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Archive for April, 2014

A Hot Day of Fishing with Dad

Published on Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

The first “heat wave” of the year arrived this week. Our recent trip to Ucluelet was pounded by heavy rain during the entire time, so I have been looking forward to taking my own boat out for a day of fishing under the sun. Since my dad is currently visiting from Taiwan, yesterday was the perfect day to get out and catch some trout.

Originally I was considering bringing him to one of the lakes near Merritt as the fish are generally bigger and stronger compared to the fisheries available in the Lower Mainland. At the end, we decided to stick to somewhere local as a one day trip that involves at least four hours of driving in total can be quite tiring.

I decided to take him to Hicks Lake at Sasquatch Provincial Park, which is relatively close for a day trip for anglers from Metro Vancouver yet provides pretty productive fishing consistently. Hicks Lake is part of GoFishBC‘s catchable rainbow trout stocking program, it yields a different result than the Fishing in the City lakes. Beside newly stocked Fraser Valley rainbow trout, you also like to catch fish that have been overwintering in the lake. These fish, after spending one or two more years in the lake, are much bigger. Cutthroat trout, which were once stocked until several years ago, kokanee, and native rainbow trout are also common encounters.

We began our day pretty slowly by arriving at the lake at 10:30am. The first boat trip of the season also takes awhile to get going, after all the accessories have been collecting dust in the garage so things are easily forgotten. Just before leaving, Dad reminded me that he still needed to renew his freshwater fishing licence, so I hopped upstairs, renewed it online in a few minutes. It’s always important to check your licences before heading out, so your day would not be ruined.

As we made our way out, fish could be seen splashing on the flat surface. A light breeze was keeping us cool. The view from the middle of the lake could not have been more spectacular. Two islands in the middle of the lake, with the snowy mountains and cloudless sky in the background, Dad could not stop commenting on it. The landscape in this province is grand and cannot be found in most parts of this planet. Too often we take it for granted until a visitor renews that appreciation.

Spectacular View at Hicks Lake BC

Our choice of bait was single eggs and cured krill. Trout usually find these irresistible. We began by fishing on the bottom at the depth of 20 feet. While there were bites, it was not consistent.

Patiently Awaiting for a Trout

After hooking and losing a couple of fish, I decided that we should switch to a float rig and suspend the bait at around 6 to 8 feet deep. There were fish rising around us, so luring them closer to the surface should not be too difficult.

That change indeed made a big difference as we, or mostly Dad, were watching our floats dipping constantly. The hook-ups were also non-stop, plenty of fish were brought to the boat. The number 6 hook did not seem too small for the fish, as all of them were not hooked deeply and could be released quickly.

I spent most of my day practicing my underwater photography and was able to capture a couple of satisfactory shots.

Underwater Trout

Underwater Trout

The fish we caught were a mix of stocked and native rainbow trout. Both can be identified quite easily by their behaviour and physical appearance. The native rainbow trout are skinner and less spotted, while the stocked Fraser Valley rainbow trout are fatter with a heavily spotted body. Native rainbow trout jump many times when they are hooked, while Fraser Valley rainbow trout do not.

A Native Rainbow Trout from Hicks Lake BC

Newly Stocked Fraser Valley Rainbow Trout

Dad was also very satisfied with his catches and the limit of fish he could bring home to enjoy. He rarely fishes for trout, so being able to catch and eat his own is in fact quite especially, regardless whether they are stocked fish or not.

With one good lake trip down, I am looking forward to the next two months. Hopefully you will also get a chance to experience our fabulous lake fisheries this spring.

Your Freshwater Fishing Licence, Investment Well Spent

Published on Monday, April 28th, 2014

If you fish in British Columbia’s lakes and rivers, then you need to renew your annual freshwater fishing licence on April 1st every year. At $36 per year for an adult who resides in this province, freshwater fishing is one of the cheapest recreational activities you can participate in. The general licence fee has remained the same for many years now, despite of the rise in cost for everything else.

Quite often, the question “where does that money go to?” is raised and the general angling public rarely has the right answer. Many believe the licence fees we pay are deposited into general revenue for the provincial government, which is in fact not correct. Most of the general licence fee is used to fund Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC‘s operations. These operations include the production of trout and char at five of their hatcheries, and the stockings of these fish into hundreds of lakes in this province for anglers to enjoy.

