Sunday, 31 December 2017

Salmon-chanted New Years

On the last day of 2017, you are, of course, going to welcome in a new year with a New Year’s salmon dinner before not watching Kathy Gifford once again embarrass Anderson Cooper in Times Square. Her depiction of Trump as a bleeding head got her removed from the annual embarrathon. I am sure Anderson is as happy as the rest of us.

He would even be happier were he to live in BC and have a nice salmon dinner to ring out the old and ring in the new. While I have several salmon recipes, I keep returning to one so simple and tasty, it is a winner.

Lay a salmon fillet out on tin foil in a cookie tin, edges of foil rolled up and over the edges of the tin, to keep all the sauce in with the fish, and to drizzle on during serving. Mix several ounces of Bullseye Bold Original BBQ sauce in a bowl along with an ounce or two of China Lily soy sauce. It must be China Lily as it has the best taste for this recipe of all the brands. It’s the carmelized taste and the salt. The soy sauce cuts the harshness of the BBQ sauce and allows it to flow when ladled out onto the fish.

Before covering the fish with the sauce, cut some garlic into thin slices. Also get out the Demerara sugar; this sugar has the most taste of all sugar products and you will taste the difference, as this is a strong-tasting recipe. 

Now completely cover the fillet with the sauce, allowing the rest to run out onto the tin foil. This is followed by laying down the garlic slices on the fish, as many as you wish. Then add raw pineapple in wedges, also the length of the fillet, and any remainders in the sauce around the fish. At this point, you take the Demerara sugar in your hand and completely cover the filet, so that nothing other than the sugar is showing.

Put another sheet of tin foil over the fish, and place the tray in the fridge to blend in the hours leading up to dinner. Once cooking time arrives, take the foil off the top, and put the tin in an oven preheated to 400 Degrees F. Cooking time will be 18 to 22 minutes to when you check the fish to see whether some of the protein is welling up onto the surface as a white liquid. 

Once you see some surface protein action, most of the fish will already be cooked. Take the tray from the oven and twist in the shoulder with a fork or knife. The meat should still be raw in this thickest portion of the fish (the rest being cooked). If it is cooked, rest the fish. If you see raw flesh, put the fish back in the oven.

As soon as you see white liquid coming from where you twisted the flesh, the fish is done. This will be less than five minutes from when you have put the fish back into the oven. Fish is cooked in the instant you see the liquid and there is nothing worse than over cooked fish. It is better to be a minute under than a minute over. Watch the oven like an eagle (hawks don’t eat many fish here on the coast).

Put the tray down on a towel on a surface. Put the second sheet of foil back on the fish, and neatly over the edges. Cover with a bath towel double folded so it will keep in the heat. Cover the entire tray so no part of it is showing. And then rest the fish until it is time to serve. You should rest it for a minimum of 15 minutes, as it really improves the dish.

When serving, use a spatula to slip between the skin on the bottom and the fish just above it. Slice pieces from dorsal to ventral surface gently with a regular knife (it need not be sharp as the fish is cooked and soft and will come apart easily). Finally, drizzle on some more sauce and pineapple.

The best vegetables to eat with this dish are strong ones. Broccoli is the best, followed by Brussel sprouts – adult flavours, and for children carrot is best. Also add steamed - but not over cooked - beans. Serve with a plate of diagonally-sliced bread, a baguette or one of those multi-grain ones that require a few minutes cooking in your oven to crisp up. Enjoy.

The ingredients are:

Salmon fillet
Bulls Eye Bold Original BBQ sauce
China Lily soy sauce
Demerara sugar
Sliced garlic cloves
Sliced pineapple.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Spoons in Saltwater Trolling

Spoons are probably the easiest type of lure to troll. You can have confidence in their ability to continue fishing, once they are set at trolling depth, and thus need only check them every half hour, rather than sooner, as with other types of lures.

The useful thing about downrigger fishing – spoons are usually used at depth in winter months, in saltwater – is that once the release clip has been attached to the cable, chances are that any weed/flotsam that gets caught on the mainline at the surface, will not get past where the clip attaches to the mainline above the lure/flasher. 

If you trip the line to check the lure, do not assume that ‘weed’ has been on the lure for long, because any that reaches the clip and stops there, simply migrates toward the flasher once the line has been tripped from the release clip. And it is worthwhile saying that ‘weed’ is less common in the winter than in summer.

Unlike hootchies that can have lots of reasons for their fronds to get caught on one another, hooks and so on, spoons, if you watch them descend from the surface without weed, will not foul on themselves. Bait has many reasons why it may not continue fishing for long without some decay in its spiral pattern, for example, it may slip back from the teaserhead and end up with a ninety-degree unfishy bend in no time flat.

Ease of use is one of the best reasons to use spoons. In winter, at depth, it is useful to have spoons/flashers that have glow and UV properties, so that beyond about 90 feet where surface light does not penetrate, the tackle is actually emitting visible light, or UV that can also be seen deeper. 
Spoons can be run with or without flashers in clear winter water. If with a blade, use four- to six-feet of leader to the spoon, and vary your speed so that you accommodate the two- and three-year old chinook that will pick up speed to catch a meal unlike their four-year old brethren that are losing their bite reflex prior to spawning. In addition to fishing with the tide, consider zig zagging if a straight-line pattern runs you through a fishy area too quickly.

Twenty-five-pound test leader is good for spoons. Higher test dampens spoon action, while lower test risks a break off after the bite. As with hootchies, you will find some spoons catch more fish, even though they look identical to the second one you throw out that never catches anything. Fish those killers until they break off, rather than change leaders and kill their mystical properties altogether.

Over the years, many spoon lines have evolved. In the beginning, commercial spoons like the whole silver, or half silver half brass Tom Macks ruled the day. Then the Clendon, and Clendon Stewart spoons came along, as did Krippled Ks. Perhaps the time when spoons evolved most quickly occurred more than 30 years ago when Radiant Lures put out a line with multiple colour combinations, soon imitated by Luhr Jensen. We tend to think of a Coyote spoon, half white, half glow green as a Luhr Jensen lure. But it was first put out by Radiant (Now called Supertackle).

Other colours soon followed, including Cop Car, Cop Car Glow (for west coast Van Isle) Army Truck, Glo-Below, Tiger Prawn… the list goes on. And in recent years, yet another explosion of spoons hit the market, Coho Killers, for instance, G Force spoons from Gibbs, as well as Skinny Gs, and AP Tackleworks (their spoons are made with stainless steel). The issue with long line-ups is: which of the many colour patterns actually work. This is best answered by fellow anglers, at least those who catch fish, launching ramps and weekly fishing reports, Island Outfitters, for example. 

The White Lightning in Coho Killers is good in the winter. As is the Outfitters G Force. Do note, however, that some lures have issues. Coho Killers, for example, are made for freshwater, and thus the lure and hook rust in saltwater. The downside is needing to use a lotion-style (not sandpaper that simply rubs the finish off the spoon) metal cleaner like Brasso on the lure from time to time, and taking care to remove it all – scent is the issue. Then change the hook, to a Siwash, or Octopus style kerbed hook, and finally, watch the lure wriggle beside the boat at trolling speed. The issue is to retain the fishy action that caught fish before the original hook rusted.

And, finally, don’t hold a fish up by the spoon. If it is a stamped tin one, it will bend, and you may have just ruined a killer lure. It is worthwhile keeping your ‘spidy’ senses on at all times, as superstition can be a good thing, when figuring out which spoon is your best spoon.

Some Useful Links:

A link to Radiant spoon colours:

A link to Coho Killers. Scroll down to get a good explanation of the issues with this lure, which, nonetheless has been, and continues to be, an outstanding spoon for saltwater trolling year-round in the greater Victoria area:

A link to AP Tackleworks – all stainless steel spoons, a real advantage, and with a non-rusting hook, means you won’t have to change a hook and wonder whether you have ruined the spoon's action:

Sunday, 3 December 2017


Hootchies are one of saltwater trolling’s most common tackle. They resemble squid which salmon eat, particularly chum. And the Wya Bay, Ucluelet, June fishery for big springs is spine-tingling stuff when the squid come on-shore to spawn. The reason it’s so good is that you may be fishing in as little as 30 feet of water, and your guide is rigging up squid that you have just jigged from the water. You float around, or slowly move in and out of gear, so the squid is presented properly, with a four- to six-ounce weight six feet in front of it. Similarly, Browns Bay north of Campbell River is largely a hootchy/squirt trolling bonanza for chum, particularly of the smaller commercial sizes and patterns, trolled behind a flasher.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of hootchy patterns available at tackle shops. Since only a small fraction work, you want to know from your records, from fellow anglers and from weekly reports such as the Island Outfitters link put together by Tom Vaida what the current hotties are. 

