Sunday, 17 July 2016

Coho Time

Time to get out in Juan de Fuca Strait and catch those American hatchery coho. Retention is 2 marked coho per day with a possession limit of 4 – in most of Areas 20 and 19 (two more wild in Port San Juan). No wild fish, most of which would be Canadian. The Fraser is not doing well. 

The gen on fishing coho is finding tide lines from on-shore all the way to the Canada/USA border. It used to be the case that coho were found in the top 30 feet of water, regardless of depth to bottom. These days, you had better try closer to 100 feet to start as the fish are lower. I don’t know whether the difference is that anglers just selectively caught surface fish for the past 50 years until there were no more and that there were always coho at 100 feet, or whether the fish have actually changed habits.

If the answer is the latter, the question would be: why have they changed? After all, off the west coast, they still do migrate on the surface and you see them jump for miles around the boat on calm days. It could be the case that as herring supplies dwindled, coho moved from surface boils to deeper bait fish. In other words, the pattern is the same – pursuit of bait – and habits are the same, just a change in bait numbers. It could be the case that they have switched from declining herring (on which there is a roe fishery) to needle fish that are mid- to bottom-water dwellers.

Fish habits seem the same. It is still the case that your chances are far better fishing tide lines, crossing over and back – yes, this means it you have to continually clean weed/detritus from your gear, but you will catch more fish – fishing the moving side, because that is where the fish are coming from. And yes, the bait, be it krill, needlefish/herring, with less swimming power than tidal current, end up where the two currents meet, producing a tide line – they don’t have power to outswim either current. That would mean that the issue is still location of coho food, just deeper.

Why deeper? For decades, herring balls have dwindled and disappeared, but in the days of Charlie White’s books on catching salmon, were the big attraction to be spotted on the surface because there were the fish, too, typically coho and chinook. Bait habits can’t change to include out swimming currents, but bait availability would change coho/salmon habits.

Your open water fishing should include ignoring speed over ground measured on your GPS. Speed over ground does not take into account how fast you are moving relative to the fish, just the bottom and your SOG could be a crawl, or could be throttling along, depending on the speed of the localized current. For example, the Oak Bay Flats often has conflicting currents and so SOG can change dramatically in short distances, crossing different direction currents, but your speed in the water relative to the fish has not. 

Instead, in open water, increase your rpm from idle rpm. I go anywhere up to 1200 rpm but this depends on your engine and prop. You increase speed because coho behaviour is to move faster and to chase quicker. Thus you match speed in water to behaviour. An additional bonus is that you cover more territory in the same length of time and thus your gear is presented to more fish. If you catch one, circle the spot, and that includes letting the tide line move you, i.e., you are circling a moving spot. 

You don’t have to be Einstein to discovery relativity: you catch more coho moving to them than moving away. And: the closer you get to the coho, the bigger they become. 

And don’t waste time on bait for coho. You will just spend two trays, instead of one, and all of your time dealing with shreddies, or worrying about them. Good old plastic saves the day. Look to squirts for that thinner silhouette, or hootchies with longitudinal stripes – that means they more closely resemble needle fish than herring.

And Mylar skirts make sense, in silver, rather than gold. Two kerbed hooks rather than one because it gives two chances to hook a coho that will always do the coho roll thing, so second purchase comes in real handy. 

I have always caught coho on Bubble Gum squirts which are pink and white stripe based, but pink is the colour. If you still have some Red Krippled Ks, do twist them to introduce a bend that runs across and down the lure, rather than perpendicular. The key is making your tin lures into killers with asymmetric action. We forget that blue is a coho colour in saltwater, after all, Haig-Brown’s fly is the coho blue. Hence an Irish Mist squirt is on my shortlist.

Oh and that increased speed makes 34-inch leadered plastics do that yanked figure eight thing in a way that makes the beholder keep changing eye position to keep up, and because coho are the most excitable of the five species, once they are locked on, inevitably bite. I discovered this in late fall fishing on rivers, after the main floods have passed. When you draw a spinner across a coho in knee deep water within 18 inches of its face, it starts to follow.

I noticed coho will follow 30 feet, and if they get to the stage of first looking at the lure from one eye and then changing to get a good look from the other eye, that they are locking on, and once this rapid side to side head movement starts they will bite every single time.

Add to this to remember that the faster your speed, the more it reduces leader length. That means that chinook plastics on 34-inch leaders, when sped up, their action becomes faster and more erratic, ie, the equivalent of a shorter leader. This means you don’t have to carry two boxes: one of longer leaders for chinook, and one of shorter leaders for coho.

Finally, spoons make great sense. The advantage in spoons is that they keep on working when all other types of tackle have problems. For example, if you slow down or speed up, you will want to check bait because it is easily damaged. And hootchy fronds can and do wrap around hooks.

The new Coho Killers have that slim silhouette thing, and look pretty sexy for coho fishing. Do remember though, that they are not stainless and thus rust. You should carry some Brasso (or fine grit sandpaper) to polish the lure – and make sure to get the scent off the lure. And change the hook, because, for some unknown reason, they use freshwater hooks, and they rust as soon as they see salt water coming. 

Tin spoons bend far too easily, so it is hard to keep the shape of the lure out of the box. Memorize it the first time you put it out. If it catches fish, observe what the lure looks like, taking care not to bend it, of course, and if it bends, return it to fish catching shape it had before it caught the fish.

On the other hand, if the lure catches nothing, or gets wildly out of shape during the catching phase, either add an asymmetric bend, or return it to the shape it had.

Now, when you have that coho doing its roll thing at the side of the boat, be ready to slip that net under it the moment it ceases, for it will do it again in short order. As we all know: fortune favours the bold, and the only Latin we all know is: Carpe diem means seize the fish.

Some coho policy considerations: 

If DFO focussed on habitat restoration, much of the problem with low, wild numbers, particularly Interior coho, would disappear. No one can change ocean survival rates, but doing the best for our fish on the spawning beds is something that can be done. (There is, of course, a caveat to be mentioned – if DFO says the problem is ocean survival, but bases that comment on low return numbers, that is a whole different issue from measuring the ocean and finding it actually has low survival conditions. For example, the problem could be changing water conditions in inside waters that kills fry, and not open ocean survival at all, unless you have done the actual tests to prove it).

And for the sake of fisheries, hatchery diploid or triploid coho would be a good idea as they would not compete on spawning beds, and with low numbers of wild coho, competition at sea is not the problem. The Pacific Salmon Foundation study on the Salish Sea is a great idea for addressing the problems in inside waters. So, Strait of Georgia coho and chinook numbers, an area that competition between diploided and wild fish may prove a deciding factor on where to enhance which stocks.

All anglers with experience can remember blueback fishing in January in Saanich Inlet, and Georgia Strait up to five pounds in April to June. Winchelsea Islands comes to mind. It was the case that as the smaller outbound fish were ending, the first of the returnees had already arrived back in our waters. June was a big month in kelp beds on the outside of Van Isle.


1.      The Salmon Outlook document on which fishery plans are based:
2.      These are the regulations for salmon retention in the Victoria area:
3.      I will be doing the pink fly fishing thing on the north island for the next two weeks, so no articles until after I come back, circa August 5.
1638 Words

Sunday, 10 July 2016

On the Flats

For a number of reasons, The Oak Bay Flats can be an odd place to fish. For instance, except for the occasional bump, it is pretty much flat for a couple of miles of under water real estate that spreads the fish out because there are no well defined edges or structure.

The predominant feed is needlefish (on the bottom, although there were herring balls on the surface when I fished last week) and this affects lure and bait size. In lures, slim and short, for example Coho Killers and squirts over hootchies. In bait, small to medium, which has a bearing on presentation because the wire of a wired bait head wants to puncture the skin on insertion in smaller/shorter bait, which damages it, leading to shredding during letting the tackle down and during fishing. You have to check it more frequently because shredded bait won’t catch fish.

It also causes a problem while setting the spiral you prefer – tail following the head in a spiral rather than in a spin diameter that exceeds that of the head’s spiral diameter. The reason is that you set the spiral with the latter third of the bait, and thus the wire. If the wire isn’t inside the fish, you can’t set the bend where it needs to be. Not to mention that it adds something hard to come in contact with the fishes’ mouth, dissuading some not to chomp down for a clean hook set.

And there are problems with the angler’s bait preparation. Usually, I fish a previous day’s bait tray along with a new one. In between I cover the bait with pickling salt and put it in a flat Tupperware container that accommodates the bait’s foam tray. Then I fire it in the freezer.

Salt shrinks the bait some, but also toughens it, making it easier to handle during insertion in the bait head and threading in the wire. It also holds its spiral better than untreated bait. What is lost in shine, is gained in presentation, as well as being able to trust that it will shred less easily with a rocket descent and last longer during fishing, thus less wasted time bringing it up to check and lowering again.

I was well away from the dock with a full, old tray of bait – no new tray – when I discovered that having set it in the sun (something hard to avoid on a boat) on my last trip, and, more importantly, forgotten to put on the salt, found the bait a bit rotten and far too soft.  Thus several were ruined trying to thread the wire, as the skin stripped off too easily. Also a couple’s body cavity came open during fishing, spilling brown intestines, not to mention off-gassing the smell of ho-hum bait.

So I had little confidence in the bait spiralling and not shredding while fishing. This is the Flat’s fault, not mine. I say this because I realized sometime ago that a rationalization is always made in your own favour, and thus blaming it on the Flats made me feel better.

And then there is the problem of fishing pattern. In the past, the Flats were fished as a square, always turning to port, that extended from in front of the Great Chain Islets, say 80- to 130-feet of depth. These days it is far more common for boats to fish on a diagonal sighting on one tack, the south end of Trial Island, and on the other, the south end of Discovery Island.

And it is more common to fish the 110- to 140-foot depths, even though you can catch fish all the way in to the Great Chain Islands, ie, 60 feet deep (and I caught a 20 pounder last year right off the golf course point, in 50 feet of water).

The other odd thing is that the Flats are conflicted water. Both tide and current present themselves at the same time, and you can go one direction and be bucking the current at one moment then running fast with the tide in the next. This affects how long you are going to fish your tack, before turning to go back – you catch far more fish fishing with the tide. It becomes abundantly clear when tide/current are against you that the point where you expect to catch fish takes ages to get to, and thus you can be fishing in less fishy water for a longer period of your finite fishing time.

Then there is rod spread pattern, which, in all seasons, is one rod right on the bottom with the other(s) staged above it, so that you only have to deal with one rod’s downrigger when the ball drags on bottom. Pick the rod most easily seen from the captain’s chair.

Despite all these oddities, the gods did reward me last week. I landed the dinner requisition of a 6-pound hatchery, male, Puget Sound chinook, and had two bites that were not landed, all on bait with a Super Betsy flasher, right on the bottom. I tried other gear, in Coho Killers, the green Splatterback, White Lightning and all silver, as well as one of the Flat’s mainstay plastics, an Irish Mist squirt. No luck.

But I retained my Hunter and Gatherer, male-guy button by bringing home the bacon, er, salmon.

Final notes:

1.      The South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition is having a Sooke Town Hall Meeting, Tuesday July 12th, 7:00 p.m., at the Sooke Community Hall, 2037 Shields Road, in Sooke. These are the people bringing us the net-pen chinook for orcas and a few for us, so please support them. Everyone welcome, and a free event.

2.      The Island Anglers Tip of the Week is a good one this week: “Avoid the crowds. When you see lots of boats fishing in a small area, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are lots of fish there, just lots of anglers. And the more anglers, the more gear in the water competing for what fish that may be there. Usually, you’re better off to fish away from the crowd with less competition for those fish that are willing to bite.”

These are good points and I would add that it is best to decide on your fishing plan before getting out on the water, so that you are fishing where you want to be. By actively deciding ahead of time, including your reasons why, makes you a better fisher in the long run.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Roderick Haig-Brown Award

I arrived back in Victoria last Sunday having spent as much time over the weekend in airports and airplanes as being in Ottawa receiving the above, national award. I was very pleased to receive it, as it came out of the blue for work I do simply to stand for wild Pacific salmon. 

Excuse me while I blush, but here is part of the write up about the award:

“D.C. Reid is one of Canada’s leading writers on sport fishing and fisheries policy. He has published articles in more than 50 newspapers, magazines and websites and is the author of 12 books, including novels, non-fiction and collections of poetry inspired by his outdoor experiences. Among them are titles such as Fishing for Dreams, a memoir of his angling experiences on the west coast of B.C., and Vancouver Island Fishing Guide, the go-to reference for sport fishers. Reid, who was born in Calgary and now lives in Victoria, has written extensively on ending the environmentally damaging practice of open-water fish farming.  For his leadership and dedication, D.C. Reid is being presented CWF’s Roderick Haig-Brown Award for the conservation and wise use of recreational fisheries in Canada.”

I should add that my poetry has been published in another 50 magazines around the world and translated into Hindi, Spanish and Chinese. My next fishing-related book is: A Man and His River, a memoir, that will, I hope, appear in 2018. Also, I am working toward a book on cutting-edge brain science and creativity. I have widely divergent, deep interests.

On the fish farm side, you may know my site,, on the damage caused by in-ocean fish farms around the world. It has become a mainstream place to find info and links to global problems, and its page views will exceed 200,000 in August.

The site summarizes 20,000 pages of fish farm science and gives the reader links to follow up what I am saying. The bottom line is that fish farms need to be on land or go back to Norway where their own government is so fed up with their damage, it is giving out free licences to set up on land, a $9- to $12-million subsidy based on the in-ocean auction price for a licence.

By comparison, in BC, with a measly $5,000 per licence, our effective subsidy for fish farms to use our ocean as a free, open sewer is: $1.17- to $1.56-billion. In economics speak, releasing untreated sewage is an externality, for which the industry does not pay – we taxpayers pay for it. The most common example of an externality is that we all drive cars but we don’t pay for their pollution. It is absorbed by society.

Where I don’t find published figures for numbers, I figure them out. I had the great good fortune to have worked as an analyst in Treasury Board Staff, Ministry of Finance, where it was standard stuff to be presented with an issue that by the end of the day a 1-page briefing note needed to be written with the best stats deduced in the day, that had better be better than a room full of IBM Deep Blues. This gave me a method to analyse almost anything.

On sewage cost, I estimate, conservatively, that fish farms have released $10.4 billion worth into our ocean, an amount equal to the sewage of the entire human population of BC. I did a whole lot of work to get to what I think is a reliable figure.

I looked at sewage treatment in Victoria (ha, ha), in the CRD, Vancouver, GVRD, Calgary, Ottawa, Halifax, and fish farm sewage in Scotland and Norway; in the latter, it far exceeds the human population of 8 million. Then I read a number of riveting (not really) scientific papers on sewage treatment, for example the one from Nova Scotia is excellent. I also talked with the engineers of the Calgary, Bonnybrook Wastewater Plant that serves a million people.

Add to this: the number of operating fish farms in BC, average number of fish, fish/human sewage relationship, the cost of a municipal system and number of people served, and it is pretty straightforward to calculate the sewage cost that we taxpayers absorb – $10.4 Billion. This conservative figure could be three times as high at the high end, and is further made conservative because DFO has granted some more licences since I made the calculation (an additional $924 million sewage that we eat, er, pay for).

In Ottawa I had the great good fortune to talk with Elizabeth Day, Green Party leader, who also won an award, as well as Mel Arnold, PC fisheries critic, and connect with Fin Donnelly of the NDP, also a fisheries critic for his party. I will be helping them in the background with stats, info and policy.
I came to the conclusion that in-ocean fish farms are not justifiable on environmental and economic grounds. For a Pacific Salmon Foundation editorial, I looked at the stats for fishing related revenue (commercial, processing, fishing in salt- and fresh-water – all species) and found that the estimate we normally use of $1 billion is actually low. 

When I recalculated it, it came to $2.52 billion, vastly more than the $469 million from fish farms. Here is how I figured it out: BC Stats goes on to say that the GPP figure for all of aquaculture is a small $61.9 million while the rest of the sector’s economic contribution is more than $600 million, i.e., ten times larger. See the BC Stats table:

Finally, Ken Ashley, Director of Rivers Institute, did an op-ed in the TC a week ago. He pointed out that sewage is a revenue stream and needs to be kept and used, not thrown away. Much engineering work these days is in those applications. In addition, sewage that reaches the sea doesn’t disappear. Instead, it gets bio-accumulated up the food chain to apex predators like salmon and killer whales. We don’t want that. See:

Thank you to all the people who sent congrats. I am happy.

Next week: back to fishing.