Sep 6th, 2012
We all know that fishermen are superstitious folks. And I’m no slouch in that department. I believe myself to be the most superstitious of all. It all started at 4:15 am. “Bang, Bang, Bang” on my door. “Get up its time to go fishing”. Naturally the day began with getting dressed. I opened the closet door and picked a lucky fishing shirt. Not any one in general though. You see I organize my closet from most lucky to least lucky. That’s not the only thing I have in order of luckiness. We will get to that shortly.
So I don the most recent successful sweater and head over to the coffee pot and pour myself a nice thermos of coffee. Then I yell to my dad “let’s hit the road, early bird gets the worm”. So we head out the door and hop into the truck. As we are backing out of the driveway I yell “Stop the truck, I forgot something”. I run into the house and into my room. I stand staring up at my dresser top seeking out my most recent lucky cap. Today feels different. I’m going to take the least lucky cap and try to fool the fish gods. “Ha ha” I chuckle. “The fish gods….who am I kidding?” I thought to myself. Back to the truck and off to the boat.
We were headed down the dock with the gentle roll of the ground swell flowing beneath our feet. Today was going to be a good day. Dad jumped in the boat and unlocked the cabin as I began to wipe the dew from the windows and untie the boat from the mooring slip. With a little push we were off. I climbed into the captain’s chair which over the past couple of years had seemed as if it had become my throne. I put the boat into gear, Dad got busy fastening the downriggers and rods, while I powered up the GPS and turned on the VHF. I began first by looking at the current and tide chart function built into our GPS. We were one hour away from the top of the flood tide. “How far are we going to run?” Dad hollered from outside the cabin. “Not too far, I have an idea that just might work”. I powered up for what seemed like only a few seconds and then pulled the boat out of gear and started the kicker motor.
We will start fishing here. My dad stared at me with a puzzled look on his face. “Drop the gear” I announced. “The bait should be pushed in tight here (Bedford Islands) at the top of the flood”. Down went dad’s gear to 60 ft. He was using a purple haze UV flasher and a double glow green hootchy for the early morning low light conditions. This combo had proven successful a few times before and seemed like a good start. I got out my anchovies and loaded up my purple haze UV teaser, put a gentle bend in it and clipped it to my purple onion UV glow flasher. I tossed it over the side of the boat and was pleased with the action of my bait. I sent it down to 50ft and stopped the downrigger, tightened the rod down and waited.
No more than 5 minutes passed and my dad goes running out the back of the boat. “Fish on” he yelled pulling his rod out of the holder. With his fish not taking any significant amount of line I decide to drop my rod down to 60ft. “I think he’s a little bigger then we think” he says. His reel begins to scream out line, a good 250ft run. I’m rushing to untangle the net from within the cuddy when I hear “Your rod just popped, your rod just popped!” Just as the net frees itself I run to the back of the boat and grab my rod, by this time already peeling off line in the rod holder. “Double header” I yelled, our first double header of the season.
Ten minutes passed and we both had a good handle on our fish. The whole time we were fighting the fish the net handle had been hanging out the back of the cabin door. My dad looked over at me and asked “should we keep it”. I peeked over the side of the boat keeping good tension on my fish. A solid twenty four pound Chinook salmon hooked clean in the scissors on a single barbless hook. The fish had a deep belly and a short dark head. A good friend of mine once told me that the early Fraser river run fish have a short head and would be getting dark already by middle of May on the way to spawn. “Let’s let him off to spawn, he’s not bleeding and looks healthy”. With a quick slip of the gaff down the line the hook popped out and he splashed near a gallon of water all over us as he torpedoed down into the depths.
My fish had tired himself out by now with a few good 150ft runs. He was letting me ease him to the side of the boat and I saw he too was hooked clean in the corner of the mouth. A nice eighteen pound Chinook salmon. I grabbed the gaff and handed dad my rod. With a small pop of the gaff I watched the silver sides of my fish turn into a camouflage dark green snake and disappear across the surface of the water. We cheered and laughed with joy for a few minutes. “Let’s do that again” we both said at the same time.
