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Fraser River Sockeye Opening, What You Should Know

Published on Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Fraser River Sockeye Salmon

Whether you are into fishing or not, by now you most likely have heard about the anticipated large Fraser River sockeye salmon return this year. Fish returning this year are offsprings of the exceptionally large run in 2010, so it should not be a surprise to see another high return in the same cycle.

The current estimated range of this year’s return is 7.5 million to 75 million fish. 7.5 million fish being the most likely number, while 75 million fish is least likely achieved. Most reports prefer the 75 million number, but realistically the more accurate predicted return size is between 20 and 30 million fish. The large range of estimates is the result of uncertainties caused by the much larger return in 2010.

Recreational sockeye salmon fishing in the non-tidal portion of the Fraser River in Region Two begins on August 6th. Most consider this as a harvest fishery, as the fish rarely bite due to poor water visibility so they are mostly flossed (accidentally hooked in the mouth) and retained. It is a popular fishery, and on a good return year like this all participants can enjoy taking home some fresh sockeye salmon. Here are some important notes which I think you should be aware of before trying this fishery out.

Before heading out to catch your sockeye salmon, the very first thing you should be doing is to buy a freshwater fishing licence and salmon conservation surcharge, which allows you to retain your catches. You can do so by going to www.fishing.gov.bc.ca. The money you spend gives you access to all freshwater fisheries in British Columbia and it is also good investments for the recreational fishing community. Funds from the licences are allocated to the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC and Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. Both organizations are responsible for the development of BC’s freshwater recreational fisheries and conservation projects.

If the return becomes as large as predicted, then it is possible that the daily quota will be raised from the current 2 fish per day to 4 fish per day. Earlier this year, members of the Sport Fishing Advisory Committee in the Fraser Valley have made this recommendation to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. By raising the limit to 4 fish per day, it allows participants to quickly catch their limit and leave, so other participants can also have a chance to fish. Secondly, when the daily quota is kept at two, participants are likely to continue fishing after retaining the limit for a chance to retain a chinook salmon. In the process, too many sockeye salmon are often caught and released, which only does more harm than good. By raising the limit to four sockeye salmon per day, hopefully it can eliminate this behaviour. If the daily quota is changed during the season, we will have it published on the website or Facebook page so be sure to check back often before each trip.

If you decide to partake in this fishery, you should know that there are other species migrating among these sockeye salmon. Wild coho salmon and steelhead, are encountered sometimes and they need to be released with extreme care. Too often fish are dragged onto the beach immediately prior to being identified. In some cases, fish are not identified correctly and protected species are killed. Wild coho salmon and steelhead travelling in the Fraser River often come from endangered stocks, so it is up to every participant to ensure the survival of these fish. To do so, you should carry a landing net so the fish can be scooped and kept in the water prior to being identified. Know your fish species so you can identify each fish correctly. When a fish cannot be identified, please release it.

The Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery can be a family friendly, but whenever fishing pressure is high, an unpleasant environment can develop quickly. In the past, conflicts among recreational fishery participants and with First Nation fishers have occurred. In 2009, a serious incident between a band chief and two recreational participants resulted in the creation of the Fraser River Fisheries Peacemakers. This group is made of key representatives from the recreational fishing communities and First Nations in the Fraser Valley. Together, the group has developed many excellent initiatives in the past four years. One of these accomplishments is the document Fishing Together on the Fraser, which is designed for those who are trying out the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery for the first time. One important resource available in this document is the fishing map produced by the Fraser Basin Council, which shows various fishing spots, First Nations’ land, boat launches, and other important landmarks. You can download these resources at the following links.

While there is a lot of attention on the good fishing, too often water safety is neglected. Quite often we see participants standing in waist deep water and forgetting how turbulent and dirty the Fraser River is during this time of the year. One slip can sweep you away and help is not always nearby. Personal floatation devices are inexpensive and can keep you alive if you are swept away. Better yet, you can avoid getting into these situations by not wading too far out. Observe the current in the river prior to walking in the water.

The high abundance of returning sockeye salmon is not the only good news. This large biomass will have both direct and indirect effects on other inhabitants in the Fraser River watersheds and other fisheries. Rainbow trout and bull trout which reside in large lakes such as Shuswap Lake, will be able to enjoy feasting on the abundance of eggs being deposited by these sockeye salmon. By this fall, these trout and char can be anywhere from 1lb to 8lb and actually provide an excellent catch and release fishery for anglers. Because there isn’t a lack of food, these will be some of the strongest trout and char you can encounter. Bears and other predatory mammals also benefit from the return. The feeding process also brings well needed nutrients to the forests when these animals drag their catches into them. The feasting continues next spring when juvenile sockeye salmon hatch from these eggs. Overall, a salmon return at this magnitude is not only welcoming news for the all fishery sectors, but more importantly it revives all the ecosystems connected to the Fraser River.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to catch a couple of sockeye salmon for dinner, be sure to dispatch and bleed the fish immediately. The fish should also be placed in a cooler full of ice. Any fish being kept in the river will lose its freshness fast, as the water temperature is quite high in the shallow parts of the river right now. Have fun, be safe and please share your experiences of this fishery on our website.

Gigantic Sturgeon!

Published on Monday, July 28th, 2014

Last week, our good friend Lang Nguyen from Lang’s Fishing Adventures was able to land a gigantic Fraser River white sturgeon after the 3.5 hour battle! Check out this video to see how big it is. Lang’s a full time licenced fishing guide in Southern British Columbia. If you’d like more information on his services, please check out his website.

June 2014 Photo-essay

Published on Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

June is usually the month when all the less-known species emerge in lakes and rivers of British Columbia. We visited Cultus Lake several times where northern pikeminnow are rather abundant and can easily be caught on bait, lures and flies.

Cultus Lake Northern Pikeminnow

Beside northern pikeminnow and other native minnow species, carp also become active. MacDonald Park at Sumas Canal is one spot in the Fraser Valley where they can be caught. It’s a nice venue, as the tall trees provide shade throughout most of the day.

Carp Fishing at Sumas Canal

My job always takes me to different parts of the province and I am lucky enough to visit new lakes and rivers more often than others. Last month, I returned to Victoria on an assignment for GoFishBC and checked out several “urban lakes” in the area. One of these lakes really caught my eyes as the setting is just so pristine considering how close it is to the city. Durrance Lake is part of GoFishBC’s urban fishery program and it provides plenty of shore fishing opportunities. I spent a couple of evenings there during my stay.

Durrance Lake on Vancouver Island

Casting from the Dock at Durrance Lake on Vancouver Island

During the last day of my visit, I stopped by Langford Lake to check out the newly built boat launch. Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC regularly work with local communities to obtain fundings so better urban fishing infrastructures can be installed for anglers like you.

Boat Launch at Langford Lake on Vancouver Island

After returning from my trip, Nina and I brought our son Elliot out on the boat for the very first time. Not only did he enjoy the boat ride and holding the fishing rod for one hour, he also had a chance to see a fish being released.

Elliot's First Boat Ride

I took advantage of the nice weather and stopped by a couple of lakes and rivers in the Lower Mainland. Too often we forget how lucky we are because these spots are so close to us.

Chilliwack Lake

Another Beautiful BC River

We ended the month with another family fishing trip.

Pumpkinseed Sunfish

Coho Release into Hyde Creek Watershed

Published on Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Back in November we did a story which highlighted the work being done by Hyde Creek Watershed Society. Dedicated volunteers at the society has been reintroducing coho and chum salmon into this tiny urban stream in Coquitlam for many years. Here is an update from Jean Peachman, an active member of the group, on how the hatchery is now doing and what work has been done recently.

Hello Rod:

We had a great release on Friday (June 13th) with over 11,000 coho fry being distributed into the watershed.   The creek fry are looking exceptionally good this year and have made their way up into ponds by Hyland.

Our hatchery fry were distributed further into the watershed this year.   And we had some help from our Mayors.  Both Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam Mayors and Councillors have been very supportive of our hatchery and our requests.

We’re doing well and getting ready to clip our remaining fry.We’re still at the hatchery most Saturday mornings between 9::00 and 11:30, and the coffee pot is always on.

Jean Peachman
Hyde Creek Watershed Society 

Here are some photographs from the release.

Weighing Coho Salmon Fry Prior to Release
Hyde Creek Watershed Society member Terry Sawchenko weighing by volume so the hatchery can be accurate with the release numbers.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore Releases Salmon Fry
Mayor Greg Moore, who grew up a few streets away from this spot in Port Coquitlam, releases coho fry.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart Releases Salmon Fry into Hyde Creek
Mayor Richard Stewart of Coquitlam lending a hand with the release.

Hyde Creek Watershed Society President Cliff Kelsey
Hyde Creek Watershed Society president Cliff Kelsey releases coho fry.

If you would like to volunteer your time at this fantastic community salmon hatchery, please visit their website.

Every Trip is a Learning Experience

Published on Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Kokanee Fishing

If you have been following this website for awhile, then you’d know that I am not discriminatory when choosing my target fish. It can be giant sturgeon in the Fraser, chinook salmon in the ocean, or tiny peamouth chub in a slough. With the appropriate tackle, fishing is always fun and every target species has its own challenges! This is why I always get excited when the opportunity of catching some 14 inch kokanee becomes available during this time of the year, which can really baffle my fishing friends.

Beside trout, one of the more commonly sought-after freshwater gamefish in British Columbia is kokanee. These landlocked sockeye salmon, are confined to lakes due to geographical barriers such as landslides. The barriers prevent them from migrating into the ocean so they carry out the same life cycle in lakes. Prior to spawning, they are typically up to a couple of pounds large, bigger in some of the productive interior lakes.

Yesterday my friend Kitty and I ventured out to Kawkawa Lake in Hope, which is one of a couple of lakes in the Lower Mainland where kokanee fishing is available. Kawkawa Lake opens for kokanee fishing on March 1st, but by June these fish can gain a couple more inches in length as they constantly feed prior to spawning in September. A three year old fish is usually around 14 inches long, but occasionally you can encounter a four year old fish which is 16 or 17 inches long.

