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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:

Curing the Early Season Steelhead Bug

Published on Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Between December and May, we always get excited about catching some winter steelhead from the Chilliwack/Vedder River. It’s a bizarre obsession which is hard to explain unless you really love to fish for steelhead. Why would you want to walk along the river all day in the cold just to see your float dipping once? That visual stimulus, the sight of that orange/green/yellow dot being buried, is the fuel of this obsession. The immediate first ten seconds after the burial can be explosive if your timing is correct, which may either be followed by a prized reward or a broken heart.

Reports of fish being caught usually start emerging in mid December. The Boxing Day Derby usually gives a good indication on how the season will be. This past Boxing Day Derby yielded pretty good results, 15 fish were weighed in and the average size was also quite big. Rod Toth from Bent Rods Fishing weighed in the winning fish, at 13.93lb.

As expected, mid January we saw a good push of fish throughout the river. The rain after the deep freeze, which raised the river level slightly, definitely improved the fishing. These January fish, are often found in packs, so it’s not uncommon to see multiple fish being hooked in the same run in a short period of time.

Last week, seeing how productive the fishing had been, I decided to make a few quick outings. With a tighter family and work schedule, these outings have to revolve around it, but I cannot complain. A couple of hours on the flow at a time is more than enough to kill the winter cabin fever. I normally do not enjoy fishing at first light, but it turned out to be the only time I could fish lately. I’ve found myself standing by the river bank at 7:00am, fighting off the Easterly breeze, so I could get in an hour of fishing before driving the kid to daycare.

Thursday was the first outing, and it didn’t take long for the float to disappear at dawn. I set the hook and found a tiny steelhead at the end of the line. This fish was no more than 2lb heavy. It was not a rainbow trout, but actually displayed characteristics which suggest anadromy. The entire body was bright silver, with distinct black spots all along the dorsal portion and tail. Most likely, it had decided to return to the river one or two years earlier than its siblings. Jacks and Jills are common among coho and chinook salmon, but this was the first steelhead returning prematurely I’ve encountered.

A Rather Small Winter Steelhead

The following day, I returned to the same spot. The first hour was rather uneventful. The wind kept my hands frozen as I had left the gloves in the car. Finally at 8:15am, the float disappeared but I did not react quickly enough. The shrimp was ripped right off the hook. A few casts later, the shrimp was once again taken despite of the fact that I was a lot more alert this time. After ingesting two shrimp, presumably by the same fish, the bites stopped. Another 20 or 30 casts yielded no results, so out of desperation just before I had to leave, I threw on a pink worm. As the float made its way down the run on the first drift, it shot straight under at the same spot where the previous bites had occurred. I set the hook solidly this time, and there was contact. The immediate explosion on the surface made me realize that it was a good sized fish. After a good 2 minute battle, it approached the steep rocky shoreline I was on. Before I could take a second peek at it, that dreadful pop occurred. The hook, and the pink worm, flew into the air above my head as the fish swam away freely.

Since I couldn’t fish on the weekend, I instructed my friend Shane to check out the same spot where I was having success. The phone rang on Sunday morning and of course he was rewarded with a 13lb hatchery marked female steelhead after fishing through it with a piece of shrimp.

A Beautiful Vedder River Steelhead

This morning, I was determined to finally not just hook, but to land one. Once again, at 7:00am I returned to the same spot. Water was getting quite clear, and the river had dropped some more, but this tailout was still looking fishy as the uneven rocks make great coverage for these fish to hide. After trying the shrimp for 30 minutes, not a single fish was interested so I gave the pink worm another shot. A few casts close to shore yielded nothing, so I decided to whip it just a little further out. As it drifted downstream in the slightly shallower, but more turbulent water, the float was buried once again. There were a few hard kicks on the rod, but that dreadful feeling happened again. The fish popped off once again.