The conservation surcharges which you pay, as well as a small percentage of your general licence fee, are used to fund Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. HCTF is a not-for-profit organization which funds many conservation related projects in BC. In 2013, the foundation spent 2.5 million dollars on 60 different fish conservation projects.

Beside conservation projects, the foundation also spends money on recreational fishing development projects which the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC has initiated. These projects include fishing infrastructures at various urban lakes in Regions 1 and 2 to make your fishing experience more enjoyable, the learn to fish program which introduces fishing to youngsters.

Not only is your licence fees and conservation surcharges helping our freshwater fish populations, they are also investments which will result in better fishing experiences. It is money well spent!

Early Season Chinook Salmon Fishing in Ucluelet, Day Two

Published on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

After bagging several chinook salmon from Barkley Sound on day one, this trip was already a success and we still had day two to look forward to. We spent the remaining afternoon resting up at the Whiskey Landing Lodge before heading to the Ucluelet Aquarium for a brief visit. Last year, we were able to donate two Pacific halibut to the aquarium so I was eager to catch up with curator Laura on their status. It turned out both fish have been transferred to the Vancouver aquarium and another facility in Toronto.

Laura at Ucluelet Aquarium assesses a kelp greenling before releasing it into the tank

While we were there, a few volunteers returned from a day of collection so our timing was bang on. The collected specimen included lingcod, kelp greenling, and rockfish. The star of the transfer was a giant Pacific octopus which took awhile to make its way into the holding tank.

A Giant Pacific Octopus at the Ucluelet Aquarium

Ucluelet Aquarium is a community aquarium and all specimen are caught in nearby waters and released back to their habitat at the end of the summer season. The exhibits reflect the West Coast marine habitat and its inhabitants. If you decide to do a fishing charter with Big Bear Salmon Charters and stay at the Whiskey Landing Lodge, then this is a must visit as it is right next door to the lodge.

Our goal on day two was to possibly give halibut a try if weather permitted. The marine forecast did not look promising, but Darren thought we may have a two hour window at first light. We motored out of the inlet at 6:30am and the swells were already looking fairly intimidating. The ride to the halibut ground was very fun, but it did not look good for fishing. Once we arrived at the chosen spot, Darren assessed the condition and decided that it was worsening so we had to turn around. A little disappointed about missing the halibut fishing, but one has to trust the skipper as he knows best and always puts his clients’ safety in priority. The offshore fishing is always a gamble, especially early in the season when weather is still unstable.

With one option scratched, we decided to make our way back to the sound for more chinook salmon hunting. Instead of returning to the same spot where the fishing was a little inconsistent, Darren took us to Swale Rock, another well known spot for productive chinook salmon fishing. The condition in the sound was much more desirable. Swale Rock is further inside the sound so the water was almost flat calm. Light rain was drizzling down from the sky and the nearby islands were blanketed by thick fog. The boat was filled with anticipation as we dropped both rods down. Could we bump into some good fish?

Since I did not manage to bring in a keeper yesterday, the gang decided that I should have the first go. The bite was almost immediate, right after Darren was having second thought as scattered kelp pieces drifted by us. I dove for the rod and set the hook on my own while Dan began filming with the camera. The hook-set was good and the fish gained some line before approaching the surface in the far horizon. Unfortunately, the dreadful pop could be felt when the flasher surfaced. It is not uncommon to have fish being lost when they surface, because the sudden pop of the flasher on the surface can change the tension of the line.

Slightly embarrassed, I said Iwan should have the next go as he had the smallest fish on the day before. I was not about to lose two fish in a row for the team! The action could be considered non-stop, because as soon as Darren dropped the rig down to the depth and turned around, I saw the line popping out of the downrigger clip right away. “Fish!”, I screamed, making Darren doing a 180 and setting the hook. Iwan grabbed the rod and played the fish carefully while I made the comment of not losing the fish. Just as I finished the words, his fish also popped off as it neared the surface!

Fighting a Chinook Salmon in Barkley Sound

Zero for two, Iwan and I were now scared to touch the rods. We decided to give Kitty a go at the next fish. Once we finished trolling the rest of the path, Darren drove the boat back to the starting point to repeat the troll. Instead of trolling back, he believed that trolling in the same direction where we were heading against the current was more effective. Previous two fish were caught in the same area, so we were hoping for the same results.

Sure enough, like magic, the bite came again when we reached the “hot spot”. There clearly was a school of fish feeding in the area. Darren handed the rod to Kitty, who seemed a bit hesitant after the hard fight on the day before. This fish took a good run and the reel handle injured one of her knuckles in the process. These reels are known as knuckle busters for a good reason. With her injured right hand which she used to reel with, this was turning into a struggle.

Darren gave her a hand by lifting the rod as she could barely do it on her own. The fight must have taken at least 5 minutes before the fish surfaced. Kitty walked back, kept the rod as high as possible so Darren could reach the fish with the landing net. The fish was not particularly long, but it was thick. Although it was smaller than her first fish on the previous day, Kitty thought it put up a more exhausting fight.

Kitty's Beautiful Chinook Salmon from Barkley Sound BC

An Injured Knuckle while Fishing for Chinook Salmon

The knuckle was quite cut up from the reel handle during the fight so Dan took care of the battle would in the cabin while the rest of us waited for another bite. Dan and I thought Iwan should have another go because this was his one and only West Coast trip for the year. When the bite finally came, he was glad that we gave him that chance!

The Spacious Cabin Aboard Big Bear Salmon Charters' Custom Weldcraft

This fish took the longest run of the day. Once it stopped moving, it really stopped moving. For awhile, Iwan could not move the fish at all and it was a waiting game. Once there was some movement, he was able to gain some line and the fish started approaching the surface. It felt like a much bigger fish than all others, and it was. Once the fish zipped across the surface from one side of the boat to the other, the challenge was to bring it closer to the boat. Somehow that became an impossible task. Whenever Iwan pulled it closer, it dove down and took out some more line.

This tug of war went on several times while we nervously watched on. I was quite certain that the fish was going to come loose but finally Darren gave the landing net one long reach and precisely scooped up what could be considered as a trophy fish for early spring. To everyone’s surprise, this fish must have been close to 20lb! Iwan could not have been happier because it was possibly his biggest chinook salmon ever.

Iwan's Biggest Chinook Salmon

The bites were very steady for three hours as we made the same trolling paths repeatedly. Dan picked up a small legal fish next and it was my turn to redeem myself. The next bite came literally seconds after Dan’s fish once Darren dropped the rig down. I grabbed the rod once again and gave it a firm hook-set. It felt like another good fish which also took a long run. As the fish approached the surface, I made sure the flasher did not jeopardize the line tension by preventing it from popping in and out of the water. The flat sea made that task easier.

Admiring Dan's Small Salmon

This fish cooperated once it was near the surface. I was confident that it would be landed. I was gaining line at a steady pace when out of no where, a big patch of kelp came floating past the boat. With only seconds to react, Darren and I did our best to keep the fish out of the patch but it floated directly over the line. I held on and hoped the fish would stay on but it was not meant to be. The pressure from the kelp patch kept the fish under it , which eventually snapped the leader! Talk about bad luck! Perhaps the guide needed to set the hook for me to improve the landing ratio.

A little disappointed but we were still hopeful that the bites would carry on. We quickly motored back to the starting point, retied and sent the rigs down again. Just like that, the bites turned off like a switch. It was the only troll that did not produce a fish when we went through the same spot. I found it more comical than frustrating, as anyone who fishes frequently understands how common this can be.

Seeing that the bites had turned off just after Noon, we decided to call it a day so we could enjoy a bit of down time back in town before heading home. Once we docked the boat and Darren started cleaning our fish, the local visitors came.

Cleaning our Catches at Big Bear Salmon Charters

At first, a harbour seal circled by the cleaning station looking for goodies, then a group of sea lions took over the spot. They barked and chased each other around, selectively grabbing the best part of the salmon carcasses we discarded while leaving the guts behind.

Sea Lion in Ucluelet Harbour Sea Lion in Ucluelet Harbour Sea Lion in Ucluelet Harbour

Sea Lions in Ucluelet Harbour

Just like that, our annual visit to Ucluelet came to an end. This quiet seaside town has become one of many spots in this province where I look forward to visiting each year. It’s not just the fishing, but the atmosphere, friendly people and wildlife make this a fabulous fishing retreat. Beside the hot fishing between June and August, it is worth considering a visit to Ucluelet in April and May.

