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Archive for October, 2011

The pursuit of silvers ends happily

Published on Saturday, October 15th, 2011

Today marked the sixth day to the Chilliwack River in the past two weeks, which is probably the most I’ve fished in a long time. It seems like a lot, but when the fishing is this good, one better take advantage of it because it’s only going to last for a few more weeks.

After our trip on Tuesday, we didn’t expect to come again because I thought the river was going to keep rising. The weather forecast took a different turn and suddenly the river has dropped to optimal level once again. Seeing some reports of great catches yesterday, I was confident that we would see some fish today. Originally Nina was going to be behind the camera today so we could put together a float fishing video feature, but she picked up a cold and decided to stay home. Instead, I asked if my dad would like to go one more time before his annual visit to Vancouver ends next week. He of course was glad to tag along. To date, he had yet to land a hatchery marked coho salmon from the Chilliwack River. After numerous attempts since 2004, something always went wrong. The timing was wrong, the bite was off, the fish popped off, or like last Tuesday, it was a wild fish.

Shane, who also has had bad luck on Vedder coho, decided to join us as well. We arrived at the meeting spot just after 6:00am since we had a long walk to the chosen spot. I suggested that we should go back to where my dad and I caught some fish on Tuesday. The run seemed pretty nice on Tuesday when the water was higher, but upon our arrival, I was a bit skeptical. With water level slightly lower, the run seemed to be a bit too fast for my liking. Personally, I really like to fish in slow moving flow where coho salmon can hold. It also makes float watching much more easily. It was too late to change the plan as we were so close to first light, so our only option was to give this run a chance.

Once it was bright enough, we started with floating some pink salmon roe. The first thirty minutes or so was very quiet. I could see some anglers in nearby runs where water was slower landing some coho salmon. My only hope is that as the day went on, perhaps fish would move from slower to faster parts of the river. The bite usually comes on a bit later, so I was not too worried.

After working through the run and figuring out exactly how deep all the spots are, I finally saw a couple of silver backs finning a bit further out from where we had been drifting. Excited, I rebaited and sent the float out to the lane. The first few drifts produced nothing, but there was finally a good take at the end of a drift. I gave it a good strike and the hard kicks on the rod suggested a coho salmon was at the end of the line. My dad quickly came over to see. The fish was guided into the shallow pretty fast. Perhaps almost too fast, because suddenly the hook popped out right in front of us.

That was not exactly a good sign. It was actually the second bad sign of the day. The first one was the big skunk crossing the road in front of me just when I pulled the car out from my driveway at 5:00am.

Seeing a fish being hooked always motivates everyone. It made us focus more on our floats. My dad was the next one to hook up. This fish must have grabbed his bait while he was retrieving it because I didn’t even see a hook-set. It was a massive coho salmon, one of the biggest one that he has ever hooked for sure. The fish did a few acrobatic rolls in front of us. Like the first fish, it also came into the shallow water very fast. Before I had a chance to instruct what he should do to guide the fish in, the hook also suddenly popped out. My dad let out a disappointing moan, the one that all of us have made when we feel that dreadful pop.

With two fish involuntarily released back to the river, we were getting a bit frustrated. My float disappeared once again soon after. This time, a much smaller fish could be felt. It was a coho jack, which came to my hand pretty fast. A hatchery marked fish it was. Dad suggested that we should keep it. I said that maybe today I would encounter four adult coho salmon. He said fat chance, so onto the beach this fish went as a consolation prize.

Chilliwack River hatchery coho jack

A few minutes after the kill, I could hear a loud hook-set at the top of the run. It was Shane, who held his drift rod high to keep the line tight. Splashes could be seen right in front of him, which indicated that it was another coho salmon. Both my dad and I quickly went upstream to lend him a hand. It turned out to be a wild coho salmon so it swam away freely after a photo or two.

Chilliwack River wild coho salmon

After several bites in a row, it became quiet again. Shane started to wander off as he dislikes fishing at the same spot all the time. My dad and I remained at the same run, hoping for more fish to move in. Eventually I went up to the top of the run where Shane hooked his first fish. After a couple of drift, the float shot underneath the surface. It went down so fast, so it was unlikely a snag. I set the hook and my entire float rig flew back to me because it was already so close to the bank. I quickly put some new bait on, cast it out to the same drift. Once again, the float was pulled down. This time, I could feel something after the hook-set but it quickly fell off. I rebaited once again, cast it slightly further out. When the float reached the same area, it disappeared again. This time, instead of setting the hook fast, I decided to wait for another second and softly pulled the rod back. There was fair amount of motionless resistance at first, followed by a few head shakes. A fish it was! A few seconds later, a silver body broke out on the surface. Like the other fish, it also darted toward the shallows right away. I rewinded as fast as I could to gain line control. Within a minute, I turned the fish to its side and could see the absence of the adipose fin. While I happily pushed the fish up the bank by its tail, my dad had come up. Both of us were pretty excited and relieved after going home with an empty cooler in the last several trips.

With one adult and one jack coho on the beach, I now had more confidence. The first skein of fresh roe had been used up. I decided to take out some older roe. Well, old is bit of an understatement. This skein of roe has been aging in the fridge since two weeks ago during our first trip to the Vedder. It was cured so nicely so I didn’t want to refreeze it. The result was much harder piece of egg colony, decorated with molds in different colours. Last year, we caught some beautiful coho in the Lower Fraser River with roe in similar conditions, so I didn’t see why this wouldn’t work. What better way to test than by putting it on the hook of an unsuspecting angler? I looped a big piece onto my dad’s hook.

By this point Shane had returned to our run after seeing my bigger catch from further down. Both of us worked the top of the run while my dad worked the tailout where he lost his first fish. While we were chatting away, my dad called out loudly. I turned around and could see him fighting a good fish. Both of us dropped our rods and went down to assist. I reminded him to guide the fish into the little shallow bay further downstream. Nervously, he walked down with a coho buck that seemingly had given up. I cautioned him that it would probably make another dash when its abdomen touched the shallow bottom. Luckily, it didn’t. Instead, it rolled in the shallow water a few times. I reached down and grabbed onto the tail firmly before checking for the adipose fin. It was absent so I quickly scooped it up onto the beach. His first hatchery coho salmon was now landed. My dad cheered as he had just won the lottery. It was a male coho salmon, roughly around 6lb like the one I had killed.

His first hatchery coho salmon

Recounting what happened, my dad said that fish had already took the float down once prior to being hooked. He recast the remaining bait to the same spot and the float went down again, which surprised him. When I opened up this fish’s stomach, dozens of cured eggs spewed out of it. I guess it was hungry.

After some deserving rest, I put some more of that moldy roe onto his hook again and we returned to fish the head of the run while he worked his hot spot at the tailout. Amazingly, our conversation was once again interrupted by commotion further downstream. I turned around and could not believe what I was seeing. My dad’s rod was bent to its fullest while another silver coho leaped completely out of the water further downstream from him. This time, the fish had taken him downstream into the faster water like what happened on Tuesday. I told him to point his rod upstream and sideway instead of straight up, because the fish would magically follow back upstream to him. Unlike Tuesday, when he had quite a bit of difficulty, this fish cooperated and was back up to where he was in no time. Once the fish was under control, we started working on landing the fish in the shallow bay. Like a replay of the previous fish, it didn’t show much of a struggle and turned to its side once my dad pulled it into the shallow water. I reached down and was delighted to see another fish without an adipose fin. “Is it a wild? Is it a wild?”, he asked anxiously. I held it up and walked up the bank to him, which answered his question.

A pair of great catches from Chilliwack River

With three adult and one jack coho salmon on the beach, this was now turning into one of the more memorable trips. All good thing comes to an end of course, the bite died off at around 10:30am. Before that happened, I managed to bring in another hatchery marked coho jack.

We worked our roe through the run until 11:30am without much success. Shane gave his spoon a try in the last 30 minutes or so and managed to find one more wild coho salmon. His hatchery coho salmon remained illusive.

Fall salmon fishing in Chilliwack River

In total, we were able to produce nine hook-ups, which wasn’t too bad for a morning session. I’m not sure if these fish were simply moving through, or actually holding at one spot. My guess is that they were just moving through because the bites were not too consistent. From our conversations with other anglers later on, it sounds like other parts of the river were producing better as some were going home with their limits of fish. That’s ok, we were more than satisfied with our results.

Until this day, the pursuit of coho salmon by float fishing on the Chilliwack River has been a frustrating one for my dad. At the age of 75, his mobility is no longer good so every trip is limited to a couple of spots, which means some luck is needed when finding these sneaky silvers. A day like today completes this pursuit and wraps up his 2011′s visit to Vancouver nicely.

The perfect day

Published on Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Since Chris introduced the fall coho salmon fishery on the Chilliwack to me in 2002, I have experienced many other fisheries across this province. Most are much more remote than this “urban” salmon stream, yet I keep returning each year to this crowded fishery. It is difficult to explain to people why I spend hours curing roe, building spinners, getting up at 3:30am, driving 1.5 hours and waiting in the dark by the river bank where salmon carcasses stink up the air, only for a few opportunities to see that orange top of the float disappears. The simplest explanation is fun. It is fun, not in the way that searching for trout at a remote stream by yourself, but in more of a competitive aspect. It is fun to challenge yourself to catch many fish when there are hundreds of others who are seeking for the same thing. It is fun to be able to bring home some fish to eat.

A perfect fall day on the Chilliwack River is when I am able to figure out where a school of coho is, avoid being disturbed by too many anglers, entice them to bite at first light, hook them when the float goes down each time, and land these acrobatic fish which so often make my hook seem rubbery. Before each trip, I always believe it is that perfect day. Most trips end with a pair of droopy eyes on the way home, from a lack of sleep the night before and hours of float staring. Sometimes the fish are simply not there. Sometimes they simply are not biting. Sometimes the bite is on but the hook is not sticking. Those perfect days come rarely because it is hard to have all the elements working at the same time. Yesterday was one of those rare days.

After being outperformed by Nina on Monday and using the crowd as my excuse, I was determined to bring in some coho salmon yesterday. The weather forecast looked great, Cloudy and rainless. River level has also risen slightly but not too much, so the possibility of fresh fish moving in was big. Both of us knew that the fishing could be hot, so the outing was followed by another restless night. We got up at 3:00am, hoping to arrive earlier so we could fish at the spot where we wanted without much disturbance.

We stood by the river at 6:15am in the dark. There is something quite special about listening to salmon splashing in the dark, watching the sky gradually brightening up and being the first one to wet a line in a run that is untouched for almost 12 hours. Once it was bright enough to see the orange top of our floats on the water, we baited up and started our drifts. A few people arrived at the same time and chose to fish further upstream so we had plenty of space to work the run.

After several drifts, Nina’s float took the first dive and she definitely was wide awake because her swift hook-set resulted in a coho salmon dancing at the end of her line. The bend in the rod suggested that it was a very good fish. I walked out of the water to give this fish some room to run. After doing its rolls and dives for a few minutes, Nina carefully slid it up into the shallow water where I identified it as a hatchery coho buck, which weighed in at 9lb. I grabbed his tail and slid him up the beach. While bleeding her first catch, I thought, “Not again, I’m going to be outfished!”

Once we rebaited and started fishing again, my float took the next dive but the hook-set only sent the entire float rig flying back to me again. It made me feel better when Nina did the exact same thing soon after. This repeated itself a few times until I brought in a small coho jack. Around the same time, Nina also landed another unusual catch, a largescale sucker. We were having a problem with small fish pecking on our roe. I quickly released this jack without bringing it to shore and decided to switch to my spinning rod so I could work with the spoon.

One problem with spoon fishing at a tailout, especially in low lighting at an unfamiliar run, is the likelihood of foul hooking a pink salmon or snagging up on the bottom. At first, I had that exact problem because I couldn’t see the school of pink salmon that I kept bringing my lure through. After foul hooking a couple of pinks, I had a hard tug in the middle of the run. When I set the hook, this fish bolted downstream like a snagged chinook salmon. I held onto the rod as the fish left like a freight train. Assuming that it was a foul hooked fish, I was about to point my rod straight and give up but changed my mind when I saw a large silver body splashing in the horizon. It was a large coho salmon! At the same time, this fish had stopped running. I started walking and gaining line on my spinning reel while the fish stayed at the same spot. When I reached the the spot, I was surprised to see a big hatchery coho buck, which weighed in at 10lb later, laying on his side in the shallow tailout. He had run himself to death! The spoon hook was firmly embedded in his tongue. I never had a fish that runs without a head shake right after grabbing a lure. I dispatched this fish, grabbed onto his tail, walked back up with a big grin and made sure Nina knew that mine was bigger than her first.

As if it were a competition, Nina was into another fish not long after I wet my line again. This time, she played the fish into the shallow water pretty fast. Before she brought the fish further in, I quickly stopped her when I spotted the adipose fin on its back. I reached down and easily removed the hook from the mouth of this wild coho salmon, which was roughly 5 or 6lb. It turned around and darted back to the run without being touched.

After bringing three fish to our hands, the bite suddenly tapered off. A few more people showed up but it was no where as busy as Monday. Everyone spaced out comfortably so crowding was not an issue. I switched back to my float rod, hoping that roe will produce more fish. About two hours after we started, there were once again signs of life. That float began to dive again. For some reason, 8:00am or 9:00am seems to be when the bites usually come on. Perhaps that is when fish start moving into and holding in new runs from shallower waters. After a few misses, I finally connected with another fish. This fish didn’t come up to the surface right away, but the head shake suggested that it was another coho salmon. It leaped and ran a couple of times before being guided in easily. It was another male coho salmon without an adipose fin, weighing in at 7lb.

With three fish taken, this was turning into a rather satisfying day. I could stop without complaints, but the morning was young. I kept focusing on the float, which I now had a lot of confidence on. There were biting fish in front of us and it didn’t take long before the orange top disappeared again. I briefly hooked one after a few more casts, followed by another 6lb male hatchery coho salmon brought to shore.

By this point, Nina was slightly frustrated by the lack of dives of her float. I told her that she needed to drift a little further, because I was spotting some fish finning slightly further away from where she was casting. Sometimes if your drift isn’t in their travelling lane, your bait would be untouched. With three hatchery coho salmon under my belt while seeing no action among a couple dozen anglers around me, I must say that I was pretty excited.

Chris showed up to see all the excitement after I phoned in my result. Just as he was arriving, I lost another under the float. For some strange reason, many of my fish this season have been lost just a second or two after they were hooked. I told him what had just happened and be prepared for another one. Sure enough, the float took another dive while we were chatting and this time tension remained at the end of the line. I fought the fish while Chris stood by with his video camera rolling, adding to his home video collection. When the fish reached the shallow water, it made a couple more runs and Chris’ legs almost got in the way. While guiding the fish in, I could see the presence of an adipose fin so I told Nina to hold my rod while I brought the fish in by hand lining. When it tried to make another run, it snapped the leader but ended up almost beaching itself. I quickly grabbed its tail with one hand and cradled its stomach with the other so I could hold it up to show Chris before the release. It was another coho salmon in the 6 to 8lb range.

With a snapped leader, I became a bit lazy and decided to clean up our catches and possibly end the morning outing. Nina continued looking for more coho salmon, but her float simply did not want to swim today. Meanwhile, Chris could not resist after seeing all the catches so he made a few drifts with my rod, but he was just as lucky as Nina.

After all the fish were gutted, I decided to try something a bit different. I tied a spinner with a #3 nickel French blade to my leader. In the past, my lure fishing has always been done without a float. I’ve heard from many who always have successes by fishing with a spinner under the float, so I was hoping to do the same. I cast the float out, held it back so the current would make the spinner spin as the float swung downstream, before slowly retrieving it. Luck was obviously on my side today, because another coho salmon rose to the top and swallowed the spinner while I watched the blade spinning behind the float. I enjoyed every moment of fighting this fish while others looked on with disbelief. After several minutes, another bright hatchery coho salmon was on the beach. This one weighed in at 7lb and completed my quota of the day.

We finished the morning at 11:30am. The best part of the outing was seeing the face of guys when they constantly brought foul-hooked fish downstream to us and saw our coho salmon on the beach. One would think that it is not difficult to put two and two together. Perhaps a change in technique is needed if every single fish at the end of your line is foul hooked. What I noticed was that people tend to look at our fish, but hardly anyone would even look at what we were using. There’s too much focus on the catching instead of on the fishing for some. The worst part of the outing was probably carrying our gear and over 30lb of fish back to the car. I must say that I’m glad to be a meat fisher once awhile. Mornings like this will keep me waking up at 3:00am in many more October days.

Chilliwack River hatchery coho salmon

Vedder, a love and hate relationship – again!

Published on Monday, October 3rd, 2011

We had a good day, or bad day, depending on who you ask.

This morning we decided to do our first Vedder coho trip of 2011. It of course started with a rather sleepless night filled with excitement. The alarm went off at 4:00am and we were on the road by 4:45am. Because the water is so low and hearing success from our friends recently, we decided to bite the bullet and fish one of the more popular spots in the lower section. We arrived by the river at 6:30am with not many people in sight, which was wonderful. The rain may have something to do with it. For the first 30 minutes or so, we were almost alone so the water was not spooked, which is ideal for coho salmon.

Nina started out with the spoon casting outfit as it’s pretty common for undisturbed coho salmon to chase down a piece of moving metal. Sure enough, she was into one fish after a few casts, but it quickly wiggled itself off like what a coho salmon would do.

Once there was enough light to see the float, I sent a piece of freshly cured pink salmon roe out. The water where we were fishing was perhaps 4 or 5ft deep, so I had the float depth adjusted to about 3ft, which should avoid all the aging pink salmon and submerged twigs. The float actually did not dive in the first 15 minutes or so, which was not necessarily strange. During most of our morning outings in the past, fish don’t usually come on the bite at first light, but a period of time after. Is it possible that fish are simply moving from the shallower part of the water where they rest at night into the deeper part as day breaks?

Just when I was about to question how effective my roe was, the float finally took a dive. The first couple were missed as always by my sleepy eyes and arms, then there was a solid hook-up. The fish leaped several times further downstream so I couldn’t see what exactly it was until I brought it closer. It was a rather bright chum salmon, which I released.

Once I rebaited my hook and started fishing again, there was a series of poor hook-sets. At one point, the float dove in three consecutive drifts, but each hook-set only sent the float combo flying back in the air with an empty hook. Sensing that the bite was on, I told Nina to switch to her float setup right away.

While I kept concentrating on fishing further out in the middle, Nina drifted her roe closer to where we were standing as she couldn’t cast further out. That turned out to be a good problem because she had a take-down after a few casts. The hook-set was spot on. After holding out breaths for a couple of minutes, she beached her first hatchery-marked coho salmon of the day. Actually, it was her first coho salmon ever from the Chilliwack River.

Chilliwack River hatchery-marked coho salmon

Knowing that there was a school of active fish right in front of us, we quickly rebaited and sent our floats back into the water. Just when we were expecting to have one of the better days on the flow, more bodies started showing up and lined up just above us. Don’t get me wrong, I in fact enjoy having company fishing around us as some of you have noticed that during the Tidal Fraser River pink salmon season. What really determines how the fishing day turns out is the type of crowd you are fishing with. As expected, long leaders and constant thrashing of the rig in the water turned the bite completely off unfortunately. It was like a switch between night and day. I told Nina that they didn’t stop biting for no reasons.

After a long period of inactivity, there finally was a sign of life. Nina hooked into another good fish. The constant silver flashes in the water and surface splashing suggested another coho salmon, which was similar in size to the first one she landed. She played it nicely into the shallow but the hook popped out right before it was to be tailed.

We then experienced a few good take-downs. At one point, Nina’s float dipped quickly but not fully so she failed to set the hook. I made the following cast to do the same drift and said, “I haven’t had a bite for long time.” Just as I finished the sentence, the float disappeared completely. Of course, the lack of focus sent the empty hook flying back into my face once again! Slightly frustrated, I decided to switch to the spoon setup. Within a few casts, I had a solid hit and hooked into a lively fish, which also unconnected itself in less than a minute!

As the morning progressed, more people appeared behind us and were not afraid to take over the little space there was. I consider myself very easy going when it comes to being surrounded by anglers and try not to judge how anyone fishes, but certain common courtesy should be expected, such as vocally expressing your interest in fishing near me. One individual, who did not have waders, did just that and I was glad to have him fishing not too far downstream from me. We timed our drifts to avoid tangles and it worked out just fine. Another late arriver did the complete opposite. While I walked ten feet away from my spot to take out more roe from the bag, he proceeded to act as my replacement. I kindly informed him that I am still interested in fishing next to my wife. He didn’t seem to understand so I repeated myself one more time until he moved. The same individual also didn’t quite understand that if my rod tip can touch your nose, you maybe causing inconvenience. Finally, his shifty feet performed some cat-like moves. Everytime I moved slightly upstream to help Nina, he moved onto where I was standing. Apparently I was standing on the sweet spot. In the end, as more people showed up, we decided to move much further downstream to the tailout of the run and he of course helped himself to our spot before we even made our way down. This wasn’t a big deal of course, one should choose to take it with humour. As I’ve pointed out in the past, if you choose to stand by a toilet, don’t complain about the smell and flies.

While fishing the shallow tailout, I spotted some coho salmon moving into the run. I decided to shorten up the float depth and focused more on where they were rolling. As expected, the float took another dive and this time my hook-set was pretty precise. The way this fish fought suggested that it was definitely a coho salmon. The silver body, roughly around the same size as Nina’s fish, made its way to me pretty fast. I carefully guided it into the shallow water, but it took one more dash into the deep and I felt the dreadful pop once again!

The rain became heavy at 10:30am, but this did not stop more people from showing up. We finally felt a little uncomfortable and decided to leave the spot. Before we packed it up for the day, I suggested that we should check out another spot where no one was fishing. The high bank made it difficult, but the slot seemed to be untouched and looked very fishy. It didn’t take many drifts of a big piece of roe to confirm my curiosity. The float was taken down hard and a rather heavy fish shook its head repeatedly without surfacing. It was not a coho salmon, but a small chinook salmon. I walked the fish downstream until we found a suitable spot to land it. Nina climbed down and grabbed onto its tail perfectly. The fish was around 8 to 10lb. We decided to release her as one fresh fish in our cooler was already enough for tonight’s fine dinner.

Chilliwack River fall chinook salmon

Overall, I’d say it was a pretty good outing, excluding a few episodes. The hooking wasn’t too bad, now we just need to improve on the landing. While the spot maybe productive, the atmosphere indeed plays a big role on the quality of our trip, so I’ll have to rethink whether we will put ourselves in that situation again anytime soon. As others have pointed out, it is a long river and quiet spots are not uncommon. Once the river rises, fish should spread out quickly and better fishing experience will come shortly.

The change in water level indicated in today’s hydrograph wasn’t noticeable to us while we were fishing, but we noticed a slight change in water clarity as the day went on. Visibility remains pretty good by the time we left but it definitely was not as clear as when we first arrived this morning.

Fly fishing in Rocky Mountains, new video feature

Published on Saturday, October 1st, 2011

We just uploaded a new video feature to our YouTube channel. This one features Nina fly fishing in Southeastern British Columbia for westslope cutthroat trout and mountain whitefish. The video is in Danish, but subtitle is available. Simply click on the “CC” button at the bottom right corner of the video frame to activate it. Enjoy!

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