We had the lines set and were ready for round two, with the usual lines being muttered after such an event…“Who’s next?” “Was that a fluke?” “Mine was bigger!” What seemed like only a few minutes was probably more like an hour later. We had a good strike on my rod but it didn’t stick. “How can one’s pin pop and the fish not stick?” I bantered to my dad. And like a blur he ran past me grabbed his rod and yelled “FISH ON”. With my line already out of the water, the fight was on. I entered the cab of the boat and slid the engine into neutral. When there are no other boats around I prefer to fight the fish with the motor out of gear. I went back to the cab of the boat. The line was down at a steep angle and the rod bent. “He’s on the bottom, he sounded all the way down” says my dad. I glance over at the sounder and notice a small streak angling down all the way to near 300 ft. “You have a long ways to come up”. Slowly my dad gained on the fish until I could see the shine of the flasher and another bigger streak of silver not far behind. As the fish came to the surface amongst all the splashing and head shakes I noticed this was a hatchery Spring with a longer more slender body. I grabbed the net and gently scooped up the fish and brought him into the boat. “Nice fish” we both say while giving a high-five. “Grab the scale and weigh him” says my dad. I insert the hook under the gill plate and lift up. “Twenty three pounds” I shout. Into the fish hold he goes. And quickly down go the lines. Maybe my bold but risky move to wear my least lucky hat was paying off.
We trolled for a few hours missing a couple more strikes along the way. I was about to suggest heading home figuring it had already been a highlight trip of ours. Then my dad announced he would let me have both of the rods. Since he had already landed two fish bigger than the eighteen I got earlier, I thought this was fair. I quickly looped the boat around for another pass across the reef. Immediately I began to mark large arches down eighty feet on the fish finder. I run to the back of the boat to drop my gear down to them. I look over and the other rod pops in one solid bang. I grab the rod and set the hook. The fish sat there headshaking and I knew it was a good fish. “Bring up the other gear, this is a solid fish” I yelled. After holding down for about 30 seconds the fish quickly began to speed towards the surface. “It’s going to jump! It’s going to jump!” I yelled. Only 30 feet behind the boat the flasher and fish broke the surface at the same time and a slab of silver that seemed two feet thick rose out of the water for a jump. Not any ordinary jump but one that did and still does remind me of the end of the first Free Willy movie….when he jumps clear over the breakwater!
I look at my dad with a grin from ear to ear. “He’s a monster, probably your biggest Spring ever”. The reel begins to spin violently. The fish is peeling line at top speed. The handles of the reel merging into one blurry ring spinning in the opposite direction. The line on the reel was quickly disappearing. “Turn the boat around, we have to chase him. Hurry he’s going to spool me”! Staring down at the reel with the line still peeling out at a rapid rate, I could visibly see the bottom of the spool. Suddenly out of nowhere the line goes slack. Reeling as fast as I can, I’m trying to gain line back on the fish. This was my monster, I couldn’t lose him. But soon the adrenaline rush was over. Off in the distance I can see my flasher dragging across the surface with no fish in tow. “I lost him, he’s gone.” “Maybe next time” I hear my dad say from within the cabin. I finally get the flasher to the boat and identify the problem. The leader was chewed through and the hooks gone.
I sat home on my bed staring up at my dresser once again, pondering my lucky hat/shirt ritual. Today was a day full of good luck and bad luck. But hey isn’t that what fishing is all about? It’s not always about how good of a fisherman you are, or what hat/shirt you wear. Fishing is a sport and lifestyle that I live by. I am privileged to have had my grandfather and father introduce it to me.
I will never know how big that monster was. I will continue to visualize that jump over and over but nothing will get it back on my line other than hard work and determination, and.. oh yeah, a little luck.
Whether it be landing my dream fish or picking out my lucky hat I always remember the big picture!
Summer Chinook Fishing – A Beginners Progress in Sooke B.C.
