Sunday, 25 September 2016

Chinook Brood Stock Time - Nitinat River

Here are a few videos I took of brood stock being loaded at Red Rock Pool.

I have not edited the clips so this is raw footage with no titles or stabilization. And the Google/Youtube streaming rate seems to be down with some break-up. If you view these at their small size, or on a laptop, the resolution is better.

Chinook Brood Stock Time

September is the time the Nitinat Hatchery takes chinook brood stock to be milked into pails of shining red eggs. This year, when the time came, there had been enough rain that available chinook had taken to the river, rather than need to be netted in the Lake near the First Nation town of Ditidaht.

The three major hatcheries – the Nitinat, Robertson Creek and Conuma – on Van Isle’s West Coast have had reduced numbers of returnees this year, with only 7,000 for the Nitinat, when last year’s figure, was nearer to 20,000 if my memory is correct. Last year, fish were evenly seeded from bottom to top of the river, and I released many from top to bottom, most of which were fat and happy 25- to 35-pound fish (i.e., a greater than usual number of five-year-old fish).

Typically, one catches chinook with a dink float setup and the wool at fish eye level gets mouthed as it passes. It is not usual for chinook to take spinners and spoons, but last year there were many takers, meaning the fish were willing to detach themselves from the school and chase down the lure. This past week, I was fishing in the pool below Red Rock when I heard the unmistakable sound of a jet boat. I had just finished landing a beautiful female 13-pound, hatchery coho and though it was hooked by the skin of its teeth, it stayed on the line long enough for me to make the hundred-yard trek to shore. 

Thence a proper cleaning to keep it fresh, and then stuck in knee deep water with a long stick into the gravel so the shady seagulls did not take to it. I waded back to waist deep water. Swell, I thought, I sure hope they don’t fish here. With visions of been swamped by a wake and with my fish scattered, I cast back out in hopes of another fish before boatageddon. 

After five minutes and lots of hollering from the boat, which I assumed meant that a healthy amount of Lucky had been consumed before 8:00 AM, it dawned on me that the boat wasn’t coming down straight at me, but was doing something in Red Rock Pool. A few minutes later, I realized it was the hatchery guys come to collect brood stock.

When I wandered up to the boat launch, sure enough, they had corralled hundreds of fish and the net was slowly pulled in to the boat launch, effectively concentrating the fish in a very small space. The process of capturing the fish proved very interesting to watch.

Someone with a sure grip because of the special stubbly gloves that were worn, nabbed the fish by the anal peduncle, or the wrist of the tail, then the fish was sloooshed into a fish tube (mesh ends to let water rush in or drain out) with a zipper that closed, and the tube, diameter of 24 inches and 5 feet long, was placed in a row in the water, close to where the trucks pulled in.

The trucks have containers that look a couple of hundred gallons each, with air bubbled in for O2. Once  about ten fish tubes were lined up with fish in them in the shallows, two groups of two guys, would lift the water- and fish-filled bags up one at a time, in one movement to chest level, water cascading over everyone, then two guys on the truck grabbed the bag and emptied the fish into the tank.

I believe the truck held 20 to 40 fish, sex recorded by an enumerator who was as wet as everyone else, so they could reach their needed numbers. Volunteers for Sooke, along with Sarita helped the chore, a very labour, meaning muscle, intensive exercise. And great humour that the fish nabber, got the old face wash dozens of times while tracking down the best fish.

The other fish nabbed by the fine mesh net included coho, which a volunteer kept a few for himself. As I was taking video and stills, I didn’t want to get close enough to ask for one for myself to complete my limit, largely because I thought I would be thrust a fish and detailed into helping everyone else. I was a civilian by my reckoning and recording the act for posterity had its own value.

I have put four videos on Dropbox, and anyone who wants a link to view them, just send me an email and you can take a look at what once the deed is done, if it weren’t filmed, was not recorded for everyone to see. A shame for such a neat example of what we do in BC to help salmon.

The trucks, once loaded, sloshed their way to the hatchery, several miles a way, where I believe they were put back in water to be held to maturity and then spawned. Then the trucks trundled back to a line of waiting fish tubes and their salmon. Other fish included some Coho and Chinook Jacks, a few cutthroat and a slew of Jimmies, as the hatchery calls one-year 2015 chinook males that spent time in the lake/estuary and came back in with the mature fish. They look like a cross between a pink salmon and chinook - brown spots on body and tail, but lots of teeth in a black mouth and the unmistakable smell of a chinook.

Here are some shots: 

Fish cornered in the net:


Fish in the water and loaded into fish tubes:

Fish loaded into the truck tank:


More fish loaded into the truck tank:


Even more fish being loaded, and everyone getting wet:


A fine catch of fresh Diet Coke:

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Coho Beaches and Rivers

Now is the time that shore anglers can get in on the annual coho runs that migrate through our area, as well as those that move into local rivers. Vancouver Island has 123 different watersheds, many of which support coho.

At this time of year, you can find coho milling the marine markers waiting for the trigger for them to move into fresh water: rain. The best time to fish for coho is the crack of dawn, followed by a flood from the ebb. The moving water brings the fish into the estuarial end of rivers and their beaches.

The closest fishery is in Sooke Basin, with Billings Spit and Whiffen Spit being good places to try. Spinners are the lure of choice for gear guys, with flies with tinsel or other metallic flash material for fly guys. In this and other mixed fisheries, it makes sense for fly guys to practice back and out casting, and thus you can stand beside gear guys and get in on the action.

Back and out casting has as its first step, laying some of the fly line directly out in front of you, and using the water’s grip to load the rod during your back cast. Then coming forward, the line you have managed in your stripping hand is released and you are fishing comfortably with gear guys. One of the reasons is that most beaches have shallow slopes, and thus reaching the fish zone is far quicker and easier than in a pool of, say, 15 feet deep. The other thing that allows both gear types to get along is that false casting, with all of its line waving around everyone, is eliminated.

Both spots on the Basin can accommodate both kinds of gear. Out in Port Renfrew, which reaches its peak the third week in September, as in this week, the pool is so large, and distances so great, that fly fishing does not work well with gear.

Lures of choice for beach gear fishing include spinners such as Bolos, and Blue Fox, in sizes 4 and 5, as well as spoons, such as the extensive line from Gibbs - Illusion, Ironhead, Kit-A-Mat and so on, which are high weight to volume lures that help casting distance in wide open areas. And, of course, the crusty Buzz Bomb, Perk and Perkins lures will also work. 

On the Pacheedaht side is the deep crease where chinook hold, near the bottom. The heavier lures are more useful for plumbing the depths and I have seen many 30 pounders pulled from the water. Do make a point of asking local aboriginals if they mind you fishing on their side of the pool.

Do note that you are more likely to keep a coho in saltwater, as its rules, generally, offer broader retention. The boundary between salt and fresh is usually arbitrary, the bridge in Renfrew being the designated line, even though the tide goes a good mile beyond. In Sooke, the tide goes up from the boundary – the bridge – almost two miles, but freshwater rules apply.

And other places that saltwater rules apply on Highway 14 to Renfrew include: Muir Creek, Tugwell Creek, Point No Point, and Loss Creek. Once coho are at the estuaries, the biggest push into freshwater happens on the first huge rain of autumn. The San Juan is the best close by example of this. Watch the weather, know your river, and when the monsoon comes, make a date to float from the Harris/San Juan confluence, or from the Harris Bridge, to the pool that is at the end of the track which is the last right turn before the Harris Bridge.

In that fishery, expect blown water. It is not a fly fishery during this deluge. Bring out your biggest spoons and gold ones that transmit better in water clarity that is less than three feet. You will have to cast more frequently at the deep, soft water spots and where you see coho touching the surface. The San Juan has the largest coho on the island, so there is a real possibility of catching a 20 pounder. Set your drag tight, as the coho do the coho roll thing and you are just not landing them if your drag is set at steelhead range. 

The other obvious fishery is the Stamp. It receives early coho that start arriving in the first week in September. So it can be a blue sky day. The best spot for those who do not know the river well is the Gun Club run. Stop in at Gone Fishin,, the local tackle shop, buy something, then ask directions. It is out Beaver Creek Road, and you are looking for the left turn that takes you down to the Range.

You will be asked to sign-in to park your car. The trail to the left of the Club will take you up river. The Bucket back to the Club is almost a mile and has some good water in this stretch as well as a major pool right beside the Club. From there learn the other good coho access points, while you pay your dues to understand the river. (Note that the trail continues up stream from the Bucket, should you want to look at other water).

It takes a decade to understand any river, and thus you should look at putting in this time on many rivers to come to know them. On the east side, try the beaches of the Big and Little Q. Salmon Point for the Oyster, and the Campbell River. The last has the virtue of being a controlled flow river because of its dam, and thus low water is seldom a problem.

The Campbell also has all three fishing types, uncommon for a river on the Island: gear, artificial fly and fly fishing only, so it gives access to all. Many rivers north of there also have coho runs and are worth learning when you are on a several day trip – try the Fisherboy at Sayward Junction for a hotel. 

The Salmon has a pool right beside the highway where you can catch coho. The other accesses are worth getting a guide for, to learn the ropes. Just don’t lit him see you hit a waypoint on your GPS, something you do at the access point and at the river – the two can be some distance apart.

Many rivers lie north from Sayward, and you should gain some knowledge on the Nimpkish, our largest river, the beaches at the Cluxewe, Keogh and finally at the Quatse estuary in Port Hardy. There are many more rivers on Vancouver Island to try, and they are out there just waiting for you to find them.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Fly Casting Tips

I went fly fishing with a friend last week and noticed he had some habits that were preventing him from casting well, as in distance, as the most important, making placement of fly a distant second. Part of the etiquette of fly fishing is that you don’t comment on anyone’s casting, unless they ask for some. He asked.

First I told him to stand below me and cast first, as I wanted him to catch fish, and because I could cast further than he could, meaning I could catch fish that he couldn’t reach. In addition, I said to take a step after every cast, and followed up by continually moving downstream and forcing him to move. This is a very important point when you fish for steelhead because they will come from much farther away than 10 feet, so you are always moving. 

Second, I was surprised to see that he did not use the second finger of his rod hand to strip line over. The problem is that there is nothing to anchor the line between strips, meaning it could actually be moving backwards out the line guides between strips. It also makes it more difficult to grab the line with your stripping hand as the line can move around without the anchor of the rod hand, and also that water current could move the stripped line, resulting in missed strips, not to mention missing fish if a bite occurs when no hand is holding the line.

I also gave him a stripping finger ‘glove’. I make several dozen from time to time out of spandex. Measure the circumference of your stripping finger, add a quarter inch, fold the spandex in half and run a seam an eighth of an inch from the joined edges, (meaning you have used up that quarter inch). Turn the glove inside out, and voila, you have a stripping glove.

And then I made him start stripping over the rod finger. The glove’s purpose is two fold: it is far more sensitive than your skin, and you pick up bites quicker and thus successfully hook more fish; and, a wet, ungloved finger gets that wrinkled-from-being-in-a-bathtub-for-a-very-long-time skin, and thus it impedes line and you register this as a strike and strike the rod, taking it out of the fishing zone, when no fish has actually struck.

The next thing was that he fished with his rod tip in the air. It is very important in both gear and fly fishing (but not mended mono to a rod tip for float fishing) to put your rod tip in the water in front of you. You have full room to strike a fish, and thus you hook more fish.

Once he had a fish on the line, he turned sideways, putting his rod parallel to the water. It is better technique to learn to always have the rod tip in the air allowing the rod to fight the fish. (If you disagree with this, do the opposite, which is point the rod at the fish, and see how many you lose). Once the basic technique is mastered, the occasional horizontal approach becomes useful for turning a fish in fast water, something of much use in fishing steelhead.

The other issue is that once a fish was on the line, he had trouble getting it in, which lead to the sideways turn, rather than stripping while turning the reel rim to lift stripped line in the water, so as to get the fish on the reel as soon as possible. You have to do both things at the same time, and it takes awhile to get this down.

He also had the habit of dropping stripped line in the water in front of him. The alternative, something that took me more than a year to get down, is managing line. Based on how much line you have cast, you strip it back in sequentially shorter loops, hanging the longest loop on your pinky finger, the next longest on your third finger and so on.

When it comes time to cast, you have lifted all that line out of water’s grip, and thus immediately can cast further, as you are not making the cast line pull the line from the water, something that becomes very obvious in fast flowing water, that takes the line downstream and further grips the line. You teach yourself to point your fingers at the departing line on your forward cast. The purpose is to let the line move freely and, most importantly, don’t end up with a loop over a finger and a failed cast.

An example of the line management loop length is: 12 strips, first loop; 10 strips, second loop; 8 strips, third loop. The purpose of different length loops is so they will not tangle, and will shoot out. Do remember that if you get tangled loops, they are loop within loop, and thus, technically not a knot, you just slowly pull a loop through the ‘knot’ to solve the problem. Don’t tug on the line, as it will make the ‘knot’ tighter.

Finally, he was casting by slowly feeding line into the cast with a half dozen false casts and ending up with a 40-foot cast. I judged that teaching him to double haul was still a bit much to take in on the same day as line management. But, the basics are: lift the rod tip from the water in increasing speed, and stop at 12 o’clock. At the same time, you pull or haul on the line with your stripping hand, with the hand coming back to the rod as the line unfurls behind you. Then your rod tip drifts back to 2 PM. 

For the forward cast, bring the rod tip forward and haul the line with your stripping hand, bringing it back to the rod. Then stop the rod tip on the forward cast. The closer you can make the tip stop to 12 o’clock, the tighter the bullet you are putting into the line, as it casts out in front of you. Finally, let the rod tip drift forward, and then down to the water. 

Double hauling is easy to write in a couple of paragraphs, but mastering it takes years, and there are days when the best caster flounders, but typically, good casters can analyze what they are doing wrong, and correct it over the day’s casting.

At a deep pool where we ended, he was catching some big fish right in front of him. The reason was that his tip had more sink in it, and the large fish were indeed holding in deep water right in front of him. My tip had less sink, and so it was hard to reach the deeper fish. So he caught a lot of fish and improved his casting in the same day, something that seldom happens.

And here is a nice image of a cutthroat he caught, fly line, fly and finger glove: