Now is the time that shore anglers can get in on the annual coho runs that migrate through our area, as well as those that move into local rivers. Vancouver Island has 123 different watersheds, many of which support coho.
At this time of year, you can find coho milling the marine markers waiting for the trigger for them to move into fresh water: rain. The best time to fish for coho is the crack of dawn, followed by a flood from the ebb. The moving water brings the fish into the estuarial end of rivers and their beaches.
The closest fishery is in Sooke Basin, with Billings Spit and Whiffen Spit being good places to try. Spinners are the lure of choice for gear guys, with flies with tinsel or other metallic flash material for fly guys. In this and other mixed fisheries, it makes sense for fly guys to practice back and out casting, and thus you can stand beside gear guys and get in on the action.
Back and out casting has as its first step, laying some of the fly line directly out in front of you, and using the water’s grip to load the rod during your back cast. Then coming forward, the line you have managed in your stripping hand is released and you are fishing comfortably with gear guys. One of the reasons is that most beaches have shallow slopes, and thus reaching the fish zone is far quicker and easier than in a pool of, say, 15 feet deep. The other thing that allows both gear types to get along is that false casting, with all of its line waving around everyone, is eliminated.
Both spots on the Basin can accommodate both kinds of gear. Out in Port Renfrew, which reaches its peak the third week in September, as in this week, the pool is so large, and distances so great, that fly fishing does not work well with gear.
Lures of choice for beach gear fishing include spinners such as Bolos, and Blue Fox, in sizes 4 and 5, as well as spoons, such as the extensive line from Gibbs - Illusion, Ironhead, Kit-A-Mat and so on, which are high weight to volume lures that help casting distance in wide open areas. And, of course, the crusty Buzz Bomb, Perk and Perkins lures will also work.
On the Pacheedaht side is the deep crease where chinook hold, near the bottom. The heavier lures are more useful for plumbing the depths and I have seen many 30 pounders pulled from the water. Do make a point of asking local aboriginals if they mind you fishing on their side of the pool.
Do note that you are more likely to keep a coho in saltwater, as its rules, generally, offer broader retention. The boundary between salt and fresh is usually arbitrary, the bridge in Renfrew being the designated line, even though the tide goes a good mile beyond. In Sooke, the tide goes up from the boundary – the bridge – almost two miles, but freshwater rules apply.
And other places that saltwater rules apply on Highway 14 to Renfrew include: Muir Creek, Tugwell Creek, Point No Point, and Loss Creek. Once coho are at the estuaries, the biggest push into freshwater happens on the first huge rain of autumn. The San Juan is the best close by example of this. Watch the weather, know your river, and when the monsoon comes, make a date to float from the Harris/San Juan confluence, or from the Harris Bridge, to the pool that is at the end of the track which is the last right turn before the Harris Bridge.
In that fishery, expect blown water. It is not a fly fishery during this deluge. Bring out your biggest spoons and gold ones that transmit better in water clarity that is less than three feet. You will have to cast more frequently at the deep, soft water spots and where you see coho touching the surface. The San Juan has the largest coho on the island, so there is a real possibility of catching a 20 pounder. Set your drag tight, as the coho do the coho roll thing and you are just not landing them if your drag is set at steelhead range.
The other obvious fishery is the Stamp. It receives early coho that start arriving in the first week in September. So it can be a blue sky day. The best spot for those who do not know the river well is the Gun Club run. Stop in at Gone Fishin, http://gonefishinshop.com/, the local tackle shop, buy something, then ask directions. It is out Beaver Creek Road, and you are looking for the left turn that takes you down to the Range.
You will be asked to sign-in to park your car. The trail to the left of the Club will take you up river. The Bucket back to the Club is almost a mile and has some good water in this stretch as well as a major pool right beside the Club. From there learn the other good coho access points, while you pay your dues to understand the river. (Note that the trail continues up stream from the Bucket, should you want to look at other water).
It takes a decade to understand any river, and thus you should look at putting in this time on many rivers to come to know them. On the east side, try the beaches of the Big and Little Q. Salmon Point for the Oyster, and the Campbell River. The last has the virtue of being a controlled flow river because of its dam, and thus low water is seldom a problem.
The Campbell also has all three fishing types, uncommon for a river on the Island: gear, artificial fly and fly fishing only, so it gives access to all. Many rivers north of there also have coho runs and are worth learning when you are on a several day trip – try the Fisherboy at Sayward Junction for a hotel.
The Salmon has a pool right beside the highway where you can catch coho. The other accesses are worth getting a guide for, to learn the ropes. Just don’t lit him see you hit a waypoint on your GPS, something you do at the access point and at the river – the two can be some distance apart.
Many rivers lie north from Sayward, and you should gain some knowledge on the Nimpkish, our largest river, the beaches at the Cluxewe, Keogh and finally at the Quatse estuary in Port Hardy. There are many more rivers on Vancouver Island to try, and they are out there just waiting for you to find them.