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Ice Fishing in BC, a Fun Family Pastime!

Published on Sunday, December 17th, 2017

In the past several winters, I have been doing more and more ice fishing. What started out as part of my work with the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC to promote winter fishing opportunities, has turned into one of our family’s favourite pastimes. Last February, we gave Tunkwa Lake a go in February. While others caught some fish, I was unsuccessful so I was quite determined to return and redeem myself.

Nice Rainbow Trout from Tunkwa Lake while Ice Fishing

Contrary to what most people think, ice fishing is in fact quite challenging and physically demanding. You are limited by what little daylight you have in the winter. It is often a guessing game when trying to find out where the fish might be at the very beginning. You drill a hole, look for the right depth and bottom structure, then you wait. If there are no fish, you pack everything up, move, drill more holes and wait some more. When the fish do show up, they often can be picky. Three scenarios could happen, they will either completely ignore your bait and swim off, peck at it a few times and move on, or grab the entire offering right away. This fishery is unpredictable, which makes having consistent results difficult if you have not done it often.

With that said, a challenge is always fun! According to our good friend Al Patton at Tunkwa Lake Resort, the fishing is typically best at the very beginning of the ice fishing season. This time, rather than venturing to the lake in February, we decided to make a trip there in December.

Last weekend, I popped into Cabela’s in Abbotsford, where it is well stocked with ice fishing gear so I could be prepared this time. With a proper ice fishing shelter, lighter rods, an auger that drills bigger holes, I was quite confident that we would catch more fish this time!

The Waiting Game

The weather was on our side as we drove up to the lake last Sunday. Sunny, yet not too cold, conditions were perfect for both anglers and fish. We arrived late in the day so settled in the warm cabin so we could be up early for the morning bite.

The first morning, we headed to the bay where Al had been doing well lately. Our first order of business was to get the ice fishing shelter up once the holes were drilled. The shelter serves several purposes. It keeps us warm, creates a dark environment so we could see the fish through the holes, and lastly it keeps the kids comfortable. As soon as we set everything up for fishing, I spotted a few nice rainbow trout cruising by below us! These fish looked to be around 16 to 18 inches long. They swam in and out of our field of view, but were not interested in our bait.

Ice Fishing Shelter

By mid afternoon, the mood of these fish suddenly changed. Instead of simply swimming by, they were finally stopping and chomping down the worms on our jigs. The first fish coming out of the hole was a fat 16 inch Pennask rainbow trout. This was followed by several more fish which all aggressively grabbed our offerings until it became too dark to see by 4:30pm.

The next day was a slow one, the bite was simply not on for whatever reason. Fish could be seen swimming by occasionally, but the numbers were not there. Instead, we spent the day wandering on the ice, shuttling between the ice shelter and the cabin, mixing a bit of sledding. One great thing about ice fishing is all the other fun activities which come with it, so the kids rarely get bored.

On our final day, my oldest son and I decided to return to the ice shelter at 9:00am to see if there’d be some early morning biters. As soon as we had everything set up, both of us could see fish circling around us. Big and small, they appeared to be hungry. One particular fish, was swimming just below the ice, feeding on scuds. I first dropped the worm down, but it was not interested at all. After several attempts, it was time for a switch. Next up, a few single eggs were threaded onto the hook. It took a glance, but once again the bait was ignored. After about 30 minutes, I had one more option in my box. I took out a jar of Pautzke Bait’s Fire Bait, which worked really well on brook trout while I was fishing at Edith Lake last season. I rolled a ball of the chartreuse dough bait onto the hook, shaped it into a worm. I dropped it down to just one foot below the ice where the fish had been suspending. Both of us had our eyes on the bait as the fish approached, and to our surprise, it sucked in the entire jig with no hesitation! This 18 inch fish went for a robust run as I handed the rod to junior, who was screaming in excitement while cranking the reel handle. Eventually both of us brought the fish out of the hole, which was the highlight of the entire trip.

Nice Rainbow Trout!

Overall, our second ice fishing trip to Tunkwa Lake was a successful one. While only about half a dozen fish were caught, it was a really fun experience for everyone in the family! It’s important to note that the fishing is best early in the morning and late in the afternoon when lighting is still low, so invest your fishing effort during those two periods, and spend the rest of your day on other fun activities.

