Sunday, 10 July 2016

On the Flats

For a number of reasons, The Oak Bay Flats can be an odd place to fish. For instance, except for the occasional bump, it is pretty much flat for a couple of miles of under water real estate that spreads the fish out because there are no well defined edges or structure.

The predominant feed is needlefish (on the bottom, although there were herring balls on the surface when I fished last week) and this affects lure and bait size. In lures, slim and short, for example Coho Killers and squirts over hootchies. In bait, small to medium, which has a bearing on presentation because the wire of a wired bait head wants to puncture the skin on insertion in smaller/shorter bait, which damages it, leading to shredding during letting the tackle down and during fishing. You have to check it more frequently because shredded bait won’t catch fish.

It also causes a problem while setting the spiral you prefer – tail following the head in a spiral rather than in a spin diameter that exceeds that of the head’s spiral diameter. The reason is that you set the spiral with the latter third of the bait, and thus the wire. If the wire isn’t inside the fish, you can’t set the bend where it needs to be. Not to mention that it adds something hard to come in contact with the fishes’ mouth, dissuading some not to chomp down for a clean hook set.

And there are problems with the angler’s bait preparation. Usually, I fish a previous day’s bait tray along with a new one. In between I cover the bait with pickling salt and put it in a flat Tupperware container that accommodates the bait’s foam tray. Then I fire it in the freezer.

Salt shrinks the bait some, but also toughens it, making it easier to handle during insertion in the bait head and threading in the wire. It also holds its spiral better than untreated bait. What is lost in shine, is gained in presentation, as well as being able to trust that it will shred less easily with a rocket descent and last longer during fishing, thus less wasted time bringing it up to check and lowering again.

I was well away from the dock with a full, old tray of bait – no new tray – when I discovered that having set it in the sun (something hard to avoid on a boat) on my last trip, and, more importantly, forgotten to put on the salt, found the bait a bit rotten and far too soft.  Thus several were ruined trying to thread the wire, as the skin stripped off too easily. Also a couple’s body cavity came open during fishing, spilling brown intestines, not to mention off-gassing the smell of ho-hum bait.

So I had little confidence in the bait spiralling and not shredding while fishing. This is the Flat’s fault, not mine. I say this because I realized sometime ago that a rationalization is always made in your own favour, and thus blaming it on the Flats made me feel better.

And then there is the problem of fishing pattern. In the past, the Flats were fished as a square, always turning to port, that extended from in front of the Great Chain Islets, say 80- to 130-feet of depth. These days it is far more common for boats to fish on a diagonal sighting on one tack, the south end of Trial Island, and on the other, the south end of Discovery Island.

And it is more common to fish the 110- to 140-foot depths, even though you can catch fish all the way in to the Great Chain Islands, ie, 60 feet deep (and I caught a 20 pounder last year right off the golf course point, in 50 feet of water).

The other odd thing is that the Flats are conflicted water. Both tide and current present themselves at the same time, and you can go one direction and be bucking the current at one moment then running fast with the tide in the next. This affects how long you are going to fish your tack, before turning to go back – you catch far more fish fishing with the tide. It becomes abundantly clear when tide/current are against you that the point where you expect to catch fish takes ages to get to, and thus you can be fishing in less fishy water for a longer period of your finite fishing time.

Then there is rod spread pattern, which, in all seasons, is one rod right on the bottom with the other(s) staged above it, so that you only have to deal with one rod’s downrigger when the ball drags on bottom. Pick the rod most easily seen from the captain’s chair.

Despite all these oddities, the gods did reward me last week. I landed the dinner requisition of a 6-pound hatchery, male, Puget Sound chinook, and had two bites that were not landed, all on bait with a Super Betsy flasher, right on the bottom. I tried other gear, in Coho Killers, the green Splatterback, White Lightning and all silver, as well as one of the Flat’s mainstay plastics, an Irish Mist squirt. No luck.

But I retained my Hunter and Gatherer, male-guy button by bringing home the bacon, er, salmon.

Final notes:

1.      The South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition is having a Sooke Town Hall Meeting, Tuesday July 12th, 7:00 p.m., at the Sooke Community Hall, 2037 Shields Road, in Sooke. These are the people bringing us the net-pen chinook for orcas and a few for us, so please support them. Everyone welcome, and a free event.

2.      The Island Anglers Tip of the Week is a good one this week: “Avoid the crowds. When you see lots of boats fishing in a small area, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are lots of fish there, just lots of anglers. And the more anglers, the more gear in the water competing for what fish that may be there. Usually, you’re better off to fish away from the crowd with less competition for those fish that are willing to bite.”

These are good points and I would add that it is best to decide on your fishing plan before getting out on the water, so that you are fishing where you want to be. By actively deciding ahead of time, including your reasons why, makes you a better fisher in the long run.

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