Finding coho for Dad

Published on October 11th, 2010 by Rodney

Each year, my dad pays me a visit for a couple of weeks so we can fish together. This year is no exception and he has timed his visit to coincide with the fall salmon season. I usually try to find a different fishery for him to experience during each visit. Last year we were spoiled by the large Fraser River pink salmon return. The year before we experienced Thompson River chinook jacks. This year, the goal is to find him a coho salmon. Every trip in the past always worked out well, so I was hopeful this year would also be the case.

Unfortunately, last week’s fishing did not turn out as good as I had anticipated. We visited the Chilliwack River, hoping to intercept a coho salmon or two. After donating some spoons to snags and watching countless number of coho leaping in front of us, we came up empty handed. Luckily just before our last trip ended, my dad finally connected with a fish. It was not a coho salmon, but a semi-coloured chinook, which was still good enough as he has never caught one other than jacks. A photo prior to its release made three days of persistance and frustration disappearing.

Although our excursions to the Vedder have ended, the hunt for coho has not. We went out yesterday to take part in the fishery that we had anticipated. The Tidal Fraser River salmon fishery is more suitable for my dad, because it requires no walking. During last year’s opening on Thanksgiving weekend, I managed to encounter a variety of species, so I was hoping for similar outcomes for this weekend.

The weather worked out pretty well, sunny and a light northwesterly wind. At first I had planned to catch the morning high tide but the turkey dinner at friend’s from the night before scratched that idea. By the time I got up, the tide had already peaked. Instead, we hit the afternoon incoming tide. Even though the second tide is not as high, I have experienced good results just as the tide started rising. You’d be surprised how shallow the water is at where some fish would be travelling through.

We arrived at the chosen spot at 3:00pm. The tide was just turning and water clarity was as poor as it could get. The mud bank in front of us was just submerged. Because water clarity was so poor, lure or fly fishing was out of the question. Bottom fishing with roe was the only method that could produce a fish or two.

I took out some roe from the cooler and it instantly changed the air quality around us. After our last trip to the Vedder, I started drying some roe that were leftovers. Instead of drying them for only 12 hours, I forgot and they were left on the rack for 48 hours. By the time I checked them, they were hard as rocks and little green fuzzy molds were popping out on the skeins. Disappointed, I wrapped them up and packed them in the fridge anyway for yesterday’s excursion. After being left in the fridge for a couple of days, they had softened up a bit. Since the water is muddy, I didn’t think the molds would matter.

Once I had both our rods out on the holders, the waiting game began. My record in this type of fishing is poor. Too often I end up losing patience or missing bites, that’s why I always prefer fishing with lures or flies. I had my dad’s rig settled not too far from shore while mine was much further out. Sometimes coho salmon travel through pretty close to shore.

During the first 15 or so minutes, there was a sculpin party happening. Little nibbles were happening on both rods until everything was chewed off on the hooks. Once we rebaited, the party stopped and we were greeted by something more appealing. Dad’s rod began dancing in the holder not long after it was cast out. The first set of bites almost pulled the rod off the holder while he was not paying attention. By the time he reached the rod, the fish was long gone. The second set of bites also did not look like sculpins. When the third set of bites took place on his rod, he held it up to detect more bites but little did he notice the line had gone slack. I urged him to reel in quickly as the fish was swimming toward him. By the time he regained tension, there was nothing on the hook.

These were great signs, but it was rather frustrating that no fish had been hooked yet. They were either coho or bull trout. The bites kept coming from the same shallow spot and finally Dad was able to hook a fish. The fish stayed under while he brought it in, suggesting that it was a bull trout. A skinny bull trout surfaced and swam into my net after a minute or so. It was not what we were after, but this was keeping the day very entertaining.

The bites stopped for awhile after the bull trout was released, then my dad was once again seeing bites on his rod. This time the bites were not as big, but still did not seem like sculpins. He held the rod up slightly, to feel the tugs. Once the nibbles became pulls, he set the hook. Immediately, a fish broke surface at where I had casted his rig. It was clearly a coho salmon. I quickly ran down the rocks with the net, without realizing the fish was much bigger than what we first thought. It began swimming to the left and went under my line. I frantically ran back up so I could bring in my line without tangling the fish. Once my rod was packed away, I made my way down the rocks again. Meanwhile, this fine fish performed two jumps in front of us, darting around like a submarine. At one point it swam toward shore so fast that my dad thought he had lost the fish. Eventually, the fish surfaced on its side, within my reach. I extended the landing net and barely scooped its whole body into it. I noticed the adipose fin right away and passed on the bad news to the proud catcher.

It was one of the bigger coho salmon that I have seen caught down here. Back in the mid 90s, it was a norm to see many specimens like this each day, but not so in the last decade. This fish was perhaps just over 10lb. I instructed my dad to climb his way down the rocks so we could get a good photo of it before sending it back home. The tail was so thick that he had trouble gripping it so thanks to another nearby angler, we ended up posing with the fish together.

The rest of the evening was rather uneventful. Like a good guide, I made sure that I did not get any bites on my rod so I would not outperform the guest. Chum salmon were rolling on the surface in good numbers as the tide rose. We called it a day at 7:00pm when the wind became a bit too chilly. Water clarity actually improved a bit when tide was peaking, good enough for throwing a spoon in my opinion.

So, yesterday’s lesson is, rock-hard roe with fuzzy green mold is the ticket if you want to catch big coho salmon in the Tidal Fraser River, so start aging your roe in the garage.

Now that my dad has caught a chinook and a coho during this stay, we have to work on getting a chum before he leaves town on Thursday.

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