September is the time the Nitinat Hatchery takes chinook brood stock to be milked into pails of shining red eggs. This year, when the time came, there had been enough rain that available chinook had taken to the river, rather than need to be netted in the Lake near the First Nation town of Ditidaht.
The three major hatcheries – the Nitinat, Robertson Creek and Conuma – on Van Isle’s West Coast have had reduced numbers of returnees this year, with only 7,000 for the Nitinat, when last year’s figure, was nearer to 20,000 if my memory is correct. Last year, fish were evenly seeded from bottom to top of the river, and I released many from top to bottom, most of which were fat and happy 25- to 35-pound fish (i.e., a greater than usual number of five-year-old fish).
Typically, one catches chinook with a dink float setup and the wool at fish eye level gets mouthed as it passes. It is not usual for chinook to take spinners and spoons, but last year there were many takers, meaning the fish were willing to detach themselves from the school and chase down the lure. This past week, I was fishing in the pool below Red Rock when I heard the unmistakable sound of a jet boat. I had just finished landing a beautiful female 13-pound, hatchery coho and though it was hooked by the skin of its teeth, it stayed on the line long enough for me to make the hundred-yard trek to shore.
Thence a proper cleaning to keep it fresh, and then stuck in knee deep water with a long stick into the gravel so the shady seagulls did not take to it. I waded back to waist deep water. Swell, I thought, I sure hope they don’t fish here. With visions of been swamped by a wake and with my fish scattered, I cast back out in hopes of another fish before boatageddon.
After five minutes and lots of hollering from the boat, which I assumed meant that a healthy amount of Lucky had been consumed before 8:00 AM, it dawned on me that the boat wasn’t coming down straight at me, but was doing something in Red Rock Pool. A few minutes later, I realized it was the hatchery guys come to collect brood stock.
When I wandered up to the boat launch, sure enough, they had corralled hundreds of fish and the net was slowly pulled in to the boat launch, effectively concentrating the fish in a very small space. The process of capturing the fish proved very interesting to watch.
Someone with a sure grip because of the special stubbly gloves that were worn, nabbed the fish by the anal peduncle, or the wrist of the tail, then the fish was sloooshed into a fish tube (mesh ends to let water rush in or drain out) with a zipper that closed, and the tube, diameter of 24 inches and 5 feet long, was placed in a row in the water, close to where the trucks pulled in.
The trucks have containers that look a couple of hundred gallons each, with air bubbled in for O2. Once about ten fish tubes were lined up with fish in them in the shallows, two groups of two guys, would lift the water- and fish-filled bags up one at a time, in one movement to chest level, water cascading over everyone, then two guys on the truck grabbed the bag and emptied the fish into the tank.
I believe the truck held 20 to 40 fish, sex recorded by an enumerator who was as wet as everyone else, so they could reach their needed numbers. Volunteers for Sooke, along with Sarita helped the chore, a very labour, meaning muscle, intensive exercise. And great humour that the fish nabber, got the old face wash dozens of times while tracking down the best fish.
The other fish nabbed by the fine mesh net included coho, which a volunteer kept a few for himself. As I was taking video and stills, I didn’t want to get close enough to ask for one for myself to complete my limit, largely because I thought I would be thrust a fish and detailed into helping everyone else. I was a civilian by my reckoning and recording the act for posterity had its own value.
I have put four videos on Dropbox, and anyone who wants a link to view them, just send me an email and you can take a look at what once the deed is done, if it weren’t filmed, was not recorded for everyone to see. A shame for such a neat example of what we do in BC to help salmon.
The trucks, once loaded, sloshed their way to the hatchery, several miles a way, where I believe they were put back in water to be held to maturity and then spawned. Then the trucks trundled back to a line of waiting fish tubes and their salmon. Other fish included some Coho and Chinook Jacks, a few cutthroat and a slew of Jimmies, as the hatchery calls one-year 2015 chinook males that spent time in the lake/estuary and came back in with the mature fish. They look like a cross between a pink salmon and chinook - brown spots on body and tail, but lots of teeth in a black mouth and the unmistakable smell of a chinook.
Here are some shots:
Fish cornered in the net:
Fish in the water and loaded into fish tubes:
Fish loaded into the truck tank:
More fish loaded into the truck tank:
A fine catch of fresh Diet Coke: