Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Q and As – September

Hybrid salmon – I mentioned last week that one of the fish we caught in Quatsino Sound was a chinook/Atlantic salmon hybrid and this sparked comment. The distinguishing feature was big black spots on the fish’ gill plate, a farmed salmon trait. On the other hand, it had a black mouth and looked and smelled like a chinook. I took it for a hybrid Jack and turned the hook.

This is the third fish in the past decade that I have identified as a chinook/Atlantic cross, all taken from Campbell River north. In all cases I turned the hook, as all were undersized Jacks, and thus not legal to take. I let 99% of all fish I catch go anyway, so would not have taken it if it had been legal.

In addition, I have caught two other odd crosses: a lavender Jack – a cross with a char? – from the North Island; and a Jack with three distinct stripes of grey on a blue background in the Nitinat where there are no Dolly Varden char.

I have an image of an 8 pound summer steelhead from the North Island, that upon looking closely at the images came to believe it was a coho/summer cross, they both being present in late fall. And the most common hybrid on Vancouver Island are cuttbows, a cutthroat/summer steelhead cross. I have caught/photoed dozens of these over the years, as well as seen spawning steelhead populations with lots of small fish, presumably cutthroats or residualized ‘rainbows’.

It was suggested that I should have photoed the Quatsino fish, retained it frozen, and sent it to DFO for DNA identification. Without doubt I will photo such fish in future – I have a waterproof camera and will carry it. And I have sent a note to Minister Gail Shea asking her to authorize me to retain such a fish and forward it to DFO for their identification.

Also commented on, I have two PDFs of interest: more than 7 million Atlantic salmon were released over earlier decades of the 20th century in BC, but as no spawning populations took hold that seems proof they cannot reproduce in BC rivers, hence we catch no adult Atlantics. I have wondered why and perhaps have the reason. Our rivers are severely damaged by logging practices, with shifting mountains of silt and small gravel still being disgorged a century later. We have monsoons of heavy rain in the fall, high temperatures with low O2 in summer and our rivers tend to be of high gradient.

Of the few Atlantic rivers I have seen, all were characterized by large boulders – not gravel – and flat; they received less rain and didn’t look logging damaged. Maybe these differences account for the lack of Atlantic spawning success in BC.

The second PDF is the pairing of eggs and milt from the five species of Pacific salmon, steelhead and Atlantic salmon. The result was negligible numbers of fertilized eggs, which is to be expected. In other words, the chances of hybrids are slim to none. I can send the PDFs to anyone who wants them, and will try to attach them when I put this post on www.onfishingdcreid.blogspot.com.

I would be interested to hear if any reader has also encountered Atlantics, as anecdotally we hear of them. Perhaps I have seen more because I fish more often than the average angler and in many different bodies of water, for example, I have fished 40 different rivers/estuaries on Van Isle as well as saltwater. I may just see more fish. For example, this year I have released about 500 salmon/trout/char, and will probably release another 100 before the end of the year.

Sooke: Salmon are now in the Sooke Basin for fly and gear anglers. Above the silver bridge is fly fishing only. The river receives chum, coho and Chinook. You may want to connect with the Westcoast Flyfishers Association - http://sooke.org/flyfishing/ - that calls the town home.

The Association is having a fish out Sunday September 28, and you may want to join them in future. Billings Spit has had fish the past few days, and with the recent heavy rain, the fish will be moving into the river.

The expression for the west coast is: the first few inches of rain fill up the forest and the next few fill up the river. What this homily means is that since most of the coho go up De Mamiel Creek at the campground, the coho should be in, but not able to rise into it yet. And so should be there presented for you to fish.

The year I was hobbled with a hip replacement, I went down the rocks on hands and knees, only to find myself in calf deep water surrounded by several hundred coho too close to angle, and I too hobbled to move. Now there is a set of stairs for all, and you might try casting before getting into the water. The tides for Monday, September 29 are pretty flat, but I’ll take a look: 8:01 AM/6.6 ft; 10:50/6.2; and, 17:14/8.9.

Fraser River Sockeye: The Fraser Sockeye Panel wrapped up its year September 25. Migration past the Mission hydroacoustic site was strong last week with 2.7 million passing in seven days.

DNA analysis has shown that of the Whonnock test, 13% are Summer run (Harrison’s comprising 12- of the 13-%); and 87% Late run. So far 9.492 million sockeye have passed Mission.

2015 Calendars: David Lambroughton, brilliant fish photographer, is sending out the last of his calendars. He says: “For one $15 each, for two $25, for orders of 6 or more they are only $9 each and that includes free gift/mailing envelopes. I pay for the shipping on all orders and will include an invoice in the package.” Email davidlambroughton@telus.net. They are beautiful.

Port Renfrew Salmon Enhancement Society, Sept 28: Most of you will know Bob Gallaugher, President of the Society (See the Times Colonist of the same date for a large piece on their activities). The society is implementing a new five-year Chinook Salmon Marking Program.

Bob says, “We are very pleased to announce a five-year program to mark and code wire tag at least 40,000 chinook fry per year and raise them in our ocean net pens.” By 2024 they will be able to confirm the likely higher survival from hatchery bred, but ocean net-pen raising from the fin-clipped, coded-wire fish, heads turned in by anglers.

Fry are raised at the San Juan hatchery to 3- to 4-grams, then transferred to net pens in Fairy Lake and grown to 6- to 7-grams, then transferred to ocean net pens in San Juan Bay. A volunteer gets to go out every day and take various measurements and feed the fish – they stress that this lucky person has to go out in all weather conditions. Several weeks later, at 10- to 12-grams, the fry are released from the ocean pens.
Having watched fin-clipping, I can tell you the fumble-fingered need not apply – you’ll lose some digits. And the coded wires are so small – .25mm by 1mm – that 10,000 of them fit in a letter envelope. See: www.portrenfrewsalmonenhancement.ca. Thank you DFO and Society.


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Salmon Fly Fishing Tips

We are in the golden time of year when salmon come back to beaches, estuaries and into rivers. Here are some tips that may prove useful:

Fifteen pound leader. When the reality is 25 fish encounters in a day, it makes sense to use 15 pound leader because you don’t want to waste time dealing with broken leaders. When leader knots break at the fly line, then you will be putting together stepped down leaders, or low pound leader many times. Use higher test leader.

I use Snowbee’s XS 15-lbs that has a .3mm diameter because thinner diameter allows for more natural presentation in a higher-test line. On beaches and estuaries, use 15 foot leaders, because every time you tie on a new fly, about six inches of leader is used. Longer leaders mean less time spent tying on new leaders. And use an improved clinch knot that is drawn away from the hook eye, thus giving the fly more natural motion.

When fishing chinook in freshwater, consider 20 pound test, and thus flies that need less action, for example, ones made of marabou have action anyway; or use egg patterns that have no action.

Leader length. In saltwater or estuaries use 15 feet of leader. It leads to longer casts to those fish just out of reach and it places your fly farther from the fly line. In clear slow water you will receive fewer bites on short leaders because the fly line can be seen by the fish.

On the other hand, in rivers, you want a leader of two- to four-feet because fish compressed into their stations in a school that is not moving don’t see the fly line in faster flow, and because it is behind other fish. More importantly, shorter leaders keep flies at the same depth as the leader, making it easier to find the zone.

Fluorocarbon leaders. I don’t use fluorocarbon because it abraids, has wider diameter and thus less natural action on the fly. Also, knots often unravel at the fly, an improved clinch knot, for instance.

Surfing fish. When the fish has been played until it is tired, lift the head out of the water and surf the fish in, drawing it to your hand that turns over the fly. This means quicker release and back to fishing sooner.

