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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.

Low Water Does Not Deter Salmon Return

Published on Monday, October 1st, 2012

If you live in the Lower Mainland and fish the Chilliwack River, you will notice that water level is at its all-time low. Many anglers have suggested that these conditions make it impossible for salmon to enter the stream, which explains the poor fishing.

While the bulk of the salmon run is still waiting for higher water, fish have definitely been moving into the river for many weeks now. Fishing is challenging when water is lower not due to a lack of fish, but they tend to be easily spooked under heavy fishing pressure.

Crowded fishing spot at Chilliwack River

In the past week, we have been able to connect with several coho salmon. Best fishing is of course at first light when fish are still unaware of their surroundings. Float fishing with a spinner has been great to me, while fishing with roe seems challenging as the bites are too light at times.

Chilliwack River Hatchery Coho Salmon

On the weekend, we decided to see how many fish were already in the Chilliwack Salmon Hatchery. The channel leading up to the hatchery is indeed quite full of both chinook salmon and coho salmon. Here are a couple of photographs and video. If you still doubt that there are fish in the river, then perhaps these will boost your confidence during your next outing.

Learn more about Chilliwack River’s fall salmon fishery…

Salmon at Chilliwack Salmon Hatchery

Salmon at Chilliwack Salmon Hatchery

Returning the Favour

Published on Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Like many of you, I love this sport, and consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in so many fishing opportunities. It is my way of communing with nature, letting go of the stresses of my normal life, and spending time with friends and family. Developing an interest in fishing is probably one of the most precious gifts I received from my father, one that was not given without hardship.

He endured the 2:00 am wake ups of an overly excited child who could not sleep, being told after a ½ hour row that his protégé needed to return to camp to pee despite fish activity all around the boat, being handed his favorite fly rod, now tipless, as a result of being stabbed into the ground during the walk down to the boat, being continually harassed for the funds to purchase more gear, and always having to give up the “big one” as practice for his student fisher.

Most of you, I’m sure, will remember being on one side or the other of many memories such as these. We have shared countless quiet hours bobbing in a boat, or standing waist deep in moving waters. Now approaching 80, dad can no longer hike the rivers or flail a fly rod about all day long and is thus limited to fishing from a boat.

It had been a while since we did the chuck, so I decided to surprise him with a trip to Port Hardy. Although somewhat extravagant by my teacher’s salary, I knew that I was running out of time for a trip like this with dad, and we had both always dreamed of a trip like this.

After the 2 hour ferry ride from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo, and 4 hour drive up island we arrived at our destination. Bear Cove Cottages is 10 km south of the town of Port Hardy. Owners Wade & Shannon Dayley are friendly and eager to assist with your vacation in any way they can.

Bear Cove Cottages

Bear Cove Cottages

The accommodations were exceptionally clean, very comfortable, and well appointed with a fully functional kitchen. We loved it, and since Wade provided a light breakfast, and full lunch on the boat, we used our kitchen each night to prepare our dinner.

Bear Cove Cottages

The cottages are equipped with satellite TV, Wifi (although I purposely left all my electronic devices at home for this trip), and a jetted soaker tub, so any down time can be well used. The view from the cottages was also spectacular, and we spent some time watching eagles from our deck.

Early the next morning we set out with Wade to do some fishing.

Early morning in Port Hardy

BC Ferries Northern Exposure

Wade’s boat is a 25′ Grady White Sailfish, powered with twin 150 yammies. Dad had always wanted a boat like this, so fishing from one was a treat, and I felt completely secure with our knowledgable captain and solid boat.

25' Grady White Sailfish

I was impressed with the fishing gear. I loved the 12 foot Rogue River Salmon rods paired with the Trophy XL Tyee reels. These were a pleasure to use for salmon. I love these single action reels for salmon. I noticed that many of the other charter boats used large level winds for salmon, which made me appreciate this setup even more.

After a run of about an hour, we settled in with a few other boats and got our gear into the water.

On our way to the spot

After arriving, the fog rolled in thick. Navigation without a GPS chartplotter and radar would have been foolish. I was glad our boat was fully outfitted. The sounder was marking many fish, and TONNES of feed.

Needlefish on the sounder

Birds were also everywhere, feeding on the baitfish.

Birds prey on needlefish

This is an example of the size of the needlefish that were everywhere.

Needlefish

To “match the hatch” we used small anchovies in UV teaser heads behind flashers. Details like trolling speed, fishing the most productive spots (we picked up a fish almost every time we went over this one spot), charging the UV heads, and getting the correct bait roll were all important, and separated the boats who were catching from those who were not.

We were immediately into fish. First a smallish spring, by Port Hardy Standards.

A smallish spring, by Port Hardy Standards

Then a small coho.

Small coho salmon

Then dad got into a slab. This was a hot fish, that took some serious runs.

Fish on!

I’ll admit it, Wade and I were worried (and Wade helped him out a bit by maneuvering the boat).

Dad fights a chinook salmon

But eventually we did manage to boat the fish, the biggest of the trip!

Big chinook salmon from Vancouver Island

It’s funny, this picture does not do justice to it’s size…this fish had some serious shoulders.

Of course I also got into many fish, just none approaching the size of the one my dad got.

Northern Vancouver Island chinook salmon

To top off our day, we then went bottom fishing to pick up some cod, ling, black bass, a pair of 30 lb halibut, and finish our full limits.

The second day was a carbon copy of the first, except we did not retain as many fish (no need to be greedy).

This area is unspoiled. Nothing beats the rugged coastline of BC. Kelp beds everywhere attest to the clean water, and richness of sea life.

Rugged BC coast

At the end of each day. Wade took our fish into town to be professionally processed, vacuum packed, and frozen. We simply picked it up on our way out on the final day.

Good to see these guys out and active

Thanks to Wade and his wife at Bear Cove Cottages for the hospitality, expertise, camaraderie, and for accommodating my dad’s special mobility needs.

If you are fishing this area without a guide, be sure to observe the local fishing practices. Boats take turns making runs at the most productive spots, and pull out and away from the tack when they get a fish on, so as to avoid any disruption to the orderly manner in which the other boats are moving. It all works surprisingly well.

Whoever your fishing mentor is, make sure you take the time to thank them. I’m glad I did.

Brookies and bows

Published on Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Unless you have been living in a cave in the last few months, you must have noticed how inconsistent the weather has been this spring in British Columbia. From one snowy day to another rainy day, the sun hardly made its appearance. To anglers who are eager to hit the lakes in Interior BC every spring, this has been a rather frustrating year. Like many others, we had been anxious to make a trip to the Thompson-Nicola region since May, but the last-minute changing weather held us back. After changing our minds several times, we finally decided to give it a go last week.

Because we’ve only been doing stillwater fly fishing since 2007, it is still relatively new to us so I’m always a bit hesitant when choosing the lakes. I decided that we should play it safe by visiting a couple of lakes where I had success in the past – One that has many brook trout in the same age class, while the other that has rainbow trout in a variety of sizes.

After driving through the misty coastal mountain range, we arrived in Merritt and the sun greeted us. The blue sky was a consolation, because the area was pounded by strong gusts. Wind is always an issue when lake fishing in this area, one simply has to deal with it by either braving the open water or finding sheltered spots.

We arrived at our first chosen lake around Noon. Only one other person was at the lake but he was not fishing. It wasn’t surprising, the wind was keeping him out of the water. We took our time setting up the boat, hoping that it would calm down eventually. That hope diminished as the gusts turned into hurricane strength. Reluctantly, we headed out to test the waters, only to be blown around as if we were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. After struggling for awhile, we finally found a slightly more sheltered spot at one corner of the lake. It was time to hook a fish!

