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Archive for October, 2009

Fishery enforcement work summarized

Published on Monday, October 26th, 2009

The common misconception on dealing with fishery violations is that little or none is done because whenever people phone in a violation, it is not attended. This perceived lack of enforcement certainly does not motivate people to be part of the solution and it poses no deterrence for those who do not choose to play by the rules. The reality is that fishery officers cannot be everywhere at anytime in this province and when they do crack down on violations, the public never hears about it because the information rarely makes it to the media.

At the most recent Upper Fraser Valley sportfishing advisory committee meeting that I attended in Chilliwack, we once again were briefed by DFO enforcement in the area. A summary on what has been done between January and September 2009 in the Fraser Valley was provided. Many thanks to the Lower Fraser fishery manager for putting these numbers together in the meeting minutes.

There have been 12 illegal fish sales filed with 8 boats seizured. These files are at the charge approval stage.

How officers’ time breakdown:

  • Enforcement/patrol: 47%
  • Other programs (assisting other agencies): 3%
  • Administration (paper work, meeting, training, etc): 50%

Enforcement/patrol time breakdown:

  • Closed time/area: 56%
  • Aboriginal fisheries: 29%
  • Recreational fisheries: 11%
  • Habitat: 3%
  • Commercial/other: 1%

Type of patrol:

  • Vessel: 48%
  • Vehicle: 48%
  • Helicopter: 4%

Type of violations:

  • 100+ gillnet seizures
  • 8 vessel seizures
  • 60+ recreational tickets
  • 25 aboriginal charges
  • 11 Restorative Justice cases
  • 26 habitat charges

Fishery violations should always be reported by phoning 1-800-465-4336 when witnessed.

Triple spectacular Tidal Fraser outings on Thanksgiving

Published on Monday, October 12th, 2009

The Tidal Fraser River finally opened for coho salmon fishing on Saturday October 10th (see notice). This is a fishery that I anticipate each year, because it is so close to home and the fishing can be spectacular. Beside coho salmon, it is not unusual to encounter other species too, such as chinook salmon, chum salmon, cutthroat trout, bull trout, northern pikeminnow and event a stugeon or two. Not knowing what I may connect on the next cast makes fishing the Tidal Fraser River in October and November very appealing.

While bait such as roe can be used, my preferred method is to cast and retrieve spoons and spinners. Not that I think it involves more skills to catch them on hardwares than bait, I simply find it hard to sit and stare at a rod tip for a long period of time.  I also find that bites are not as easily missed when retrieving a lure.

My choice of lure is a 1/8oz spinner with a size 3 green blade. This lure has been especially good to me when fishing for bull trout, cutthroat trout and jack coho salmon. I arrived at 11:00am on opening day, two hours before the tide peaked. In the first two hours or so, I managed to miss two bites while nearby roe anglers had a few bites and managed to land one jack coho. Once the tide peaked and started dropping, I missed another bite, followed by a 35cm bull trout that did not get away fast enough at around 2:00pm. At 3:15pm, the tide had dropped two feet and I had another quick tug. I hooked, watched the rod bent and for the first five seconds the fish fought sluggishly. I assumed that it was just another bull trout and retrieved slowly as the fish was being towed in. Suddenly, it leaped straight out of the water and I could see the 6lb or so silvery body was in fact a coho salmon. The fun soon began as the fish bolted and took several powerful runs like all ocean fresh coho would do. It must have taken about six runs before I guided it into the net. Not a bad opening day indeed! It has been two years since I landed an adult coho salmon in the Tidal Fraser River. Last year, a dozen or so outings only yielded a hatchery jack coho that I managed to drop in the water after bonking it.

This coho was a wild fish. Just about all the scales are intact, the body was very deep as it should be since it just entered the river. A quick photo and we sent it back to the river so it is now on its way into one of the valley tributaries.  Hopefully this is a sign of many more good days to come in October.

I returned on day two to hit the same tide, hoping for coho number two. There were more anglers, either spincasting or plunking with roe. This is fine, as the Tidal Fraser fishery always has a relaxing, friendly atmosphere. More anglers also keep each other motivated if there are sightings of fish. Day two was unproductive for me beside a tiny trout that greedily grabbed my 1/4oz spoon. Others were more successful, the odd jack coho and bull trout were landed. The highlight of the day was the large silver coho in the 10 to 12lb range that one angler was lucky enough to connect with.

Day three’s weather was much more tolerable. It was not as windy and the overcast sky was ideal for coho salmon fishing. I arrived around Noon to find Mike and Andrew already patiently watching their bar rods. They reported many fish rising when they arrived at 10:30am but it had been quiet since.

Even though the update was not that exciting, I was quite confident that we would find some fish. Unlike streams, fish are constantly on the move in the Tidal Fraser River so the fishing result can change by the minute.

Sure enough, I immediately felt some taps after sending out my little green spinner. Not long after, I connected with a jumpy 12″ cutthroat trout that swam into my net very willingly. I was quite excited, because for awhile now I have been attempting to collect DNA samples from Tidal Fraser cutthroat trout that the hatchery wants. A quick snip, a measurement and a photo, it was time to send it back to the river.

Silver cutthroat trout can be common in the Tidal Fraser in October.

As soon as I released my fish, Andrew felt some strong bites on his bar rod. He forcefully set the hook and the bend suggested a rather large fish was at the end of his line. The pulls seemed very unsalmon-like as it stayed in the deep for a long time. We put the net down and began speculating. Perhaps it is a sturgeon? The fight went on for ten more minutes before the fish emerged from the cloudy water. It was indeed a white sturgeon! It took awhile to bring in the four foot long fish on 15lb test tackle, but Andrew did it perfectly. Without gloves, Mike grabbed onto its tail, hoping that the sharp scutes would not cut his hands.

A surprising catch!

It’s unusual to catch a white sturgeon when fishing for salmon with roe, but it’s not impossible. The area is usually too shallow for sturgeon to swim in, unless you cast further out like what Andrew did.

Once everything settled down again, I returned to my spinner casting. Once again, it did not take long before I connected with another fish. This time, the catch was a bull trout. As I was collecting a sample from it in the net, an angler had come down and made a cast nearby. He immediately connected with another cutthroat trout! There were definitely some feeding fish around.

While these fish in the 12 – 16″ range are no trophy coho, I rather catch some of them than catching nothing, especially on light tackle.

The rest of the afternoon was just as exciting. Andrew managed to land another white sturgeon. Carlo joined us and managed to be teased by several coho salmon that decided to only stay on his line for no longer than two seconds. I added one more to the species catch list, a beefy northern pikeminnow that has not felt the arrival of winter yet. A few chum salmon could be seen rolling as the tide peaked. This is a very good sign, because there have been some worries that the Fraser River chum salmon return seems either low or late.

The Tidal Fraser River never disappoints. This Thanksgiving Weekend has resulted in three days of memorable fall salmon fishing.

Vedder, a love and hate relationship

Published on Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

The Chilliwack River, or more commonly known as the Vedder among anglers, is by far the busiest river fishery in British Columbia. One should not be too surprised, since it is less than 100km from two million Lower Mainland residents. Beginners, who could not care less about what they catch, love it because it usually yields many salmon every trip. Seasoned Vedder anglers enjoy testing their skills with coho and steelhead. We rush to the river before dawn because we love that first light bite, but also have the anxiety of having the trip ruined by others. It is a love and hate relationship that most of us cannot seem to get away from until we finally become too tired of it.

For the most part, my trips to the Vedder have always been very enjoyable. This is due to the fact that I am fortunate enough to have the opportunities to fish with experienced local anglers. Quality also supercedes quantity for my outings so I have a tendency to seek for fishing spots that are void of anglers even if less fish are to be had. If help is requested, I enjoy sharing the tips that have been passed to me. These objectives usually ensure that my trips would end well, but I have always been prepared for the chance of encountering a bad scenario. Today’s trip may just be that day, at least part of it anyway.

After the first scouting trip last week, the coho salmon fishing seems to have picked up. Chris phoned yesterday morning and his first words were, “Why aren’t you fishing? They are rolling everywhere!”

