Sunday, 24 April 2016

A Very Hungry Chinook

I received this very interesting picture of a chinook salmon from Ken Street this week:

Here is his story: “Thought you may enjoy this picture taken yesterday of a 12 lb marked Chinook caught drift-jigging in the OB flats, 75 ft of water, using a 6 oz (6 in long) Dart Sandlance lure.  With a very full stomach, it is doubtful the fish was hungry! Or it had poor eyesight.”

Yes, the most striking thing is the huge amount of feed this salmon had in it – and sucked down whole. Almost the size of its head, in its stomach. Stuffed. And such large needlefish. We are used to seeing much smaller sandlance. A month or so from now, the newly hatched fish will be seen in schools among the boats at the Oak Bay Marina, perhaps an inch and a half long.

So, these are big by any standard, and nice to see as mature fish so close to our urban shores. Sandlances grow to eight inches in BC, with these appearing to be about six. These are the feed you pick up on your depthsounder as patches on the bottom. Herring, on the other hand, tend to be mid-water or higher fish. So if the bait is on the bottom, it is needlefish.

Needlefish are the predominate baitfish on the Oak Bay Flats, and are long and slim, compared with herring. That is why, in plastic baits, a squirt is preferred over the larger hootchy in this location. Plastics with lines down their flanks will often outperform those without. The local favourites are the Mint Tulip, J-49, and the Irish Mist, although a Purple Haze should be a back up. 

Think slim spoons as well. Coyote style, as in 4 inches. Also the Coho Killers which are very slim, in Green Splatterback, White Lightning and Gold Nugget - in that order. Do note though that they rust, and you should change hooks to standard saltwater hooks because the ‘diamond’ shaped black hook they come with, rusts faster than the lure. And be careful not to lift a fish by the spoon as they bend.

Fish with a glow flasher, as you are on the bottom, in Ken’s case, 75 feet. Typically, though, the Flats is trolled in the 90- to 130-foot depths, on the bottom, hence why glow properties are useful in the deep, dark water. If things don’t go as planned, come right into the 60 bottom in front of the Great Chain Islets. Halibut are taken on there as well – usually on bait. The Flats fish prefer Tiny Strip or small Anchovies – to match the bait.

Lure size and shape no doubt played a role in Ken’s catch – a six inch Dart. The right silhouette, as is said about flies in fly fishing. It is surprising that the fish, a female, whacked the lure. Perhaps it was still actively feeding and hadn’t registered yet that the stomach was full. Probably the lure action played a role as well. 

All drift fishing lures are made to be lifted slowly and dropped much quicker. The point is not to lift the lure out of the fish’s sight line, and then to let it fall so the crippled bait fish action makes it flutter and dart here and there, with no drag from the rod. A nice, elemental style of fishing. Simple gear, direct connection to fish. And also nice for it to be caught in April, for resident nursing chinook, as we often think of drift fishing as a late summer sport for coho and chinook returning to natal rivers.

One more thing: please go sign the federal Petition e-270 asking the federal government to get fish farms out of our pristine oceans. While it is sponsored in Nova Scotia, it applies to all of Canada: And pass the link on to other anglers. Thanks.

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