Thursday, 23 June 2016

On Fishing – June 26, 2016

“Further to FN0523, the Department will be managing fisheries based on management zone 1 (i.e. returns to the Fraser below or equal to 45,000 chinook) for Fraser Spring 5-2 and Summer 5-2 chinook.”

In other words, with Fraser chinook in low numbers, and the issue of First Nation request for these fish in play, Victoria area fishery retention for chinook has been lowered. The regs are in effect from June 18, until July 15, 23:59 hours.

Our waters are subareas 19-1 to 19-4 and Subareas 20-4 and 20-5, extending out Juan de Fuca – Cadboro Point to Sheringham Point. The daily limit is two (2) chinook which must be either wild or hatchery-marked if between 45 and 85 cm or hatchery marked if greater than 85 cm. The minimum length is 45 cm.

You can look at the area maps here:

Shawn Kerr, DFO, Steelhead Society meeting: The Vancouver Island chapter of the Steelhead Society based out of Courtenay would like to get some involvement from other areas of VI by holding a couple of one-day information sessions. They would like to start in Port Alberni and Victoria. Do you have any suggestions on who might be interested in your respective area and of a possible location to have a one-day info session/meeting? Shawn Kerr:

A: I suggested the Esquimalt Anglers club house on Fleming: I also suggested getting in touch with the Haig-Brown Fly Fishing Association in town as interested attendees. If you have any suggestions, please direct them to Shawn Kerr.

Aaron Hill ED, Watershed Watch: Getting DFO to do what the Trudeau government has told us they will do.

Trudeau’s mandate letter for then Minister Hunter Tootoo, included restoring habitat protection in the Fisheries Act, an oil tanker ban on BC’s north coast and acting on the Cohen Commission recommendations for wild salmon. 

“But when we met with Minister Tootoo and senior DFO officials in Ottawa in April, it was clear that the same bureaucrats who ran DFO for the previous government were not in a hurry to follow their new orders. According to DFO, “acting on” Justice Cohen’s recommendations did not mean “implementing” them. Habitat provisions were not going to be returned to the Fisheries Act until extensive consultations took place (which could take years), and they were talking about rewriting the Wild Salmon Policy.

We were floored. But not for long. We got to work organizing and lobbying to get Minister Tootoo and DFO back on track. We drafted this letter to Minister Tootoo that was endorsed by aboriginal, conservation, and fishing groups, and two former Fisheries Ministers, making it clear that we expect action on his to-do list.” 

A: Watershed Watch is a BC environmental NGO. You should read the letter and then look at the long list of signees, including former Ministers David Anderson and John Fraser. The habitat provisions are crucial to wild salmon, and just so you know, West Coast Environmental Law is leading a legal challenge to reinstate what was lost under Harper.

I did a formal Environmental Petition with the federal Auditor General regarding Cohen/fish farm recommendations in 2014. You can see it here:

I asked for a disaggregated budget and full time equivalents (number of staff) that DFO has spent and dedicated to achieving the Cohen recommendations. I received no attributed budget, only blanket figures, no staff numbers and only generic pap regarding Cohen. In other words, DFO did not answer the petition. 

I know it is generic pap because when I worked for the BC government I generated such generic pap.
If you wish to get in touch with Watershed Watch, contact Aaron Hill:

Jeff Betts: I continue to dwell on news Canada is hatching chinook (and others as you say) but not clipping that 18 lb or so unclipped powerhouse I released Saturday morning could indeed have been from a Canadian hatchery....and if the Americans clip theirs to create a 'take' fishery, what do they think of us not doing so then regulating the possession of marked fish, i.e. their marked fish?

A: The reason for not clipping all of the more than half billion fry in Canada is cost. Each fry has to be selected, anaesthetized, handled for marking, recover, and put back into the pond before being let go. Do note that Puget Sound is only a part of Washington, and so the marked fish are in a limited area.

The reason Puget Sound chinook fry are marked is for a fishery. The reason we can catch their fish is that the Pacific Salmon Commission that deals with USA/Canada fishery issues has specified that both countries can take some of the other’s fish. In our case, Alaska takes some of our chinook in its commercial fishery. The quid pro quo is that Canadians can catch some American fish. We are the lucky recipients.

The other thing is that by taking marked fish, fish in a slot limit, in Haro/Juan de Fuca straits, we are actually protecting mature, spawning wild chinook in both BC and Washington State, Puget Sound. In BC, we are protecting Fraser 4-2s and 5-2s, among others, for example, wild Cowichans, and also Washington wild chinook runs that are rebuilding like the Nooksack and Samish rivers in Puget Sound. The Americans like this.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Boat Electrical Potential

Jeff Betts: How does a Super Betsy flasher set up an electric charge that salmon prefer?

A: A Super Betsy works on the same principle as a Black Box. It has two metals in its construction and one donates electrons to the other, setting up an electrical potential in the medium – salt water – surrounding the flasher. The potential is set at the level that attracts fish to the area. They follow along and when they see the lure, they whack it. Do note that the Super Betsy will start to look tarnished. This is just evidence that it is functioning properly and should not be replaced.

I was posed this question while my column was in the Times Colonist newspaper, and it is below. Currently, I use braided ‘cloth’ downrigger cables rather than stainless steel. There is no electric potential in this set-up, so for me a Black Box no longer works, unless the lines are within 25 feet of the boat, and its electricity leaks. Add more mono before the clip and you can get the tackle farther from the boat.

Reader Ken Evans: I have caught my share of salmon over the years, but since acquiring my new Trophy can’t catch much. Is boat electrical potential the problem?

Answer: The two likely possibilities are: boat electrical potential; and, engine noise.

I had the same problem after changing engines. I put one line on a downrigger at 50 feet and with the other, went with mono line and a two-pound ball, achieving the same depth with 100 feet of mainline. The results were 4- to 5-fish per mono line versus 1 for the downrigger, indicating a problem.

You can check boat electrical potential without leaving the dock. Attach a cannonball and run the downrigger cable down beside the boat. Using a one-volt voltmeter, attach the positive lead to the cable and the negative lead to the engine. If the reading is outside the range of .7- to .9-volts, boat electrical potential is the problem. (This as well as engine noise can be mitigated to some extent by running more mono out before attaching the mainline to a downrigger release clip).

Boat electrical potential results from boat metal leaking electrons into the water, particularly saltwater which is essentially a battery. Electrons flow from the least noble metal – the zincs – through the more noble metals – the reason for using stainless steel - and into the water. This bathes the area around the boat with electricity.

All fish from sharks through halibut through salmon and trout, react strongly to electricity. A shark, for instance can detect the electrical potential of a flashlight battery connected to a lead set 3,200 kilometres apart, an ability difficult to believe, yet true.

Though less acute, salmon respond to the ion bath that extends from one downrigger, the boat itself and around to include all other downriggers where it passes down and out. Commercial fishermen have used the electrical sensitivity of salmon for decades. Their depthsounders register increasing schools of fish. The fish connect visually with the lures and the writing is on the wall. But, change the voltage from the preferred range and the school is ‘blown’ away from the gear, the problem Ken is experiencing.

One’s first chore is to check for electrical leakage from the boat. This includes operating all electric units separately and checking leakage between the off and on position. Even a .05 volt differential presents an electrical leak and can come from something as insignificant as a screw holding down a bilge pump.

Once leaks have been detected and bonding wires installed, other things need checking. Zincs must be new (more than 50% remaining) and clean. Downrigger cable should be less than two years old as it can be etched by minerals and thus electrically fatigued. Cannonballs need to be pure lead; and, among other things, the downrigger spool isolated from boat metal (true for only some brands of downrigger).

Finally, add an electrical device that when connected to downrigger lines, establishes the best electrical potential for each species of fish. Turn the dial and dial in the fish. Chinook prefer .6 volts; coho, .65, sockeye, .75; and halibut, .45. These are recommended starting points. Local conditions may dictate variations.

The sport-fishing product is typified by the Black Box from Scott Plastics. The downrigger cable maintains a fish-attracting positive electric potential because the unit draws electrons from the downrigger cable faster than electrons are donated through the water from boat metals.

Is this just snake oil or something worth investigating? A scientifically sound experiment is not possible, as an electric potential unit will extend electrons around unconnected downriggers. I compared my logbook records before repowering and after, adding a Black Box. After 7 months of testing – from summer into winter - I had caught 134 salmon in 33 trips, a 20% improvement.

My conclusion is that provided a person knows how to catch salmon, and that includes Ken, he or she can look forward to catching 20% more fish. An electric potential unit will not catch fish for a person who does not know how to catch them. The best application is for a guide, whose livelihood depends on putting fish on the line for clients.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Summertime Flies

Island rivers have moved into their summer phase this past week and that means fly fishing for summer steelhead, anadromous cutthroat, cutt-bows and, in some rivers, Dolly Varden. Rivers are low and this affects your fishing. Fish are in riffles, pools, tailouts and runs.

Cutthroat are normally found related to woody debris, while steelhead are related to rock. Neither has much interest in being exposed over sand bottoms. In addition, cutthroat fishing covers the river in two foot slices whereas steelhead, more motivated, need only cast to every ten feet. The rule in steelhead fishing is: keep moving and find the high percentage water. Take a step or two before a second cast.

Summer rivers are low, warm and lower in oxygen. This affects where fish will station themselves, preferring cool, oxygen and surface turbulence that makes them feel safe. This is also the time of year when steelhead smolts migrate down rivers into saltwater. In a river like the Stamp, our best all-around river, these smolts, usually about 6 inches, can be as large as 13. 

For a hoot, snip off the bend and barb of a floater like a Tom Thumb and with a four-weight, dust the surface with your fly in riffles. Steelhead smolts prefer this as holding water. They will attempt to nab your fly again and again and it is very funny to watch, and harmless for them.

In more conventional fly fishing, this is the time of year to use your nymph imitations: bead head imitations based on black and with wriggly rubber legs and much larger stonefly nymphs of varying colour combinations. The larger flies are easier to see and dissuade more small fish from biting.

If you are fishing large Popsicle-style flies with lots of marabou, and receive taps and short bites, switch to shorter flies. In nymphs, it is the hook that is the tail end of the fly and thus the first thing a fish will contact, not a mouthful of marabou extending beyond the bend. Note that you can immediately fish the same stretch of water after switching from a longer fly because the action of a less-connected nymph-drift fly not only is a completely different kind of fly, but also a change of silhouette and colour.

In summer, you will find more dead water – declining water level tends to slow river speed as well as make it shallower. You move through these sections, keying in on higher percentage water.
Get to know your river over a decade’s calendar cycle. Any place you have caught a fish before, presents some opportunity another time, even if it looks less fishy. And over the years get to understand how the gravel is moved during winter and changes all the bottom features. I once landed several rainbows (residual steelhead or not, I do not know) beside a rock feature that had caused the water to scour a small thigh-deep run. 

In another year, the river bottom had shifted away from the rock, piled up gravel behind the run and thus the spot was only calf-deep backwater. I tossed a few casts into the spot that any other angler who had less experience with the river would have passed right on by – as would I on rivers I might not know as well. Instead, I hooked the largest steelhead I have ever caught, and after chasing it downstream for 600 yards, landed and released a fish of more than 20 pounds –  longer than my arm. You just sit in the gravel, thankful for your knowledge. And you write it in your log book of bites and catches, for perusal the next year, before you head back to that river. 

The bite info is crucial because if you have a dozen bites on one fly, but take a fish or two on another fly, you want your records to show that the preponderance of fish you touched were on the fly they didn’t stick to – next time around, you want to put on the fly that got the most bites, not the one you landed a fish or two.

Our rivers show lots of logging damage, choking out a century’s worth of gravel a few hundred yards per year. If your river is the San Juan, you know this well. Above the confluence pool with the Harris, a major place to fish, the entire valley was flooded by a log jam letting go one spring, with enough weight and wood that it made this small stream into a flood plain a half mile wide.

But, and here is the point, the places where there are rock walls and where stumps with their root balls as much as 20 feet across get dumped as the water decreases and subsequent rain-swollen rivers flood, will scour holes where you will find fish in subsequent years. Where I landed my big fish, there is now a tree that has fallen from the rock structure and now a hole has been dug that is 7 feet deep. Any structure like this is a likely spot, particularly in this case, because it has given me fish many times in many years – even though it has changed drastically many times over the years.

I was once told that a hatchery intake pool had cool springs coming up through the bottom and thus cutthroat would preferentially sit there in the warm months, while they would not sit any where else in the same pool. If you get to know your rivers, you will find spots that give you more fish, even though they change drastically and in some years don’t look at all fishy.

One run I have fished for the past two decades has changed so much ten times over those years that you would not expect to catch much. But, I typically take more fish out of this one run than any other place on the river. That leads me to suspect there is a spring coming up in the middle of it and so fish stop here even though it does not look fishy many years.

Another tip is to fish when a pool or run is in shade, either morning or afternoon. On the river you will fish, ask yourself ahead of time, when will certain stretches fish better because they are in shade. I sometimes fish a river then hustle back between the spots that have given out fish, and fish them again later in the day. Pools now in sun often don’t fish as well, with cutthroat crowded back into the stumps, etc. and not as willing to be seen when sun penetrates to the bottom of still water.

Recently, I hooked a beauty of a cutthroat plumbing the only water in a four-hundred-yard stretch that looked like it had a chance. It had bluey-green water over a gravel bottom that did not have algae, meaning the sun did not penetrate well enough. The fish leapt into my morning. Through my pleasant surprise, it came to hook itself around a branch elbow-deep in chest-deep water. I waded in, found the line around the branch, and started ripping it apart. The fish jumped right beside me over my bent-over head, and hast la vista, escaped.

On my way back upstream to my car, I tossed a sharpened stonefly into the spot, and less than 15 feet below where I had hooked this nice fish, managed to hook it again. Duly admired and released, it was a three-pound cutty – large by anyone’s standard. 

So remember the spots, fish them again after several hours and you may be rewarded. Most of all, this time of year, put on those flies with short tails. Another example, is what I call rats: a size 8 streamer hook, with tiny bead eyes and a clump of olive marabou and that’s all. Once wet, it becomes a slim little fly that darts here and there, and darned if it doesn’t catch fish. But, if you get short bites, snip off a half inch of trailing marabou, and try again.

One final thing: the way a fish fights when it is on your line, often tells you what species it is. Steelhead jump many times, cut-bows (a cross of steelhead and cutthroat) fight just under the surface and cutthroat seldom jump. If you don’t land the fish, you can be reasonably certain what species the fish was. For Dollies, at this time of year you are more likely to catch them coming in with the tide and passing out, so their estuarial nature often gives them away. Once committed to a river, they key in on wood and deep pools.