Sunday, 29 March 2015

Licences and Chinook Structure

Licences: 2015 saltwater licences are now available and become effective April 1.

You can pay and print your licence at:

Or you can get one at an Independent Access Provider, a list of which can be found at:

You can get the Tidal Waters Sport Fishing Guide at:

Chinook Structure: Every fisher knows that chinook are always found related to structure. But there is much to ponder and many kinds of structure.

Offshore, chinook spend their open ocean phase related to feed and bottom structure may be a mile away. Feed becomes a kind of structure in this case. It also does where herring/baitfish ball together prior to spawning. In the past, that meant finding the bait in front of the Victoria Harbour in January to March. You found the fish once the bottom slipped away from 115 feet off the Ogden Point Breakwater and moved down to 200 feet.

The fish were found associated with staging bait, rather than bottom. The same can be said of offshore fishing spots. For example, at Langara HG, a couple of miles out from Lacey Island, one strips out 80- to 100-pulls (a 2 foot pull) and at 80- to 100-feet, at a slow troll, plenty of big mature chinook have been taken over the decades. This kind of instance is very unusual in that the chinook are not related to structure. They are coming in from the open ocean and have yet to line themselves up. You catch them because there are just so many of them you will encounter some, and because it is a kind of freeway for fish coming on shore at that spot.

There are few places along the coast where the Lacey pattern prevails, it happening largely because it is situated as the first structure the nursing chinook encounter. It is also true to say that migrating mature chinook are found miles off shore in many open ocean spots, but they are all on structure.

The 1.5 mile ‘highway’ at Kyuquot Sound has a lot to do with the ledges of rock deep in the water. But off Nootka Sound, the 13 mile bank – as in 13 miles offshore – is a flat pinnacle that migrating chinook preferentially pass because they are structure related, and most are bound for the States. Last year more than 1 million chinook formed the Columbia River escapement, for example.

Off Ucluelet lie many banks, from the 7.5 mile all the way out to the Rat’s Nose some 25 km out, a high spot in the bottom. Swiftsure Bank is the same. It can be accessed from Bamfield, Ucluelet and Port Renfrew, and forms a series of clover-leaf-shaped banks some 13 miles off Vancouver Island. Banks naturally attract fish for several reasons.

The bottom to the west of Swiftsure is more than a mile deep and the shallowest part of the bank is less than 200 feet deep. Swift rips occur any place where a vast amount of water is restricted in its flow, in this case it is a vertical restriction (as is the case with all banks) rather than the more usual horizontal restriction, the obvious examples occurring in rivers; the Powder Wharf on James Island is an example of a rock structure changing directions and forming a pocket in which chinook sit – a very common occurrence.

On the Swiftsure example, and whenever water is restricted, it must speed up to pass over and around bottom structure, in this case from 5,000 feet to 200 feet. Anyone who has been out there on a rough day can tell you that the house-sized chop has to be experienced to be appreciated. Boats and then their aerials just disappear from view, only to be lifted high by the next wave rolling under them.

All banks receive water from much deeper and this water brings the nutrients that start the food chain. Algae, plankton in its various forms, then krill/crustaceans, become the food for baitfish, and sockeye, coho and chum. Where there are baitfish – anchovy, sardines, pilchards, herring, anchovies, needlefish – you will find fish, salmon and other species.

In the case of the Rat’s Nose and Swiftsure, you fish the edges, or canyons for halibut which are right on the bottom. The salmon are farther up in the water column. In Constance Bank off Victoria for instance, the edges on the north side – 60 to 100-feet deep – and south east tack are better for chinook than fishing right on top of the bank. And you will often see boats anchored on the 60 foot depth and then the ebb taking the boat to present its halibut baits on the 140 foot lip that extends to the west. As a lee spot on an ebb, the lip gathers bait and halibut swept off the plateau above.

On days when there is a rip snorting tide, the speed often reduces fishing, for both halibut on the bottom, and salmon above. A fast flood on the Rat’s Nose pushes so hard to clear the 250 bank depth that it pushes the salmon and halibut as much as a mile off the bank to the south and east where the water is soon 500 feet deep, but the fish remain at 250. The bank gives up few fish on such a tide, but letting the current push you off keeps you in contact with the fish that the tide is also moving.

But as chinook become mature they tend to come on shore and migrate down the surf line rock piles and walls. Whale Channel, a Westcoast Resorts lodge, has some mighty fine walls as does Rivers Inlet. The chinook come right up to them and slowly move from pocket to pocket – meaning Vs formed by two horizontal outcroppings of rock, resulting in slower water between them; this is what makes Bamberton in Saanich Inlet so special – it has a half dozen Vs in half a mile.

Perhaps the best example, and my favourite place, is Tasu Sound on Haida Gwaii. It was a Westcoast lodge though there is none now, but is a classic full meal deal having halibut pinnacles, walls, a half mile wide opening through which wind just rips making the trees look some demented they are pushed sideways so much, along with bucktailing for coho, and surface fly casting to chum rafts, and half a dozen streams on the inside, calmer waters. If a lodge opens there, do go. It’s a treat.

The wall on the outside of Tasu is so vertical that you are trolling cutplugs so close your rod tip almost touches the wall, as in one foot. You are actually trolling right underneath the rock outcropping that rises right above your head. A small island completes the pocket. You feel very small among the big fish, many 50 pounders annually. Ditto for Rivers, and right around the corner from the Oak Bay lodge, tight to a wall that abruptly changes direction 90 degrees, the lee of flood or ebb indicating which side to fish – always on the lee.

And then there are surf line rock piles where you are cutplugging in water less than 50 feet deep while waves crash on the rocks and reflect back to where you rock in the conflicted water. It is a straight adrenaline hit simply to be there with your offering in the water. If you can’t get up for surf line fishing, it is time to hand in your licence.

At Langara, that is what makes Cohoe Point such a solid producer of big springs. You can grind as close to the rock as you dare and the chinook are again in the lee. Andrews is a more pronounced horizontal point – like Otter Point and Clover Point – where tight to the inside sit the springs.

Even after 30 years of being fished, Andrews still has black bass, as does Langara Rocks farther north. A strong flood will push the springs out of shore from McPherson – you follow the tide line. For anyone who has fished Langara, the nature of points of land attracting chinook, is clear because the long flat Egeria Bay shoreline that leads to Cohoe seldom gives up a fish. Like the Oak Bay and Ross Bay flats, and the apron from Quatsino’s Grant Bay, as well as the 150 apron off Nootka, that fishes well for winter springs until June.

In Nootka Sound, Esperanza Inlet, has a dozen rocks to do the grind the pocket thing, much like Spider Island north of Hakai Pass, and like Cape Beale in Bamfield, Guinia Point north of Massett, and even Church Island off Pedder. The best Nootka rock is Ferrer (pronounced Fair-e-er) and on any given day there may be as many as 25 boats grinding in a circle the underwater structure. When the bite comes on, there may be a dozen boats into big fish at the same time.

And then there are ledges. Port Renfrew’s Owen Point has an absolutely bench-like ledge at 40 feet and everyone wants to be on the same tack on the flood. In all these cases, it is structure that has affected the chinook passage, and the presence of bait, if it is there. It is one of the magical mysteries of salmon fishing that chinook will migrate right on shore. Typically, this is for local fish that have intentionally moved to shore, presumably scenting their natal river. This is the point at Ferrer Point, particularly in September when the Conuma chinook come home.

In the Broken Islands, the ebb on the rocks at Ecoole and Diplock also bunches up homing Robertson Creek Fish. Ditto for Brady’s Beach. And this water is very precise. At Cape Beale, at the 36 foot ledge you watch your downrigger drop as the skidding ball goes off the edge, and into the chinook.

In Quatsino its Kains Island has an open rock pile, surf line fishery. It makes a person jittery while learning the precise nature of pockets in the surf. I looked down one day, saw the bottom and before I could say anything, up came the downrigger arm signalling the loss of a ball.

Surfline fishing in rock piles takes time to learn the coordinates of the bottom depressions so that you can safely pluck out the good spots. At Nootka’s south entrance this includes Maquinna and Bajo points. Off Barkley, try Wya Point. And, Clayoquot’s Catface bar is a textbook example of a vertical eddy that extends for almost half a mile. It is a well-known spot for bucktailing coho from Weigh West in Tofino.

Add Odlum at Hakai, Cheney at Milbanke, and the to-die-for McInnes Point. It makes a guy itch to get out there.

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