Mar 8th, 2012
I bought my first ever recreational fishing boat in June of 2010. This was the culmination of a dream I had had since coming to Canada from the U.K., almost 30 years before. I could now go salmon fishing whenever I liked!! There was just one problem. I was virtually a beginner at ocean fishing from a boat – hell, I had not even driven my own boat before. And so the saga of fishing for the elusive summer Chinook began, but first a bit of history.
Summer Chinook Fishing – A Beginners Progress in Sooke B.C.
I have been a keen fisherman since I was a small boy in the U.K. One of my earliest memories was walking along while staring mesmerised at a guy fishing off a dock in some nameless British seaside town. I was oblivious of everything and was not looking where I was going and would have walked right off the dock, if my parents had not called to me just in time! So it was inevitable that I asked for, and received, a fishing rod for my 11th birthday. Then, as now, I was a complete beginner. Well I suppose this time around I did bring 45 years fishing experience to my Canadian ocean salmon fishing adventure. Back then I knew absolutely nothing at all about fishing. No one in my family fished and so I started at square one. My parents had bought me a rather stiff 7’ sea fishing rod on the recommendation of the tackle shop owner, even though we lived in central London, 100 Km from the nearest ocean. This was on the grounds that “I could use the rod in freshwater if I liked”. So I began my fishing career with that stiff rod, a centre pin (single action reel) loaded with 20lb line and a huge cork float weighted with a bullet and baited with bread on a size 2 hook while trying to catch tiny coarse fish like gudgeon, roach and dace that maxed out at 4oz in the little, murky rivers north of London. This was, of course, totally unsuitable tackle as I was to learn the hard way! I persevered and remember finally catching my first gudgeon when I downsized my tackle to fish with a fixed spool (spin casting) reel, 6lb line and 3lb leader with size 16 hook and small thin quill float weighted with split shot. I think the fish weighed about 2oz but I showed it to my parents anyway! And I was on my way.
I fished whenever I could, mainly in the school summer holidays, mostly in small local rivers, canals and gravel pits (ponds) south of London that I could reach by train and walking, sometimes up to an hour each way, carrying all my tackle. On vacations I did fish in the ocean occasionally, casting feathers and spoons off rocky headlands in Scotland for Pollock and mackerel or baiting hooks with mussel to catch wrasse off the cliffs. Meanwhile, I read every fishing magazine I could lay my hands on. I graduated up the freshwater coarse fish size and difficulty scale from roach and perch, to tench and bream and finally to carp. Here in Canada, carp (which are of course an introduced fish) are disdained and ignored but in the U.K. and Europe they are highly sought after for their size, fighting qualities and difficulty to catch. Carp learn quickly and in the very heavily fished catch and release waters of industrialised, urban Britain they become very wary and hard to fool with a hook offering. Back then the record carp stood at 44lb and so when I hooked and landed an 18lb carp at the tender age of 18, I was thrilled. To this day, I remember the 40 yard run it made across the lake which made the slipping clutch scream. Since those days carp have got much bigger and the techniques to catch them have grown very sophisticated. The world record carp landed from a small French Lake in 2011 weighed an incredible 99lb!! But I digress…………..
Coming to B.C., Canada 14 years later, I switched to trout fishing for the first time. Trout and salmon fishing in the U.K. were forever out of the reach of a poor lad from London owing to the high costs. Game fishing is very scarce and all privately owned, not public like it is here in Canada. Even back then it could easily cost $50 to $100 a day to fish “put and take” trout waters. Salmon fishing, then as now, was strictly reserved for the rich and upper classes and even if a rentable Atlantic salmon beat on a Scottish river could be found, it would require a king’s ransom to fish there. I recently saw on the Web that one famous salmon beat on the river Tweed in Scotland would now cost $10,000 per person to fish there for one week in the peak season!!
Here in Canada, once again I read every fishing magazine I could lay my hands on. (I now have a complete set of every copy of BC Outdoors magazine from 1982 to the present). I learned about fly fishing techniques as practised in B.C. on the beautiful lakes and rivers we have here and the fly patterns used and habits of rainbow trout, a fish new to me. I learned how to cast a fly line, by myself, by following the casting techniques described in the books and magazines and practising on the local playing fields, much to the amusement of local residents watching me casting on dry land. I did not have many chances to try out my emerging technique as my wife and I were soon raising a young family in Richmond and making ends meet took most of my attention for nearly two decades. However, we vacationed in the B.C. interior nearly every summer and I was eventually able to begin catching rainbow trout on artificial flies while fishing from an inflatable dingy. A totally new thrill for an Englishman from the industrial conurbations of Britain. I still remember one of my first rainbows from Summit Lake in the Kootenays, because I can see it now curved in the air, silhouetted against the morning sun. Coarse fish in the U.K. simply never jump like that and for me that early trout was an exhilarating and awakening experience.
All through that period, I was very aware of all the great salmon fishing in B.C. mostly in the ocean, but also in the rivers. I carefully read every magazine article about mooching and cut plugging and trolling and dreamed of the legendary places like Campbell River, Rivers Inlet, and Hakai Pass where huge Tyee could be had by simply dropping the line over the side. The photos of grinning fisherman with massive Chinook salmon cradled in their arms haunted my dreams, but there was just one problem. I had no boat, no access to one and very little time or money. Going to a fishing lodge was financially out of the question. Over the years my wife and I did rent a small boat from time to time when on holidays near the ocean. In Campbell River during the 80’s, I was able to catch a couple of small Coho but later trips yielded nothing. A boat out of Port Hardy brought only small rockfish and out of Bamfield only one small Coho which we released. The giant Chinook of my dreams remained only in my imagination. Once the kids had grown, I knew moving to the Island and to Sooke in the mid 2000’s provided an opportunity, because over the years the local Chinook fishing had featured in several of the articles and stories I had read. We rented boats a couple of times out of Pedder Bay in the summer of 2009 and for the first time fished with down riggers. We caught pink salmon and one 9lb Coho which came out of nowhere, but again we never saw a Chinook.
And so we come to the summer of 2010 and my new (to me) boat which I felt sure would finally break the curse and enable me to catch the legendary “Great Chinook”. We fished most week-ends in all the places I had heard about. Whirl Bay and Becher Bay, and Beechy Head and Church Rock and the Trap Shack and Secretary Island and we caught nothing - not a thing - until that huge sockeye run arrived in August. That fishery saved the summer for us and gave me some confidence that I was not a completely useless fisherman in the ocean. It was just the mysterious summer Chinook that were elusive and uncatchable and perhaps a legend that didn’t really exist?Yet, I knew they did exist because around that time I discovered the Sportfishing BC forum on the web and read the Sooke fishing reports every day. And day after day there would be posts about twenty-something pound fish being caught all around the same fishing spots I had tried. How did these guys do it? Often they would be catching several big fish in a single outing! Were they fishing gods, or magicians or both? I joined the forum as “Englishman” and posted a brief lament about how although I enjoyed reading about all the great catches made by these heroic anglers, I was at the same time frustrated by my own inability to catch a single summer Chinook. That post was one of the best things I have done because advice, suggestions, reassurances and guidance poured in. Some information and tips came by open posts and some by personal messages. Some of the overall advice seemed to be that I should fish “closer in shore”, sometimes “near the bottom (especially in winter)”, and that I should “try anchovy in teaser heads” (I had only fished hootchies and spoons up to that point). I was also advised to practice on the winters since they were “like training wheels for the beginner Chinook fisherman”. So off to the tackle store we went. Choosing a selection from the bewildering array of Krippled Anchovy, JDF, and Bullet Roll varieties I bought green glow, purple haze and pink teaser heads and frozen anchovies and set about learning the mysterious art of rigging and trolling bait. In the fall we were able to catch a couple of Coho on anchovy and we continued practicing with a few more trips in the winter of 2010/11. Finally we were able to catch a few winter Chinooks by fishing close to the bottom. These fish were typical winters from 7-10lb or so, not the mythical monsters I had read so much about, but I was incredibly pleased and happy with those. When those big summer Chinook arrived in 2011 it was going to be easy and catching them would be a piece of cake!
Boy, did I get a rude awakening! I had retired now and we went out a lot in April and May and June, and now it was July and still not one single summer Chinook. Plenty of pinks but not a single bite from anything bigger. I started a “Beginner’s Progress in Sooke” thread on the forum and told my sad story there. More helpful advice poured in ” brine your anchovies”, “you have to get the roll right”, “use a long leader”, “use a glow flasher”, “fish shallow”, “speed up and slow down”, “check your cable voltage”, “wash your hands and use scents”. It was very confusing, overwhelming and helpful all at the same time. A couple of forum members even offered to take me out and show me the ropes, which they both kindly did on two separate occasions. I learned a huge amount from them both , especially about rigging anchovies in teaser heads to get “the right roll”. Neither trip produced that big denizen of the deep, the summer Chinook, though one of my mentors did get a break off on one big hit on his rod. Something larger than a pink was definitely in those Sooke waters after all!!It was mid-July when the “day of days” unexpectedly arrived. I was fishing at 85 feet with a pink/purple teaser head, a 6’ leader with green/glow flasher as advised and we were about 3 Kms SE of Secretary Island in 250’ of water, a long way from any of the recognised Chinook fishing spots, expecting only pinks once again. It was foggy and fishing the slow, crowded boat trolling “dance” with all the experts in recognised locations was daunting for beginners, even in the clear weather and so we stayed well out of there. I was drinking coffee and the rod top bounced as I was standing there peering into the fog. I dropped my coffee on the deck, struck and I knew this was no pink. I was fishing with an old wood and brass Peetz reel that I had bought from a garage sale. I like the feel of this venerable reel and it whirled away as the fish ran. At least my old English carp fishing experience told me how to deal with a large running fish. If I was a beginner in that department as well I would have been well and truly “up the creek”. A short give and take fight later and it surfaced and my wife expertly netted it and I swung the fish in. We stared at it awestruck, as though it might have weighed 30lb. In fact it weighed precisely 18lb but we admired it anyway for several minutes. We had broken the curse and landed a summer Chinook! I now believe that fish was a bit of a fluke because of the location and depth of water we were fishing in. We tried again several times but another month went by before we got our next “real” summer Chinook.
On advice, I was fishing a longer leader of 7’ this time, purple haze teaser and yellow/green metallic flasher and we were working much closer in shore “dancing” with all the rest of the boat crowd right in the Trap Shack area, again at about 80’. My wife shouted an alert this time, as she saw the rod go while I was distracted with clearing weed on the other side, but I leapt across the deck and was able to connect. Another short give and take battle and we landed this lovely fish as well. It weighed 22lbs. I was totally blown away and over the moon with this one. We had been fishing in among the boats of all the experts, in a known area I had read about many times, using techniques exactly as we had been told about. So it seemed like a “real” summer Chinook this time; a true twenty-something fish to post on the forum reports! Just to prove this one was no fluke, we caught a 19lb Chinook on the exact same gear right off Sheringham light, just two days later. Many kind members on the forum put up congratulatory posts and messages following my posts about each of these fish. It was very encouraging and I was very grateful for all the advice I received and made sure that I communicated how appreciative I was. As one savvy member wrote, several of my advisors and mentors must have been more relieved at my small success than I was as they had endured my earlier posted reports of the many blank trips, scratching their heads at my ineptitude and wondering how the hell I was screwing up all the time!!
It turned out that was it for our summer 2011 Chinook fishing. Just three decent fish but the curse has well and truly been broken. It has been a long and winding road from the 2oz gudgeon to the 22lb Chinook; from the great smoky, urban jungle of London U.K. to beautiful Sooke B.C.; from the brown, polluted waters of Britain to the pristine waters of B.C. and the North Pacific; from the would be fisher boy who knew nothing, to the grey haired retiree who knows not very much more. I have loved every minute of it.
Winter Fishing on Vancouver Island
Jan 16th, 2012
Article courtesy of Island Angler. For more articles and fishing news check out www.islandangler.net
After a short fight Warren netted the beauty and measured it. A prime cutthroat trout. It was a keeper.
Warren took a quick photo as David, my friend, arrived on his Lifetimer. I transferred to Dave’s boat to continue fishing as Warren had to head home.
We fished some more, and ended up walking home. But that’s another story.
After enjoying the trout for dinner, prepared on a cedar plank in the barbeque, accompanied by some delicious B.C. wine, I learned that Saturday and Sunday were to be fishing days as well. Saturday on a boat belonging to Richard, another friend of David’s, off the Victoria foreshore and Sunday on the Cowichan River. Life doesn’t get a lot better.
We woke early and headed down to Victoria to meet Richard. We launched the boat, a good looking Double Eagle, at Esquimalt, and set out to lay some crab traps in near the Victoria harbour mouth, and then put out two rods on downriggers targeting winter springs, a.k.a. chinook salmon. After not too long the first rod started dancing and Warren landed an 8 pounder.
A few minutes later it was my turn; a 12 pounder was boated. We landed one more for the day, and pulled the traps on the way back to the dock; a couple of fine looking Dungeness crabs were on the dinner menu as well. It then dawned on me that all the talk by the boys of a Triple Crown or Hat Trick was actually a possibility. If I caught a fish on Sunday (we were targeting steelhead), that I then would have caught three species on three consecutive days, on river, lake, and sea. That evening the meal was prawns, fresh frozen by Richard, chinook, crab, and some lamb chops for good measure, oh and some more wine! As David said, “life doesn’t suck”.
Sunday’s program, a drift boat trip with guide Dan Williams, had been arranged for us by Gord March from Cowichan Fly & Tackle. It had snowed the night before and the countryside was brochure perfect. We headed down to Riverbottom Road on the Cowichan River, and met up with Dan. We loaded in the propane cylinder, the rods, cameras and other gear and launched “The Cowichan Hooker”. It had a bunch of ice and snow in it, the ropes were frozen stiff, but in we got. It was a spiritual experience for me. I was on a B.C. river fishing, at last. We drifted and beached for a few hours and on one of the beaches David hooked and unfortunately lost a nice looking chromer after it jumped into a willow root ball. We moved down-river a bit more and anchored next to some good looking water, after about 10 or 15 more casts (I had made 100's already), my rod exploded and the reel screamed in protest at the rude treatment. I backed up on the ABU bait caster’s star drag and let the monster strip line, worried that it would break up the tackle. After about a 60 metre run down-river it went airborne, it was a magnificent steelhead. I started fighting the fish, slowly I won back the line, bringing the fish back against the strong current, letting the rod absorb the head shakes. It ran a few more times, but slowly I was winning. During a 15 minute fight with the chromer it was under the boat and between the oars before Dan finally netted the beauty. It was a wild steehead, so we took a few photos and back it went. Dan estimated it to be about 13 lb.
Can a three day, first time in Canada, fishing experience be more perfect?
I will cherish and remember that weekend for as long as I live.
One off the very top of my bucket list!
Canada vs USA
Jun 18th, 2011
Fishing trips with my good buddy Terry have often come on somewhat short notice and have always been some of the best times of my life. So, it was with little surprise and a great deal of appreciation, that I received a call from Terry to join him and two other avid fishermen, for a three day fishing adventure. Coming with less than two weeks notice was no surprise but this trip was going to be unique as it involved a first for Terry and me, fishing in Alaska.
The minute I confirmed I could arrange my schedule and make the trip, the inevitable competition between the "Canucks" and "Yanks" was on. Of course, as the old saying goes, talk is cheap and I wanted to be careful about any bravado I portrayed, without really knowing the territory, like our friendly counterparts Mike and Jerry, who had the advantage of fishing the waters around Sitka many times before.
As is the norm today, I went online and did some research about where we would be fishing, the techniques used by the guides and the preferred gear. While looking through the website of the lodge we would be staying at, I was struck at what a difference there is in the sport-fishery between Alaska and British Columbia. Most fishing resorts in British Columbia tend to promote Salmon as the ultimate prize with the possibility to catch a Chinook or King over thirty pounds and in some areas of the province, a chance to bag a trophy in excess of 70 pounds. In Sitka, where we fished, it was evident when researching the area, that a heavy premium is placed on the possibility to catch mammoth Halibut. These monsters of the deep have been landed on sport fishing gear in excess of 450 pounds, so it is understandable that Halibut and Salmon carry more equal weight in the promotion of fishing in Alaska.
The technique of using cut plug or whole herring for Salmon fishing was similar to many experiences I have had, especially fishing Haida Gwaii or Hakai Pass, but the gear used at most of the lodges I searched was certainly different than what is offered at most British Columbia resorts. In BC, the tried and true single action mooching reel and rod set up is almost universal. The preferred weapon of choice in Alaska is a shorter mooching rod with a level wind reel. Of course both catch fish equally well, but the challenge of the good old "knuckle buster" reel just seems to add a little more "sport" to the whole concept of sport fishing. Because of the need for this challenge both Terry and I packed along some of our own gear including regular sized Salmon mooching reels as well as an 8 weight fly rod and saltwater fly reel set up.
All four of us were fishing on a well equipped 27 foot boat so the verbal sparring between team Canada and team USA was on from the moment we left the dock! Of course, being polite Canadian boys, we quietly allowed the skipper to troll with his usual set up. The only request we made was to use the gear we had brought along. We fished using whole herring in a cut plug set up with two single hooks. Our American friends were hooked up off the downriggers anywhere from 40 to 120 feet with the level wind reels. Terry and I used a six ounce weight with approximately 35 to 50 pulls of line trailing behind the boat. The morning produced a good bite with most of the action coming off the downriggers so, of course, the Canadians were taking quite a bit of good natured heat about our different set up and lack of production. As the afternoon progressed, our skipper Klint, Mike's son, suggested a switch to put Terry and me off the downriggers and the level winds off the back with the weighted rods. It was at this time, having become more comfortable with everyone on board and because we were picking up some Coho Salmon, I suggested we replace one of the level wind set ups with a fly rod. I happened to have had monofilament line on my reel so we hooked up a 4 ounce weight to the line and threw it out at about 30 pulls. Not only did the great action on the downriggers continue, we started to pick up fish closer to the surface on the fly rod. Most of the Salmon were Pinks and Coho on the light gear but around mid afternoon the tip of the fly rod took a larger than usual strike and Terry grabbed the rod, set the hook and proceed to have a long and healthy battle with a Chinook that weighed in around 20 pounds. Needless to say, it didn’t take us long to pull out the other fly rod for the back of the boat. It was slightly different in that it had a saltwater fly line with a heavy sink tip. No one on board thought this was going to work because it was going to be barely below the surface. Having seen how effective a bucktail in the prop wash can be, I was excited to see if the whole herring tied to a five foot leader could be just as effective. As I let the line out, I was met with a fair amount of scepticism and jeers, but it wasn’t more than 30 seconds until our first of many fish hit the line.
The rest of the trip produced more of the same great fishing. We managed to catch every species of Salmon including a few Sockeye and a couple of Chum on the light gear. The highlight of the trip came when we pulled into a beautiful bay with a flat bottom around 100 feet. We did some drift mooching with the whole herring and managed to come across a school of Chinook’s on the feed. In one drift we all, including the skipper, managed to hook into a fish. I have never experienced more than a triple header before, but with a good deal of communication and a bit of skill and luck we managed to land all five Chinooks! It was a perfect ending to an amazing trip.
Aside from the usual good natured banter and laughter, which was somewhat heightened by the friendly competition on board, what stayed with me after the trip concluded was how a fishery that is so similar in many ways, can be different as well. Sitka is really not very far from Haida Gwaii and the coastline looks like much of mainland British Columbia as well as Vancouver Island. The same fish that we encountered during our trip could end up anywhere along the west coast as their final destination to spawn an entire new generation for us to enjoy. In the end we managed to add a little Canadian influence to the fishing style, with a couple of good old fashion "knuckle raps" to prove it, but the real memory will be of an experience shared by good neighbours with a passion for fishing and a common resource we can all enjoy.
Kootenay Lake Rainbow Paradise
Jan 1st, 2011
Living at Nelson, B.C., on the west arm of Kootenay Lake, enabled our family to enjoy one of the best Rainbow trout fisheries in the world. My parents, Dee and Dan, both fly fished throughout the spring and summer, mainly within three miles of our cabin on the north shore opposite Nelson. They, my brother Rod, and I could catch our limit (which was 12 fish in the 1950’s) on Burns’ Point within 300 feet of the cabin, on many July nights when the hatch occurred and the bite was on.
The same thrilling bite, but with bigger Rainbows slapping the water as they snapped at the sedge hatch was available two miles down the river where Grohmann Creek enters the fast water of the Kootenay River. The fish were usually between 2 and 5 pounds, with the occasional 7 to 9 ponder keeping a fisherman out after dark. Even in the 1960’s we released over half of our catch in this peaceful, pristine paradise.
Dad and Mom talked about their youth when they trolled with buck tail flies, spoons and plugs on the main Kootenay Lake, about 20 miles east of Nelson, for the elusive, larger Gerrard rainbow trout, spawned in the Lardeau River near Gerrard at the very north end of the lake. Rod and I dreamed about these big ‘bows, and, even though we ventured to the main lake several times in the 1960’s we didn’t manage to catch any.
Our luck has changed! Rod and his wife Linda invited my son Jeff and me to come and fish for the Gerrards at the end of September 2009. We kept the boat at Queen’s Bay and drove out from Nelson for an early start three of the five days we visited.Kootenay Lake is spectacular, surrounded by majestic mountains with sharp peaks and in the autumn the colors are beautiful. The lake, up to 400 feet deep, is about 60 miles north to south, about 2 to 4 miles wide, and has the West Arm which meanders 20 miles west to Nelson. Rod had his 19 foot Harbercraft geared up for both down rigger trolling and for buck tailing using a cedar planer board to jerk the fly and catch the eye of the Gerrards. We used one rod with a Crocodile spoon down rigged at 60 feet and one with a gray and white buck tail 75 feet from the transom. We trolled north/south 300 feet off of Pilot Point with a big turn northward toward Riondel. After one pass, just into the turn, the fly line screamed and Jeff played a beauty through several jumps, bringing it to the boat for a quick picture, measurement and release of the seven pound, fit rainbow. We were all ecstatic as the sun came out momentarily, and we kept trolling, each getting a fish on that same line and fly: Rod’s a 9 pounder and mine a 5. We headed home satisfied, and eager for more.
The second day was very similar, with a light drizzle off and on, breaks of sun, and a steady breeze, typical for late September. We again each tied into a beautiful rainbow and they all fought well, jumping and running with the same buck tail pattern in their mouths. We felt good with three fish at 6, 7, and 8 pounds. We kept the 7 pounder for dinner, its Kokanee-fed dark red meat-delicious on the grill!
Two days later, October 2nd, was to be a dream. The weather was similar, but warmer, and we plied the same waters. Again, Jeff started us off within 30 minutes as he landed then released a nice, energetic 10 pounder that had taken a dark purple, black and white buck tail for breakfast. We had given up on the down rigger gear as it had, surprisingly, disappointed. In the late morning it was Rod’s turn to take the handle on a nice 8 pound rainbow which would not stay in the water, jumping everywhere! We then had a long stretch, trying every fly we could think of without luck. The weather had kicked up with a heavy north wind and we had decided to pull up when my turn came up with a bang…an apparently huge fish came out of the water and we were all screaming louder than the reel! I focused (something I have failed to do at times when I have a whopper on), and enjoyed the ride, with Rod and Jeff counting the jumps: 2, 3, 4…8. This was magic, and we enjoyed the 25 minute fight, finally bringing this silver bullet up to the boat. We decided to measure and release it after a picture or two, all the while in an emotional frenzy as Jeff gently revived it until it could safely swim away. We took an underwater video of it heading back to the depths of Kootenay Lake. It turned out to be 21 pounds and 35 inches long.
We packed up, hugging each other and saying two words over and over: awesome and priceless!