Sunday, 23 November 2014

1. Winter Spring Fishing - 2. Halibut Regulations

1.      Winter Spring Fishing

With the wind and storms dropping, it is time to take to the water for the most consistent fishing of the year. Winter chinook, feeders, of 5- to 15-pounds, inhabit out waters in numbers from November to the end of March and sometimes April.

In the past, much of Georgia Strait was supplied by chinook from the Cowichan River that have habits that keep them in our waters for longer than other runs. Typically circling up to Campbell River and down past Powell River and Vancouver shores and thence back across the Strait, Cowichan fish were the primary catch and spent more than a year before departing.

From a high of 25,000 escapement, the average over past years was 12- to 15-thousand. In recent years, some escapements were less than 3,000 fish, until last year, when the number of Jacks alone was 4,000 fish, indicating much higher numbers for 2014 (not yet in hand). Their habits and run size were reasons that the Cowichan was picked as an indicator stream for Pacific Salmon Commission negotiations with our American counterparts.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation, in its current, Salmon Steward Newsletter, notes that its Salish Sea project has among its goals, investigating the causes of declined numbers, and methods to change those. It offers a good, preliminary discussion of the effects of toxic algal blooms, particularly in estuaries, affecting chinook that, unlike other species, spend as much as six months before moving offshore; and Strait wide numbers of other species, particularly coho.

Read the PSF SSN: Dr. Svetlana Esenkulova is the lead scientist in this work that has already identified three such blooms in Cowichan Bay in the past year.

In the past decade, the Victoria/Sooke area has received far more American chinook from their ramped-up efforts, and so our fishery has actually improved, but, of course, it would be preferable to improve Canadian fish numbers.

Two weeks ago, I reprised the drill for fishing winter chinook: Here are a few more things to think about. Of the five species, only chinook is relentlessly associated with structure. That means they are found close to rocks, bottoms, banks, choke points and points of land, typically in back eddies. But feeders, unlike mature fish, are not going anywhere. They are simply swimming around looking to put on weight by eating.

Mature chinook are most often found close to shore structures, even more so the closer they get to their natal streams. Not surprisingly, they move forward on the flood, that moves them anyway, and are found in ebb eddies waiting to be pushed forward. In addition, their feeding reflex declines, hence why more are caught at the crack of dawn after a night without food, regardless of tide pattern.

Not so with feeders. They are actively feeding most of the day, with peak periods associated with tide changes. You need not go out at the crack of dawn; it’s a civilized fishery that needs only a tide change during your fishing time.

Feeders also move around in their area chasing food. They will be near food, and will take lures trolled at a faster speed than mature fish will hit. This is a good thing as you will be able to cover more territory and have fish location scoped before the tide change. Bait reading on your depthsounder presents a good place to fish if you have no structure close by to investigate. An example of such a fishery is the Victoria waterfront that has two patterns: a close-in bottom structure related fishery on the bottom 110 feet down.

The second, non-structure related pattern off Victoria, is: trolling the 180- to 200-foot contour at 140 feet. Near the breakwater, February and March while the Gorge herring stage before spawning, is another non-structure example. At the other end, the Powder Wharf off Sidney has a dramatic structural change that affects concentration of chinook related to that feature.

One final thing, is that chinook are in our waters ten to twelve months of the year. The other species pass through in a two month summer window, and some, like pink, only two months in a two year period. So, spend most of your time trying to understand chinook as it will reward you with more fish.

2.      Halibut Regulations

It is time to converse with your local Sport Fishing Advisory Board members to understand the models being worked on for next year (I can send the PDF table to anyone who wants it). Here is the text accompanying the tables:

Recreational Halibut Management Considerations for 2015

Providing opportunity over a full season (February 1 to December 31) at the historical limit of 2 per day and a possession limit of 3 continues to be the primary objective of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board (SFAB) with respect to management of the recreational halibut fishery.

This said, and despite the government’s decision to increase to 15% the share of the total allowable catch available to the recreational and commercial sectors, the SFAB has been forced to devise ways in which to ration the recreational allocation amongst anglers by constraining both the possession limits and the size of halibut that can be retained.   

The measures put in place in 2013 and 2014 have been successful to the extent that the fishery  remained open from February 1 to December 31 in 2013 and will do the same this year.  For 2014, the Board recommended continuation of the experiment with an annual limit of six halibut and the “one and two” possession limit but with an upward adjustment of the maximum size on both the larger and smaller fish, to 133 and 90 cm respectively.  In late August, as soon as it became clear to the Halibut Committee that possession could be relaxed to “2 and 2” without any risk of early closure, this change was recommended and quickly implemented by the department. 

While one needs to be cautious about interpreting average numbers, there does seem to be a positive relationship between the decision to increase slightly the size of halibut that could be retained and the current harvest numbers.  While fewer halibut were retained in 2014, the average weight increased from 11.77 lbs to 14.24 lbs.  This brought us closer to our allocation, with 150,000 lbs. currently uncaught compared with 250,000 lbs in 2013.  The fishery remains open and there seems no reason why the 2015 fishery should not open on February 1 and continue to operate under the present rules until the beginning of the new licence year on April 1, 2014 [sic].

This provides time to review the measures now in place and try to determine whether any changes are warranted that might increase recreational opportunity and expectation while staying within the available allocation.  In carrying out this exercise, it needs to be kept in mind that we will not know the size of our share until after the International Pacific Halibut Commission has finished its annual meeting on January 30, 2015.        
As we wait for the 2015 allocation number, let’s assume for planning purposes three possibilities:  that the recreational sector’s 15% share is 100,000 pounds less than in 2014; that it is the same; and that it is 100,000 pounds greater.  We want local committees to review the current season from these perspectives and provide feedback.  We ask that any suggestions for change take into account the Board’s overall goal of maximizing the recreational fishery’s social and economic contribution while meeting the recreational Vision principle that “conservation of naturally reproducing fish and their habitat is the highest priority”.  We ask committee members to ensure that proposals are conservation based, measurable, enforceable, and able to be implemented at the beginning of the 2015 season on April 1.  
This document is being distributed to the SFAB family with the expectation that local chairs will want to give local committee members an opportunity to discuss the alternatives and possibly formulate policy motions.  Any proposals could then be reviewed during the North and South Coast regional meetings in early December.  

The Main Board has been unanimous in its determination to ensure that the halibut fishing season remains open as long as possible and I assume that this remains the case.  In discussing alternatives to the current rules it would seem prudent to consider them against this objective and the risk that the wrong choice results in a larger than expected harvest and imposition of a closure in late summer.   

The members of the SFAB halibut committee again wish to thank all participants in the SFAB process for their dedication and willingness to participate in discussion of this complex and often frustrating issue.

Q and As – November, 2014

Summer Steelhead Rivers, Northern BC: If you have ever wondered how the fabled summer steelhead rivers of northern BC lie in the context of the Skeena and Nass watersheds, here is a good map that also has the regulations regarding who can fish where superimposed on it:

These rivers have been written about since Zane Grey’s time and the better part of a century discussion over A. H. E. Wood’s description of ‘greased-line’ fly fishing, which, as a method is still argued about and performed today. A good discussion may be found in Trey Comb’s beautiful, Steelhead Fly Fishing, that has stories on many of the tribs and 14 lovely colour-plates of low water to big fat, bombers, for waking furrows in the wet. The sparser flies, Silver Hilton, for example, are laid on classic black salmon hooks, with their elegant upturned eye and folded back black wire.

You may know there are classified stretches, and sections that only resident anglers can fish on the weekends in the fall. The tribs of lore include: the only Nass trib, the Bell-Irving; and on the Skeena: Morice, Sustet, Kispiox, Bulkley and Babine. Our Rod Haig-Brown also fished our northern steelhead and wrote about them. Winter steelhead frequent these northern waters, too.

Weekly fishing reports can be found on many sites. Here is one with reports back to 2007: It also has archived reports to 1996.

Atlantic Salmon: As suggested by readers that I, or anyone else, should maintain photos and send in samples of fish that appear to be hybrid, or fully, Atlantic salmon, for DFO DNA analysis. Steve Baillie, from DFO in Nanaimo, answered my Scientific Licence Application to retain and forward such fish.

