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Salmon, Crabs and Prawns at Your Doorstep!

Published on Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

If you live and fish in British Columbia, you most likely do not consider Vancouver as a destination saltwater fishery. We often look forward to travelling to other coastal communities in this province to catch salmon, but most do not realize that year-round saltwater fishing opportunities are found right at our doorsteps. With the production increase of local hatchery chinook salmon, rebound of Georgia Strait coho salmon stocks and this year’s exceptionally large forecasted return of sockeye salmon, fishing in Burrard Inlet and Howe Sound is making a comeback.

Two years ago, Nina and I had a taste of this when we hopped into Bon Chovy Fishing Charters‘ boat and experienced the winter fishery just outside of Vancouver. We were lucky enough to catch some beautiful chinook salmon and crabs. This year, charter co-owner and operator Jason Assonitis invited me back to check out prawning opportunities which are available in their full-day charters.

To make the trip more interesting, I asked Scotty Fishing Products‘ promotion coordinator Alexandra Dardengo and project manager Jeff Lewis to tag along so they can demonstrate their new line puller. Based on Vancouver Island, Scotty Fishing Products manufactures a variety of boating and fishing related products such as downriggers and rod holders. Rick Clark, Gibbs-Delta Tackle’s new pro staff also joined us as our tackle consultant and second camera man.

The weather could not have worked out better for our trip. After a rather unpredictable winter, my expectation was pretty low. A week prior to our trip, the weatherman forecasted sunshine, which turned into 70% chance of shower on the day before the trip, so this fair-weather fisherman was rather delighted to see the slightly overcast but dry sky on our way out from Granville Island.

Our first pit stop was not too far from English Bay where we dropped our crab traps for the day before heading toward Howe Sound. Along the route, a small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphin playfully swam near our boat.

Our second quick stop was at a spot where our guide Jason had dropped a prawn trap overnight. We first retrieved the set trap by using Scotty’s line puller, which can simply be installed on the mount for the downrigger. Because the traps were set at the depth of more than 200 feet, pulling them up by hand would have been rather time and energy consuming. The electric puller did all the manual work, while we just had to pick up the slack line.

The first trap reached the surface with dozens of spot prawns inside it. I’ve bought these many times at the local fishing docks, but never seen live ones being harvested. The second trap on the line also had a few dozen prawns in it. This was an exciting start of our trip!

Alex with a Spot Prawn in Vancouver!

BC Spot Prawn

Once the prawns were poured into our tubs, the traps were set again before we headed to our fishing ground. Although the sun was starting to make an appearance, there was a fairly strong Northerly outflow from Squamish so water was getting a bit choppy. We navigated our way around several islands and arrived at a protected spot where the wind was tolerable.

Howe Sound Salmon Fishing

The choice of weapon was of course Gibbs-Delta Tackle‘s flashers and spoons. Its Guide Series flashers have been heavily tested by and named after pro staffs like Bon Chovy and STS Guiding, so anglers can fish with confidence when using them in local BC waters.

Rick and Alex Patiently Awaits for the Bites

Islander Reel and Shimano Convergence for Salmon Trolling

Once the gear was dropped to the trolling depth at 140ft near the bottom, the waiting game began. These feeders are mainly found near the bottom for two reasons, feeding on bait balls and avoiding surface predators. I proceeded to set up a camera on a mount which our Scotty guests brought so every hook-up could be caught on film. Soon after the record button was pressed, the first bite came on the rod which Rick predicted earlier. Alex grabbed the rod as Jason screamed “Bite!”

Alex with a Winter Chinook Salmon in Howe Sound

The fight was pretty lively, but the fish turned out to be undersized. The minimum size of chinook salmon which can be retained is 62cm. Encountering smaller fish in the winter is not unusual, because many fish are feeders and still at least one year before maturing. Prior to releasing this fish, Jason took a DNA sample. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has requested these samples to determine what stocks these fish are from. By having more accurate data, managers can make better decisions when it comes to protecting vulnerable stocks.

Alex’s fish was actually the largest fish of the day. Despite of trying numerous spots for six hours, all of the chinook salmon hooked were undersized. Jason was eager to fish one spot where it produced on the day before, but the wind and strong outgoing tide made it impossible to troll through the area. Although the 10+ lb fish was elusive on this day, everyone was entertained by the five fish we brought in, including the double header which created some exciting chaos.