Because the fish are not exactly huge, paying attention to small details can translate into success. Kokanee are known for their subtle takes. Unlike a rainbow trout, they nibble softly and detecting the bites is almost impossible if your tackle is too heavy. Prior to this trip, I had already been to the lake a couple of times earlier this month with minimal success. This was partly due to my rustiness after being away from this fishery for a few years, but I felt my tackle could have been modified to gain more hook-ups.

These fish primarily occupy the bottom of the lake in the summer. At 40 feet deep, it’s almost impossible catch them on the fly so you are limited to a couple of options. Trolling is a popular method but I find it a bit dull and results can be hit and miss. The other option, which involves finding fish on the sounder before anchoring and bait fishing on the bottom, seems to yield better results.

Because the fish are swimming at the depth of 35 to 40 feet, I need to see every single bite as soon as it happens. An ultralight spinning outfit is the way to go. My favourite to date has been a 6′ long spinning rod rated 2 to 6lb with a thin tip such as a Daiwa Spinmatic Tuflite and a small spinning reel such as a Shimano Stradic CI4+ 1000FA. The entire setup is extremely light so I can perform those quick hook-sets.

Originally I have been spooling my reel with 4lb test Maxima Ultragreen fishing line, which is a fantastic line for casting and retrieving small lures. It’s pretty thin, yet strong enough to handle medium size bull trout. With that said, it stretches like all monofilament line. This stretch means a slight delay on detecting those kokanee bites. I looked for alternatives and gave the new Maxima Braid a try this time. I spooled the reel with 10lb test Maxima Braid Ultragreen, which is thinner than its 4lb Ultragreen monofilament line. At the end of the main line, I used its 4lb test Fluorocarbon line. With the most sensitive setup available, we should have no problem catching these fish!

I’ve also made modifications to my hooks. The #8 hook seemed to be too small as many bites were missed in the past. The fish were pecking off parts of the bait which were not threaded on the hook so they never had a chance to be barbed. Instead of the #8, I switched to a #4 hook to see the hook-up rate could be improved.

Kitty has been a Learn to Fish crew at the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC for a couple of months now. Since she has never caught a kokanee in the past, I invited her along so she could experience and introduce this fun fishery to her students. Our first trip in early June was a bust, so I kept the expectation low yesterday.

We arrived at the lake at 8:30am and anchored at the depth of 38 feet after seeing a couple of fish on the sounder. The bait of choice were krill, deli shrimp and single eggs. All were cured with Pautzke Bait‘s Fire Cure to give them that extra krill scent as an attractant. Within 10 minutes we could see the bites, the rod tips barely moved. Kitty missed the first one and I immediately had a bite right after. This is pretty common as the fish will move from one bait to the other if they are close by. I set the hook and was delighted to find the rod bending straight down. That joy was short lived as the fish popped off after a few seconds.

Although slightly discouraged, I was quite excited at the same time as early bites are always a good sign. We dropped our bait down again and the bites came after they were soaked for another ten minutes. Kitty missed her bites again while I managed to hook up. This time the fish stayed on firmly. As it reached the surface, it began skipping from one end of the boat the other, tangling her line at the same time. Just like sockeye salmon, kokanee produce lively fights. Kitty reached out with the net and scooped it up. It was a big fish! The measuring tape showed it to be 16 inches long, one of the rare four year old fish in the lake!

Big 16 Inch Long Kawkawa Lake Kokanee

With one fish in the cooler after 30 minutes of fishing, we were off to a good start. The bites were not constant, but they were consistently returning once every ten minutes as schools of fish returned to our boat. Kitty managed to lose the first couple of fish she hooked, due to the loose drag and light hook-set. These are tricky fish to keep on the hook. The hook-set has to be precise and firm, yet horsing them in almost always result in losing the fish due to their soft mouth. To make it even more challenging, kokanee have a tendency to swim straight toward you once hooked, which makes keeping the correct line tension even harder.

After some adjustments, Kitty finally landed one fish, then another. It did not take too long to get a hang of it. From 9:30am to 11:00am, we were able to boat four fish while losing twice as many.

Kitty's First Kokanee

The bites tapered off at 11:00am as water skiing boats appeared on the lake. The constant waves made it much tougher for us to detect the bites. It wasn’t until 2:00pm when we finally found some fish again after scouting out a few more spots. While the fishing picked up, so did the wind. Unlike the glassy surface in the morning, we had big chops pounding against the boat. Since the condition was not so favourable for detecting subtle bites, I decided to tie on a 1/16oz hammered Gibbs Croc spoon and jig it vertically near the bottom. To my surprise, it only took a few minutes for the lure to work. Kitty was also able to hook up more fish on bait. The lure seemed to be attracting more fish to the area so the two methods were working well together as a team.

We finished the day off with six beautiful kokanee in the cooler. It was a successful day. Not only did we catch more fish than what we had expected, I was reminded that there are always new lessons to be learned in every single trip. Kokanee fishing can be good throughout the summer months, so be sure to get out there and give it a go if you have a boat!

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