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Skagit River, Underwater Photography

Published on Monday, August 25th, 2014

The Skagit River is a popular playground for river trout fishermen in July and August. From Vancouver, it takes around two and a half hours to reach so day trips are possible for those who don’t mind the long days. It produces bull trout and rainbow trout, which are not hard to entice even in clear water condition. This presents plenty of opportunities for the photographers. During our recent trips, I invested more time on capturing our fish underwater before they swam away. Here are some of my favourites so far.

Skagit River Bull Trout

Skagit River Bull Trout

Skagit River Bull Trout

Skagit River Rainbow Trout

After each fishing trip, I usually have hundreds of photographs to go through and only the few best ones make it on here. This particular photograph sat on my desktop for a week now while I tried to decide whether it should be shown or not because the bloody eye kind of ruins it.

Skagit River Rainbow Trout

In the end I wanted to show this photograph for a couple of reasons. It’s one of the better underwater shots I have taken so far this year. Secondly, it raises an important topic on lure hook size and fish mortality, an issue which we like to conveniently ignore more often than not. The size of the hook you choose to use on your lure can determine the outcome of your catch. If the hook is too large, a small fish can be injured when caught, sometimes fatally.

In this case, a small rainbow trout grabbed a spoon intended for the larger bull trout, which had a size 1 hook on it. The larger gap of the hook ended up injuring the right eye of the fish. It’s difficult to determine the survival of this fish despite of the fact that it swam away quickly. In hindsight, to avoid this, a smaller hook like a size 2 or 4 could have been used which we do from time to time. If you are targeting big fish in streams where small fish might be caught, definitely take that into consideration. I know we will remind ourselves this more often in the future to reduce catch and release mortality.

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!

May 2014 Photo-essay

Published on Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Last month was yet another fabulous May just like every other year. The beginning of spring in British Columbia always brings on many fisheries we look forward to, from fly fishing for trout in lakes to the saltwater fishery on the West Coast. Here is a series of photographs for May 2014.

In early May, I teamed up with Great River Fishing Adventures and Fraser River Discovery Centre to catch one of the most recognized species in BC – Fraser River white sturgeon. The Fraser River Discovery Centre has been wanting to put together a short film which highlights this amazing species at their theatre, so I have volunteered to be part of this project.

Dean and his assistant guides spent a day with me and a few staffs from the centre for a day, and looked for a few big sturgeon.

Chad Awaits for the Big Fraser River Sturgeon

The Tidal Fraser River has a surprisingly large abundance of harbour seal.

Fraser River Harbour Seal

We were able to find a good specimen for the camera.

Fraser River White Sturgeon

My second stop took me to Douglas Lake Ranch, which is located in between Merritt, Kelowna and Kamloops. This 5,000 acres ranch property has several lakes where amazing trout fishing experiences can be had. We stopped at Salmon Lake Resort and fished for several days. It did not disappoint.

Amazing View While Driving Through Douglas Lake Ranch BC

Douglas Lake Ranch

Cabins at Salmon Lake Resort

Boat Rental is available at Salmon Lake Resort

Salmon Lake BC

How high can a Pennask rainbow trout jump? This high! This strain of rainbow trout is known for its acrobatic performance once being hooked. Pennask rainbow trout are stocked into many lakes in British Columbia by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC.

Jumpy Pennask Rainbow Trout

Each morning was action-packed. These rainbow trout were feeding heavily on chironomids for several hours once the sun rose. Timing your outing was important, as the bite often switched off in the afternoon.

A beautiful rainbow trout from Salmon Lake BC

What better way to end a day of fishing? Having a fire by the lake of course!

Camp Fire After Fishing

Right after returning from Salmon Lake, we headed straight to Victoria on Vancouver Island. Most only know Victoria as the city for tourists, but some extremely productive saltwater fisheries are right outside its harbour. We headed out with Island Outfitters and Robert from Gibbs-Delta Tackle, in an attempt to find my friend Kitty’s first halibut and capture it on film. Our guide Dan Findlow got the job done easily, despite of the unfavourable condition. Kitty was able to land a 23lb halibut before the strong tide prevented us from anchoring at the same spot. You can watch the entire video now!

Kitty's First Halibut from Victoria on Vancouver Island

Kitty's First Halibut

Our final stop in May took us back to the interior region where lake fishing is good throughout spring. The target species this time was brook trout, or more formerly known as Eastern brook char. These fish, not native in British Columbia, are stocked at some selected lakes by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC. While they do not jump like rainbow trout, they utilize their deep body to dive deeply during the fight.

Fighting a Brook Trout

Releasing a Brook Trout

Splash!

Brook trout are also very tasty, so being able to bring home a few is always a bonus. In this photograph, Fraser Valley Trout Hatchery fish culturist Dan held up several fish from the trip. These fish, averaging between 2lb and 3lb, had been living in the lake for two years after being released by the hatchery as fingerlings.

Brook Trout from British Columbia

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.

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!

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