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Archive for May, 2010

Outfished!

Published on Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Since Dave from Currie Artworks, who resides in Whistler, informed me that Alta Lake was ice-off in early April, I have been eager to visit it. Despite of the mild winter, spring’s weather turned sour. It has been either windy, rainy, or both. It kept this fair weather fisherman at home whining for weeks. At last, some consistently warm days have arrived. Nina agreed to drag the boat out to Alta Lake yesterday, probably just to rid the cabin fever and shut me up.

We started fishing at Alta Lake in 2006 and have been back a couple of times each year. It is definitely one of my favorite lakes to visit. Many friends have questioned why that is the case, because a trip to lakes in the Thompson/Okanagan region would yield some stronger, bigger rainbow trout. Alta Lake’s rainbow trout rarely grow larger than 14 inches long, while its cutthroat trout lack the fight that you would see in an interior rainbow trout. I do not really have a good reason for liking it. Perhaps Whistler’s scenary appeals to me, perhaps I simply enjoy looking at cutthroat trout that are completely covered in fine spots. For whatever reason, I’ve returned year after year regardless whether the fishing was good or bad.

We decided to arrive at the lake just past 1:00pm and fish until the sun set behind the mountains. It was a rather late start because in the past, I’ve found that it tends to get breezy in the afternoon before calming down in the evening. Too often we arrived in the morning, only to be pounded by white caps after a couple hours of calmness. Wind is one element that can suck all the energy out of a fisherman on the boat. On those days, we usually ended up leaving before the evening bite.

It was almost 2:00pm once our boat was set up. The sky was clear with a few small patches of clouds that did not seem threatening. As expected, it was a bit breezy, but it seemed to balance very well with warmth from the sun.

I decided to bring Nina to a spot where we have caught numerous trout during most outings. Still not too familiar with flyfishing, she chose to use a spinning setup for this trip. I outfitted her with a tiny spoon that we picked up in Denmark last winter. The entire setup was rated 4lb test, perfect for everything that swims in this lake. Meanwhile, I chose to use a 4wt setup with a clear intermediate sink line. The fly of choice was a brown wooly bugger, which has been successful for both rainbows and cutties in this lake.

It really did not take long before we found some action. After a bite slipped through me, Nina had the first hook-up. The subsurface fight indicated that it was a cutthroat trout. The yellow flashes soon confirmed our guess.

After releasing her first fish, it only took fifteen more minutes before the second fish attacked her lure just several feet from the boat. This fish dove deeply, the bend in the rod suggested that it was a good sized fish. Nina kept the tension on the line while the mysterious fish circled below the boat. When it surfaced, both of us were screaming with excitement. It was what we had come for, a solid, long, spotty cutthroat trout that I estimated to be around 18 to 20 inches long. The absence of scars and firey orange cutthroat mark made this a perfect specimen, not to mention it was Nina’s first large cutthroat.

Despite of her instant success, I failed to produce. I proceeded to miss a couple more bites and briefly hooked onto a small fish. It was time for a move.

We shifted two more times without anymore bites. Maybe it was a bad idea that we moved in the first place. Never move from a spot where the fish are biting, lesson learned. Nina managed to connect with one more cutthroat trout and a very small ambitious rainbow trout, but overall we were not feeling many bites. At 5:30pm, we decided to give the original spot another go.

It was indeed the hot spot! Once anchored, a fish grabbed my fly after a few casts. It also escaped before I could touch it. At this landing rate, my day was looking bleak. That frustration quickly evaporated when I hooked up again. I took my time to ensure that it stayed on the hook this time. At last, a sigh of relief was let out when the cutthroat trout was scooped up by the net. It was dwarfed by Nina’s early catch, but I’ll take it!

There seemed to be a school of them. After releasing the first fish, the second fish came within a few more casts, followed by the third fish. All of them were in the same weight class, suggesting that they were congregating and feeding at the same place.

In total, both Nina and I caught three cutthroat trout each, but her giant catch earlier in the trip stole the prize!

If you ever wish to try out a Lower Mainland lake where catch and release is mandatory, then Alta Lake can be a very good option. Give it a go, you just might be pleasantly surprised like us.

A great day for the 20th Salmon Send Off

Published on Saturday, May 8th, 2010

When the invitation to be part of this year’s Great Salmon Send Off arrived in my inbox last month, I accepted it without much hesitation. Like the Fingerling Festival, this is another community based event that has generated plenty of interest among residents of Burnaby.

When this tradition started twenty years ago by local resident Jennifer Atchison, Stoney Creek, a tiny tributary of the Brunette River, was void of salmon. Today, spawning salmon can be seen returning each fall, thanks to countless hours of hard work by volunteers of the Stoney Creek Environment Committee.

Stoney Creek is just one of many streams in the Lower Mainland that are overshadowed by both residential and industrial developments. Each day, it faces threats from dewatering to accidental dumping. Unnoticed, its survival depends on programs such as the Great Salmon Send Off. The goal is not just to revive the salmon runs that once exist, but to make sure visitors become part of the solution at the end of the event.

At 11:00am, the release began when Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s community advisor Maurice Coulter-Boisvert opened up the holding tank. Several thousand juvenile coho salmon circled as they emerged from the dark, eager to start their long journey. Hundreds of parents and kids lined up patiently to receive their bag of fish. Once given, they were carried down to the edge of Stoney Creek where they were set free.

Our participation today included setting up a flytying workshop where each kid had a chance to tie a fly with the assistance of my friends Shane and Carlo. We were pretty overwhelmed by the amount of enthusiasm and interest! If you did not have a chance to tie a fly or pick up our fish identification cards, don’t worry because we will be at several more events in June and July.

More photographs from today’s event can be viewed on this page.

The muddy Fraser produced

Published on Friday, May 7th, 2010

To be honest, fishing for bull trout in the Tidal Fraser River has been pretty tough for me so far this year. Unlike other years, after numerous blanked outings around my house, I gave up before freshet was even in full swing. Perhaps they were simply not excited about the usual lures and flies that I offer, or perhaps they were simply not at my usual haunts. It has been frustrating to say the least, but this is what targeting predatory species in the Tidal Fraser River is all about.

Seeing that we are finally getting some nice weather, we went down to one of the local beaches this afternoon so we could soak in the rays and make a few casts. Although the Fraser River is now pretty muddy due to freshet, you can still catch bull trout. The best method to do so is by bait when water condition is poor. It is not a technique that we use often, because using bait on a catch and release fishery seems to be a waste. Secondly, bull trout have a tendency to take the baited hook too deeply. We avoid this by not letting the fish biting on the bait for too long. Although completely legal, it is something that we choose to do once awhile so our impact on these fish is minimized.

The moderate westerly breeze from our back and the sun in front of us made it very comfortable. We had a great view of the river and our rods that sat firmly in the holders. Sea gulls hovered and rested on the pylons, celebrating after so many miserable spring days in April.

The bites came on pretty quickly, but it was the wrong species. The little twitches on the rod tip told me that sculpins were hungry. It did not take long before we brought one to the beach. These common sculpins can be a nuisance when bait fishing for bigger species, but we always release them with care because they are an important food source for bigger fish and birds.

The tide turned at 1:30pm. From past experiences, I have found that the bites come on soon after flood tides. Today was no different. While reeling in one rod, I spotted a couple of big tugs on the other rod. I called out for Nina to grab the rod. She pulled and the bend in the rod suggested a bigger fish on the line. The line suddenly became slack as she retrieved, but the fish was not lost. It was simply swimming toward us. One minute later, it emerged from the silty water and we were delighted to see a bull trout on the line.

Once it was released, it did not take long to hook the second, third and fourth fish. There was definitely a school of hungry bull trout in front of us. The largest fish of the day did not even want to wait for the bait to settle on the bottom before grabbing it. It was a solid fish, which probably has been feeding on plenty of salmon fry that are travelling down the Fraser River.

