Sunday, 8 February 2015

Steelhead Management and the Big Q

Steelhead Management: The Provincial Framework for Steelhead Management in BC is in an updated draft form on line and you may make comments until Feb 18, 2015 at this site: You may read the report at:

The purpose is to provide the high level conceptual framework that managers will use in fisheries’ management in specific areas, so the whole province does things the same way. The document acknowledges that it is based on wild steelhead as the basis for the fisheries, rather than enhanced stocks, the Stamp River, for instance, which has both wild and hatchery steelhead.

If this is an important subject for you, there are several previous documents that you may like to read as well: the Steelhead Summit and Caucus Follow-up 2008-2009; the Greater Georgia Basin Steelhead Recovery Action Plan 2002; and Thompson River recovery initiatives (Thompson River Steelhead: A Resource in Crisis? SFU Workshop 1998; Independent Review of the Science and Management of Thompson River Steelhead 2014). The materials from these various undertakings have been reviewed in the development of the document to assist in identifying priority issues and strategies.

I summarized the framework some time ago, and you can reread it here:

Big Qualicum River: The Big Q is a classic, intimate steelhead/trout/salmon river on Vancouver Island. It has several important features that make it a river to get to know. First, the valley was never logged, so it is one of the few that shows what all island rivers should look like, rather than the lunar landscapes many suffer, the San Juan, for instance. Second, tall trees provide a year-round canopy important for keeping its temperature cool, particularly in summer. Next, it flows out of a lake – Horne – and this gives it a more consistent volume, in this case there is also a weir at the outlet to help regulate flow. Added to this is a water fall just below the lake that gives it ten clicks of relatively low gradient flow, something that is good for fish and fry. It also means that you have a defined amount of water within which you will find fish; this means you can slot information into your mental calendar with assurance that your conclusions are likely right.

The Big Q is so fertile that its gravel is scarified from time to time. This controversial practice has as its purpose ‘cleaning’, removal and redeposit of gravel into the course, providing lots of spawning ground. A big tractor goes into the river and does the deed, an out of date technique for some who would like scarification to cease or, at least be limited to certain portions of the river, leaving other sections natural. Natural means algae, insects, fry and adults being left alone to do their business.

Also of importance, is that there is a road, limited to walking (as in, no vehicles) that gives access to the river’s entire length. This allows the angler, and fly is preferred (do look at the regulations before you fish, for time, gear and species conditions), to dip in here and there and amble along, and over the course of many years come to know this special river. Then there are the fish: typically chinook, coho and chum in the fall, winter and summer steelhead and sea run cutthroat trout. In addition, in my years fishing, I have seen rainbows to two pounds spawning in the spring. Because this river is so short and because these fish are not found all year round, I suspect these represent residualized rainbows that have a saltwater phase, but close by, not out to the ocean as the larger steelhead do.

Also take a look at the straight-line man-made channel intended primarily for chum salmon. Its flow can be regulated from the small in-river dam at its top end, which also prevents fish from rising higher, although they can divert around the bottom end in the river’s main channel.

There is a major hatchery at the bottom end, accessed near the First Nation property at the estuarial end of the river. See this for my discussion of the 2013 egg and fry activities for the major Van Isle hatcheries:

The Big Q put out 4.65 million chinook in 2014, along with 49.97 million chum fry (mainly from the special channel) and .6 million coho. Also take a look at the Living Genebank Steelhead program, that used an enlightened approach to ‘naturally’ enhance the wild steelhead in the nearby, Little Qualicum, as well as the Quinsam and Keogh: The purpose was to help nature by catching wild fry as they left the river, raising them in the Duncan hatchery to maturity, when they were spawned. The progeny went back into the rivers, and the program was only intended to operate for three cycles, for genetic reasons. See:

Take your time getting to know the Island rivers that you fish. A decade’s worth of fishing 12 months of the year will reveal fish, plant and animal information that is a great satisfaction to know. For example, it came to me recently that one of my rivers passed through a special, small sockeye run as fry backing down from a stream into the main-stem on their out migration. It dawned on me that epoxy minnow flies would be the fly of choice for several months for a mile below the confluence. And it worked. Good fishing.

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