for rules. And for the Big Qualicum take a look at this historical site: There are many rivers in this project, so look around. It’s a fascinating site.

If you are getting in to winter steelheading, the typical gear combo is a baitcaster reel married to a 9.5- to 10.5-foot trigger finger rod. Use 20- to 25-pound braided backing line and 20 feet of 15- to 20-pound mainline mono that attaches to the tackle end. Actual leader to tackle is lower, and on ultra-clear water as low as 4-pound, which is very difficult to land a steelhead without much care in the fight.

If you haven’t been out winter fishing, go with a knowledgeable friend or a guide. It may seem expensive to take a guide, but you are also paying to learn what the guide knows, and if you pay attention, you will have a better idea for coming on your own – safely – at later dates. Guides only fish high percentage spots in a day that combines other runs/pools that offer possible fish – steelhead are fish of habit, and the same spot you caught one previously, can hold a fish again.

The other advantage of guides is that they have boats – jet boats on rivers that allow them, like the Stamp, and drift boats/pontoon boats on other rivers. I don’t recommend going on your own unless you are with someone who has previously drifted the section you want to fish.

An example being the Stamp between Money’s and the Provincial Park. The latter is a pull out, but if you did not know there was a falls below and you drifted through, you would be in big trouble in that very tough section. The Cowichan has the Haig-Brown Fly Fishers Association map that you should pick up. See: If you are a fly fisher, consider joining the HB or other club. Steelheading is a life time sport and you will never stop learning.

The Cowichan is widely used, and the map will guide you to all the various runs on the river. There are trails along the side, as there are on the Stamp. Both rivers have sections with paths on both sides. An easy section done by foot on the Stamp is the Gun Club to The Bucket. You walk up and fish down to your car. 

If you have water craft, one vehicle is left where you will exit the river, and the other at the top where you put in. Two obvious ones on the Cowichan are Greendale and Skutz Falls.

Look at the Cowichan map and you will find lots of foot access trails between Greendale and Skutz. The Stamp’s Gun Club section has an excellent area just above the club for those learning Spey and Switch rod casting. It is a left-hand bank.

If you are thinking of buying a boat, there are several options – below the jet boat, or outboard class; these options you would not take until you were familiar with fishing and decided river fishing was your thing. On the less expensive end are drift boats that require a trailer.

On most Van Isle rivers, belly boats are not recommended as you will constantly be in contact with the bottom. Pontoon boats are plenty maneuverable and a mid-price option with oars will can take you anywhere, and stay out of problems. You will need a roof rack or a truck to transport these fully blown up.

The other option is an inflatable boat, with oars. I chose a Watermaster after using different kinds of boats. They are pricey but worth the dollars you spend. They come with a packsack and you can take down or inflate them in less than 10 minutes. The kit includes a pump. At 35-pounds they won’t kill you to pack in to a river, although one of my trails is 2.5 miles long, and I arrive at the river covered in sweat, so keep that in mind, too.

The packed size of these latter boats are small enough to get two in the back of an SUV with fold down backseats, with space for the equally voluminous waders and etc. you will be clothed in. One chief advantage of this and pontoon style boats, is that you can simply stand up in-river where you want to fish – spots that can be next to impossible to wade to without being swept away – and then lift your feet and carry on.

Also consider whether you are willing to fish in the snow or days below zero. Gear is much more easy to use in the cold than a fly rod. Both form ice footballs in the rod guides, but on a gear rod you just snap them out and keep on fishing. The downside of fly lines is that ice, when frozen to guides or the line, tends to strip away the coating from the interior braid. In other words, ice destroys your expensive fly line. I go skiing on such days now. And for the truly wealthy, a trip to the Caribbean for bones, trevally and permit reaches its peak desirability when Van Isle is at its coldest.

The last thing – if you must fish in snow – is a way to keep your life if you fall in or your boat capsizes. Immediately, your temperature changes from 37 degrees to 4 degrees or less. Your body, chest and mouth go into a gag reflex and your mind panics. This happens every time you fall in, no matter how many times you fall in during your fishing ‘career’. If you keep in mind that your mind will come back to you in 30 seconds, that may just save your life.

I am famous for falling in – when I was a kid, I lost my fear of water, so I do more daring things than others – but the gag reflex thing can be a killer. If you go over a falls or under a log with your mind panicking, you are likely going to die. Swim across stream – to the side you want to end up on – or downstream, until your mind comes back to you. Don’t swim upstream, you will be swept downstream.

The first time I went in with waders on, I began swimming back to the side I had just waded from. When my mind came back to me, I turned around and continued swimming to the shore I was going to. The point is that if you go back where you came from, you are going to have to cross the river for a second time to get where you are going.

Get one of those Mustang chest ‘bar-style’ lifejackets with a pull toggle, and do the smart thing, which is to actually wear it. When you want it to save your life, it will be right where you need it. Good winter steelhead fishing.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Knowing What You Know Without Knowing It

 One of the nice things about fishing is renewing acquaintance with areas you have fished in the past. You relearn things that you once knew by heart. And so, I went to Clover Point to fish the run to Brotchie Ledge on Christmas Day, a run I once knew by heart.

The tide and current tables were thus: reversal of ebb for the Race Rocks Current Tables at 11 am; and, low tide at 1 pm for the Victoria waterfront. In other words, good fishing from 11 am to 2:30 pm, the bite occurring after the low tide/current reversal. 

The gear was put out, on the port side, medium anchovy in a pearl teaser, with a glow green flasher, and a Coho Killer Splatterback, Purple Onion flasher on the starboard side. The port rod, most easily seen and adjusted from the captain’s seat, was put to 110 feet, and the other at 100. This way, only one downrigger ball hits bottom at a time, granting time to deal with it, but not two at the same time.

I typically fish this run on the 110 foot contour, erring a bit deeper, meaning aiming for 110 at the shallowest and 120 on the deepest. With braided line, the balls are much closer to counter depth than with thicker stainless cable. The gear was fishing properly at 10:45 am just off Clover Point, giving time to motor to Brotchie, turn and fish with the tide on the change.

Well, the flood had started earlier than expected, and a half hour into good fishing, the boat was still barely making ground on Clover, and wasting time, fishing into the tide. So, the gear was brought in, the boat moved to the breakwater side of Brotchie, and the gear once again put down.

The Brotchie Ledge reef is long and comes out at an angle to the eastward side of perpendicular with the shore. That means going over it shallow and dropping to water of 150 feet before angling in to shore. Before the next bit of structure, Holland Point, a narrow, canyon trough, the port rod popped from the downrigger, on the ebb side of Brotchie. The fish didn’t seem large until the surface, where it turned into a winter beauty of 14 lbs. While I considered filleting and farming out portions to various relatives, friends and hangers-on, the fish slowly came to net.

Head just entering the net, the next-second groaner was the treble getting caught in the web. And for several long, helpless seconds I watched, until the single ripped free, and the fish swam slowly away from my plans. The line was rebaited and put down, while the boat circled to Brotchie, then turned east toward Clover.

A small fish jiggled the port rod and, when retrieved, proved just short of a meal for two, and was jiggled from the hook, also to swim away from human plans. The boat turned and a White Lightning Coho Killer replaced the starboard spoon, its glow white looking very sexy. Then my pearl head decided the wire was too loosely rigged and refused to work, because a bit of tooth pick had become stuck in the front leader hole, until taken home and refashioned.

The bait replacement was a glow green teaser with anchovy, with flasher changed to Purple Onion. Seriously deep for my contour plan, a third fish popped the port rod, and on careful retrieval to the boat proved to be a ‘chunky’ 3- to 4-pound winter. Without using the net, I lifted the leader and fish into the boat, which I do commonly for fish of 8 pounds or less, only to find it slipped the hook, plopped into the water and etc.

The White Lightning spoon was replaced by a four foot leader to a glow-green and yellow teaser and bait. Then the long slide across the Flagpole ‘reef. This is a wide apron of mud, and so a downrigger sliding across it causes no damage, as long as the tackle is 8’ above the ball clip, to account for flasher revolution.

Surprisingly, the starboard rod came free of the release clip on the flood side of Clover, just before the bump for the Outfall. Halfway to the boat, the fish, the fourth bite, also came free, and a lot of expletives got released from my back deck where bait was reassigned and put back to 100 feet.

Several hundred yards to the east of Clover, a bump I had forgotten over the years, read on the depthsounder/GPS and then it was clear trolling across to Trial, where the GPS revealed a good wall a half mile out and perpendicular to the middle of the island. This was the end of the trip, short of the good rock a couple hundred yards to the west of Trial that often gives up a fish, and the boat roared back to the dock its captain empty handed and cheesed.

And of course it was of great amusement to my buddies at the gym the next day that of four bites, all four had been lost, on a day that the gods persecuted the fisher with a little too much bad luck. The good luck was four bites, meaning the gear and fishing strategy had been correct, and on a day when karma swings toward the human, a winter chinook or two may be coming home with him, meaning me.

I also had a chance to fish a couple of the slim spoons that can be so good these days. They are very light and it is not a good idea to lift a fish with the spoon as that bends the spoon and may destroy its fish-catching magic. Also, the hooks are diamond shaped, presumably to grant purchase on a jaw on a hook without a Kirb. On the other hand, these hooks rust, and have to be replaced, the issue being whether a Siwash or Octopus-style hook will leave the spoon unbalanced or not. But that’s a good reason to go out another time and, reacquainted with the run, do it again.