Of great surprise was the following answer: “Atlantic Salmon are not listed as salmon under Schedule VI of the BC Sport Fishing Regulations, therefore they come under Schedule IV (Finfish other than salmon). Again, they are not specifically listed here, so they come under Item 21 which allows a daily retention of 20 pieces, with no gear restrictions.

“So we don’t require you to have a Scientific Licence for retention of Atlantic salmon. I’ve included the website information on Atlantics, which has the identification and contact phone number for you to call the next time you find one in your landing net. I suggest you keep this letter in your boat should you be questioned by enforcement staff.”

He attached a sheet from the regulations: Exotic Alert: Atlantic Salmon in BC. This sheet has visual identification marks: in a nutshell: 8 to 12 anal fin rays (Pacific salmon have 13 to 19 rays); very noticeable, large, black spots on the gill cover (not common on Pacific salmon); and, may have very noticeably eroded or worn fins from containment in net-pens.

The phone number to call is: 1-800-811-6010. And if you intend on forwarding a sample to DFO, I was advised that a fin clip was enough, and that it should be frozen within two hours of capture, and kept frozen until it is in DFO’s hands.

In the sheet, if you catch an Atlantic: “DFO biologists are interested in acquiring as much information about Atlantic salmon recoveries as possible. Donation is not mandatory, but it does provide valuable samples for our scientific study. Keep the fish and report the capture by calling the toll free number [above].”

The sheet goes on: “Please note the date and location of the catch, as well as other details such as bait type and depth, if possible. If you choose to eat the fish, please retain the non-edible portions (head, gut, and carcass), frozen if possible. Otherwise, please keep the fish whole and freeze it if possible to prevent deterioration of the tissues. The department may wish to recover the fish from you.”
Baillie’s call to me said it was preferable to freeze within two hours and etc. The email address for the program is:

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Chinook Fishing Arrives

The calendar year for saltwater salmon fishing begins in November with the first 2- and 3-year feeder chinook coming into local waters to feed and grow. It’s time to take out your records and see where you caught them in the past and what you caught them on.

It is good practice to record every fish in a log book because the memory gets worn; it also gives date, gear, depth, location, description of structure, tide pattern and change time. If you use stainless cable and have a black box, record that reading, too. Waypoints you enter on GPS fishing charts serve purpose, as well; they will give you exact information on where, going over structure, you were.

It is also good practice to take local information from area reports and write that down too, for example, Island Outfitters’ weekly report; Tom Vaida collects lure, and other, data each week for many local fishing spots. And then Island Angler and Island Sportsman also give gear and fishing reports. My Vancouver Island Fishing Guide gives you information for both winter and summer salmon fishing around the Island.  

From the information you gather, make a fishing plan. Based on tide, decide where to fish, which direction to troll and the first three lures you will try. I am a firm believer that making a plan leads to catching more fish. You think things over to arrive at what you will do and that focusses the mind on taking positive action.

Let me give you two examples. When the tide is ebbing and I am fishing the Oak Bay Flats to Clover Point, there is a rock ridge just west of Trial Island that rounds up the fish and deposits them there over the six or so hours the tide falls. On many occasions I have caught a fish in this spot, and on the occasional day caught many winter springs here – 85- to 110-feet.

My records note this pattern and it repeats itself every year because feeder chinook have the same patterns related to structure every winter. Here is another. There is a spire in the west end of the Race that comes up to about 47 feet. Also, on an ebb, I once dropped a line just over the spire as the water deepened. I turned to the next rod, but had already received a bite on the one rod put out.

The record of that one fish in my log book has prompted me to, when fishing from Pedder Bay to Church Rock, drop gear coming off the spire, and many fish over many years. Then there is an empty patch before Christopher Point, then into good fishing again in Whirl Bay, which is good structure about 115 feet deep toward Church a standard, well-fished run in winter that often holds fish.

