An unexpected lucky catch

Published on August 23rd, 2011 by Rodney

When Capilano River‘s water level spiked to the extreme yesterday due to the heavy downpour, I was getting pretty restless knowing that many coho salmon would be making their way up the river. After last month’s licence mishap, I really wanted to catch some coho salmon for dinner. Even though it had stopped raining overnight, I didn’t want to be on the river bank before dawn in case the level had not dropped. It is never good start of a day when you walk to the river in the dark only to find it unfishable.

I woke up this morning and found the river level had dropped to very fishable level, so I was somewhat disappointed, thinking that I may have missed a good opportunity. Nina and I decided to give it a go this evening to see if some fresh fish would move into our favourite spot.

We arrived at 5:00pm. As we walked down to the spot, a lady was walking back up. “It’s a good day to be doing that.”, she said. “They’re jumping everywhere!”

Hearing that just made us even more excited, but at the same time I knew the fishing was going to be pretty frustrating. There have been many trips in the past when I stood by the river watching countless splashes but only to come up empty handed.

When we reached our spot, they were indeed jumping. Not only they were jumping, they were finning and they could be seen moving along in the shallow water in 2s and 3s at a time. Some were so close to where we were standing, I could have scooped them out if I had a landing net with me. Seeing that many fish just made me more anxious to get a line in the water. Because of the bait ban in place between August and October, we were limited to artificial lures. I set up Nina’s float fishing rod with a blade at the end of the line, while I armed myself with the usual spoon on my spincasting setup.

The water condition was perfect. The height was just right, the flow was just at the right pace, and it had a tea colour to it. One couldn’t really ask for a better condition for coho salmon fishing. We tried our offerings for twenty minutes or so, while fish continued swimming by us. These fish were obviously not slowing down to take a peek at our presentation.
Meanwhile, other anglers had showed up at our spot, but they were not as prepared. Lacking a pair of waders when the river is flowing high is never a good idea, our newcomers were limited to fishing at a few less desirable spots.

After not showing any result for awhile, I changed the way that I presented the lure a bit. Instead of casting blindly to where fish were jumping, I decided to cast not too far away from fish’s travelling lane and allowed the spoon to swing across so hopefully one would notice and attack it. That strategy paid off shortly when a small coho jack swam up quickly to hit the spoon just before it reached the shallow water. It was one of the smallest coho that I have ever caught. I brought it in without any problem and gently slipped the hook off so it could go back right away.

Not long after, another fish tapped the spoon while it was crossing the travel lane. The tug was pretty light so I did not set the hook hard enough. It was a much bigger fish judging by the size of the flashes in the water and the bend of the rod. Not surprisingly, the hook was spat out seconds later. I should have brought a stiffer spinning rod.

At this point, Nina wanted to try something else. The blade was just not working. I decided to put a jig with a rubber grub tail on for her. Perhaps something out of the ordinary would trick them to bite.

Within a few casts, her float dove and she was into a good fish. It almost looked like a snag at first as the rod was bending fulling while the fish stayed deep down. After holding its spot for awhile, it finally started running and leaping a couple of times. It was a pretty big fish, but was it a coho salmon? At first, Nina yelled, “Bull trout!” Highly unlikely I said. As it came closer to shore, I assumed that it was a coho salmon judging by its chrome body, but was still not entirely sure. When the fish finally reached my hands, I could see the absence of the adipose fin. I then noticed the fully spotted square tail. “Summer steelhead!”, I said. Nina looked on with disbelief.

What were the odds? With hundreds of coho salmon swimming around, a summer steelhead was the last fish that I thought we would encounter. This is a good reminder that every fish needs to be identified correctly before it is kept or released. In the Capilano River, both hatchery marked and wild steelhead are required to be released. Knowing how precious this fish was, I made sure Nina kept it fully in the water while I fetched the camera out of the bag. After a few snaps to capture the memory, Nina opened her hands and it slowly swam back to the pool.

We fished until dark this evening and watched more coho salmon splashing around. Nina of course was pretty satisfied with her first ever summer steelhead, while I was bummed about my coho salmon as usual. Nina said, “I guess there’s no dinner tonight.”

Overall, it was another fantastic outing, without having to go too far away from home. It’s lucky to be an angler in Vancouver.

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