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Archive for August, 2009

They are almost here!

Published on Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

I always get rather restless in late August of odd years, because the arrival of pink salmon in the Fraser River is just around the corner. It’s always a fun competition among a few of us, to see who could catch the first pink salmon on the Fraser River each season.

Since the beginning of this week, I have been heading out during the incoming tide to see if I could intercept one. The main school usually does not arrive until the first week of September, but scattered small pods tend to sneak into the river with the tide starting in mid August. Yesterday I had a brief encounter, detecting a light bite after seeing two rising just downstream from me. The fish never connected, but it still caused fair amount of excitement.

Today Mark, Vince and I returned to see if we would find more fish surfacing. We only spotted two risers throughout the entire session. Vince managed to hook a big one, but just the wrong species. This northern pikeminnow put up a good fight and made us believing that it was a pink salmon until it surfaced.

With the tidal difference becoming larger as we approach the weekend, the likelihood of seeing a big school of pink salmon during the incoming tide is very big. They are almost here!

Not a bad weekend stroll

Published on Saturday, August 15th, 2009

The sunshine is back! For awhile it almost felt like fall had arrived, which wouldn’t exactly be a bad thing because it’d mean coho salmon are not far behind. We could use a few more weeks of nice weather, after months of extreme weather patterns.

Now that we are entering the third week of August, it is time to start anticipating for the arrival of Fraser River pink salmon. After lunch, I popped by one of my usual haunting spots to see if there were signs of humpies during the incoming tide. The water seemed to be clearer than a couple of days ago, perhaps the sunlight was just playing a trick on the eyes.

No signs of humpies could be seen, so I decided to walk around with my light spinning rod and make a few casts. I was surprised when a silvery fish chased the spinner to shore on the first cast but failed to commit. The following cast, another bump, most likely by the same fish. On the third cast, I reacted precisely as it bumped the lure lightly again. Who would think that it could find the lure three times in a row in a big body of murky water? The fish, no more than 12 inches long, leaped straight out of the water, suggesting that it was not a pikeminnow. It splashed a few times before I brought it to my feet. It was a cutthroat trout at its prime state. Catching cutthroat trout is not unusual in the Tidal Fraser River in late summer. I recall it was also around this time last year when I encountered one of these beautiful specimen. This fish flipped itself off the hook before I had a chance to grab my camera.

After spinning for a couple more hours with no success, I decided to head home for a brief break before heading to another spot for the evening session. I also picked some blackberries by the river too, convenience is definitely an advantage of living in Richmond.

Once the cats were fed and snacks were eaten, I headed back out to catch the outgoing tide. It can often be good to focus on the shallow bays where current is absent during this tide. This evening was not so productive as hoped. With a couple more bites, I managed to bring in a small pikeminnow. The big ones seem to be somewhere this year. I was hoping for them to arrive sooner, since pink salmon are expected to arrive anytime now.

So it begins

Published on Thursday, August 13th, 2009

I have been dropping by the Tidal Fraser River once every few days to check the water visibility, only to be disappointed each time by the silty white colour. It seems that the Fraser River is clearing up more slowly this year. This afternoon I decided to take another look at Garry Point Park and was delighted to see the water clearer than last week.

Quite excited, I grabbed my light spinning rod and headed to the spots where I have been catching them year after year. With the trusty green spinner, I should be able to entice a northern pikeminnow or two.

Northern pikeminnow is a native fish species in British Columbia. They have no commercial importance and recreational anglers tend to regard them as pests, therefore they are abundant in the Fraser River watershed. Although most of the fish are small, ranging between 4 and 12 inches long, a small percentage of the population exceed this size class. Unlike salmon, northern pikeminnow is a slow growing fish that can live for decades.

After trying several spots, I finally hooked the first fish of the season. This fish ran into the spinner so hard that the line became completely slack instead of the usual tug. I set the hook while reeling in as much slack as possible, almost feel like if I was bass fishing. It is always a nice feeling to hold the first fish of the season.

The second fish came not long after. This smaller fish attacked the lure three times before I realized that my lure was not hitting the bottom. It displayed a few splashy jumps before surrendering.

If water clarity improves as expected, spincasting with lures can be done from now until next spring. From northern pikeminnow, to pink and coho salmon, to bull trout and cutthroat trout, this readily available fishery is still unnoticed by most anglers around Vancouver. For more information, please read this article.

Early birds disappointed

Published on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Although river fishing for fall salmon is still a few weeks away, August can still be an exciting period for Vancouver anglers. Chinook, coho and pink salmon congregate in bays and estuaries as they emerge from the Pacific Ocean. While waiting for rivers to rise so they can enter them, they binge on bait fish and crustaceans, fueling up to ensure that they can endure the rest of their journey to the spawning ground.

Around Vancouver, Howe Sound, Burrard Inlet, Indian Arm are these salmon’s prime feeding ground. Known as Area 28 under Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s management, it offers plenty of salmon fishing opportunities from both boats and shore.

After receiving recent news of good fishing around this area, Mark and I decided to pay Ambleside Beach a visit yesterday morning. Fishing at first light has been good to me in the past. Perhaps it was the anticipation or miscalculation of the time of first light, I arrived in the parking lot at 4:30am! I ended up sitting in the parking lot for 30 more minutes before Mark and other anglers arrived. Some early birds can be really stupid I guess.