This was not the first time those words were spoken over the phone, but it always got me hyped up on coho fever. I decided that it was time for another visit this morning to see if I could bag a coho salmon or two.

Having his day off, Shane also decided to tag along. Shane spends most of his time targeting trout and char on the fly (see egging for trout in a salmon stream). Occasionally, he visits the Vedder during the fall salmon season but has always been unsuccessful on catching a hatchery marked coho salmon. His failure to connect with one has made him a skeptic on short floating, so it was time to put an end to his skunk streak.

The sleep on the night before was short and restless as usual. The thought of seeing the floatès disappearance and silver flashes always keep the heart pumping hard. The three of us met up at 6:30am at the hot spot. Constant splashes could be heard in the darkness, which only intensified the anticipation. We made our way down the ripraps when it was bright enough to see. The spot that Chris had picked out is a deep sandy tailout that hardly has any current. It is a classic coho spot, but I could also see hundreds of pink salmon holding in the same area. Never have I seen that many pink salmon in the Chilliwack River, which is fantastic as their carcasses will become abundant nutrient for rearing juvenile salmon and steelhead.

The pink army

Once the floats were visible in the water, we began sending our bait into the run. The bites were immediate. Shane Connected with a fish that leaped several times before it tangled the line up on a log. I was quite certain that it was a coho salmon (aren’t the ones we lose always are?). I soon found a bite too, but it was a feisty pink salmon that did not want to be unhooked by Chris. Judging by how productive it was after five minutes of fishing, we were confident that it would be action-packed for the rest of the morning. Could we be more wrong.

Entertainment started when Chris made his first cast. After greasing his reel the night before, he forgot to tighten the screw so one cast sent the drum of the reel into the water! It sank and lodged itself to some rocks in four feet deep of water. Chris attempted to net it without much success, so the alternative option was to take all the line off until the knot and drag it up.

While this was happening, we noticed the flyfisherman on the other side of the river had connected with a fish. He fought the fish to shore and proceeded to drag it up on dry bank. It is a practice that is acceptable if one intends to keep a legally caught fish, but not exactly the best for the fish if it is to be released.

While watching what had taken place and assuming that he was about to keep his first catch, I made a remark to Shane, “That must be a coho salmon! Good for him!”
“Are you sure?”, Shane replied.
“Ya! Otherwise he wouldn’t be doing that.”, I replied with condifence. After all, flyfishermen are generally more experienced.

As soon as my words were spoken, the angler, if we can actually call him that, kicked the fish in the air as if he was auditioning for “Bend it like Beckham”.

Stunned by seeing what had just taken place, I said, “I guess not…”

Shane shook his head and we were back to watching our floats.

It did not take long before this person foul hooked another fish and once again he dragged the fish up to the dry sand bar and gave the fish an even harder boot as if his day had been ruined by them.

After seeing enough, Chris advised the person loudly across the river, “Hey! Please don’t kick the fish back in the water like that!”

He immediately responded, “I don’t care! They are just pinks, a nuisance. You want to save all the mosquitos too?”

Despite of the rude reply, Chris continued, “You should be treating fish with respect.”

The language only degraded from that point, “I don’t give a ****!”

Seeing that we were dealing with someone who clearly was not going to listen, Chris simply replied, “Ok, but if you get caught by DFO doing that, it is a $250 fine.”

“I don’t give a ****!”

Funny enough, somehow he actually gave a **** after Chris took out his phone and called DFO, which unfortunately was not available. The person restrained himself from kicking more fish back in the water, but still dragged them up to dry land each time before leaving 30 minutes later.

The displayed arrogance boggled my mind. Why one chooses to be so rude is difficult to understand when the whole purpose of being out on the river this early in the morning was to relax, enjoy and appreciate. To treat pink salmon with such disrespect simply because there are millions of them returning is the same attitude that has resulted in the loss of many fisheries.

Not to have the day ruined by one individual, we kept fishing hard but only to be rewarded with some pink salmon. The coho bites that were expected did not really take place at first light.

Shane attempts to gain control of another pink prior to its release.

After retrieving his reel, Chris’ morning did not seem to improve. The bites that he had missed sent the entire rig back into the trees behind him sometimes, while other times it simply tangled up the entire rod.

The tangler!

When we thought things were almost organized, the next episode occurred. Without being noticed, an angler had moved to the spot where the previous flyfisherman was across from us. He watched us for a few minutes and decided to suggest that we were standing in where coho would swim past and that he wanted us to get out of the water!

We had difficulty to decide whether we should find his direct request offensive or funny. Even if he was right, which he was not, how an angler who arrives late could actually ask other anglers who have been at a spot to move is simply rude. Nevertheless, we decided that it was worth to have a chuckle over it and continued fishing.

After a couple of hours of entertainment, we finally settled down and fished in peace. At 9:00am, the sun just emerged from the hill top and the bite was finally on! The surface glare made float watching almost impossible and every bite resulted in the float shooting back into our face. The drift in the slow flow meant precise hookset was needed if we wanted to connect with a fish.

After failing many times, Shane rod finally displayed the welcoming bend that we had been waiting for. The rapid kicks indicated that it was most likely a coho salmon. Shane kept the rod high, to avoid the overhanging log that he hung up on earlier. The fish splashed on the surface several times, luckily leaped over the log toward him. It was indeed a coho salmon, a bright one too! I rushed to shore, placed my rod down and looked for a safe place to land the fish. It was not going to be easy along the steep shoreline, a bump and splash could make the fish spit out the hook instantly. Shane guided the fish to the nearby rocks and I made an attempt to grab its tail gently once it reached the shallow end. The first grab was a success! My other hand quickly tucked under the fish’s belly, which allowed me to firmly lift it up. The absence of the adipose fin put a smile on both our faces. Shane’s first ever hatchery coho salmon was finally landed.

For someone who had just landed his first ever hatchery coho, he sure did not show much excitement.

A fresh fall coho salmon, with most of its scales intact.

The bites went on for another 15 or so minutes before it completely died off. During that time, we managed to miss every single bite. Disgusted by the effort and slightly stressed by the number of fishermen that had arrived, we decided that it was time to make a move.

Shane and I decided to visit a spot in the mid section of the river that we are quite familiar with. Even though the sun was shining above us, the bite could always be on if the runs were undisturbed. In the meantime, Chris had left to his dentist appointment and we agreed to meet up for lunch a couple of hours later, unless the fishing was hot for us of course.

We were delighted to find the runs that we wanted to fish void of anglers. The water appeared to be much lower than last week, with ideal clarity that may keep the fish unaware of our presence. I chose to work the head of the run while Shane drifted through the tailout. Within a few casts, Shane was once again into another fish! The deep headshakes suggested that it was a jack chinook salmon, which are abundant in September and October.

Surface splasher.

It was quite coloured up, like the ones I had caught last week. When salmon are coloured up, especially fall chinook salmon, the best thing to do is to release them back to their spawning ground.

Back it goes!

In the meantime, I was also able to entice a few fish to bite further upstream but I failed to transform each hit into a fight. The quick takes suggested that they might be coho salmon, or at least I could always hope. While this was happening, Shane called me down once again. He had connected with another jack chinook salmon after losing two more fish!

Last fish for the day.

Spotty back.

After two jack chinook salmon, we managed to find a few more bites but failed to connect all but one fish that I had on for a minute. The fish, after burying my float completely, took a long solid run downstream. At first I had assumed that it was a chinook salmon, based on how it was fighting, but my mind changed when it showed its silver, purple tinted body in the air. I managed to guide it back upstream, but the unbearable hook pop happened once its head appeared on the surface. Once again, I had to return home with an empty cooler.

Despite of an eventful start that we could do without this morning, it was yet another enjoyable Vedder outing that I can both love and hate. While it was exciting to see Shane retaining his first hatchery coho salmon, it was disappointing to miss so many opportunities when fish should easily be hooked. The earlier episodes also suggest that the quality of the Vedder recreational fishery still has room for improvement. It certainly would be nice to see more fish in the river, but it would be even nicer to see more educated, respectful anglers.