Beautiful Howe Sound BC

west Vancouver

By 4:00pm, we had soaked up enough sun so the salmon rods were packed up. We headed back to our prawn traps. The retrieve was successful once again, every trap except one had more prawns for us to bring home. Of course, the prawning experience was only complete after each of us ate one raw.

Spot Prawn in Vancouver

Eating Raw Spot Prawn!

The crab traps were also pretty full when they were pulled up, but finding keepers was a little more challenging. Beside the daily quota of four each licences angler can keep, all dungeness crabs need to have their carapace width measured at 165mm or more and only males can be kept.

A Cage Full of Dungeness Crabs

Measuring Dungeness Crabs

The first trap had over 15 in it, but none met the legal width! The second trap was a bit more productive, giving us five keepers. When the third trap reached the surface, Jason said, “That’s more like it!” because just about every single crab met the legal requirement. In total, we were able to retain 13 for the crab feast.

Vancouver Harbour

When we pulled up to our dock at Granville Island at 6:00pm, the sun was still beaming down and all of us had our jackets off. After a rather harsh winter for Vancouverites’ standard, this early balmy spring weather was quite a treat! we unloaded the boat and had a look at our catches of the day while Jason took care of them.

BC Spot Prawn Feast

Although most in Vancouver think the spot prawn season only starts in late spring when they become available at your local markets, spot prawns are actually available throughout the year for those who wish to catch them. The winter months are the best due to the absence of commercial traps, so Bon Chovy Fishing Charters offers this option for their full-day charter trips between December and April. Vancouver is not Tofino or Haida Gwaii, but this is a fishing trip ideal for both local residents and visitors who have a day to spare for fishing in this beautiful city.

Exploring Alternative Saltwater Fisheries in Vancouver

Published on Friday, January 31st, 2014

The river fishing has been awfully slow this winter. In contrast to the spectacular returns of steelhead in the past three seasons, most rivers in the Fraser Valley have been void of fish. Since I consider myself a fair weather fisherman, this certainly does not motivate me to get out and hunt for these elusive ironheads. At the same time, the cabin fever is brewing up nicely and I needed to find an alternative to cure it before spring arrives.

British Columbian anglers take pride of our Pacific salmon fishing, both in salt and freshwater. In Vancouver, salmon can be caught almost year round. In the winter months, chinook salmon are caught in the ocean just outside of Downtown Vancouver by trolling. The availability of productive salmon fishing means most people are unaware of what other species can be caught when the salmon are not biting. Alternative species are in fact widely available, and they make up an introductory fishery which anyone can find it enjoyable.

Before coming to Canada in the mid 90′s, I was able to enjoy a variety of fisheries available in Asia and Australia. Unlike BC’s recreational fisheries, most of these fisheries focus on catching smaller species with bait. Whiting, trevally, snapper, flounder are just some of these species which will never hesitate to peck on a baited hook. After focusing so much on catching salmonids in the past decade, I seem to have forgotten these bread and butter species.

Earlier this week, I was invited by Rick Clark to hop into his boat for a morning outing. Rick is an avid angler in Vancouver, who focuses on the local saltwater salmon fishery as well as the freshwater fisheries in the Fraser Valley such as sturgeon, salmon and steelhead. As a regular blogger on World Fishing Network, he also produces a variety of videos on YouTube to share his experience with other anglers. Before heading out, I pitched the idea of fishing for some of the underrated saltwater species instead of the usual salmon trolling to him. With an open mind, we spent the morning exploring what sit on the bottom of Burrard Inlet.

Like most other January days, Vancouver was blanketed by dense fog as we launched the boat from Ambleside Beach. The fog makes trolling for salmon almost impossible, but it was not a concern for us because the fish we wanted to catch are closer to shore. We had one minor setback at the start.

Because bottom fish are generally not very mobile, fishing from an anchored boat is required to keep the bait stationary. I made the mistake by assuming that Rick was aware of this. When I arrived at the boat launch, the first thing I asked was, “So you brought an anchor right?” The answer was of course, “No.”, which could have changed our plans but some improvisation saved the morning. Rick used his cannon balls for trolling to slow our drift down and the weak incoming tide also assisted.

We first dropped the crab traps at Rick’s favourite spots. For our crab bait, I marinated some old salmon fillets with Pautzke Bait’s Crab & Shrimp Fuel™ for 24 hours. The extra scent should draw in more crabs during the soak time. Winter crabbing is excellent due to the absence of commercial openings.

Once the traps were dropped, it was time to fish. The target species which I had on my mind were starry flounder, English sole, Pacific sanddab, Pacific tomcod, greenling, spiny dogfish, sculpin and possibly the odd perch. All of these species can be found from the sub-tidal zone down to the depth of 100 feet where the bottom is sandy and covered in Kelp at places.

They are not too big, so I chose rods which are light enough for them to put up a fight, but heavy enough to handle the weight needed to reach the bottom. Shimano Clarus rated 8 to 12lb were my choices. The tip of these rods is sensitive so bite detection was not compromised.

Starry flounder

The bait of choice were herring strips and shrimp which I purchased from a commercial harvester in Steveston prior to the trip. The strong scent being released from these baits brought on the bites almost immediately. I think Rick was a little surprised when he felt the first taps. After a few misses and some adjustment on the bait presentation, he had the first hook-up. It was a large starry flounder, which we decided to dispatch for dinner.

Starry flounder

The second fish, which was also brought in by Rick, was an English sole. Despite of its name, an English sole is in fact a flounder. True soles are only found in Europe and they are identified by the absence of a pronounced tail. Starry flounder and English sole, are two of the most common flounder species found in the inshore waters of British Columbia.

English sole

After a couple more small starry flounders were brought in, Rick connected with something slightly bigger. The line peeled off the reel slowly, almost made us believe a salmon was on the end of the line. The fish surfaced a minute later, it was a spiny dogfish, which is another common encounter when fishing with herring strips.

The Mystery Fish

Spiny dogfish

While Rick was hauling them in, I seemed to be attracting the wrong attention. The shrimp on the hook brought nothing up except one dungeness crab after another. Eventually I was able to find a starry flounder or two, plus a lonely sculpin.

Starry flounder

The bites was not consistent throughout the morning as I had first anticipated, instead they came in waves which suggested the fish were perhaps moving a bit with the tide.

The fog never lifted in the morning and we decided to end the trip by Noon instead of spending some time to troll for winter chinook salmon. Before departing, we retrieved our crab traps and it was a pretty bountiful haul.

Bringing up the crab trap

No shortage of crab

Each trap had up to a dozen crabs, but only a few were over the legal size limit so the rest were quickly sent back to the water. In total, we were able to harvest six crabs, which were more than enough for a good feed.

Measuring Crab for Legal Size

Dungeness Crab

A good crab harvest

Many thanks to Rick for this very enjoyable outing, which was a test run of some videos which we plan to collaborate in the near future. In the meantime, be sure to check out his blog and YouTube channel!

November 2013 Photo-essay

Published on Sunday, November 24th, 2013

November can be a rather somber month for Coastal British Columbian anglers. The air temperature dips below zero for the first time after a long summer, while most of us are still on a high driven by the return of fall salmon. River fishing for salmon usually starts tapering off by early November, but those who enjoy exploring in the frosty mornings can be rewarded with some fabulous fishing.

Last week I decided to give salmon fishing another go before packing away the rods for awhile. The short trip was well worth it as my friend Shane and I were both rewarded with coho and chum salmon. I managed to catch an exceptionally big coho salmon, the biggest one of the season in fact.

Big Coho Salmon from the Fraser Valley BC

This fish had me thinking it was a chum salmon for a couple of minutes while it fought stubbornly by staying deeply in the run. I casually played it, but became rather cautious as soon as I realized what was at the end of the line. This hatchery-marked buck, estimated to be around 12lb, was quite fresh compared to the other fish we encountered that day.

While my friend Shane was not lucky enough to encounter a similar specimen, he managed to connect with an even larger fish. It was a wild coho salmon, as the presence of its adipose fin suggested, so we gently released him back to spawn.

A Big Wild Coho Salmon

Other coho salmon we found at the end of the line were not as silver, which was not really a surprise considering we are now approaching December.

Darker Coho Salmon

Among the many chum salmon which we brought in, I noticed a few were exceptionally small. This fish, approximately 3 or 4lb, was much smaller than most chum salmon we usually see. I enquired about this small buck and my colleagues all concluded that it is most likely a 3 year old fish, rather than a typical 4 year old fish. The fish simply returned one year earlier, therefore it has missed out one extra year of feeding, resulting in a smaller size.

An Exceptionally Small Chum Salmon

In the past two weeks I have wandered around our urban streams in the Lower Mainland. Because we are seeing an exceptionally good return of coho salmon this year, it is not surprising to see these small streams filled with red spawners. My recent visit to Hyde Creek produced these photographs. Both spawning coho and chum salmon can be found along the entire creek. At some spots, hundreds of fish can be seen circling around. These sightings tell us, when given the chance, our salmon populations can thrive, even in the harshest environment such as Metro Vancouver.

Spawning Coho and Chum Salmon at Hyde Creek

While visiting the creek, I stopped by the hatchery to see volunteers from Hyde Creek Watershed Society in action. It is a rather busy time of the year for them, because spawners need to be collected, eggs need to be fertilized, and carcasses need to be counted.

Seining for spawning salmon in Hyde Creek

Collecting salmon broodstock at Hyde Creek

A Coho Salmon in Its Spawning Phase

Spawning Salmon Resting Peacefully in Pristine Hyde Creek

If you have packed away your fishing rods for the season, consider becoming a volunteer at one of many community watershed stewardship groups and hatcheries where help is always wanted. It is a entertaining way to give back to the fishery resource and gain a better understanding on the biology of Pacific salmon.

A Good Day At Last

Published on Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

I began targeting coho salmon in the Lower Fraser River watershed one week ago but unlike other years, success has been hard to come by. On opening day in the tidal portion of the Fraser River, I visited a regular spot. Among 20 or so anglers, I caught, a bull trout, one of three fish in the entire afternoon. Knowing that sooner or later the fishing will pick up, especially with the extremely large incoming tide this week, I have persistently spent a couple of hours each day by the water when the tide peaked.

Today the persistence finally paid off. We gave the gradual outgoing tide in the afternoon a try and the fish were definitely cooperating. My gear of choice was a Shimano spinning setup, a 9′ Clarus spinning rod rated 6 to 10lb and a Sustain 2500 reel. The lure of choice was a 1/4oz fire orange clear crystal Gibbs Croc spoon. This pattern has served me well since I discovered how effective it was for coho salmon back in 1996.

Beautiful fresh Fraser River coho salmonBig Fraser River coho salmonReleasing a wild coho salmonIn total four coho salmon could not resist it, but only two were managed to be hooked and brought to shore. They were wild, as the presence of their adipose fin indicated, so they were gently released after a quick photo snap. Only hatchery-marked coho salmon can be kept in the Fraser River, which can be identified by the absence of their adipose fin.

Coho jackMy other companions also did well, by plunking roe on the bottom. This method yielded two adult coho salmon and a coho jack. Jacks, matured males which return one year earlier than their brothers and sisters, do not grow much bigger than a foot long. These smaller fish, possibly due to a lack of life experience, will always find roe or any other bait irresistible.

Lower Fraser River’s coho salmon fishing is just starting to pick up and will remain productive for at least another month, so be sure to take advantage of this fishery.

It Is Harder Than It Looks!

Published on Saturday, August 10th, 2013

When we work on a video feature, it usually takes hours of filming and editing to get it all together so it is presentable. More often than not, we run into challenges. The weather may turn sour, the fish sometimes just don’t want to bite, and when they do, they occasionally fail to stay on the hook, and if they stay on the hook, the camera might fail to capture what’s needed.

Last Friday, we ventured out with Gibbs Delta Tackle and Bon Chovy Fishing Charters, hoping to take advantage of either the Fraser River mouth chinook salmon fishery or the Howe Sound pink salmon fishery. A couple of chinook salmon cooperated, but the anglers failed to perform. Howe Sound’s pink salmon were absent unlike last week. Despite of the lack of results, it was a fantastic day. The weather was gorgeous, the scenery was breathtaking, and the company was awesome.

Here is a short compilation of video footage from the trip for you to enjoy. We shall attempt this again soon.

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