Sunday, 14 May 2017

Summertime and the Fishing Is Easy

Were Gershwin alive today, and living in Victoria, he would have written the classic Porgy and Bess tune about lolling on his deck, feet up, singing: “The fish are jumping, and anticipation is high.” As it is, we can all change the words to his fine blues tune, and enjoy fishing just the same.

And the first thing you should do before consigning your bait – bait is the best – to the shallow waters big fish find themselves in, is change the line on your reels, so you don’t lose the big one when it gives you a chance at immortality.

This past winter, I had a gear problem with flasher spin, resulting in mainline spin, and a great big tangle on the downrigger, that I solved by biting the line, holding both ends and tying several granny knots 80 feet from the tackle end, still clipped into the downrigger. But now, with the bigger fish of summer, it’s time to reload all reels. And get those one-way drags serviced as well. You might even consider a classy Islander or other quality single action reel, for ‘Father’s’ day, or your own day. 

I should add that spin transmitted up the mainline is the result of having no, not enough, or faulty, ball bearing swivels between it and the lure at the tag end. So, change those swivels as well, with quality ones. You might try taking the salt-encrusted ones home and soaking in oil, or WS 40. Don’t do so on the boat, as the smell simply drifts back to the tackle end where Mr. Big is inspecting. 
Vaseline has the least smell of all the greases, and serves double purpose in your canvas snaps on the female side.

When I moved to the coast in 1975, Alec Merriman was writing the fishing column at the TC and the King Fisherman Contest list was stacked with more big springs than you could shake a Shimano trolling rod at. These days, we are fishing rationed-out Fraser 4-2s and 5-2s in the early days of summer.

Summer fishing does begin in May with the first of the Columbians through local approach waters west of Sheringham Point. As June progresses, the fish begin moving past Otter Point, the Trap Shack, Beechey Head, Aldridge Point and Creyke inside the bay, then found at the Bedford Islands, Church Rock, and so on. Some years ago, a young lad caught a 50-pound spring off the Turkey Head and actually landed it without a net. He staggered up, slimed from head to toe, but who cares, to Oak Bay Marina to weigh a fish that weighed the better part of what he did.

The reason chinook on their spawning route are close to shore is that they taste the water as they zero in on their natal streams – and of course, being closer to shore grants a greater chance at swimming directly into an estuary. Always structure conscious, spawning-bound chinook present themselves in shallower, and thus easier to reach, water. One of the rules of fishing is: the shallower the water the greater your chances of finding the fish zone.

On the other hand, the Fraser, with its huge alluvial plume can be seen from space to curl south and across to Active Pass. The water floats on top of the greater specific gravity saltwater and thus, swimming in the surface layer, allows chinook to pick up the Fraser scent and follow it across the deeper Salish Sea, to once-again pick up the shallows near Lulu Island.

See the BC Ferries photo that shows how pronounced the plume is: 

Seldom found in more than 75 feet of water, chinook, move along at their idling speed of 1.5 knots per hour. That constant low speed is why they end up in back eddies on the ebb – they are swimming slower than the ebb tide flow, and thus can make no head way around the point. In our area, they are also moving east, then north toward the Fraser, a few to Georgia Strait and the rest then south to Puget Sound. Fishing through the ebb in back eddies is a greater percentage tactic. Along Victoria, this includes the Ogden Point Breakwater, Brotchie Ledge, Clover Point and so on. In fact, the entire area between Clover and the Breakwater is a back eddy on the ebb.

I should add that in some waters, it is the end of the flood that grants the greater number of chinook. Two examples are Owen Point in Port Renfrew, and Creyke/Aldridge Points, closer to Victoria. In Port Renfrew, that pattern is so pronounced that you don’t really have to get up early to put yourself on the water at the crack of dawn; your chances are greater at the end of the flood. In other words, do ask for information before going out, as you can have the general drift down, but the specific location, may be different from the rule.

But do note in the location you fish - before you fish - what areas have the most distinct structural features. Structure makes the tide flow around, or above the structure, in the case of banks, like Constance, that do not break the surface. And Constance has several bumps on the south west side to get to know, as well as the lip on the west end. 

The other thing is that returning salmon also stage in areas as they ripen. They tend to circle an area for a week or two and then move on. This behaviour is more pronounced in the other four species of salmon. In the case of chum, they can give the appearance of staging when in fact they are moving through constantly, until terminal, where they once again stage; this is the case north of Campbell River off Brown’s Bay. Here, as many as 2,000,000 chum pass through giving the impression of staging. Along with this Fraser cohort, east side rivers are home to many chum runs, which typically comprise the highest number of salmon per species. 

A 100,000-chinook run is rare indeed, but with chum, it is common. As chum are big fish, they are the ones that most benefit the forest when toted up by obliging bears in fall, after they’ve been leaning back enjoying a brewsky and pining about summer never ending, and waiting for those fish to be jumping. I can almost hear them sing.
Next week, lures. Do look at the wire-rigging column: Blow up the images to see how the wire is rigged. I have turned some of the teaser heads over in one of the images so that you can see how the wire is mounted from both sides of the head. All the teasers featured will catch fish, some summer and some winter.

1,144 Words

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Ultra Violet and Glow in Fishing Lures

We have been fishing ultra violet and glow-in-the-dark fishing lures for decades. I previously wrote on what Jack James of Radiant Lures discovered in these properties, and Super Tackle carries on the tradition; each of its lures, skirts and so on that have these properties, note it on the package, as well as, now, there is a five ‘star’ rating on the amount in a particular lure.

But, first, what are these properties? Ultra violet colours are beyond the visual spectrum range that humans can see; but many predatory animals can see such wavelengths and use the ability to locate prey, particularly in lower light to find and zero in on lunch, that is reflecting these shades. In other words, lots of prey species in the ocean reflect ultraviolet. Infrared is also a wavelength frequency, seen by fish, but not by humans.

Glow is a different type of property. A common example would be the glow-green spoon, we typically call a Coyote, regardless of its manufacturer. Glow is the emission of photons from the lure, so that it is giving off light, rather than simply reflecting a particular wavelength. The best example of a photon emitter is the sun. It gives off light, streaming massive numbers of photons out into space. 

When you charge a glow lure with a flashlight, camera flash, or even the sun, it stores photons and then releases them over time. Once all photos have been released, the lure fails to glow. Many hootchies have glow as well as UV properties, both very useful in combination.

Returning to ultra-violet, take a look at the spectrum of light beyond the human visual range, ie, ultra violet and other ultra colours, on the Super Tackle website. The importance for lures is that ultra colours can be seen by salmon down to 125 feet, on their graph, but one can take an ultraviolet lamp down hundreds of feet in the ocean, and once turned on, ultra-violet will be reflected from many animals. 

If a predator can see its feed better, zeroing in on the natural ultra-violet reflections from feed – note that this is an evolutionary trait developed over the eons by predators for more successful feeding – it will whack something it can see. It will not whack what it can’t see.

So, it is easy to, er, see, why lures with ultraviolet properties have developed. On the coast, we have been using such hues for decades, but if you follow freshwater lures, manufacturers ‘discovered’ ultraviolet in the last five years and are heavy into adding this to bass plugs, as well as spinners and spoons. Note that the latter are the go-to lure choice in fall river fishing for coho. Also note that these lures are used in surface water depths, particularly murky rivers during and after a rainfall.

I fly fish in freshwater 10 months of the year, but carry a baitcaster and spinners/spoons for two months in the fall for fishing coho. Some years the Mepps Aglia glow spinner is the best colour for that season, others, the usual colour progression prevails from early fall into early winter. I always carry the glow colour to try early in the season. If it doesn’t work, I switch up early.

In saltwater, ultraviolet was also added to bucktails about the same time by Radiant and others, which are surface saltwater lures, typically fished in the top 25 feet, fast, for coho. Similarly, sockeye, which also used to run in the top layer of the water column, feed primarily on krill and crustaceans, both reflecting lots of UV, and the first lures that took them were Krippled-Ks short behind a flasher.

Infrared, another range of wavelength, is also useful, particularly in fall when the sun is lower on the horizon and more infrared penetrates the atmosphere and clouds than the rest of the visible spectrum. This is why we used to use red Hotspots and the original Super Betsy flasher. (These days, O’ki’s Super Betsy comes in a range of a half dozen related colours based on green, lemon and plaid, which also makes them more useful in winter, than a red, infrared based flasher. O’Ki’s also have quality ball bearing swivels on the top and bottom of the flasher, a real advantage, particularly with bait – because of line twist from a spiraling lure – and that bearings/swivels over time get coated with crud from corrosive saltwater, and sooner or later fail).

As we all know, coho, pink and sockeye, started running deeper a decade ago, to 110 feet in open waters in the Victoria/Juan de Fuca area which makes infrared a less valuable colour component than the other two qualities. Why they changed is anyone’s guess, but I would say the likely reason is that we have caught the high flyers for decades and now, the deep runners are what is left of the runs, so we fish deeper than we used to. On the other hand, this doesn’t answer whether krill now run deeper, or the sockeye zap to the surface to feed and then descend once again.

As for glow, some lures have far more photon-emitting qualities in their components. One of the Radiant spoons with a cream glow colour would emit visible light all night long, as I found out by hanging one from my book shelf some years ago. Thus, they are far more useful fished at depth in winter, because we often run our lures at depth for more than 20 minutes, particularly spoons, by which time regular glow lures have stopped emitting visible light – and had better have some UV properties.

Try some lures at home as I did. Some glow far longer than others – you want to use those ones. I have some Super Tackle Ghost Shrimp hootchies that Jack told me glow for hours. They are now on my book shelf awaiting darkness for me to see how long they emit photons. You can check UV qualities of lures with a black light, in the dark.

Finally, you can now buy specifically made torches to charge glow lures. There are now glow, as well as, UV beads to use in hootchy rigging. And there are LED light cylinders for inside hootchies, halibut sized hootchies and spreader bars.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Where We Go With Salmon

The well-known 1956 photo – a west coast classic taken by Alec Merriman, TC sport-fishing writer – showing Jack Seedhouse on the left, 10 Nahmint estuary, tyee chinook, and Jimmy Gilbert on the right, gives evidence of the salmon largesse that was common in BC not long ago.


Today, such fishing has disappeared because the responsibility for maintaining it has also disappeared – that means DFO. We have had many commissions/reports over the decades, including the Pearse and 2012 Cohen Commission, the Parliamentary Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in 2017, the Royal Society in 2012 and so on.

My Environmental Petition through the federal Auditor General asked for the disaggregated budget and actual FTEs (full time equivalents) for each of Cohen’s 75 recommendations. As an answer, I received mush. I know it is mush because I used to write such mush in the Ministry of Finance in BC. In addition, I drafted more than 5,000 minister’s letters during my stint. 

You can go to the link below and read Minister Shea’s response to my AG EP 353 in 2013. She does not give actual budget disbursements, nor actual numbers of people for each recommendation. Instead the response mushes together groups of recs, lumps them into ‘themes’, and shies away from $$ unless it serves the purpose to put some broad brush unspecified attribution there.

Here is the answer for DFO responsibilities, recs 1,2 and 3: “The roles and responsibilities of the Minister and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with respect to decisions related to fisheries management and fish habitat within federal jurisdiction are clearly communicated to First Nations, other governments and stakeholders. This includes making conservation the first priority in the delivery of regulatory responsibilities.”

Mush. Note that Cohen told DFO the responsibility for wild salmon and fish farms was a conflict of interest, and DFO had to get back to only wild salmon. Look at the image above and read the last paragraph again. Mush.

I just finished, A Stain Upon the Coast, and the chapters from former DFO staffers, Otto Langer, and Rosella M. Leslie, make clear that to DFO in Ottawa ‘any fish is a good fish’ and with their neo-liberalist slant, Ottawa has no interest in wild BC salmon, only easy to grow farmed ones. There are lots of good people in DFO in BC, but Ottawa is moribund. And it has a different agenda.

So, where do we go with salmon? As habitat restoration is the most important of the top four issues – DFO, habitat restoration, fish farms and climate change – I think BC has to take back the responsibility, with funding coming to rest at the Pacific Salmon Foundation, with its great ability to leverage funds disbursed to individuals, orgs and businesses. I have noted before that with some matching funding from the province and Ottawa, we would have more than $20 million per year.
CEO Brian Riddell is a good man, and did his stint in Ottawa, before coming back here to finish out his career. Lucky us to have a connected person, during a transition period.

With local watershed partners – whose big interest, after all, is their own streams – many, many more projects can be undertaken than presently is the case.

Here are a few big-ticket items: 

Science: A Gene Bank of all the 9562 strains of salmon in BC. We need to have on record all the genetic diversity that our salmon possess for adaptation to specific bodies of freshwater, for example, the more than 100 strains of Fraser sockeye. It is already possible to sequence DNA synthetically, and at some point, with a delivery method, say a carrier viral molecule, we can re-enhance remaining wild stocks. Then those progeny are put in the stream where the genes came from and get on with what they do naturally.

More science: A Living Gene Bank. The BC Ministry of Environment and Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC did such a project for wild summer steelhead. The purpose was to enhance a number of runs, for example, Qualicum, Keogh, Tsitika, with first generation broodstock, and then let the run re-establish itself. The main aim was to eliminate as much as possible, the interference in natural selection that results in hatchery operations from combining milt and eggs by humans.

An example of reducing natural diversity occurred in Pacific USA states to the south. They used spring springs, they called springers, and from hatcheries, put them in numerous rivers. Unfortunately, over time, the natural diversity went down with negative results, and now they wished they had not done such a large program of generic fish. And Alaska’s ‘Ocean Ranching’ with pinks could backfire in due course, although its only intent is to produce a much larger commercial catch. In other words, lack of genetic diversity is not a big issue, provided they are clear that they are wiping it out in the rivers they put fry into.

Headwater dams. The interest in this one stems from the fact that climate change is giving us warmer, drier summers – the opposite of what we want for salmon. Rivers volumes decline, temperatures rise, O2 declines, algae rises, resulting in negative conditions for fry, chiefly chinook and coho. Pink and chum leave the river upon hatching, so a too hot river is not an issue for them, until their return.

The purpose of this one is to have water to release into streams during the summer, thus maintaining fry populations. On the other hand, dams are expensive, need repair and a BC Liberal government would want to see them as Run of River Power operations, a competing priority. And DFO did walk away from the De Mamiel Creek dam even though it was only a $50,000 repair. Think if it had been Jordan River dam, where private properties were purchased to prevent a catastrophic dam burst scenario.

Weirs for Lakes on Salmon Streams – there should be more widespread use of weirs at lake outlets. Lakes have numerous in-flow streams, from a much larger area than simply a river, and often have snow-pack above, for holding water later. Again, this needs to be selective, and the weirs need to be in scale with the environment, and the choice of lake is important. Horne Lake, for example, keeps the Big Q in water all summer from the weir. On the other hand, the Cowichan with its dozens of different stakeholders is a quagmire for the issue of a weir. The best lakes are those without many humans on them.

Cabling Logs: Logging companies need to be required to cable logs into predetermined spots on rivers – and get a tax break for the ‘donation’. Cabling does two things: it creates suitable habitat for fry, as well as cover for searun cutthroat, Dolly Varden char, sculpins and so on; and, it shoots the past century of logging gravel from clogged up streams out the estuary into the sea. Two good examples, on Van Isle are the San Juan and the Klanawa. 

Both rivers have wasted sections, and if you go look at the San Juan, the log jam that blew, wiped out a half mile wide stretch of forest, for many miles down to the confluence with the Harris. In its case, the jam should have been blown years ago. Now it’s a moonscape, much too hot and has the dead look that comes from a river that has a cross section that looks like a tea cup saucer, and with zero habitat.

The Klanawa, at least its east tributary is completely destroyed, and cabling would bring it back, perhaps even a century before would happen naturally. Memory tells me that that trib is almost 20 kms long.

Back Channel Enhancement. Two good examples on Van Island are the chum channel on the Big Q and the coho maze on the Taylor. Note that we want more near tide water for chum and pinks. Chum being both big and high in numbers, are toted by the hundreds into the forest by bears for tree nourishment.

The Big Q channel, in line with the river, can be closed at the top end, so that its flow is managed, and once chum are in the channel, the right height can be established. Because chum are indiscriminate in their spawning, and tend to do so on high water events, as much as 90% of their eggs are wasted, from being spawned above the usual river height. All are killed as soon as the monsoon pulse has declined. But channels like the Big Q can provide habitat that is then controlled after the chum have done their spawn, until fry venture forth in early spring.

The Taylor also uses a flat, that is at river height, with back channels added, river entry and exit established, and provides spawning habitat, mostly for coho which are side channel spawners, and of course, because of Sproat Lake below, used by sockeye, too. The Taylor flat runs along side the highway for almost 10 kms, before the road crosses on its way to Tofino/Ucluelet. So, there is a vast potential for coastal rivers, that is presented precisely because the entire route is the historical river mouth that has been extended over the eons by more and more gravel washed from the surrounding mountains.

The same plan can be used as a major natural enhancement item, on numerous rivers. Any river that has oxbows, meaning old river channels that, the river, having changed its course, are water-filled year-round, and may be out there for 50 years as wet, under tree cover, weedy, rooty cool spots. The Nitinat has more than a half dozen such ‘sloughs’ as they are known. The issue is finding them. Locals help here.

Local Stewards: this one is obvious. The people who know most and most care about a river are those who actually use it, and they should be entrusted from their affection to do the deed in bringing them back, ‘One Stream at a Time’ as the PSF says; this includes paying more attention to aboriginal knowledge than in the past. 

I see the pride in the river warrior guys who now do river swims, which have a great degree of danger in them. A wild example is the Eve ‘canyon’ that is more than ten kms long. But at its estuarial end, at what is known as The Kiddie Pool, there is a side creek that has had some work done on regularizing it through the alder forest, including having a berm built at the last bridge above. It receives pinks in the summer that spawn in a few inches of water, and chum once the monsoons organize themselves in October. 

Reclaiming Weakened Laws: the laws that Harper et al weakened for salmon habitat, the Fisheries Act, s35, 36, the Canada Environmental Assessment Act, and so on. See the link below. Note that DFO in the past year, when citizens have criticized the Trudeau government for not changing them right away, has indicated that it doesn’t want to go back to the past, and so the very machinery that works for us, is against what we, the public, want. The HADD provision for example – we do indeed want net gain for habitat destruction.

Adequate Enforcement Budget and Staffing: there is no point having any law at all if its provisions won’t be enforced. Read Randy Nelson’s, Poachers, Polluters, and Polities, for the travesty of the past budgets and staffing for C&P – the mythical 50 planned positions story is a classic. He was the director of the branch and also made a lengthy, detailed submission to Cohen on the short comings of both budget and staffing problems in DFO. It is on the Cohen Site.

I am sure others have good ideas, too.

1.     Dennis Reid Environmental Petition:
2.     Fish habitat laws weakened by Ottawa: This post brings together five years of my writing on environmental laws in Canada.
3. The Parliamentary Committee on Fisheries and Oceans recommendations are here: