Sunday, 16 July 2017

Pink Salmon Time Again

It’s that time again, when even the worst fisher on the coast looks like a genius and brings home the bacon, er, pink salmon. DFO, from its preseason estimate of 13.3 million Fraser pinks, has now pegged the best bet at 8.7 million, still lots of fish for everyone to catch their share. 

In Area 19 and 20, from Victoria to Port Renfrew, pink salmon are already being caught at 40- to 70-feet on the downrigger. In the past few years, we have fished at roughly 100 feet, for pinks, as well as sockeye, and coho which intermingle on their run up Juan de Fuca Strait; but this year, the pinks are occupying the depths past fishing would indicate.

Pinks are normally found in off-shore tide lines, rather than on-shore responding to land and bottom structure. Juan de Fuca can be 700 feet deep in our area, so bottom structure is not a factor, and tide lines out to the international border with the USA are good places to practice your craft. 

Fish the moving side of tide lines, and cross back and forth even though you have to clean debris off your downrigger cable more frequently. Krill and bait fish are in the moving side and salmon follow them for lunch. While any day will do, the most consistent bites are usually in August, on long slow flood tides. Once you have located a school, fire out a marker that will travel along with the school and thus show you the most likely spot for catching fish (do retrieve whatever you have used to mark the school).

One you have caught a fish, circle around to pass through the school again, and thus gain multiple passes at the same school of fish as the tide moves them forward. Often a tide line will remain on the surface to indicate where the fish should be, but tide lines can peter out, even though the fish are still underneath that ‘spot’, moving with the moving water.

When pinks or sockeye are alone, troll at idling RPM, as in slow. Sockeye prefer shorter leader lengths down to 28 inches and less action. When pinks, sockeye and coho intermingle, pick up speed because coho prefer faster more erratic action, and because the other species will also speed up when intermingled. That allows you to cover more territory, an advantage when schools are spread out.

In the past, lures with pink in them have been the best option for pink fishing, particularly squirts, or hootchies with lines in them – it makes them look more like needlefish rather than larger herring. A pink or Day-glo orange plastic bait 32- to 36-inches behind a flasher is the first option. In the past flashers with pink in them have worked best, and the original combination was a red Krippled-K and Gibbs red flasher for both sockeye and pink salmon. 

Then came the red Hotspot flasher, plaid flashers, the Super Betsy (used to have red in it) and more recently, Purple Onion, Madi and Lemon Lime. Early fishing using the Homeland Security flasher has been good in 2017. 

Before getting out on the water, decide the first three lures you will use, along with flashers. I always start with a Bubblegum squirt on the starboard side – has pink, and white in it as well as glow red eyes. Back ups would be all-pink squirts. Two years ago, while testing the then new Coho Killer spoons – I had a dozen colours to sort through, and that takes time – the best ‘colour’ turned out to be the all silver, a surprising choice given that past fishing has always indicated pink. So, this year, the second lure in my rotation, on the port side, has a silver Coho Killer on it, and is the first rod I check from the Captain’s seat.

When you catch a pink, don’t lift it by the spoon. That is because the new, tin spoons will bend even with a 5-pound pink (in the past we have also had pinks in the 10-to 12-pound range) lifted into the boat. Admittedly, I don’t use a net for such small fish, and because, when fishing for pinks, your chances of getting a limit are very high, it doesn’t matter if you lose one or two when opting, once the fish has stopped thrashing, to lift it up in one smooth motion, over the gunwhale, directly into the fish box.

If you get a bent tin spoon, hold it beside one that you have not used, and rebend the spoon into the shape of the unused one. And tin spoons rust, so emery board or silver cleaner (Brasso leaves a smell, so try something else) is needed before consigning the lure to the sea. Also, some spoons, particularly Coho Killers, have a freshwater hook, the shape of which is not reproduced in a saltwater hook. 

You will have to change in short order to saltwater, Mustad, octopus, kirbed hooks, adding a swivel to connect it to the lure. I prefer Siwash hooks for their long point, but you will have to introduce a kirb into it to hold the fish on the hook. Hole the hook in your pliers from point to shaft and bend down to introduce a 10-degree kirb. 

For pinks, at least, these alternates are fine, but when putting new hooks on tin spoons, I suggest you run a new one side by side with a changed one beside the boat, until you are satisfied that the action of the changed lure is the same. If it isn’t, you might not catch any fish. Pay attention, in your log book, to whether a lure with a different, new hook still catches fish. If not, change hook until the catch rate is the same. Or buy a package of the matching, freshwater hook, and change hooks frequently, a practice that requires adding a split ring between lure and hook. Check action again and catch your dinner.