Frustrated but more motivated, I threw the pink worm back to the same spot. It’s not unusual to see another steelhead present in the same slot, at least that was my hope. A dozen or so more drifts came up empty, so I moved a few steps further downstream. This appeared to be the right move, because the float was once again buried on the following drift. The connection felt a lot tighter this time, so I carefully guided the fish in without putting on too much pressure. It was not a very big specimen. My first glance estimated it to be around 6lb. As it got closer to shore, panic mode set in because the steep bank was once again a challenge. After several attempt, I finally managed to guide it into a shallower spot where I could reach its tail. The absence of the adipose fin meant it was a hatchery marked fish which I could keep, so I decided to retain this beautiful hen. Although not as big as the one which got away on Friday (after all, the ones that get away are always bigger right?), I was very thrilled. Just like any other fish caught in the lower river in January, this fish was as fresh as they get. It was a good start of my day!

First Hatchery Steelhead of 2017

Winter steelhead fishing in the Chilliwack/Vedder River system can be done until May. Surges of fish can be seen throughout January and February, but the fishing in March and April can also be excellent as more fish are found in the system while warmer weather means more active fish. If you would like to try out this fishery for the first time, be sure to purchase the steelhead conservation surcharge on your freshwater fishing licence. The daily quote of hatchery marked steelhead is one and you must stop fishing once you keep your fish. All wild fish are required to be released with care so we can ensure our steelhead populations are sustainable. Good luck!

Passing on the Joy

Published on Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Since last year, we have committed to bring one young angler along with us to at least one of our filming projects every year. Last year, we took Wyatt who managed to land a huge white sturgeon with Lang’s Fishing Adventures.

This year, we’ve picked young Jacob, who helped out at “Chilliwack’s All About Fishing” back in March by teaching people how to tie knots. Last week, Jacob came along with me on a brook trout fishing trip in the Thompson-Nicola Region. We picked a lake near Merritt so a day trip was possible.

The method of choice was suspending a chironomid fly pattern under an indicator as these fish are busy feeding on the larvae which emerge from the bottom of the lake.

At first, we managed to miss most of the bites and caught the odd small ones.

Small brook trout

After some adjustments to the fly patterns and depth they were suspended at, we quickly connected with multiple fish.

Jacob Fighting a Brook Trout

Jacob managed to catch several beauties which weighed between 1 and 2lb. Not only did he catch fish, he also learned how to adjust the float depth properly, and pick the right fly by observing the chironomids he pumped.

Eastern Brook Char

Nice Brook Trout

June 17th to 19th is BC Family Fishing Weekend. During this weekend, fishing licences are free for anyone who wants to try out fishing for the first time. This is a great opportunity to introduce this fantastic recreation to your family and friends.

Okanagan’s Diverse Fisheries

Published on Saturday, May 14th, 2016

Earlier this week, we stopped in Kelowna for three days to film an upcoming video feature as well as enjoying some of the unique fisheries this region offers. I rarely get a chance to visit Okanagan, so I always make the most out of it whenever I do. The region has so much to offer beside fishing in the spring months. Mountain biking, golfing, wine tours and general sightseeing are just some great options on the list. When it comes to fishing, Okanagan has a large variety of fish species which anglers can target. Being here for three days is simply not enough to cover them all so we had to be selective on what we really wanted to catch.

Our home for the trip was Tee House Bed and Breakfast, which is a beautiful house located in a peaceful neighbourhood behind Shannon Lake Golf Course. Owners/hosts Arthur And Lynda started running their B&B last year, accommodating visitors who are looking for a more private setting during their stay.

Since we were only a few minutes drive from Shannon Lake, it only made sense to stop by and check it out during the first evening. Shannon Lake is one of several urban fisheries in Kelowna. Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC releases rainbow trout at catchable size into this lake seasonally. The lake also has a high abundance of largemouth bass. New this year, is the floating dock that has been installed in the kids fishing area. This opens up many more opportunities for families who are looking for a safe place to fish. The walk is only a short walk from the parking lot, so you can in fact carry a float tube or pontoon boat in if you wish to access the entire lake.

Shannon Lake's New Floating Dock

We fished the spots just outside the kids fishing area briefly, and were rewarded with several small largemouth bass. Majority of these bass are only a few inches long, but locals told us that fish up to several pounds do exist in the lake. The kids fishing area is bounded by a net so it is full of rainbow trout, and some were enjoying catching them while we fished nearby.

Largemouth Bass from Shannon Lake

On our second day of the trip, we met up with Rod Hennig from Rodney’s Reel Outdoors at Wood Lake, which is just North of Kelowna. For once, Fishing with Rod is fishing with Rod! Rod is a Gibbs-Delta field staff and he is very familiar with the lake fisheries in Okanagan. The objective of the day is to complete an episode on Wood Lake’s kokanee fishery by trolling.

Kokanee Trolling at Wood Lake

We started the day at 10:00am. Kokanee fishing is not really time dependent, which is great for those who do not want to get up early, like me. Although the lake is very deep, I was surprised to find out that these fish can in fact be caught very close to the surface by trolling without a downrigger. In the first two hours of the trip, we did just that, picking up most of the fish with a simple surface setup. Rod uses either Gibbs Gypsy or FST spoons as mini flashers. Trailing 1.5 foot behind them is a Yamashita hootchie tipped with a piece of shrimp on the hook. The rods he used were Shimano Talora Kokanee rods, which have a slow action so they are incredibly whippy and sensitive.

In the afternoon, more fish were marked in slightly deeper water. The surface action died off but we were able to rig the rods to the downriggers and trolled them at 20ft below the surface.  By the end of the day, we were able to connect with two dozen fish. Most in fact fell off the hook before they reached the boat, which is not unusual for kokanee fishing, but we were able to bag our limit for the day. The shoot was a success, and you can expect to see this episode in June.

Wood Lake Kokanee

On our way back to Kelowna after fishing we stopped by Trout Waters Fly and Tackle. Nick and Savas have been running this excellent store for over a decade. Several years ago, the store moved to a new location and it is now much bigger with a wide selection of products to choose from. This is the fishing store to be at if you are visiting the area. Nick gave us a tour of the store, showing us the new seminar/social room and tying station. Not only are they here to provide good service, they also play an important role on educating anglers so the quality of our freshwater fisheries in the Okanagan region can be maintained.

Trout Waters Fly and Tackle in Kelowna

On our final day of the trip, we drove South to Okanagan Falls and launched the boat into Skaha Lake. Several years ago, local angler Jesse Martin showed me the smallmouth bass fishery in this lake so I wanted to give it another go. The South end of the lake has a series of private docks along the Eastern shoreline, so it only made sense to target fish that hid underneath these docks.

Skaha Lake near Okanagan Falls, BC

Skaha Lake near Okanagan Falls, BC

Red-necked Grebe

We worked along the shoreline, casting and retrieving a small 1/16oz Gibbs Croc spoon for these aggressive biters. It did not take long until we found some fish! This type of fishing requires casting precision. If the lure lands just under the dock, then more likely than not you will hook a fish.

Smallmouth Bass Caught on Gibbs Croc Spoon

Smallmouth Bass

Among the smallmouth bass, I also encountered a surprise catch, a yellow perch.

Yellow Perch from Skaha Lake

When the Northerly wind picked up in the afternoon, we decided to find another sheltered spot on the West side of the lake. This area lacks docks, but the shoreline is lined with drop-offs down to 15ft of water. Instead of casting spoons, we switched to a tubebait so we could cover the depth properly. Again, there was not a shortage of biters. In the end most of the fish we caught were in the 0.5 to 1lb range, but a couple of fish were quite a bit bigger than average.

Beautiful Smallmouth Bass

Shimano Stradic FK Spinning Reel

Nice Skaha Lake Smallmouth Bass

If you are looking for an area to visit this summer with the family, the Okanagan region might be a good option for you. While trout fishing is still available, there are numerous other kid-friendly species for the younger family members to target.

Salmon Canning

Published on Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

After enjoying retaining several coho salmon from the Chilliwack/Vedder River this fall, we decided to try out canning for the first time! If it turns out well, we’ll be publishing the recipe in the article and video sections.

Filling the Jars

Ready for Canning

Pssss.....

Ready!

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