April is the month when salmon fishing moves from winter patterns to summer patterns for returning fish, particularly chinook. Winter chinook and summer chinook have different habits. In winter, two- to three-year old winter chinook inhabit deeper water layers and are further off shore than summers. They are actively feeding, staying close to lunch and not migrating anywhere. Tide changes are your best bet, before a high tide and after a low tide.
In most areas, fishing is best in 80- to 140-feet depths, using the bottom as structure to find the fish. We are past, for instance, when herring stage off the Victoria breakwater before entering the inner harbour on a spawning run. In areas with needlefish, for example, the Flats, that inhabit the bottom layer of water, bottom bumping is standard practice.
In water influenced by Puget Sound chinook, they have habits similar to those of Cowichan chinook. The latter circle the Georgia Strait for a year or more, before moving offshore. In October, for example, they have been caught in commercial troll fishery off Nootka and Kyuquot sounds. From Sidney to Sooke, in winter, the predominant fish are the US fish, and as some are three-year olds, this is evidence that they are ‘circling’ Juan de Fuca waters until moving offshore.
This year our fishing will still be affected by the Warm Blob that prevailed in recent years in offshore waters. The phenomenon reduces mixing of water from lower levels with surface levels and thus the stimulus for the food chain – deep water nutrients – has been absent. In part, this has negatively affected returns, and will also do so again this year. The Blob is subsiding and fish leaving rivers to migrate to the high seas this summer will find better ocean conditions and thus return in higher numbers in several future years.
Having said that, Cowichan numbers should be buoyant once again, as 4000 jacks, were reported to came back among the 26,000 returnees last year, evidence of a possible good year in 2018, too. Most of these fish come down Johnstone Strait, and mill the Saanich Inlet, Cowichan river mouth areas in September. In other words, they are not among the spring returning springs.
The summer pattern of mature fish begins in May. The original Columbians start down Juan de Fuca Strait bound for the Fraser River in this month. And Sheringham Point is the traditional first spot in our area to fish. This year, do note the killer whale restricted fishing waters and don’t mistakenly find yourself in closed waters in the Strait.
Summer fish are a whole lot larger than winter fish, being four- to six-year old returning fish, typically starting at 20 pounds, with legitimate 50-pound leviathans in mid- to late-May. Summer chinook, as they are no longer actively feeding, and trying to scent their natal river, typically reside close to shore in shallower water than they did as feeders.
That they are no longer feeding, is the reason why the crack of dawn becomes the best chinook bite of the day – it represents the longest period that the fish might not eat in a 24-hour day. Along Juan de Fuca, however, the last two hours of the flood can be the best fishing of the day. This is true of Port Renfrew and inside waters of Sooke, Aldridge and Creyke points, for example.
And the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for salmon in southern waters, sets out the annual plan for stocks and fishing opportunities. Here is the IFMP for southern waters: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/9sfkgh4s3tdpr3b/AAB9gJMy-OPClGgX0Az2RkTya?dl=0&preview=Southern+2018-19+IFMP+Draft+Final.pdf. It is a fat 587-page document. And while they say they want comments by March 13, my understanding is that the deadline has been extended one month.
Stocks of concern in southern areas start on page 102. And specific stocks on page 127. There are different numbers for Cowichan chinook in different parts of this report, however, the 2017 return is listed here as 23,000, of which 400 were taken as brook stock, and 11,800 were jacks, a huge number; this augers well for 2018.
The Fraser Spring 4/2s, Nicola, Bonaparte river area, are in poor shape, once again. 5/2s and 5/2 Summers will also have conservation fishery actions. Interior Fraser River coho came in at 30,000 last year, half way between the conservation goal posts of 20K and 40K. These are low numbers, and while DFO is managing to the numbers, they don’t get to doing freshwater habitat restoration/enhancement, just ratchet down the numbers.
The species and location specific fishing plans start on page 178 and continue, for more than 250 pages to 430. That’s where you look for any place you may want to fish in southern BC. There is a whole other plan for northern BC.
When you go fishing, make sure to look at the retention regs each time: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/rec/index-eng.html. On this page, you can sign up to receive regulation changes by email.
Now, remember that those biggies like slow moving baits, and bait is the best, or an artificial lure with some scent. And in most areas, your main territory of interest is back eddies in falling tides. That is because the girthy ones mosey forth at about 1.5 mph, hence, they don’t make it out of back eddies until the tide changes to flood. An example everyone knows is the west side of Clover Point on the ebb. It gives chinook as much as 6 hours to migrate along the Waterfront to Clover, where the ebb is moving at speed greater than 1.5mph, and thus there the bunch of them gather, until the flood.