Sideways rod pressure. In rivers and on beaches, it is standard practice to tip the rod flat to the water to put pressure on a fish going the opposite direction; this puts maximum pressure on the fish, tiring it sooner, and its head will turn toward you. A good technique to use when there are rocks, algae, eel grass or kelp in front of where the fish is heading.

Pass your rod over your head. When a fish circles behind you, hand your rod to your other hand, on the side to which the fish is running. You don’t need to turn around, and if you put sideways pressure on the fish in the direction it is running, you will have it beside you sooner.

Processing fish. When you are in those magical days of non-stop bites, improve your playing technique by bringing the fish to hand as quickly and efficiently as you can, and release it. It means you are fishing as fast as you possibly can, high adrenaline stuff, but not horsing the fish, only being efficient in the circumstance you face with each fish.

Flylines sink. Flylines wear out much quicker when you are constantly pulling on them with fish on the other end. And when your fly sticks to the bottom and you have no choice but to pull it to breaking, point the rod tip at the snag, bring as much line as you can into your hand, wrap your hand, and back up until a break occurs.

Flylines, even full floaters, used in this way wear out much sooner. They become water logged and then the neutral line starts to follow the tip or fly down into the water. If you are consistently finding the zone, that’s great. But don’t do what I once did: I bought a new line of the kind I was using, rigged it up, and threw the used line away. Mistake. The new line would not sink and I caught no fish. I should have kept the old line that was finding the zone, and brought the new line along in a different fishing venue until it found the zone with the right sink tip in salmon fishing.

Figure eight knots. I use figure eight knots on leader, and nailless nail knots for loops on fly line. Cut tag ends as short as possible. Get in the practice of doing the same process for linking up, for example, I put the loop of the higher line through the loop of the lower line, then draw the unknotted tag end of the lower line through the loop of the higher line, and tighten into a martingale knot. If you do it the same way every time, you will never have the problem of tossing the leader in front of you, and it watching it float away, and you have to start again.

I used to use surgeon knots, but I think figure eights, as well as loop knots, break less frequently.

Tag ends. Cut the tag end of the upper line, say the fly line, very short because in casting, your fly is heading directly at the upper tag end and sometimes gets caught on it. A short upper tag end solves this annoyance. Also put on some head cement to cover the tag end.

Rod tip in water. Put your rod tip in the water when stripping. This gives you maximum striking distance and you are in contact with your fly. With the fly tip up, there is line sag, and little striking distance, meaning fewer hooked fish.

Use Spey casts in single-handed rod casting. When you are casting in cross winds that come from the side you are casting, say from the right and you are right handed, use a single Spey off your wrong shoulder, to keep your fly from hitting your face all day. The deliberate nature of setting the line in a loop and snapping the rod tip high, sets up a nice D, partially from the wind, and you are casting much more efficiently than double-hauling off your correct shoulder.

Also adapted from Spey, haul your line out of the water, do a roll or single Spey, and set the line out in front of you, then lift the entire line (which loads the rod because of the water’s surface tension) up and back. Time your haul after the line has straightened – you will feel the tug – to coincide with the forward stroke on your rod hand, and your line has enough energy to cast properly in a nice long cast.

Don’t false cast. Every false cast you do – each of which includes a back stroke and a forward stroke – increases the chances that your cast will fail. I see people do 10 false casts, to lengthen line two feet at a time. At some point, the cast falls. It is better to work on your technique in the park, stripping in 12 one foot strips, laying the line over your pinky; stripping 10 and laying the line over your third finger; and stripping 8 strips, laying it over your index finger.

You also want to work on bringing the line back, stopping the rod tip at 1 pm, watching the line extend into a straight line to the fly behind you, and bringing the rod forward, stopping at 11 am, and having the line pull out from your line-managing hand. Once you have the timing on the forward stroke down, you will be able to bring the line back once, and cast it once. Or at most twice.

Buy fly line with longer heads. Today, most lines come with shorter heads of 30- to 40-feet because that is the length most fly fishers can cast most easily. The downside is that such heads hinder your being able to cast farther because you cannot transfer energy to line that has no body – this is the running line behind a contiguous head. Once the head is out of the rod tip, the line hinges, just like a heavy fly put on a too long leader.

I use another Snowbee line because a longer head makes for longer casts: Snowbee XS Extreme Distance Floating because it has a high body head that is 60 feet long. It is a thing of beauty to watch someone roll casting 70 feet all day long with this high body, long length belly, which uses much less energy than double-hauling all day, particularly when you are hauling sink tips out of the deep.

These days the Skagit approach has shortened Spey heads to 20- to 30-feet. They are small, efficient, high density, but also neutral density and will take those ugly sink tips of winter. So it seems counter-intuitive to use a longer head in fly fishing. But you will learn to cast longer, using a line with a longer head. I use a sink tip, poly leader, or even 20-foot heavy Spey sink tips – in rivers – because the long head of high body, will pick it up and, waiting for the line to straighten out behind you, immediately result in a cast 20 feet longer.

Fighting butts. I used to dislike fighting butts because they made the rod heavy, and unbalanced – you should be able to balance your rod, reel and line on your rod hand’s first finger, in its natural casting position. But fighting butts come into their own when you are in high winds and using heavy sink tips. You let the butt rest against your wrist and inside of your forearm so you have much more leverage and power to lift heavy tips from the water and cast them behind you. This more easily sets up the line with greater energy, in a parallel line trajectory, rather than falling. Thus you are more set up for your forward cast, which is the meat of the matter after all.

Clean fly line regularly. When fishing salt water and brackish water, which is even more scummy, soak your fly line on its reel in fresh water every night, with a drop of dishwashing soap added. After every third day, clean the line with line slick.

Hold your rod under your arm when releasing a fish. This is one of those dead simple things that come to you after fishing fifty years. If you hold the rod high over your head, and reach for the fish with the other hand, you are setting yourself up to break the tip of your rod, when you pull the fish in, or it thrashes, bending the tip too far.

Instead, put the rod under your rod arm, and deal with the fish with your other hand. You won’t break a rod again, but do notice that your rod tip may tend to drag bottom when you lean in to release the fish.

Magic marker on fly lines. Mark the end of the head with magic marker so that you can see where the body ends, and so deliberately pull that mark a foot or so within the rod guides, then lift the line for casting. Alternatively, get your fingers to feel where the back taper ends. I also put magic marker 20 feet into the running line. This is particularly useful when trying to make very long casts after pulling line off the reel to a set mark.

Aim to hit a mark every time. Be bold in your casting. Aim for a specific spot and cast there. This is much more useful in freshwater because you have opposite banks and logs to aim at. Don’t shy away from a cast for fear of snagging, because you will never learn to get distance right until you do. Aim to land your fly within one foot of where you want to cast and put up with losing some flies until you get the distances in fly fishing down. Days when you get within one inch of your target, you will savour your own greatness.

Use your mouth. When fish run very quickly toward you, lift your rod to head level, and pull your line hand out as far as you can, then take the fly line in your mouth, reaching your line hand right over top of your mouth to grab the line again. Then pull your line hand out as far as you can. Repeat and repeat until you have caught up to the fish. And, at some point, you want the line on the reel so you can use its drag to tire the fish.

Spandex finger gloves. Make a spandex finger glove for your rod hand’s second finger, the one you strip over. Because it is slippery, it allows you to feel fish far more quickly, and set the hook quicker. You catch more fish. Also, without the spandex glove, your fingers get wrinkles like being in the bath too long, so you make incorrect strikes that are only the line bumping over your finger. You also waste the cast, pulling the fly out of the water.

You can buy four inches of one metre wide spandex at cloth shops, and make fifty of them. Measure the circumference of your finger, add a quarter of an inch for a seam, and then slice the spandex into strips. Sew a seam, or have someone do it on a sewing machine, turn the glove outside in and slice each four-inch glove into two two-inch gloves.