Having three specific lures in mind is also a confidence booster that focusses you on the fishing. It gives you a plan for the first few hours. One of the three should be bait (I always fish one rod of bait until convinced other tackle is better). It is true that bait requires more effort. You have to choose bait heads, wire rig them, then add already rigged leaders with a treble and trailing hook. Make a curve in the bait, greater toward the tail, test it beside the boat, re-rig and then lower it.

The bait rod should be watched continually because even a small tap can shred the bait, a distinct disadvantage compared with gear such as plastics and spoons. Spoons, plugs and Apexes all are fishing continually, and worry free. Bait should be checked every 20 minutes so that you aren’t towing a glob no salmon will bite. I put the bait line on the port side so that sitting at the wheel, it is the easiest line to check visually.

Don’t change speed once you have put down bait and the rest of your array. Changing speed results in tackle fishing differently from what it did beside the boat. With bait, increased speed can make it spiral out of control and make it slide back in the head so it no longer resembles a natural fish. Too slow and the bait may not spiral at all. Oh, and spiral is the right action. A circle is not the same thing as a spiral, the latter having the tail follow the head in a natural motion of an injured bait fish. A circle with the tail outside the diameter of the head will result in no fish, too.

This is the article on my blog that deals with the nitty gritty of wire-rigging a bait head: The photos give some colours. My winter preferences are pearlescent 602 – it glows – and glow green. But, of course, there are other heads that catch lots of fish: Bloody Nose, Purple Haze and Army Truck. Glow and UV properties are far more important in winter fishing because we fish so much deeper than in summer and there is less light as water depth increases.

Glow in flashers is also a good thing in deeper fishing. I use the simplest, green glow, UV, though Purple Haze is also a standard. Oki has a good idea, too, adding electric current, to some of its flashers, for example, the Glow Super Betsy, Gold Metallic. As the flasher is fished there is galvanic current produced in saltwater, the same principle as a black box. It attracts fish to follow and then it sees the lure.

The other two tackle choices will typically include glow hootchies/squirts and spoons. To a lesser extent do we fish plugs these days. In the past, before hooks needed to be debarbed, plugs were fished more often. Their long tip Siwash hooks aid penetration but without a barb the fish slides off more easily than other hooks. It helps to emphasize good fishing technique by keeping your rod tip high and thus pressure on the fish at all times.

Kirb Siwash hooks by holding the point to shaft in a pair of pliers (that means at right angles to the shaft) and bending down, introducing a bend for purchase in a jaw. The downside of this procedure is that it makes the plug move through the water a little to one side, but in winter, as we can increase speed, we can make it dart erratically, eliminating an off kilter motion, and also a good fish-mesmerising thing.

As for plastics, pick up what is current, but still look at your records. Oak Bay killers are Irish Mist, J-49 and occasionally Mint Tulip. The standard, Purple Haze, with a gold skirt, is probably the most common pattern used today in all local waters.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sport Fishing Advisory Board Meetings and Catching Coho

Bob Gallaugher: The Nitinat, Port Renfrew and Cowichan area meeting will be Nov.13, at 1 PM, Valley Fish and Game Club, 6190 Mayo Rd., Lake Cowichan. Agenda items include:

1.      Overview of past years fishery in areas and preliminary Chinook and Coho escapements for Nitinat, San Juan and Cowichan.  
2. Coho Regulations at Port Renfrew. 
3. Recreational crab fishery at Port Renfrew [speaker Butch Jack from the Pachedaht native band to comment on new high intensity commercial crab fishery and support of our SFAC motion]. 
4. Status of Court ordered fine money [being withheld by DFO for 3 years now] to be paid to the Port Renfrew Salmon Enhancement Society. 
5. What happened to Chinook fishery at Port Renfrew [1/3 of previous year]. 
6. Groundfish and Shellfish report [Crab, Prawns and Halibut]. 
7. New enforcement interpretation of transport regulations.

I will let you know the escapement figures when they come my way.

Chris Bos: The next SFAB meeting for the Victoria area will be Thursday, November 20 at 2 PM. More info to follow.  