Biggest Catch of the Day

Kitty Holding Her Catch at the Dock

For more information on West Coast salmon and halibut fishing charter trips offered by Big Bear Salmon Charters, please check out their website at bigbearsalmoncharters.com. For more information on accommodation at Whiskey Landing Lodge, please visit their website at whiskeylanding.com. Both offer early season fishing and accommodation packages in April and May!

Early Season Chinook Salmon Fishing in Ucluelet, Day One

Published on Sunday, April 20th, 2014

In the past couple of years, thanks to our supporter Big Bear Salmon Charters, I have visited Ucluelet and discovered its hidden gems. Last year, we returned in April and were blown away by the non-stop halibut action. After retaining our limit of halibut and transferring two additional live fish to the Ucluelet Aquarium, the guys went out for some early season chinook salmon fishing without me. They were able to pick up one prized fish each in the short outing. Since I missed the action, I was determined to come back this spring. When head guide and manager Darren Dickenson reported hot salmon fishing last week, I booked my dates with no hesitation.

I invited my friends Iwan, Dan and Kitty along for the trip. Iwan and I have known each other for over ten years through his wife Kira. Currently residing in the UK, he travels here each year to visit his in-laws and always takes advantage of it by doing a couple of fishing trips. Catching a salmon in the ocean back home is rare so he was thrilled to tag along. To say Dan and Kitty enjoy fishing is an understatement. When not at school, both spend their free time catching as many fish as possible from every stream. Both have just been accepted as summer staffs at Go Fish BC, so this was kind of a celebration prior to the start of their jobs. This was Kitty’s first saltwater trip, so it was filled with both excitement and anxiety.

Whiskey Landing Lodge in Ucluelet BC

Our accommodation for the trip was Whiskey Landing Lodge, which just opened last July. Located by Ucluelet Harbour, the lodge is just a short walk to our charter boat. Available rooms range from studios to two-bedroom suites. Our one-bedroom suites had a spectacular view of the entire harbour. I sat and watched playful sea lions until the sun set on the day of our arrival. This was better than television!

Whiskey Landing Lodge in Ucluelet BC

Whiskey Landing Lodge in Ucluelet BC

The Bedroom at Whiskey Landing Lodge in Ucluelet BC

Our game plan for the two-day fishing trip was to hop on the boat at 6:30am and attempt to find chinook salmon around the islands of Broken Group on the first day. The weather was not exactly appealing. After a week of sunshine, the rain returned upon our arrival. Sky water was not our biggest concern of course, the wind is always the biggest challenge when fishing on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Darren greeted us at the office by the entrance of the lodge where we could change into the suits and boots supplied by the charter. Proper marine wear is important to keep the moisture and wind away from the guests, who need to endure eight hours of fishing in the Pacific. Our boat was the 30ft custom built Weldcraft, which is a new addition to Big Bear’s fleet since last year. This boat accommodates up to six people and has a spacious heated cabin, a fridge and a stand-up washroom. If comfort is important when going on a charter trip, then this is the boat for you.

Big Bear Salmon Charters' 30ft Custom Weldcraft

Big Bear Salmon Charters' 30ft Custom Weldcraft

As we made our way out to the Broken Group, the waves were getting bigger so heading offshore was definitely out of the question. Darren picked the outer edge of Barkley Sound as our starting point where he had some success lately. To catch early winter chinook salmon, we trolled the lures at approximately 150ft deep where they fed on Pacific sand lance and other baitfish.

Islander Mooching Reels and Shimano Rods are Standard Setups for Salmon Trolling

We decided that Kitty should have the first go because she had never caught one. It did not take long for the first bite to come after both rods were dropped to the chosen depths. Darren set the hook firmly as soon as I called out the the bite and Kitty was in for a surprise once the rod was passed onto her.

“What do I do?”, she held on as the line peeled off the Islander MR2 while the boat rocked from side to side. She struggled to hold on and realized this was a lot tougher than fighting a coho salmon in the river. The rain and wind did not make it easier for her either, which were numbing the fingers and keeping the reel handle slick.

A minute after the hook-up, this fish decided to approach the boat fast like they almost always do. Kitty had to pick up the slack line and keep the tension on. As it reached the surface, Darren was ready with the landing net. The fish could easily be lost during this crucial period. The waves constantly changed the line tension, giving the fish many chances to free itself. The line could have easily broken off if it decided to take another dive while the reel was palmed too hard.

After a short tense moment, the relief came when Darren made the precise scoop under this fine silver chinook salmon. Kitty was exhausted and could barely give Dan a high five. “Another item off the bucket list!”, she said.

Kitty's First Chinook Salmon on the West Coast of Vancouver Island

Having a fish on board so quickly is always a good feeling. It meant there should be more down there! The following bite came shortly after the first fish. It was Iwan’s turn and this fish pulled just as hard as the first one. To our surprise, it was considerably smaller when it reached the surface. It was still a keeper, as it was over the minimum length of 45cm in Area 23.

Iwan's chinook salmon from Ucluelet BC

Both fish were caught roughly in the same spot, indicating that a school of fish may be lurking beneath. Although the sound may seem like one giant puddle where fish can be swimming anywhere, Darren explained that tide, weather pattern and bottom contour can all influence the bites. Local guides such as himself use their years of experience to locate these fish. Most days the decisions pay off, while the lack of bites on some days can be rather baffling.

Our third take occurred in the same area again, but the hook-up came up empty. Unlike what many might assume, trolling does not always result in the fish hooking themselves. The bites are often hard to spot when the trolling depth is over 100ft deep. Setting the hook needs to be firm and precise, by reeling down the slack line before the single motion hard set.

Awaiting for the Next Bite

We originally expected the bites to improve around Noon when the tide peaked, but the theory did not pan out. The rain fell heavily while we watched the rods intently. It is early spring in British Columbia after all.

Heavy Rain at Barkley Sound BC

By late morning, Dan and I both managed to bring in an undersized chinook salmon which we released promptly. A couple of other fish brought in were canary rockfish, which are not unusual encounters when trolling close to the bottom.

Battling a Chinook Salmon on the West Coast of Vancouver Island

Canary Rockfish

I can never get tired of the scenery around the Broken Group. While I enjoy the tranquility of a lake, the ever changing open ocean takes my breath away. Where else can you catch a fine salmon while the waves break along the rocky ledges and eagles perched high above the coniferous forest? The experience is truly world class and British Columbians are lucky to have a diverse selection of terrains where we can spend our holidays.

Spectacular Scenery on the West Coast of Vancouver Island Spectacular Scenery on the West Coast of Vancouver Island Spectacular Scenery on the West Coast of Vancouver Island

Seeing how the bites had sharply turned off, Darren decided that we should give another spot a try so we motored over to the Great Bear, which is a well known productive spot. The first pass after the lures were dropped produced a bite immediately. I screamed out as usual while Darren ran for the rod, which was handed to Dan.

“That ain’t a rockfish!”, Darren remarked while the reel screamed in Dan’s hand. The run lasted around 20 seconds before the line went completely slack. This fish had made a complete U turn and ran toward the boat. Dan frantically picked up the slack but Darren believed the fish was long gone. To our surprise, the fish remained on and took another short run before popping up on the surface. Dan and Darren demonstrated great team work as one guided the ten pounder into the net. Everyone clapped to celebrate after enduring a few hours of down time.

Dan's Chinook Salmon

With a little bit of time left for this trip, we quickly dropped the gear and made the same pass to see if we could pick up one more fish for me. It was not meant to be, despite of trying for another 30 minutes. It is fishing after all, and I was extremely pleased that my friends were able to experience the thrill which I have enjoyed many times in the past! We headed back to the harbour at 3:00pm to rest up at the lodge so we could be prepared for day two.

Happy Customers at Big Bear Salmon Charters

For more information on West Coast salmon and halibut fishing charter trips offered by Big Bear Salmon Charters, please check out their website at bigbearsalmoncharters.com. For more information on accommodation at Whiskey Landing Lodge, please visit their website at whiskeylanding.com. Both offer early season fishing and accommodation packages in April and May!

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