Move to the fish. We all know that jumpers are not biters, they just tell you where the fish are. Move to jumpers and fish for biters beneath them. Look for dorsal fins, tail fins, porpoising, and shimmer. The last happens when fish are just beneath the surface but their presence sends off very small disturbances that move across the water in a direction inconsistent with the natural wave pattern. Shimmer is most frequently found with chum and pink salmon. Chum tend to drift by in schools of several hundred that shatter when disturbed. So don’t disturb them.

Long casts. Beaches can require your longest cast. Work on your fundamentals in the park before fishing, because you will never be able to practice when the veins in your teeth drool over fish. Do the old four part rhythm: with rod tip in the water and connected to the fly, lift the rod up with increasing speed and snap to the top at 1 pm, then let your rod drift back. When the line straightens out, begin your forward cast, bringing your rod with increasing speed to snap to a stop at 11 am, then when the line moves past your rod, let the tip drift down to the water.

Fish points, not inside curves on beaches. There are two reasons for doing so: points on beaches are shallower than the water on either side, thus it is easier to find the fish zone; and, points have the greatest concentration of fish. This one is simply a statistical thing. If there are three fish sequentially out from shore on an inside curve, when they come to the point, all three fish will be the same distance from shore, or triple the concentration.

Improve your karma. Release all fish in the water, at thigh deep. That depth makes it easier to get the fish in your hand and let them go – particularly chum that thrash and thrash. Don’t pull fish up the beach, pull out the fly and kick the fish back into the water. The Gods of Fishing don’t want you harming fish, getting grit on them, and making holes in their slime, a route for infection.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Quatsino Sound

My trip to Quatsino Sound with Laurie McBride, who is known to many of you, almost didn’t get off the ground last week. I had never towed a boat before, but it made a lot of noise and two wheels were pretty hot. On his advice, we ended up in Sherwood Marine where they were kind enough to turn directly to it and solve its problems: the two wheels had been over-tightened – the washers were concave – and would have seized en route; there was no tongue weight, hence the noise, and that also could have led to the trailer coming off the ball and disaster; and, the bow-eye and mast were in the wrong positions. In other words the trailer and boat needed, and still need, some changes. Swell.

In launching in Coal Harbour near Port Hardy (550 kms from Victoria), we had to take the mast assembly right off to unwinch the boat. But once on the water, with trim tabs and leg tilt properly adjusted, we made the 25 mile trip to Winter Harbour on the coast in little more than an hour.

Winter Harbour is a tiny town in the protected Forward Inlet, with a fuel dock, small store, several accommodation set-ups and ten minutes from the first fishing, inside of Kains Island. We stayed in the Chinook cabin of the Winter Harbour Cottages: http://www.winterharbourcottages.com/Winter.Harbour.Cottages.Rates.Policy.html.
This is the harbour and sound Google image: http://www.maplandia.com/canada/british-columbia/mount-waddington-regional-district/winter-harbour/. Do note there is often wind in the inlet so dock on the up-wind side, not where it blows you off the dock, like I mistakenly did.

After Labour Day, seasonal rates apply, and there were deals in the tackle shop, too. Only a dozen or so boats remained fishing – the west coast really does shut down after that day. During our trip, the offshore waters were a bit rough for my 21’ boat most of the time, and even boats to 28.5’ came inside on some days. This is a pity as the apron, at the 300’ line is where most of the halibut fishing takes place, about three miles off shore. It is rated as the best place on the Island, which is saying something as there are lots of good places on Van Isle.

These offshore waters contained feeder springs when we were there, and earlier in the season, the 2.4 million chinook bound for US waters. I was expecting ‘silly’ coho fishing, but, as stated, the offshore was rough, and the fly rods did not come out. Lack of rain may have been a factor.

At its opening, Quatsino Sound is about ten miles across from Kains Island Lighthouse south to Kuakuitl Point. On the ebb you can fish the rockpiles on the outside of Kains for springs, and on the flood, the more protected inside down to Pinnacle Island – a classic piece of water for power mooching. We were looking to do the cutplug thing, but this late in the season the migrating chinook were past.