Sport Fishing Institute: The SFI Policy Conference and Big Splash Gala, is Wednesday, November 26, in Richmond. Register at:

Catching Coho in Rivers: Now is the time to get out your spinners, spoons and Colorado Blades and head to your favourite river for coho fishing – retention where authorized. Typically coho are in the deepest part of the soft water. And they may not porpoise for hours and thus it looks like there are no fish. Run through your lures, as below, before moving on.

Take the silver hooks off your lures, add black swivels and black hooks. The coho spots the silver lure in front of them and whacks it, the hook behind (that it can’t see) already in its mouth.

Fish different colours: pink, orange, chartreuse, green and red, silver early and gold later, in heavy, clouded water. Purple in tea stained water, and the Cowichan. Bolos and Blue Foxes in sizes 4 and 5. Use your ugliest, largest spoons in water with less than a foot visibility – these have sonic thump, plus visibility.

With inexpensive Colorado blades in silver, gold and brass (not copper) that you assemble yourself, use a #5 swivel 18- to 24-inches above the blade and to the tag end, lightly crimp some pencil lead – the purpose is to have the lead pull free rather than lose the entire rig. If your blade vibration stops and starts, it is a coho following and touching it with its nose, collapsing its drag. Redo the cast until you catch the fish.

Coho fishing is best in pouring rain with rising rivers, particularly in front of small side streams where they spawn. A well-known example, is Beaver Creek where it flows into the Stamp River below the falls. The heavier the rain, the hotter the fishing, so when others are watching Sunday NFL, you get out there and glom the fish.

Cast at the fish from one spot then try different angles, then take a step up or down and do the casts again, trying different angles, then rotate through your colours until you find the hot one. Don’t think there are no fish there or they are stale until you prove it by rotating lures, casting direction, and by moving to cast from different angles.

Coho, in particular, like to bite lures going directly up stream and may follow for 25 feet across and up before biting. If you see them all lined up in shallow runs, try and put your spinner within two feet of their noses, and watch them follow. This is high adrenaline stuff. Just don’t set that hook when you see its mouth open to glom the lure. Wait until you feel it on the rod.

And if you are fishing pools, make sure to fish the back eddies from down stream. This is because coho line up up-stream, but actually down-river, if you get my drift. But because they relentlessly want the lure going up-current, you have to fish from down stream. Don’t think the fish are not there or not biting until you prove that that is the case. Don’t leave coho to find coho.

Because coho do the coho roll thing, which jerks tension from high to low constantly, set your drag tighter than you would for steelhead which would rip the lure out at coho tension. Coho mouths are hard and with barbless, kirbed hooks, keep your rod tip high or as far away sideways as possible to keep maximum tension on the fish.

Fish in front of very small side streams that you would fish in front of no other time of year. Rising water will create soft water close by the stream and the coho sit in its scent for as much as six weeks before the creek is full enough to enter.

If you know there are fish there but aren’t biting, change up by putting a simple red and white bobber several feet above the spinner. It is surprising how frequently the float will disappear in soft water, the spinner dangling directly down from it, but the coho bit it anyway. From time to time, change action by stopping the float, as this will bring the lure up in the water and its spin will increase. In addition, for fish downstream that you can’t reach by casting, float that bobber down to them, and when you stop it right in front of them, you’ll be surprised how many you may catch.

Also, consider braided mainline, typically 35 pound test, with a 15- to 20-foot leader of 15- to 20-pound clear leader. Braid casts much farther as it comes off baitcaster reels much easier than 20-pound clear mainline that gets ‘memory’.

Kuterra Land-Raised Atlantic Salmon: the on-land Namgis fish farm in the lower reaches of the Nimpkish has received the top sustainability ranking from the best rating system in North America – the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

"We are delighted that the third-party assessment conducted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium has validated Kuterra operations as one of the most sustainable Atlantic salmon aquaculture operations globally," says Garry Ullstrom, Kuterra CEO.

The Aquarium examined land-based facilities in BC, West Virginia and Denmark. All three — Kuterra, The Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute in Shepherdstown, W.Va.; and Atlantic Sapphire in Hvide Sande, Denmark — received the top ranking.

All of these are in my list of 69 on-land fish farm systems that are better for wild salmon than in-ocean, open-net: