It is time for those who do not have boats to get their big chinook. All they have to do is amble down to a river that has a good number of chinook and fish away. The downside this year, and a long-term climate change problem, is that we have had no appreciable rain and it is early October, which is very late.
Chinook need almost a foot of water to torpedo their way upstream. A river like the Stamp is big enough not to have impassable riffles. But others, like the Campbell, where the river is controlled flow, and thus enough, but the Quinsam, where most chinook are bound, is a soft, little stream, not passable. The Nitinat is another. Chinook cannot rise above the tidal end near the lake.
With the Hobitan Main severely decommissioned a few years ago, a several-mile walk from the Red Rock Pool/Campus Creek stretch is required to get to the fish, and no one wants to drag a 30-pounder, three miles back to the car. Alternatively, one can launch a boat near the hatchery operations on the lake and row across to the river. That means a return trip through the Nitinat wind later in the day, and it rips 30 mph on an average day.
Wherever you go, three methods take chinook in freshwater. First, spinners and spoons will take a few new fish, but unless there are lots of fish – because the percentage of biters is very low – better bring some back up gear. Chinook have the endearing trait that if your let you lure drop to the bottom a fish may go down and pick it off the bottom (a trait shared only with the occasional chum).
On the other hand, if you are using spinners, sizes 4 and 5, any coho in the school of larger fish will typically beat chinook to the shiny surfaced lure. So, even if it looks like there are no coho around, you may just catch a few. Note that they are lighter than chinook, so dragging them back to your car is less effort.
The second method is the gear angler’s bread and butter technique: dink float fishing. The float is threaded onto the mainline, with the line circling the float once for friction, and then slid up the line. A three-way swivel is Palomared to the line end, and pencil weight added to the resultant tag end. To the swivel, a two- to three-foot leader is attached with wool or fabric ‘egg’ to a 2/0 to 5/0 hook.
The line is cast above the fish, and then, rod tip in the air and mending line, the float runs downstream. At the fish level, the egg is presented at nose level and passes through the school. Chinook behaviour includes their opening their mouths, mouthing something that comes at them, then releasing it after a few seconds. This is called a passive bite. The fish does not strike and run as a coho or trout would. It simply holds its station, holds the wool, then lets it go.
The angler sees the float stop, or pass under the water. That is the time to strike to drive the hook into the chinook’s bony mouth and the fight is on. Note that allowing the float to free spool down stream is the correct method of chinook fishing. Any other method that has a weighted hook and lure cast across the chinook school, and then reeled back, typically results in snagged fish. This is bad form and you should avoid it. The same can happen with a spoon or spinner, and if you snag more fish than biters, you should switch to the dink float setup that uses chinook behaviour to take them fairly. Snagged fish must be released.
The third method of chinook fishing, is fly fishing for them. You want a big school, slow water speed and shallower water that allows your fly to sink to mouth level and pass downstream just as one would do with a dink float setup. You need a sink tip line and a handful of detached tips in a pouch that can be added to the sink tip until you have achieved the right amount of sink.
It is important to have short leaders of two- to four-feet so the fly is at the level of the tip and not floating above it. In a school of 1,500 or more chinook, there will always be some fish that don’t see the fly just in front of the tip, and so you will receive a bite, which again, is a stop, and then a let go.
You will feel your line rasp as it passes over backs, flanks and fins, but that is not a bite. A bite is when the fly stops, something that will only happen in moving water, when something stops it. Pinks, like chinook also just stop a fly, as in without moving up, down, forward or back, the fly just stops for a few seconds. If you don’t strike it, the fly is then let go, and it continues passing down with the current.
Note that with all methods of chinook angling, circle hooks will markedly reduce the snag potential. Circle hooks should be considered mandatory when chum fishing, as these fish school so closely and in such large numbers. A local spot for these is the Sooke River. Above the Basin is fly only.
Check Van Isle freshwater, salmon retention regulations here: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/rec/fresh-douce/region1-eng.html.