Now, unlike soft water fisheries, there are particular items you must have when going on an ice fishing trip, and here is a list which I’ve come up with so there’d be no surprises while out on the ice.

1. Proper clothings and footwear
The very first time I went ice fishing, I wore gum boots. My feet didn’t last very long even with two pairs of wool socks on. A pair of good winter boots can keep your feet out on the ice all day long. Our preference has been Sorel. They are comfortable, and keep the feet dry and warm regardless how snowy and cold it is. Proper waterproof outerwear are also needed. There’ll be times when you need to kneel or lay down on the ice. The key word here is dry. If you can stay dry, then you will can keep fishing throughout the day.

2. Augers and ice scoops
It is good to bring two augers with you just in case one breaks. This important tool is what gives you access to the water through the ice, so without a functional one your fishing day is over. There are generally two different sizes available – 6” and 8”. We use the 8” auger from Eskimo because the bigger hole allows you to see more, and makes landing fish a lot easier. An ice scoop is needed to remove the excess slush in your hole. The last thing you want to be doing is to use your hands for this. I have been using a Frabill ice scoop. It’s long, so I don’t have to bend down to scoop, which makes a huge difference on your back when the weather is cold. The large scoop also gets the job done a lot faster.

3. Ice fishing rods
Don’t use a conventional spinning rod. An ice fishing rod is much shorter because it is difficult to aim with a longer rod when your fishing space is only 8 inches wide. I have been using these Frabill Bro series ice fishing rods, which are fantastic for both rainbow and brook trout as the tip is incredibly sensitive yet the blank is still fast enough to handle bigger fish. Coupling with the rods are my trusty Shimano Stradic 1000CI4+, which are light, smooth and durable. I spool my reels with Seaguar STS 6lb test fluorocarbon line, which is stiff and does not stretch, making it ideal for ice fishing.

4. Ice fishing shelter
As mentioned earlier, an ice fishing shelter makes your ice fishing experience a lot more comfortable. The tent keeps you away from the elements when the weather is bad. A heater in the tent also means no frozen fingers and icy lines. When sitting in the tent, it is completely dark above the ice while the water body remains bright from the surrounding light. This allows you to see every single fish in the water. We have been using Cabela’s Two-Person Hub ice shelter. This tent only weighs 30lb so can easily be set up and packed up by one person. Once popped up, the inside space is 36 square feet, enough to fit up to 3 people comfortably.

5. Bait, lures and flies
Be sure to carry a variety of offerings in your box when ice fishing. In spring time, trout usually key in on particular aquatic insects and catching them is a lot easier once you “match the hatch”. When ice fishing, fish can in fact be incredibly picky. What works one day is often ignored on the next, so it’s important to constantly switch up and work them differently by either keeping it stationary or jigging it lightly. The must-haves in my box include Pautzke Bait’s Fire Bait and pink shrimp eggs, 1/8oz or 1/16oz Gibbs Croc spoons (for jigging alone), Ironhead spoons (used as a flasher), deli shrimp, and of course dew worm.

6. Food and drink
When sitting in your ice fishing shelter, you’ll find that there can be a lot of down time if the fishing is slow. Food and warm drinks in a thermos can really make your outing much more enjoyable.

7. Sled
Finally, make sure you have a sled to carry all the above items! The last thing you want to do is to carry everything by hand from your vehicle to where you want to fish. There are different sizes of sleds to choose from, so make sure you choose one that can fit your ice shelter and everything else in.

Ice fishing is a very social activity. Spend a bit of time planning out what to bring can improve the experience for both you and your partners. The theme in the list above is time saving. Because your total fishing time during the day is perhaps six hours long, it’s rather important to be efficient, and the above tools can help you to achieve that. Between December and early March, many lakes in Interior British Columbia offer these fantastic opportunities so be sure to take advantage of them if you have a freshwater fishing licence.

Videos:

Save the Interior Fraser Steelhead this Christmas!

Published on Friday, December 15th, 2017

Can you fulfill my Christmas wish this year?

Around a month ago, I talked about the current demise of the Interior Fraser River steelhead populations (Thompson and Chilcotin Rivers) and asked you to sign a petition so the angling community can come together to do something about it. That particular petition has gained tremendous amount of media attention in the past four weeks. It is bitter sweet. On one hand, it’s fantastic to finally see the public being concerned about a species that really don’t have a whole lot of value to human beside sportfishing. On the other hand, it is sad that we had to wait until this stage to finally take action.

This week, my colleague Eric Taylor at UBC has also shared his concerns on these steelhead populations. Dr Taylor is an avid angler as well as a zoologist who specializes on several native fish species in the Pacific Northwest. He is also the chairman of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and has launched an emergency assessment for these steelhead. We are losing the genetic components of some rather special populations of steelhead at a rapid rate, so we need to move fast to save what’s left.

This Christmas, I have one last request for all of you to do, which is to sign the official e-petition at Canada’s House of Commons. This petition, initiated by The Steelhead Society of B.C.’s member Poul Bech and sponsored by MP Fin Donnelly, is asking the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to suspend ALL non-selective gill net fisheries in the Fraser River during the migratory time of these steelhead. Once the number of signatures reaches 500, it will be brought up to the House of Commons next year. Lets get it done so we can finally keep these nets out of the water next fall!

The Unnecessary Demise of an Iconic Species

Published on Monday, November 20th, 2017

Steelhead

By now if you do some kind of recreational fishing in British Columbia, you must have heard about the predicted return numbers for this year’s Interior Fraser River steelhead, which are pretty dismal. The expected number of steelhead returning to the Thompson River is 145 fish, while Chilcotin River’s return is expected to be 45 fish. The number of fish spawning in the spring will most likely be even lower than that once overwintering mortality is taken into account.

The Thompson River returns, just one decade ago, were still in the thousands. Lets pause for a minute and think about the rate of this decline. If an iconic species of animal in British Columbia, take grizzly bear, or bald eagle for example, had a 50%+ decrease after one breeding cycle, imagine what the public outrage would be.

The trouble with fish is that, they are in the water. You can’t see them and you don’t know how they’re doing. Once a fish species loses its commercial value, it no longer is a public interest. A handful of lucky steelhead anglers who have had the privilege to shake hands with these fish, have a sentimental connection with them and will be their advocates, but their voices are not enough to bring these populations back to what they used to be. The recovery of a species requires the support of ALL British Columbians, and this is where you come in.

Now, I can’t sit here and tell you what a magnificent sportfish the Thompson River steelhead is or that we are saving them so future generations can enjoy catching them. Firstly, I’ve never fished for them so I wouldn’t know, and this is not about fishing anymore. The loss of a species is tragic, especially when it is preventable. The goal is no longer to save an iconic fish so some fishermen can feel the tug again. This is about saving genetically distinct populations of fish which cannot be replaced once they are gone.

The Interior Fraser River steelhead’s endemic range is huge. From the streams where they hatch to the Pacific Ocean, too many things can go wrong in tens of thousands squared kilometres. On top of natural challenges such as predation and unfavourable oceanic conditions, their survival is impacted by plenty of human activities. Some of these human-caused problems take time to resolve, while others can be eliminated immediately.

The commercial chum salmon gill net fishery in the Lower Fraser River, which takes place during these steelhead’s returns, is one of them. When there are only 200 fish returning, it is absurd to suggest some of them can be considered as incidental by-catches so a fishery can be allowed. With a post-release mortality at over 60%, you can see how fast the population can be pushed to extinction. The trouble with saving a species, is the race against time. The rate of decline accelerates as the species approaches extinction. Ten years ago, losing 20 fish meant a 1% loss of the population. Today, it becomes 10%. Time is running out.

Our immediate action should be to pressure this government to end a commercial fishery that puts money in a few pockets at the expense of a species’ survival. You can do so by signing this current petition that has been circulating. By signing this petition, it does not guarantee the recovery of the Interior Fraser River steelhead populations, far from it. This recovery will most likely take decades so your ongoing action and support are required. Sign, share and inform others who are still unaware.

Gibbs Delta TV Episode Five

Published on Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Check out the latest episode of Gibbs Delta TV which we have just published. This episode features Okanagan Lake’s rainbow trout and kokanee fisheries, which can be done almost year round. We joined pro-staff Rodney Hennig from Rodney’s Reel Outdoors who is an expert in the Okanagan region. Also joining us is special guest Sem Hilverink, who is a very avid young angler from Kelowna.