Monday, 10 July 2017

World Recreational Fishing Conference

A conference is coming up July 16 – 20 in Victoria: World Recreational Fishing Conference – 8. You may want to go. Learn more on the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC (FFS) website: Everything to do with the science of sport fishing can be had at the four-day meeting, held every several years around the world. More than one hundred papers will be presented over the four days.

Here is what the FFS says: 

“The 8th World Recreational Fishing Conference is returning to Canada for 2017. The conference unites the global recreational fishing community - providing an essential forum to discuss current research. Held every three years, this is the only international conference focused solely on recreational fisheries. The host organization for the 2017 conference is the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, in cooperation with the Sport Fishing Institute of BC.”

There are three symposia sessions and eight other sessions, each of which may have as many as 20 presenters. The Poster display is worth taking in as there are 38 to view, on subjects ranging from the length of time out of water related to fish survival of released fish to Atlantic salmon conservation for anglers, to billfish fishing in the tropics, to the Sport Fishing Advisory Board in BC. 

Presenters are from all over the world, covering fishing issues from Australia to Russia. One subject of interest to me, is the Gene Banking of Sperm, something I think is vital to retaining the genetic diversity of the 9652 different strains of salmon in BC, and easier with sperm than the much larger eggs. The poster PDF can be downloaded at:

There are far more presentations than there is time for, so I zeroed in on subjects of interest to me. Among them are the following:

Session 2: Citizen Science and Recreational Fisheries is your session to learn more about taking part in BC science by taking readings while you are out fishing. You can find out more at: Brian Riddell, President and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) is the chair for this session, and, of course the PSF does have anglers on the water taking readings. 

The Sport Fishing Institute has an app that allows for real time uploading of angler information that allows DFO to make adjustments that get to anglers and commercial fishers in quicker order than other approaches.

Session 3: Reconciling Stocking, Management and Conservation has several items of interest. This session explores different applications of fish stocking to support recreational fisheries for both marine and freshwater situations around the world. Fisheries can be established and protected but at the same time effects on existing species and strains of fish result, including genetic ones.

Session 4: Management Strategies, Policy Development and Governance is the one that most interests me, with more than 20 talks scheduled. In Alberta, for instance, fisheries are structured differently from BC:

E7: Alberta Conservation Association: A Case Study of an Alternative Model for Fisheries Conservation and Management Activities.

As a Delegated Administrative Organization under the Alberta Wildlife Act, Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) is in a unique position to function both as an arms-length research organization of provincial government, and a not-for-profit conservation organization. Led by a Governance Board consisting of members of major conservation groups within the province and a single government representative, ACA receives direction from both public stakeholder groups and the provincial government. The governance structure, funding model and mandate of ACA makes it relatively unique in Canada and as such provides an interesting case study on the pros and cons of undertaking fisheries conservation and management activities in close relationship with, but separate from, government biologists and policy makers.”

And in Denmark, they have tried another alternative: E10: Resurging the Atlantic Salmon Stocks in Denmark Through Adaptive Management.” They have focussed on habitat restoration, something I think does not receive enough funding in BC, and requires change of The Fisheries Act, particularly the HADD (harmful alteration, disruption and destruction of fish habitat) provisions. The Harper Conservatives got rid of it to favour business, and the current DFO Ottawa brass is on record as saying they don’t want to go back to the previous status. BC expects better than this.

Most of us know Gerry Kristianson, long time PSC and SFAB participant. He speaks in session E15. Here is what he says:

“It is important that advocates of recreational fishing, public servants charged with fisheries management, and scientists and other experts who provide objective advice, all understand the nature and dimensions of fisheries politics. Accusing someone of “playing politics” is usually intended as a criticism, even an insult. But the phrase should be considered from a different perspective. Politics is the social process by which differences are expressed and resolved. If you don’t have differences, then you don’t have politics. A political situation, whether it is in a family, the workplace, government administration or a contest for public office is the process through which differences are discussed and settled. Fisheries politics takes place at a number of different levels. At the domestic level it determines the resources available to manage fisheries and understand their impacts. It defines the relationship between conservation and extraction. It determines the allocation of harvest between competing interests. At the international level it sets the rules between nations for the conservation and sharing of migratory and straddling stocks. Underlying all of these political relationships are rules and norms of political behavior that need to be learned and practiced by those who wish to maximize their influence over how fisheries are managed and practised.”

Session 5 is: Engagement of Fishers in the Management Process. Here is one on the difficulty of taking sport fishing data and making sense of it because anglers don’t value the same things: “C8: Maximum Experiential Yield – A New MEY Paradigm for Recreational Fisheries.” It examines the issue of science destroying fisheries.

Session 6: Social and Economic Values of Recreational Fisheries. For people like me - committed stats junkies - this one gives global stats on sport fishing participation, value and trade offs. The upside is global data, for example: “G2 Recreational Sea Angling and its Significance to the English Economy.”

Here are some useful stats: “We show that recreational sea angling supported just over £2bn of output and almost 24,000 jobs in England.” And there are stats for other countries that also can be used for comparison purposes across nations.

The downside is how differently the stats are put together in each country and whether they match up with methods used elsewhere. Let me give you an example. In Canada, I have the every-five-years series of recreational fishing stats put out by Stats Canada since 1975. 

Here is the problem: Stats from different sources aren’t the same. The BC Stats report, which starts with Stats Can data, says that the ‘fishing sectors’, sport/commercial/processing, contributes vastly more than aquaculture to the province’s Gross Domestic Product. That report has a 20-page section on caveats to using Stats Can data. Thus the numbers are vastly different from DFO.

“The financial numbers were derived from several reports. We normally say it is a billion for angling, but when I looked deeper into the reports, and accounted for processing and commercial, updated for inflation, found separate figures for fresh and salt angling, the figure came in much higher. Note that my purpose was saying what the total value of salmon/fishing is to BC, not simply sport revenue.”
You can go through my calculation at the above link. It came in at $2.52 billion, including all freshwater angling revenue, not simply salmon, updated for inflation. If the Strait of Georgia PSF project delivers, you can add $200 million more, and that is their conservative figure."

By all means, go to the conference. If not, the pinks are in, and most anyone can catch many salmon for dinner and enjoy the stats: a run of 13.3 million.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Safety on the Sea

If you go out on the sea, do so with proper precautions. My experience is that the more familiar you are with the sea, the safer you become. It’s cold out there. 

I clean off the leg of my boat in the summer because, even with a weighted tarp to keep sun off the leg, on non-antifouled surfaces, algae grows an inch per week, and must be scrubbed off regularly, along with scraping barnacles growing on propeller blades; they cause cavitation and your boat may fail to get up on its plane. Barnacles on the hull do the same thing. So, get the expensive, two-year anti fouling paint to prevent this. It is far better than the average paint. And get your boat power washed, paint touched up and zinced every summer.

I was reminded the other day how cold the ocean is. Leaning off the transom, face first on the water, arms to my armpits scrubbing, in only five minutes, I had to stop and warm up. The sea is that cold. Falling in has to be seen as your death in less than an hour, water being 6- to 10-degrees C, even in summer. Water starts to freeze at 4 degrees, that’s how cold the ocean is.

Here are some things you should consider for your boat:

1.     A mounted, non-electric compass on the dash in front of the captain’s seat. Get in the habit of looking at it, and if the engine fails, you know which direction you are headed, and which way is back to port, something you will not know in fog. Then, because all power devices on the boat give off magnetic fields and affect a compass mounted near them – like your GPS, panel with its half dozen dials, trim, bilge pump, and the side panel that combines each switch – realize that you need to completely power down to be assured your compass is reading correctly.

2.     A handheld compass in your back pack. Leave the pack always ready, filled with hand flares, in your house, so all you have to do is pick it up each time out. And do remember that the needle always points north. Again, make sure it is used far enough from your panel, etc., for it to read correctly. If you don’t believe this, hold it close to your panel, and watch the needle deflect when the magnetic fields are entered.

Chit chatting at the gym this past week, it was related to me that a captain my buddy had been with, had an unreliable GPS/sounder that packed it in in the fog in the Broken Islands. Fortunately, my buddy had a handheld compass, and had taken a bearing when leaving harbour. He hauled it out to indicate which direction to putt back to port, threading carefully through the hundred islands in Barkley Sound.

Unfortunately, the captain did not agree, and pointed in the opposite, foggy direction, to open ocean. The problem was Mr. Captain was pointing to the bottom of the arrow as north, and an argument ensued for an hour and a half. Then, finally, encountering another boat, that captain pointed north in the same direction that the ‘up’ end of the handheld compass pointed, settling the argument. They ended up back in harbour safely, but it could have turned out deadly, motoring until the fuel ran out, and then the swell simply rolling the boat over, spilling occupants into the sea.

3.     A kill switch. This eliminates, while docked, electrical leakages that kill batteries and thus automatic bilge pumps, leaving your power source low or zeroed out, and bilge water under an inboard engine. With an inboard engine, the starter is often the lowest thing in the bilge, and thus your boat could fail to start, should it be shut down for any reason when you are off the dock.