Well, the fishing was not what we had hoped for. Beside seeing a couple of pink salmon swimming by, we came home for breakfast empty handed. Well, that is not entirely true. We witnessed one jack coho being caught, a rather large flounder being caught and of course Mark’s prized starfish catch.

This unlucky flounder was probably half eaten by a seal.

Not what we had expected to catch.

Can released Fraser River sockeye salmon survive their journey?

Published on Saturday, August 8th, 2009


With the Fraser River sockeye salmon returning in much lower number than first anticipated, the debate on catching and releasing sockeye salmon by recreational fishermen when there is not a sockeye salmon retention opening is once again very heated. With water temperature gradually rising in the Fraser River, it is thought that sockeye salmon that are incidentally hooked and released may die prematurely due to stress. What makes this year’s discussion slightly different, is the presence of last year’s sockeye salmon catch and release study result, which indicates a rather low mortality rate on fish that were caught by recreational fishermen. While the angling community has adopted these numbers as evidence that show incidentally catching and releasing sockeye salmon while targeting chinook salmon on the Fraser has minimal impact, there are some cautionary notes that all should be aware of so we do not regret our actions later.

What alarms me is that science has become so mainstream that it is now a religion on its own. This has had positive impacts, such as the green movements in recent years, but it takes away a lot of integrity that science once had. It has become a powerful ammunition that advocates (note, not suggesting you) use to sway public’s opinion. No disrespect to anyone, but swaying the opinion of individuals without a scientific background is easy and it has a cascade effect that’s almost impossible to stop once those ideas are planted in people’s mind.

One should realize that scientific papers are not conclusive. In the scientific community, studies undergo peer reviews and critiques. This is done not because others dislike the results obtained in the study, but it is done to determine if the methodology used to obtain those results and the statistical interpretation of those results are done correctly. While there are the usual participants who are against the sockeye sportfishery dismissing the study completely, there are also individuals who have a scientific background making some constructive criticisms on the study. Again, in an internet discussion forum where most do not reveal their identity and background, it is difficult to decide whose words should be taken seriously at first. On the other hand, outspoken advocates of the sockeye sportfishery, who mostly have not looked at the study in depth, dangle the result of this study in front of you before you have a chance to blink.

A mortality study of caught and released sockeye salmon is needed because as long as the Fraser River is opened for sportfishing, incidental catches during sockeye salmon closures will occur. Quantitative facts allow fishery managers to make sound decisions instead of half guessing on what might be happening in the water. Some suggest that the second part of the study should not be conducted due to warm water temperature, my response would be to look at the large picture. Data obtained from caught and released sockeye salmon at a higher water temperature than last year’s lead to comparative studies of caught and released sockeye mortality at various water temperature. This information would be beneficial for managers who need to make conservation measures when discharged water temperature rises.

Results from last year’s study were pretty uniform to what is already known. Fish that are hooked externally survive better than fish that are hooked internally because it minimizes the chance of servere loss of blood. This is why in some parts of the world, treble hooks are used rather than single hooks as a management measure in catch and release fisheries. Managers and anglers rather see externally injured fish rather than dead fish. This is also why some have started pegging their trout bead a few inches above the hook so the fish is hooked outside the jawline rather than in its oral cavity. It may contradict the traditional definition of fishing, but from the practical aspect, it serves a better purpose in catch and release fisheries.

That being said, these results cannnot be viewed as definitive proof that the number of sockeye salmon dying from catch and release is minimal. The results presented are simply demonstrating temporary mortality, due to the fact that these fish were held for 24 hours in a channel that has a similar discharge velocity of the Fraser River around Chilliwack. Scientific studies create models of the real scenario, they do not paint the whole picture. Factors such as predation of released fish during its recuperation, recapturing by other sportfishermen and nets, mortality in higher stream velocity, spawning performance are not being considered. This is not suggesting that study designers intend to disregard these and flaw the results. Budget constraints and the inability to create these scenarios prevent them to factor these in. Nevertheless, they are significant factors that can skew what we are actually trying to find, which is how many caught and released sockeye salmon can arrive at their natal streams and spawn successfully.

This is why the study is planned for five years and it is premature to use one year’s result to conclusively suggest the sockeye salmon that anglers catch and release are perfectly fine. This type of false sense of security is not good for the fish, and not good for anyone.

Based on what has been written, most might suggest that I am against the sockeye sportfishery. At the same time, others might suggest I am for the sockeye fishery based on my view on the difference between external and internal injuries of caught and released fish. For or against, if only it is that simple, that black and white, there wouldn’t be these long winded debates at all.

If there is one message to take away from this long post, it is that anglers should have some reservation on the unnecessary impact of the fish that they need to release. Do I need to be by-catching a certain number of sockeye salmon when exclusively targeting chinook salmon? Would the sockeye salmon that I release make it to their natal streams and spawn successfully? Maybe, maybe not, one would never know, but remember that these doubts may have significant impacts on the resource when it can be avoided. Would barfishing, which has a much smaller possibility of intercepting sockeye salmon, be a good alternative for targeting chinook salmon?


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