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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!

Bar Fishing Fight Sequence

Published on Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Since the Fraser River reopened for chinook salmon retention, bar fishing for them has been excellent. Multiple hook-ups within a couple of hours, of both large adults and small jacks, have been the reports arriving in my inbox for several days now. This evening my dad and I were invited along to a quick bar fishing trip and I took a series of photographs during the fight of one fish. This fish was caught near the end of the day, when a school of fish must have been moving through as several bar rods started dancing in the holders, all within minutes apart. Ken grabbed the rod when his bell rang, and the bend in the rod told us right away that it was a chinook salmon.

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It actually came into the shallow water pretty quickly, so Bob had the net ready, expecting this to be an easy fight.

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But the fish had other ideas, it began gaining some line and headed upstream.

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After navigating around the boat as the fish continued upstream, Ken was gaining line again.

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The fish splashed on the surface, it looked almost ready to be netted.

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As Bob approached with the net, this fish once again had other ideas. It headed downstream, this time from the shallow side of the boat and proceeded to go underneath it.

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Ken carefully worked his line under the boat and managed to avoid hooking the motor.

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The third try was much smoother. Bob scooped the fish up once he could get a good aim.

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Finally!

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A memorable fishing experience, shared by three generations of Ken’s family.

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A beautiful chinook salmon for dinner, this is what Fraser River bar fishing is all about.

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A Quick Family Get-away to Tunkwa Lake

Published on Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

The rainbow trout fishing at lakes across Interior British Columbia is known to be excellent from April to June. It usually tapers off in July when the weather heats up, but picks up in late July and early August, when the “bomber” hatches begin. The term refers to the emergence of extraordinarily large chironomids, which creates a feeding frenzy among these rainbow trout.

When we found out the bite was once again on at Tunkwa Lake from the resort, I didn’t hesitate to book a couple of nights at the cabin for the family. The last time we stayed there was three years ago when Nina was about to give birth to our son Elliot, so we were pretty excited to bring him there for the first time. Joining us was our neighbour Bob and his three kids who have never experienced interior lake trout fishing.

Located just North of Logan Lake, Tunkwa Lake Resort has been operating for several decades and many families have made it their annual family get-away. During this trip, we met families who have been to the resort since 30 years ago, or even gotten married there.

On the first day when we arrived, the rain was pouring down. For some reason that seems to be the theme for me whenever I visit Tunkwa. Being 1,000m+ above sea level, it was also a bit cool, which was actually quite refreshing after enduring a long heat wave in the Fraser Valley since early July.

We settled in our cozy little cabin and lit up the fireplace so it was toasty for the evening.

The Morning View at Tunkwa Lake

We woke up the morning to drier weather and the clouds were dispersing. It looked like the rest of the trip was going to be great!

The Bird Life at Tunkwa Lake

Early Morning Keen Fisherman at Tunkwa Lake

Tunkwa Lake Resort is known to be a family resort. The biggest challenge we’ve discovered when going on a fishing trip with our little one is, obviously, to constantly come up with ideas to keep him occupied. While it’s nice to fish together, the reality is that a 2 year old’s attention span in a boat is no longer than one hour. After the one hour mark, it is time to be on dry land. The playground at the resort kept the kids occupied for hours each day, which was a great asset.

The Playground at Tunkwa Lake Resort

There have also been lots of new additions to the resort since we were last there. The new sheltered picnic area is ideal for lakeside meals.

New Picnic Area at Tunkwa Lake Resort

The kayaks and paddle boards provide options other than fishing for family members who don’t wish to fish.

Kayaks and Paddle Boards at Tunkwa Lake

Kayaking at Tunkwa Lake

Now onto the fishing, it was fabulous as expected! We finally ventured out on the boat in the afternoon after watching fish being caught left and right. The hatches were thick and in no time we were into fish.

Fish On!

Tunkwa Lake Rainbow Trout

Releasing a Rainbow Trout

The large chironomid patterns were suspended a couple of feet off the bottom in 15 feet of water. We either used a 4wt fly fishing rod with an indicator to accomplish this, or a spinning outfit with a sliding float. Both methods worked equally well.

Double Trouble!

A common sighting at Tunkwa Lake

Fish being caught were mostly in the 16 to 18 inches range, while at times a 19 inch long fish would emerge and once awhile a 20 incher was pulled in by a lucky angler. Double headers were also not uncommon, which made the day rather entertaining with two fish circling around the boat while avoiding tangles with each other’s lines and the anchor ropes.

Tunkwa Lake Rainbow Trout

Tunkwa Lake Rainbow Trout

The bite did not taper off during our full day of fishing. After dinner, we headed out again at 7:30pm and were treated with constant action until sunset.

Bent Rods at Tunkwa Lake

A Good Way to Finish the Day at Tunkwa Lake

The Night Sky at Tunkwa Lake

The kids also had a chance to dance with these fish. On our last day prior to departing, Bob brought his three kids out on my boat and they managed to brought six fish to the net in 30 minutes!

Catching Fish at Tunkwa Lake

If you are considering a family fishing trip and undecided on where you should go, then definitely consider Tunkwa Lake Resort. Like many other families who we met during this trip, we may start a same tradition by going back every year from now on!

Little Cozy Rustic Cabin at Tunkwa Lake

Halibut Fishing from Pedder Bay

Published on Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Several years ago I was introduced to halibut fishing on Vancouver Island, and this has become one activity which I look forward to every summer. Beside having a chance to haul up a rather big fish from the deep sea, a big appeal of this fishery is tasting a piece of delicious halibut steak afterward. At $20+/lb, what’s better than catching your own and eating fish that is much fresher than the ones bought from the stores?

This spring, we decided to take a trip out with Sea Ghost Fishing Charters, which is based at Pedder Bay Marina just outside of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Originally, we were going to do our trip in April but the last minute cancellation due to gale-force wind left us pretty disappointed. We rescheduled the trip and headed over to this week, and the weather couldn’t have worked out better. Stable, sunny weather meant a relatively calm sea. We just needed the fish to cooperate!

Tagging along with me were Kitty and Jessica, who both work at the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC and are avid freshwater anglers. Kitty has done several saltwater trips since last year but Jessica has never been fishing in the ocean before.

Pedder Bay Marina

Tucked in between Victoria and Sooke, Pedder Bay is a quiet inlet where summer vacationers can bring their RV and boat for a long stay. The marina has direct access to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where fishing for both halibut and salmon can be productive throughout most of the year. At 6:00am, we met up with our guide Gord Gavin, who is a seasoned angler in the area and owner/operator of Sea Ghost Fishing Charters. The boat ride from the bay to the fishing spot only took around 20 minutes. A thin layer of fog could be seen in the far horizon, a light breeze could be felt from the West but the clear sunny sky told us that it was going to be a fabulous day.

Once the anchor was set, Gord tied the rods up with Gibbs Delta Tackle’s halibut rigs, which include a spreader bar separating the large weight and the leader. The hooks of choice were circle hooks, which are designed for these fish to hook themselves once they ingest the bait. The hooks were decorated with Hali Hawg grubs, which were then accompanied by a variety of bait including octopus, mackerel and salmon pieces. Three rods were set up and each had one type of bait rigged up in case one was preferred over the other.

Jessica watching the rods

Kitty Enjoying the Halibut Trip

Gord explained that the best time for halibut fishing is in fact when the tide is running. Our goal was to fish until the tide peaked and hope the bite would come on. It is a waiting game, the scent has to travel, drawing those hungry halibut to the bait. Once the bait settled on the bottom, we anticipated for some bites right away but that never happened. The first two hours went by without any action, but Gord was very confident. “It will happen.”, he said. Trusting his decades of experience, we sat patiently and stared at the rod tips.

Shimano Trevala Rods, the Best for Halibut Fishing

The tidal current eventually picked up as we approached its peak, so our weights were no longer settling on the bottom as much. Gord worked hard to keep the bait close to the bottom where the fish are usually feeding, by letting line out once every few minutes. His persistence was finally paid off, when one of the rods showed some signs of life just before the tide peaked.

Gord instructed us to be patient as the fish would hook itself on the circle hook. It initially gave the rod a couple of quick taps but left the bait alone for a few minutes. It then returned to chomp on the bait a few more times. This repeated for almost ten minutes until it finally committed. The rod arched in the rod holder and gave it the signature halibut head shake. Gord took the rod out of the holder, handed to Jess who was both excited and nervous. With 600ft of line out, it was going to be a long battle!

Unlike salmon, halibut do not usually run as they are brought up from the deep. The fish gave Jess a few head shakes as it came up. Gord said once these fish reach around the 60ft depth mark, they usually start fighting more due to exposure to more light. Sure enough, the fish began to pull harder as it got closer to the boat, putting Jess to work even harder. With 550ft of line reeled in, she was already quite exhausted. As the fish reached the surface, the sore arms were long forgotten, both Jess and Kitty were screaming with joy. Who wouldn’t be when you were about to land the biggest fish of your lifetime!

The most critical part of the fight is when the fish reaches the surface, because the brute force of these giant flatfish is hard to control. Gord first gaffed the fish while it swam beside the boat, dispatched it and finally secure it with a rope. The fish weighed in at 36lb, which was the perfect size for eating.

Jessica's First Halibut!

The celebration didn’t last long as the second rod began to bend soon afterward. Unlike the first fish, this one did not hesitate and began peeling line out while the rod was still in the holder. Gord handed the rod to Kitty, who last year caught her first halibut already. Instead of fighting the fish while the rod sat in the holder like last year, she decided to try the lift and retrieve method. Kitty was slightly luckier, the tide was not as strong anymore so there was less line to reel in.

Kitty Fighting a Halibut

It was still exhausting apparently, because Kitty’s legs were shaking once the fish reached the surface. It was a slightly smaller fish, weighing in at 33lb. The harvested pair already made this an excellent trip and we had only been fishing for four hours.

Kitty Holding the Halibut by the Boat

Gaffing and Roping the Halibut

With two fish retained, Gord sent the rods down to the deep again hoping to get another one. Unfortunately the rest of the halibut lost their appetite. We managed to bring in a nice size rockfish before ending the trip at Noon.

Rockfish

A Keeper from the Crab Trap

Once we returned to the marina, a crowd of tourists was excited to see our fine catches. Fresh halibut within 20 minute boat ride from shore, we were definitely spoiled!

A "Chicken" Size Halibut

Guide Gord Gavin Cleaning and filleting Halibut

A Pair of Big Halibut

Many thanks to our guide Gord for this fantastic halibut fishing trip. While being able to bring home some fish from a guided fishing trip is nice, the most valuable experience is in fact the local knowledge from a guide who is willing to share and Gord is definitely one of them. I really appreciate that I now have a better understanding on the halibut fishery after the trip.

Pedder Bay Marina is approximately 40 minutes drive from Downtown Victoria. Because most of the trips start quite early in the morning, it’s best to catch the ferry to Victoria the night before if you are coming from Vancouver. If you’d like to book a trip with Gord at Sea Ghost Charters, please visit his website where he has listed all the available best dates for halibut fishing based on the tide. The halibut fishery in British Columbia usually opens on February 1st but Gord does not start his charters until March 1st, and it lasts until late November unless an earlier closure is announced in-season.

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