We started out by fishing with chironomid in size 14. The chosen colour was silver with red ribs. Because we were fishing in fairly shallow waters, it made adjusting the indicator depth rather easy. I tossed mine out and let it settled while rigging up Nina’s rod. Within minutes, my indicator began bobbing up and down occasionally. Thinking that it was wind, I neglected it so I could finish her setup quickly. They were in fact bites. Unlike rainbow trout, brook trout’s takes tend to be pretty light and your strikes have to be pretty precise to hook them.

Once both our indicators were floating nicely, we were excited to see who would get the first fish. Within a minute, Nina’s indicator dipped and she set the hook precisely. The rod was pulled downward as the fish headed for the deep water. Brook trout rarely jump, they often dive and hold their position in the deep. It took a couple of minutes for the fish to surface. The first brook trout, just over 1lb, was in the net.

After a few photos, we sent the fish back to the lake. Nina was into another fish not long after she sent the fly back out. By now I was getting slightly frustrated. My hookup rate was rather sad. After her third fish into the net, I was finally able to connect with one. The pulls definitely felt good after some struggles.

We ended our first day with around a dozen hookups. Although none of our catches were exceptionally big, it worked out better than we expected considering how rough the lake was.

We decided to give the same lake another try on our second day. The late morning start was even better than the previous day. Perhaps the chironomid hatch was stronger, we could not keep fish away from our flies!

Among the average-sized fish, we finally were able to find some bigger fish, in the 2 to 3lb range. These bigger fish were not much longer, but they were certainly much fatter. My biggest disappointment was the biggest fish that snapped the line before we had a chance to see it. It is always a good idea to check the leader after landing multiple fish.

We decided to end our second day earlier as we were satisfied with the number of fish that we connected with. The day was mostly sunny and the wind was lighter, beavers and loons swam around us without much disturbance. Having the entire lake to ourselves, this was definitely what quality lake fishing is all about in BC.

On our final day, we decided to visit another lake that has rainbow trout in it. Originally, I wanted to fish for more brook trout but Nina insisted that she was bored with them and wanted to catch some big rainbow trout.

We headed to a lake that we fished last year. Our previous visits were never so lucky. Each trip usually ended with only one or two catches. Because it was Saturday, there was a lot more traffic on the lake. Including us, there were 14 boats hoping to catch some nice rainbows. The morning was mild, but rather cloudy. We started out by anchoring near others, but the lake was void of action for two hours. Nearby chironomid fishers were doing just as bad, except a couple of fish that were hooked by one angler. Most boats were slowly trolling, but none were able to find a fish.

With such discouraging result, Nina wanted to move to a new spot. We decided to take the boat away from the traffic and anchored not far from where we launched the boat. Once I dropped the anchors, I noticed a rather heavy hatch happening around us. The water was 20ft deep in front of us, so I had one rod’s indicator depth set at 19ft, while the other one set at 16ft.

The move definitely paid off, because Nina’s indicator started dipping not long after we settled down. I screamed, but watched Nina’s rod sitting idly on the boat. Her mind had already wandered away after not seeing a bite for so long. By the time she yanked it, the fish was long gone. Not long after, her indicator took another dive! Again, the driver was not at the wheel. After missing two chances, Nina was ready to get the job done. The next bite again came in no time. With the rod in her hand this time, she was into the first fish of the day. It went for a couple of dives before showing some flashes below our boat. Unaware that her indicator had not released itself from the line, Nina frantically stripped in her line. Eventually the indicator reached the rod tip and she could not bring in more line. With just under 20ft of line between the rod and the fish, it was not a surprise that it came off the hook after some struggles.

I was both frustrated with seeing so many losses and encouraged by the number of bites she had. With an adjustment to my indicator depth and a switch in fly pattern, I was also into a fish quickly. The fish surfaced without much of a fight, because it was a spawner. Rainbow trout spawn in the spring, so it is not uncommon to see coloured fish occasionally.

Nina’s first fish came after I released mine, but it was also a coloured fish. Were we simply targeting a school of coloured fish? That question was answered by our next fish.

The bites were in fact rather light. The indicators dipped slightly each time. Adding a twitch to the fly after each dip, usually resulted in a good pull-down. My next pull-down sent the reel screaming. Before I had a chance to imagine how big the fish was, it leaped straight out of the water on the other side of Nina’s line. She quickly retrieved her fly, narrowly missing my line. By this point, the fish had already moved to the other side of the boat. It was a big fish, much bigger than what I expected to catch at this lake. This fish created some chaos on the boat as it circled around us. I nervously put pressure on the line, hoping the 4lb test tippet would not snap like the day before. After several netting attempts as it was too big for our net, I finally brought in my biggest rainbow trout to date. We didn’t bother measuring the fish, just admired its size. All I know is that our landing net was way too small for it.

After the beast was released, I was able to connect with a couple of more fish. Nina on the other hand, was not so lucky. With only misses and a few losses, she had to settle with one coloured fish before we headed home at 3:00pm. Nevertheless, both of us agreed that it ended well, considering other boats were not as lucky.

Even though the weather was not as nice as we had hoped for, the fishing definitely made up for it. This was definitely one of the better lake trips that we’ve experienced in the Thompson-Nicola region. For now, our boat will be packed away as we start getting ready for some river fly fishing.

Lac Le Jeune Resort

Published on Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

May usually marks the stillwater fishing season in the Thompson-Nicola region. Like most lake fishing enthusiasts, we like to load up the boat and head up from Vancouver to catch some fine rainbow trout. There has been a delay this year, due to the late departure of winter, or late arrival of spring, whatever you want to call it. Most lakes had ice on them a couple weeks longer than usual.

A couple of weeks ago, Nina’s family was visiting from Denmark and they wanted us to travel to Lac Le Jeune with them. Several years ago, they visited the area by chance during a stopover to Banff and they really enjoyed the few hours while they were there. I have never been, but have constantly heard fly fishermen bringing it up over the years so was curiously to check it out.

A couple of days before we headed to the lake, I was informed that the lake was still frozen so I chose not to bring my fishing rods. What a mistake that was! I was ready to make a shuttle run back to Vancouver to get them when I saw no ice on the lake upon our arrival. Although I was not able to wet a line, it was going to be a good stay when I noticed the abundance of wildlife in the area.

Our accommodation for the trip was Lac Le Jeune Resort. Normally when we go lake fishing in the Thompson-Nicola region, we either camp or stay at a hotel in Merritt or Kamloops. Never had I expected to find a fine resort in the middle of no where. Lac Le Jeune Resort is not what you’d call a luxury resort, but you can sense its warmth as soon as you step into it. The resort provides two styles of accommodation. You can either stay at the lodge rooms or rent an entire cabin nearby. The resort sits slightly higher than the lake so the view is absolutely breath taking at anytime of the day.

Lac Le Jeune Resort

Cabin at Lac Le Jeune Resort

Lac Le Jeune

The birds were being fed at the doorstep. One can just stand there and watch them for hours. Our host settled us in right away when we arrived and informed us that dinner would be served at 6:30pm. Already impressed, we were even more pleasantly surprised when it was time to dine. The dining room sits by the lake, so we could watch loons, beavers and of course, trout, splashing about while we ate.

Dining at Lac Le Jeune Resort

Dinner menu at Lac Le Jeune Resort

Dinner at Lac Le Jeune Resort

Dessert at Lac Le Jeune Resort

At first Nina and I were concerned that we would not have anything to do at the lake without our fishing rods. The alternatives solved that problem pretty fast. We walked along the lake shore on both days and the wildlife kept us entertained. Nina’s family also thoroughly enjoyed their visit as the lake lived up to their expectation. They were most fascinated by these huge beavers that always seem so busy around the lake. I was able to practice my photography on the birds and squirrels that couldn’t get enough of the feeds on the resort’s patio.

Red squirrel at Lac Le Jeune

Here is a short video of some of the wildlife footages from Lac Le Jeune.

After seeing some fine rainbow trout jumping on both evenings while we were there, I am now itching to return with my fishing rods.

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