4.     A GPS/sounder unit with the more expensive chip that does Puget Sound, up east side and west side Van Isle, and thence to Alaska. Recently my snazzy unit has shown itself to be a little erratic about starting, so I will be buying a new one, and digging out my old handheld.

I told my friend my scary story about handhelds. Before GPSs had a colour screen with land maps laid out on them I got a, ‘high tech’ monochrome one, and roared off to Tofino, meaning, I laid down a track from Oak Bay through Race Rocks, Port Renfrew, Nititnat Bar, Cape Beale to Bamfield, then to Ucluelet and thence to Tofino. I stopped in Bamfield for a night and did so in both Ucluelet and Tofino.

On the way back, I had the scary time. Following my trail, I motored, full speed, hand on the throttle – for safety – through the fog from Ucluelet, where I refueled, to Port Renfrew, and so on. It was a warm day, and I, a bit sleepy, was not expecting any problem, because I was following a trail for almost 100 nautical miles, when out of the fog a cliff appeared and I was heading straight for death.

I swung the wheel hard to starboard, and roared into the fog, cliff disappearing like a bad dream that hadn’t been real. I made myself pull back on the throttle and figure out what had happened. I had 70 miles to go and the same could happen again, with me not being so lucky. 

My handheld showed I was faithfully following the trail. I had zoomed it out, so it would show about 30 miles and thus I could follow it. Well, when I zoomed in, what the trail showed was that I had, over 20 miles, veered off to port by a degree or two, and thus was actually a half mile closer to the cliffs than I thought. What a scare.

5.     Never leave docks without full fuel tanks. I have related in a past article how, when events don’t turn out the way you plan, you can run out of fuel, leaving you dead in the water – the time I ended up in the States in the fog, for example. Here is another story: on the same trip to Tofino, I added five Gerry cans of five gallons of gas each. I had boat tanks full at 40 gallons, and with an extra 25 gallons a safe margin into Bamfield.

I had done the fuel calculation based on a certain planing speed, and consumption per hour. The 25 gallons added plus 50% extra fuel than I thought I would need. But on the trip, as I had put the 25 gallons in the bow compartment, the boat seemed to be plowing a bit, so I picked up speed 1.5 knots for a higher plane, and carried on.

Fuel consumption seemed very high, so somewhere off the Nitinat, in the fog, I put the extra fuel in. Note that I had thought to buy a huge funnel, so as not to lose fuel in a tossing sea, with its other end fitting comfortably into my fuel tank opener. Loaded once more, I got on the plane easier with the weight of the fuel no longer in the bow. I made Cape Beale on less than a quarter of one tank, and motored into Bamfield on fumes.

The problem was that by picking up speed, coupled with the extra weight, the boat had burned 50% more fuel than I had calculated for the entire trip. Yet another scare.

6.     A radio mounted in the boat, and know how to use it. Keep it on the weather channel so you know what is coming and know the local channel to call for help. Also, buy a waterproof handheld radio and, most importantly, have it on yourself at all times on the boat, in case you get dumped in. And you have the waterproof handheld flare in your pocket as well. Note that these are back-up for those on the boat, and buy new ones every few years, so you know they will light.

7.     A toggle-filled Mustang lifejacket, one that lies in strips down your chest so it is less bulky than other types of lifejackets – like the five I have on the boat that I never use. Wear it at all times you are on the boat. If you end up in the water, at least you won’t have to swim while making your radio call. You might also consider getting an auto-fill lifejacket so that if you are knocked unconscious, the life jacket inflates anyway.

8.     Don’t drink alcohol on the water. It only takes one moment’s inattention, for the boat to be in danger of being rolled over. The old adage is: the first wave turns you sideways. The second wave rolls you over. This is your life after all, and every time on the water, a captain is responsible for everyone’s safety.

If you are with a captain who is drinking, sit yourself in the seat beside him/her. That way, if he/she misses a wave, you can shove the person out of the way, and take over the helm.

9.     A Spot Gen3 is a handheld, waterproof electric device that you can use to send an SOS and some prearranged messages to prearranged email recipients. It is a GSP unit that locks onto a satellite and sends your coordinates. Keep it on your body, carabiner clipped to outer clothing and unit powered up. Hit SOS if you end up in the water. Also hit the Need Some Help button for backup, it going to a prearranged recipient, as well, for them to immediately phone the Coast Guard.

10.  Radar. This saves your bacon in fog, and will read tankers you may encounter at full speed without warning. Do mount the radar unit as indicated in packaging, as it is radioactive and harmful to exposed humans.