We decided to end the trip after two hours while the fishing was still pretty good. In total, we brought in five bull trout and lost a couple more, definitely not a bad way to start our weekend. Tomorrow we will be attending the 20th Great Salmon Send Off at Stoney Creek. We will be doing flytying workshops, arts and crafts for kids, as well as handing out reading material on both fresh and saltwater fisheries in the Lower Mainland. Be sure to come by for a chat!

Bonuses between filming sessions

Published on Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Today we visited Buntzen Lake to finish up a filming project that will be published on the website soon. Buntzen Lake was stocked with 750 rainbow trout just over one week ago, so fishing should not be too bad. We were not there to catch fish, but having that expectation was motivating.

Surrounded by a fairly dense forest, Buntzen Lake is a lovely destination for Lower Mainland residents who sometimes only have one day to spare for fishing, hiking, horseback riding, picnicing.

Once we arrived at our chosen spot, I spotted a rise not too far from shore. I quickly tied on a small lure and casted toward it. It fell for it after two casts. I scooped up the fish for a photo after fighting it for a few seconds.

After finishing most of our filming, a couple more fish rose in front of us again. I proceeded to cast the lure out and as if it was planned, another fish grabbed it immediately. After releasing it, I made another cast and hooked another fish, which spat the hook after a few seconds. I made my third cast, another fish attacked the lure as it sank down. It made one giant leap and sent the lure flying back toward us.

Bonuses between filming sessions, it made the day at the office much easier!

Thousands released fingerlings

Published on Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Excitement built as we approached Noons Creek this morning, which one would always expect if we were going fishing. This was just as good, we were spending the day to enrich new stewards of our salmon. It was the annual Fingerling Festival, one of many community salmonid related events that take place every May.

Several months ago, organizer Dave Bennie phoned me up as usual, asking if I would like to be part of this year’s festival. Without hesitation, I said yes. Fishing trips lead to my absent in the last several years, the last time I participated was back in 2006, so I was quite eager to see what changes have taken place.

Among all community events in the Lower Mainland, the Fingerling Festival by far has the largest line-up of exhibitors. Over 50 nature groups, community hatcheries, streamkeepers and government agencies gathered under one roof today. It was as grand as a trade show, except the sales were awareness of ecosystems that are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to our everyday activities.

The Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC and my website teamed up again at this event. Mike Gass, who is responsible for community outreach at the Fraser Valley Trout Hatchery, brought an aquarium that was filled with rainbow trout, kokanee and brook char. I brought along a flatscreen TV that broadcasted video of work done to improve recreational fisheries in British Columbia. Throwing in a dozen different fish species identification cards and a table full of colouring papers, we were open for business.

At 11:00am, hundreds of parents with kids and strollers in hand began streaming into the arena. For four hours, we were surrounded by kids who were mesmerized by the aquarium and parents who were surprised by the vast availability of freshwater fishing in the Lower Mainland.

Outside the arena, there was a long line-up outside Noons Creek Hatchery where little white buckets were handed out. Each bucket, where anxious chum fry circled, was carried down to the edge of the creek by both little hands. With one tilt, these fingerlings were pour into the creek, marking the start of a long journey. This process repeated thousands of times throughout the day. Everytime a bucket was poured, a new steward was born. The Fingerling Festival is not just a fish playing game. Under all the fun, there is an important message that every participant takes home – Small creeks among residential areas are not storm drains, but important habitat for salmon and other aquatic living beings.

At the end of the festival, I asked Dave how the turnout was. He estimated it to be around 4,000. This event has grown incredibly since I last participated. What impressed me was this community’s volunteerism. Individuals at different ages, from all cultural backgrounds, came together for the day so this tiny creek will live on.

You can see more photographs from today’s Fingerling Festival on this page. If you missed today’s event, you have another chance! Next Saturday is the Great Salmon Send-off in Burnaby where you have the opportunity to release salmon fry into Stoney Creek, where salmon were absent until twenty years ago.

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