Here is an example: one of the great patterns for the Campbell River area is the Jack Frost, based in yellowy-green. I had never seen one before or since, but darned if it isn’t sworn by in those waters. 

And darned if a Purple Haze with a gold, not silver, Mylar skirt doesn’t just catch one after the other in Nootka Sound’s Gillam Channel and seaward on the banks. If you are towing your boat anywhere, phone ahead for the current good gear. I guarantee you that in hootchies, you will have to pick up a few and rig them up.

Some of the original colours still work quite well: white, glow white, clover leaf, glow green and Angel Wing. Then along came UV and glow in a broader line up. The Army Truck pattern influenced every type of gear it was so popular. Then along came Purple Haze that comes in two patterns: a silver based hootchy, and a translucent lure that gets a sexy purple tinge to it once it has cooled down to water temperature. 

Look in my Vancouver Island Fishing Guide for the go-to colours all around Van Island where you might want to fish. In Quatsino Sound, for instance, we were advised that anything green/blue would work. I searched the dreg-ends of my tackle box and came up with a few I thought didn’t have a chance. These hootchies caught all our fish, surprisingly, and nothing else worked. 

On the downside I broke off my best, ‘fished-in’ Mint Tulip on a screamer of a spring. Fished in means a lure that you haveused, over the years, and caught more fish on than other, seemingly identical lures. Pay attention to its properties and seek to reproduce them in another lure of the same colour, size and so on. It is better to lose a fished in lure, than change its leader and ruin its action. Fishing in a new lure is the answer.

Other good current colours in Oak Bay waters include squirts (it is a needle fish area, so  squirts which re smaller, catch more fish) in J49, Jellyfish and the ageless green and white. Squirts are also the plastic gear of choice when fishing for coho, pinks (though a Day-glo orange hootchy is a standard) and sockeye. If you don’t have any squirts in the right colour, look to hootchies that have lines running down the length of the lure, as that resembles the slimmer needlefish. In fishing, explanations are found for gear that works, and I think this one qualifies.

As for rigging, use a double single Octopus style hook set up, 3/0 to 5/0 tied with nailless nail knots, or sliding knots. Leader dimensions are critical. Use the length that fits with your boat. In mine, the speed goes along with a 34-inch leader from the swivel to the tail end of the trailing hook – that makes it about 36-inches when including the ball bearing swivel on the flasher. And do put in spacer beads between the top end of the leading hook and the inside top of the hootchy as you rig the leader through it. This prevents hang-ups of the hooks in the fronds.

And the rule with hootchies is that you never, never let anything impede the fronds, whether a scrap of weed, hook, Mylar, etc. Fronds must hang loosely to appear natural. And always check every hootchy/squirt that you put in the water to be sure nothing is impeding the fronds. Other wise you will catch nothing.

As hootchies have no natural action, they are matched with a flasher that makes them do a figure eight or circle, depending on the flashers action at the speed you are trolling. For this reason, you don’t use a ball bearing swivel with the lure because that makes it spiral. You want the flasher snap to make the hootchy dart around in the water.

Leader test is a critical issue. Some use up to 40 pounds when fishing for big summer chinook. This makes a great deal of sense to hold the fish with flasher sheer so that it doesn’t pop the leader. The lightest you want for winter fishing is 25- to 30-pounds. The simplest rig is to tie a loop- or figure eight-knot in the top end of the leader and attach it to the snap. It takes some repetition to get the proper length from knot/swivel to trailing hook, but do take the time, as leader length is just as important as leader test. 

You want action, and after you have caught a fish, cleaned and straightened the fronds, untangling them from one another, hook and so on, and checked, once in the water, that the lure is not fouled, attach to the downrigger and lower it (needs to be less than 10 feet between release clip and flasher), check action at trolling speed, and make a mental note of the leader length of the hootchy you have used (then reattach to the release clip, at its regular length). You want that for future reference, and over time, you will arrive at the best length for your boat’s trolling speed. Do note that speeding up makes the hootchy action wilder and that can excite a chinook into biting it.

So, if fishing is slow, speed up, for more lure action, particularly for winter fish, or migrating fish offshore. Along with this, troll across- or down-current. You don’t want to sit in one spot by trolling upstream. Move around and find the fish, something that is much easier going downstream. In the winter, schools could be several miles apart and you need to find them. As they are in deeper water than in the summer, it is far less likely for you to be fishing in a back eddy. Summer is about stick and stay and make it pay. Winter is about find the fish. Once I trolled with the current for several hours, then found the fish and took limits for two of us in less than an hour.