Sunday, 6 August 2017

Pink Salmon Fly Fishing – Johnstone Strait

This summer the pink salmon of Johnstone Strait have been late. From Campbell River north to the Salmon, Eve, Cluxewe, Keogh and Quatse, the fish have been late. When I left the area on August 3, the fish had just begun arriving at the Eve, though the Campbell had few fishers. 

If you want to do the fishery this summer, phone River Sportsman, at 250–286-1017 and ask how things are going before you head north. For Strait of Georgia, phone Nile Creek Fly Shop, at 250-757-2095.

My annual trip started an unaccustomed way: the first night I woke freezing, and huddled until morning under my formerly great two-bag down-filled Black’s system, good to 40 below. Well, that was long ago and obviously much down had escaped the bags over the forty years since I bought them. I made a quick trip to Campbell River to pick up a North Face bag – a more current logo – and raced back to camp and fish. And slept warm and toasty.

The reality was the fish were in small numbers in the third week of July. At the bar, with fifteen of us lining both sides of the channel on the flood, one guy seemed to get more than his share of bites, though the rest of us were silently cheering when he didn’t land any of them. After him receiving 7 bites, it dawned on me he had a heavier inch-per-second sink tip in front of his floating line than the rest of us, and that there was a trench in front of him. Thus, he was sinking deeper and in the fish zone more frequently than the rest of us.

Looking at the lip of the bar, it appeared that I could walk from one side to the other, the water being so shallow. That meant the fish were coming in over the lip, then dropping into the gut of a trench, where they rested before moving up. As the tide rose slowly, this spot was the hot spot for a couple of hours before the flood rose above it, thus eliminating the structure and allowing the fish to move higher.

It makes good sense to memorize an estuary’s entire bottom structure from low tide to high tide. This gives you a much better sense of where the fish will be at any given tidal height. In pink fishing, you fish where you see fish. If this general rule doesn’t pan out, look where fish are being caught and insinuate yourself in the line of anglers – at the high end on a flood, and low end on the ebb. In other words, if you can’t fish the hotspot at the time it is happening, you want to be on the hotspot a little later in the tide. Then you will get the bites.

An obvious way to get more sink instantly, dawned on me. Rather than taking the time to change tip, leader and fly while standing in water that if any were dropped they would never be found, I tried an instant solution: after you cast, throw another ten feet of line out the rod tip guide and count to ten to let the rig sink before stripping in. I hit fish on my next two casts – my first two fish of the day – and thus had found the zone.

The reality is that if you concentrate on trying to catch fish and the options to achieve the various variables, you will catch more fish than if you zombie-like cast line and strip. Another similar rule is that you fish the highest percentage fly until you think it does not work, and then change. Don’t just keep casting, keep that edge of concentration. That’s why fly anglers will always ask the person hitting fish what colour of fly they are using. Switch to it, and then to others of the same colour, but different materials. 

Pink is the common colour, but Handle Bar style of wrapped plastic, is different from, say, a sparse pink Muddler, done in feathers, from a Fuzzy Pink done in size 2 plastic wrap commonly put on trolling spoon hooks, from a Bucktail style fly in calf or buck tail, from one made of synthetic fur that draggles down the hook, and so on. And the current rage: purple Handle Bar flies, look awfully pink to me.

If one doesn’t work, move to another. If that doesn’t work, ask the successful angler to show you his/her fly. And then make one that evening or ‘buy’ one with a beer offered to the successful angler.
Let me return to the ‘fish where you see pink salmon’ rule. One evening on a high rising tide, I spotted a school two thirds of the way across the tide-swollen river. Once I edged out so my vest was in the water, and then both sleeves of my fleece coat were as well, my fly was on the money. Before the school moseyed on, I released one, and lost another. Then, when I could see no more fish, I heard a beer calling my name.

And there are specific behaviours that spell bitey fish. A porpoising fish, particularly in freshwater, is happy, content and on the bite; similarly, the nose of a pink, or one just to its eye. It seems odd that pinks will have the specific behaviour of lifting their eye above water, but it is surprising how far away you can see one, when sun is shining in that eye. Idle tail fins, and dorsal fins show you where to fish, but not the biters, and, of course, jumpers are not biters. They just show you where the fish are.

In all these cases, make a first few casts and strip, then, if not rewarded, cast a bit above the fish, count the fly down and into fish, and begin stripping. If the school is not moving, chances are the bitey fish are on the bottom, particularly if faced with some structure right above them such as a riffle that is shallow and coming in their faces quickly, making them stop for a bit before moving.

Another variable in all of salmon fly fishing in freshwater is: use only as much leader as you need to separate the fly from the fly line, typically four feet. The point is for the fly to be at the level of the sink tip, not above it. And note that tying on new flies shortens leaders. In saltwater approaches, leader length can even be 10 feet, so the fish don’t see both the fly and flyline at the same time. And the higher the water speed, the shorter leaders can be, because, the quicker a fish must react, the less likely it is to see both fly and fly line.

Another trick is to use an improved clinch knot between fly and leader. The purpose is to let the fly move as naturally as possible, by pulling the finished knot up the leader so an eighth of an inch gap opens between it and the hook eye. This is particularly useful if you want to use a higher pound test weight leader and still retain good presentation. I use a low diameter, 15-pound test, and thus need this trick and if I think the high weight is dissuading biters, I switch to lower test. Use only low diameter leaders, for example, my 10-pound leader actually has a wider diameter than my higher pound leader. The issue is both, being seen by the fish, as well as inhibiting natural fly action.

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.