On the north, the area is fished to Grant and Lippy Point regularly, with Cape Scott close enough to access. There are lots of rockpiles along the outside shore, and many rocks on the inside from the Gillam Islands, through Rowley reefs to Kuakuitl, with Brooks Peninsula in the distance.

There were lots of coho on the inside once you got dialled in to depth and gear, but we were one of only a few boats that landed a spring. Twenty pounds is not big, but respectable – off McCallister Point, and we broke off another. This spot, I was told by the laconic Phil Wainright, our host, you fish 110’ to 120’ in 110’ to 150’. This did not reveal itself until one day I decided to grind the gear in this spot back and forth until I understood it, and discovered, that, yes, there was a wide shelf at the depth mentioned and then it dropped to 300 feet and more. If you want to cutplug, it is the usual: learn the rockpiles, the walls and kelp beds until you aren’t losing gear to inanimate objects or the almost too abundant bottom fish. We let lingcod and black rock fish go, though they were retainable.

From July through September there are various closed sections in the Sound, the purpose: to let local chinook pass through to rivers like the Marble, which has a hatchery on Alice Lake, and perhaps the Mahatta. From Cliffe Point west is classic rock face, to the east, also a cutplug spot, but non-retention for springs when we were there.

The slow talking Phil had suggested blue and green and hootchies as our best bet. Though this seemed rather simple, we found it to be true. While we started with bait and an Irish Mist squirt from 51’ to 111’, we soon made the switch to an Oki Super Betsy gold metallic and their UV Jelly Fish in yellow-green, a similar pattern. Note that the Super Betsy has the feature that it emits an electric charge from galvanic cell action – the blade may tarnish, but that means it is working. And it did.

Our best pattern by far was an Angel Wing hootchy from Radiant on a 34 inch leader. It was the pattern in the 1990s on the Victoria Waterfront, before the Army Truck, and then Purple Haze came along. We broke off the Irish Mist squirt (an Oak Bay pattern – blue and UV) at the Siwash hook, a very unusual break, after a 100 yard run from a spring. An Angel Wing look alike from the Stars and Stripes Radiant collection was second best. Our best teaserhead was the Pearl 602, with Purple Haze receiving a few whacks.

On the Cliffe Point to Koskimo Islands run, we were told the coho were 25- to 35-feet, much shallower than we had been fishing. With this adjustment and trolling up-tempo in mid channel water up to 700 feet deep, avoiding the much-too-common, spent, tide line weeds, we began catching coho to round out our combined limit of 16 salmon. We took one small halibut, too.

The coho were large, with the smallest retained fish of 10 lbs, and up to 16. We guessed they were all inside fish because it is doubtful passersby would come as far as ten miles into the sound. We had much spirited debate over using a higher GPS knot speed or using the engine’s rpm gauge to match coho speed. The first gives speed over ground, the second speed over water. Much different things. And I championed the latter.

My first rule of fishing is: never leave the docks without full tanks. And the trip back to Coal Harbour took, surprisingly, 60% more gas, 16 gallons versus 10 on the way out. Perhaps the tide, wind, weight, and full fish cooler over the transom made the difference. All in all a good trip. And I towed for more than 1100 kms, Laurie launching and retrieving the boat. I can tell you that my new Jeep Grand Cherokee with its turbo diesel engine – a car about a third the size of the boat on its trailer – towed so well I would not have known I had a boat behind me except for double the fuel consumption. Still, at 18.6 mpg, I was happy. And love that 420 foot pounds of torque.

One last thing: I released an undersized chinook off the Mahatta, in sight of two fish farms. It was a cross breed with a farmed Atlantic – black spots on its gill plate giving this away. While the science says no Atlantics escape and interbreed with wild salmon, the proof was in my hand. Give Quatsino a try next year – not the fish farms, though you would probably catch a whole bunch.