Being Kept Off the River for the Wrong Reasons

Published on Thursday, September 7th, 2017

Catching Fraser River Pink Salmon

Throwback Thursday! Exactly two years ago, Junior experienced his first pink salmon outing on the Fraser River. His job at the time was to net the fish. This fish he is ready to graduate to actually bring one in with a rod and reel.

Once every two years, many families like ours, have the privilege to enjoy this wonderful fishery for a couple of weeks. It is the perfect salmon species for young anglers. They are plentiful, eager to bite and easy to manage once on your fishing line.

I’m sure many of you are frustrated (actually that is an understatement, livid might be the appropriate term) as this fishery closure continues after yesterday’s Fraser River salmon update. Comments across our social media platforms and discussion forum make that pretty evident. While I understand the frustrations, there is quite a bit of misinformation being put out there so lets lay out the facts so you know what’s going on.

First of all, almost all of the fisheries in Region 2 are open right now. The Fraser River is closed for salmon fishing, but the negative publicity of this closure has lead anglers to believe that all rivers are closed. You can check what you can fish for and retain in each river on this page:

http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/rec/fresh-douce/region2-eng.html

Most of the tributaries of the Lower Fraser River are still not seeing salmon returning yet, but things are slowly picking up. As always, Chilliwack/Vedder River is seeing both chinook salmon (which you can retain) and pink salmon (which you can catch and release) arriving daily at the moment.

Secondly, First Nations have the right to have their communal food and ceremonial fisheries, please don’t suggest otherwise. The constitution of your country says so. If you would like to challenge that, the supreme court of Canada would be the venue for you to do so.

Some of you have expressed your concerns on the racial remarks in the comment section. Please note that inappropriate comments do get deleted (if you can’t see the deleted comments, how would you know if comments aren’t being deleted?). Some comments that are stereotyping but not what I’d consider as racist are left alone, because both sides need to see them to understand that there is a problem when priority is given to one user group than the other. Lack of understanding from both sides leads to stereotyping, which leads to conflicts.

This blame on First Nations for the demise of Fraser River salmon is unnecessary. While the amount of fish taken seems significant, it is incomparable to what commercial fisheries harvest historically. With that said, there are issues that need to be addressed. By-catches of sockeye salmon, which apparently are a major concern in recreational fisheries, exist in in-river gill net fisheries and cannot be ignored. The illegal sales of salmon from communal fisheries by some participants need to be stopped. You can do so by reporting the sales, and not buying to end the demand. Just like in recreational fisheries, a small number of people who choose not to play by the rules gives the entire user group a bad name, which should not be used to label the entire group.

Rather than blaming the other user group which shares the same resource as you, your attention should shift toward those who manage these fisheries and pose questions which have been avoided repeatedly. Instead of simply shut down the entire fishery, why are we not looking at different options to provide some angling opportunities while ensuring the sustainability of vulnerable species? Why aren’t the options of opening pink salmon for catching and releasing, or reducing the retention quota to 2, or 1 fish, being considered? What is the target quota given for the First Nations, is it a fixed number of fish per year, or is it a ratio that is adjusted based on the size of the runs? And are we expecting that target to be reached before we can expect a recreational fishing opening? Why are terminal fisheries for pink salmon in systems like Chilliwack/Vedder and Harrison Rivers not being made available, when the rationale of the closure is to protect Fraser River sockeye salmon? Why is the Tidal Fraser River not open for pink salmon when incidental by-catches of sockeye salmon are unheard of due to the specific fishing techniques being employed for pink salmon? Why is the retention of dead sockeye salmon being permitted now in some First Nations communal fisheries when their low returns are the reason behind recreational fishing closures?

Instead of complaining about First Nations, the lack of fishing opportunities and wanting your licences refunded here, you should be phoning Barbara Mueller, the resource manager of Fraser River (604.666.2370) and Jennifer Nener (604-666-0789) at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who should be able to answer these for you while you address your concerns. In the past several years, this community has seen a sharp decline in interest on recreational fishing among resource managers. Instead of answering questions, resource managers have taken the silent approach in the past two years. While conservation is priority to ensure the survival of future stocks, some management decisions being made are simply wrong and their socioeconomic impacts need to be addressed. When one user group is being shut out because it is the easiest way to avoid conflicts between groups, you’re simply sweeping the problems to the side which will keep growing. The recreational fishing community cannot stand by during these closures in the name of conservation while many signs indicate otherwise.

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