Signs of fall

Published on Thursday, October 1st, 2009

This September has seen one of the bigger pink salmon return to the Fraser River and I was glad that my friend Iwan, my wife Nina and my dad were able to experience it. All three are from parts of the world (Iwan from UK, Nina from Denmark and Dad from Taiwan) where they simply cannot see biomass anywhere as large as this! It is another reason that Lower Mainlanders should feel lucky and appreciate this so called “low grade” salmon species.

Dad with a Tidal Fraser River pink salmon.

While I was glad to show this fishery to all three in September and watch everyone around me catching numerous fish, I probably had the most frustrating pink salmon season. Both Nina and I managed to land five fish each, but the similarity ends there. In total, she was able to hook into 17 fish while I only connected with 10 fish. After releasing my last fish on September 8th, I said the famous last words, “There will be more to come.” In the past three weeks, I have tried my best daily, only to end up watching Nina hooking multiple fish. I was quite hopeful until one week ago, when fish stopped showing up during the incoming tide. That is just the way it goes I guess, time to accept defeat and focus on coho, bull trout and cutthroat trout!

Yesterday I wandered around Garry Point Park to see if I could entice a bull trout on the fly. This is typically the time of the year when they emerge. Signs of fall surrounded me. The cool moist air sent shivers down the spine at times. The first flock of snow geese flew over me, heading into ladner. It seemed like just yesterday when I took photos of last year’s snow geese when they fed on the field by my house.

The fishing was rather slow, I guess these bull trout are not in yet. Near the end of my outing, I fished an area where there is a little bay behind me. In the bay, I noticed a great blue heron patiently hunting. There seems to be one hunting in that bay everytime I am fishing, perhaps it is the same one. Although fully aware of my presence, it did not seem worried at all so both fishers went on their business. At the end of a strip, I was ready to cast my fly out so I flicked the rod back. By doing so, a little trout just happened to grab onto the fly and was sent out of the water to the bay behind me. It landed not far from the rocks, but soon disappeared as it fell off the hook. I was hopeful that it would survive and swim away from the traumatic episode. A few casts later, I watched the heron stealthly shifted its position and pierced its beak into the water with precision. The same poor trout was lifted out of the water and swallowed by the feathery hunter. It took a few gulps before it was fully swallowed. Looking content, the heron stood in the bay and digest quietly while I continued my search for the first bull trout. It was a rather unusual, yet comical experience. Two hunters, one lost while the other gained, and a poor prey was caught in between the battle.

I took this photo last November at the same spot as where this heron caught the fish.

This morning, I woke up in darkness so I could be on the Chilliwack River before dawn. The start of October also indicates the approach of the peak of coho salmon season in the Chilliwack River. I enjoy lure fishing, flyfishing very much, but float fishing for coho salmon at dawn probably excite me more than any other fisheries. It is so addicting that the burial of the float emerges in my dreams like a blinking orange light in the dark.

I arrived at 6:30am with plenty of time to spare before my first cast. A short walk through the bush lead me to a stretch of river where no other anglers could be found. Despite of what many choose to believe, solitude is not impossible on the Chilliwack River if one invests the time and energy on exploring.

The water looked fantastic. It was clear but recent rain had stirred up some colour, making it ideal for fishing. I casted my float into a slot where I believed coho salmon maybe sitting. The float dove below the surface a few drifts later and I was connected with the first fish. The deep headshake suggested a jack chinook salmon. A few tugs later, its head surfaced and it was indeed a jack chinook salmon already in its spawning phase. I unhooked what looked like a giant olive and quickly released it without touching it too much. This ensured that it remained injury-free but also kept my hands free from the strong scent that fall chinook salmon tend to emit.

Ready to spawn.

The first coho salmon attempt on the Chilliwack River did not yield any result beside a couple of jack chinook salmon that were hungry for roe. Nevertheless, it was very enjoyable to be fishing on one of my favorite rivers in the Lower Mainland again, especially when I had the opportunity to watch thousands of pink salmon spawning and an osprey patrolling the valley.

Fall has arrived, it is the best fishing time on the Southern coast. Let the fun begins!


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