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Archive for October, 2010

Pampering and fishing at Harrison Hot Springs

Published on Monday, October 25th, 2010

Just two hours of driving from Vancouver, Harrison Hot Springs Resort is a destination where couples can enjoy a luxurious getaway while being surrounded by breathtaking nature. Our first visit to the resort was in 2004 and the experience impressed us so much that we have chosen to return once every couple of years.

When the opportunity to return arose last week, Nina and I did not hesitate to take it. Beside enjoying what the resort has to offer, our stay was combined with a four hour white sturgeon fishing trip on the Harrison River. After all, this is a world class sport fishing destination for salmon, trout and sturgeon. It would be a pity if fishing was not included.

We arrived in early afternoon. With over 300 rooms available, visitors have several different accommodation types to choose from. Our stay was a two-room deluxe suite with a full view of Harrison Lake.

Once settling in, it was time to enjoy our relaxing afternoon. While Nina was enjoying her relaxation massage at the Healing Springs Spa, I sat on the balcony and watched boats returning from their fishing trip to the dock. The view excited me even more about the following day’s outing.

One of the highlights at Harrison Hot Springs Resort is its afternoon tea for guests. After Nina returned from her one-hour pampering at the spa, we were treated with tea and cake, followed by a trip to the hot spring pools. These reminded us why this is one of our favorite places to visit in BC.

Our dinner was served at the historic Copper Room. It is a classy venue that is full of vibrance. The centre dance floor was well occupied while the Jones Boys entertained the evening guests. Our culinary selection of the night included halibut and crab cakes, pea soup with asparagus, ribeye steak. This was finished off with a chocolate-hazelnut dessert that Nina could not stop talking about afterwards.

The following morning began early with a buffet breakfast at Lakeside Cafe. Sitting by the window, we could watch fog lifting above Harrison Lake while fueling up for the trip.

Our guide Lucas Brooks from BC Sportfishing Group greeted us at 8:00am on the dock just outside the resort. Our companions for the outing included Rebecca Bolwitt from Miss 604, Adam Trinh from Up! Magazine and Cassandra Anderton from Good Life Vancouver. All three of them had little or no fishing experience, so we were excited to show them what BC fishing is all about.

Once the jet boat was fired up, we were off to the Harrison River. Several boats were already out fishing in the mist and some already found a tug or two. Salmon return by the thousands to Harrison River each fall. This fall, chinookcoho and chum salmon can be found in the system. Migration of these spawning fish also attract white sturgeon from the Fraser River as they feed on eggs and flesh of spawned out salmon.

As we approached the lower reaches of the river, bald eagles could be seen congregating on bars. It is a sighting that us regular river anglers take for granted, but a natural wonder for visitors.

Lucas anchored at a spot where he thought where fish may be. He informed us that fishing was good the day before, which was very motivating. The bait was chum salmon roe, which were tied into mesh bags.

Once all four rods were cast out and placed in the holders, Lucas explained to his guests how bites would be detected. He numbered each rod for easier reference. Rather than calling out “first rod on the left”, it would be much more simple to yell out “number one!”

The waiting game began when everyone was clear on what to do. Being someone who has done sturgeon fishing a few times, I knew that the wait can be painfully long at times. On the other hand, the fishing can be hot at times if there are sturgeon nearby where the boat is anchored. Sturgeon fishing is unpredictable, so I had no expectations.

The anticipation did not last long when Lucas yelled out, “Number three! Number three!” I turned my eyes away from rod number one and two, only to see rod number three bending down in the holder. That was not a bite, the fish was already on! I quickly reached out for the rod and set the hook. The medium sized sturgeon immediately surfaced for a leap before darting for the deep. I held on with great excitement while screams were coming from the other guests, who were seeing a live sturgeon for the first time.

This fish was not too big, but it was causing some brief chaos on the boat. As it approached us, it dove deeply and swam below other lines. This was short lived, I was able to hold on and eventually kept it on the surface. Lucas reached out with his cradle and the first sturgeon was on board 30 minutes into the trip.

After a scan for the tag and a quick photo session, we sent it back to the water. Lower Fraser River’s white sturgeon fishery has been strictly catch and release since the mid 90s. Although the population is not endangered, scientists are concerned by the lower abundance of certain size classes. By removing harvest pressure and using guides to tag fish, we are getting a better understanding on this species and how it should be conserve.

Once I showed the others how it was done, Lucas rigged up all the rods again. This time we wanted to hook a fish and pass it onto either Adam, Rebecca or Cassandra so they could experience the thrill too. That was just an excuse really, because I did not want to bring in another fish. One sturgeon per day is exhausting enough sometimes.

The fishing was surprisingly fast. Within minutes, Lucas yelled out, “Number two! Set the hook!” I reached over and grabbed the rod. Again the fish was already on. I turned around and handed the fishing rod to Adam, who was not sure what he was about to get into. Unlike my fish, this fish stayed in the deep. It began stripping line off the reel, really fast! Seeing what was happening, I started retrieving all the other lines while Lucas pulled the anchor so we could head downstream to chase it. The reel was screaming and I could see that line was disappearing fast on the spool. Suddenly excitement was turning into panic.

Meanwhile, Adam was unsure what he should be doing. I told him to hold onto the rod and keep it up. Lucas began moving the jet downstream so I instructed Adam to start reeling to keep the line tension. After a short chase, we reached where the fish had gone but disaster struck. Somehow this beast had tangled the line up with debris on the river bottom. Instead of feeling more movement, there was simply a dead weight. The fish was already lost, so all we could retrieve was a bent hook.

It was a bit disappointing, because this fish was definitely much bigger than the first. We headed back upstream to the original spot and re-anchored. Two hook-ups within a short time span was a great start, but both Nina and I knew that they may also be the only fish we would see. We have been on trips in the past when no fish were caught, so we were cautiously optimistic.

Pikeminnows were hungry as usual. All rod tips were quivering while we chatted and watched them. This is always a challenge in sturgeon fishing. The river bed is populated by small minnows that feed on your offerings, until a big predator swims by. That was exactly what happened awhile later. Among the quick rod taps, I spotted a slower biting motion on rod number three. It was how sturgeon typically bites. Following the scent trail, they suck and spit out food items so the movement on the rod tip is usually slow but larger. I picked up the rod while Lucas also noticed the bites. The tip was being pulled down gradually so I set the hook. Fish number three was now heading downstream like a freight train. “Who’s next?” I said. Just as Rebecca stood up, the fish dropped the hook and freed itself. 30 seconds later, we watched a big sturgeon breaching in front of us. “That must have been your fish.”, Lucas chuckled.

We moved the boat a few times within the same area in the next hour after the bite died off. Sometimes a small move across the river can make a big difference. Sturgeon follow scent trails from your bait so they often creep up from downstream rather than from the side. Shifting 30 feet across a run may bring you to a new school of fish. We did this several times without success.

Lucas decided that we should head downstream to where Harrison River meets the Fraser. Upon our arrival, we could see salmon anglers in their boats lining the shallow waters, hoping to intercept a coho or chum salmon. We anchored in the deeper water column so we would not interfere with them. This was pikeminnow central. All four rod tips were bouncing as they fed vigorously. I did not think that we had a chance of finding a sturgeon, but I could not have been more wrong.

Around ten minutes after we dropped our bait, rod number two’s taps suddenly turned into a bend. None of us were paying attention except Lucas. “Number two! Quick!”, he yelled. I turned away from others and reached for the rod, which did not really need to be set. A sturgeon was already leaping at the end of the line. I held on while asking who would like to bring it in. Nobody responded! I fought for another minute before Rebecca decided that she should give it a go. Strapped on with a fighting belt, she began her morning workout. It was similar in size to the one that I brought in earlier. This fish performed several spectacular jumps in front of us. After being controlled by the fish for a minute or two, Rebecca was getting a hang of it. She lifted the rod and reeled down, gaining a bit of line each time. Eventually, it reached the side of the boat. Lucas dropped the cradle and brought Rebecca’s first ever fish onto the boat so we could capture the moment on camera. It was two inches longer than my catch, not bad for a first catch!

Our last catch of the day met similar fate to Adam’s fish. With only a short amount of time left, Lucas brought us back to the Harrison River by the Highway Seven bridge. I again did not think that another fish was possible. Four fish in one morning already made it a fantastic outing. A few minutes after we anchored, rod number two went for another dive again! It was Cassandra’s turn. Once the hook was set firmly, I passed the rod onto her, who did not realize how big the fish could be. Like Adam’s fish, it headed downstream without looking back. Lucas frantically started the boat so we could chase it, but it was too late. The fish had gone toward a nearby pylon and tangled the line to the submerged part of it.

It was a bitter sweet ending of our excursion, but one could not complain at all with five big fish connected in a short span of time. There are not many freshwater fisheries in the world where this is possible.

We returned to Harrison Hot Springs Resort just in time for lunch at Lakeside Cafe. After parting with our companions, Nina and I headed to Weaver Creek Spawning Channel. Both of us have never been so we did not know what to expect. I was surprised to find this gem hidden deep in the Harrison valley. Spawning sockeye and chum salmon filled the meandering channel, where visitors could get up close and watch one of nature’s wonders.

Our stay at Harrison Hot Springs Resort was only one night, which was way too short to enjoy what this area has to offer. Its location makes this an ideal trip for couples who want the best of both worlds – Pampering and fishing. Both Nina and I will definitely return next fall.

A spectacular ending

Published on Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Yesterday morning I decided to sneak out of the house for a couple of hours while the visiting parents spent the day on Vancouver Island. Originally I wanted to be fishing earlier but being a slow morning starter, I arrived at the spot just after 10:00am. The tide was coming in strong and almost peaking. I normally would like to cast lures whenever I can but after seeing some good results lately by roe fishing, I decided to fish with roe for the day.

There wasn’t much waiting before things started happening. A couple of minutes after the bait settled in the water, the rod started bouncing. I missed a fish and cast the same bait out again to the exact same spot. It took less than a minute before the tugs came back. This time the hook set was spot on and a small coho jack was quickly brought in. Once the fish was in the net, I made sure that the adipose fin was missing before bringing it up to the cooler. It was a fantastic start!

The bites continued to be fast and furious. Several minutes after I landed the coho jack, I brought in a bull trout that was almost as skinny as the one I caught a week ago. This was followed by another smaller bull trout.

After three fish in a row, the bites did not stop, but the hooking did. Some of the tugs were so big that the top section of the rod was moved, but I was still having trouble connecting. The odd fish were hooked briefly but always spat the hook. One fish made a big splash on the surface just after I hooked it but also quickly came off, I was quite certain that it was an adult coho.

A few fish were rolling nearby while the bites were happening, there were definitely lots of fish moving through. At 11:30am, as if someone had turned off the switch, the bite suddenly stopped. I stayed for another hour, hoping that another wave of fish would arrive but that never happened.

When I picked up my parents at 10:30pm after their VI trip and I informed my dad how the fishing has been, so he was pretty eager to get out this morning for one last trip before his stay ends tomorrow. The weather could not have been any better for an October day. The absence of wind only made spotting fish and detecting bites more easily. We arrived at the chosen spot at 9:30am, three hours before the tide peaked because that’s when the fishing has been hot. The tide line was already quite high so there was enough water for fish to cruise through in the shallow spots where we wanted to lay our bait.

The first 20 or so minutes was pretty uneventful, there were only a few sculpin bites. Dad had the first chance once again as the rod danced in the rod holder. He indecisively lifted the rod up without setting the hook, the fish was long gone of course. On the following cast, he did the exact same thing so I wanted to make sure he knew what to do when the bites were hard.

I rebaited his hook, cast the line out, showed him how tight the main line should be and held the rod in my hand so he could see how the hook should be set. Once he understood, I placed the rod in the holder, turned around to say a few more words, turned back to the holder and watched the rod being pulled down really hard. Without making a sound, my dad reached out in lightning speed and yanked the rod, which he didn’t have to this time really because that fish was already on. The rod bend suggested a very solid fish, the leap on the surface showed a very big coho salmon. This fish, fighting even harder than the one he connected with on Sunday, darted from one side to the other. It then went under my main line so I once again had to reel in my bait as fast as possible.

Once the water in front of us was clear of obstacles, I proceeded down to the rocks with the net. Meanwhile, my friend Gunther had arrived and must have been excited to see what was happening. This fish continued testing my dad’s skill, and tackle. The main line was only 8lb test, the weight had already snapped off when at the beginning of the fight. I nervously waited while watching the main line approaching shore. I guess at one point the fish started feeling the bottom when it reached the shallow water. It began jumping and running even more. Just when it was within my reach, it went for another run and the main line clothlined my face. I quickly ducked to get the line off my face, but my left leg slipped into the water at the same time. Eventually, I regained my footing and this fine specimen was a bit calmer, I partially scooped its body and tailed it with my other hand. It was so big that it couldn’t fit in the net completely.

Once everything was under control, I saw the adipose fin and broke the bad news to my dad. He was a bit disappointed but still high on adrenaline at the same time. Gunther kindly took a photo of the fish for me while my dad waited on the high bank because he didn’t want to slip like me.  After a few seconds of photo session, the fish was set free to which ever valley tributary it was heading to.

This fish set a rather high standard for the rest of the outing. All of us were expecting good results because they often arrive in schools. The bites were once again fast and furious, but there were a lot of misses and losses. Gman was the first to connect with a jack but he unfortunately lost it to a snag. I then landed a bull trout. My dad was able to hook a few more fish, but only one bull trout was brought to shore.

We ended the trip just after Noon when the tide peaked. The bite only lasted until 11:30am or so and it turned off suddenly like yesterday.This has been one of the better years for coho salmon fishing in the Tidal Fraser River so get out and enjoy it while the good fishing lasts. This fishery is typically good until the third week of October before it starts slowing down. The amount of fish coming through is also a very good indication on how the valley tributaries will do for the rest of this season.

This is a spectacular ending of our two-week pursuit of coho salmon. It wouldn’t surprise me if my dad wants to wet the line one more time before driving to YVR tomorrow evening.

Finding coho for Dad

Published on Monday, October 11th, 2010

Each year, my dad pays me a visit for a couple of weeks so we can fish together. This year is no exception and he has timed his visit to coincide with the fall salmon season. I usually try to find a different fishery for him to experience during each visit. Last year we were spoiled by the large Fraser River pink salmon return. The year before we experienced Thompson River chinook jacks. This year, the goal is to find him a coho salmon. Every trip in the past always worked out well, so I was hopeful this year would also be the case.

Unfortunately, last week’s fishing did not turn out as good as I had anticipated. We visited the Chilliwack River, hoping to intercept a coho salmon or two. After donating some spoons to snags and watching countless number of coho leaping in front of us, we came up empty handed. Luckily just before our last trip ended, my dad finally connected with a fish. It was not a coho salmon, but a semi-coloured chinook, which was still good enough as he has never caught one other than jacks. A photo prior to its release made three days of persistance and frustration disappearing.

Although our excursions to the Vedder have ended, the hunt for coho has not. We went out yesterday to take part in the fishery that we had anticipated. The Tidal Fraser River salmon fishery is more suitable for my dad, because it requires no walking. During last year’s opening on Thanksgiving weekend, I managed to encounter a variety of species, so I was hoping for similar outcomes for this weekend.

The weather worked out pretty well, sunny and a light northwesterly wind. At first I had planned to catch the morning high tide but the turkey dinner at friend’s from the night before scratched that idea. By the time I got up, the tide had already peaked. Instead, we hit the afternoon incoming tide. Even though the second tide is not as high, I have experienced good results just as the tide started rising. You’d be surprised how shallow the water is at where some fish would be travelling through.

We arrived at the chosen spot at 3:00pm. The tide was just turning and water clarity was as poor as it could get. The mud bank in front of us was just submerged. Because water clarity was so poor, lure or fly fishing was out of the question. Bottom fishing with roe was the only method that could produce a fish or two.

I took out some roe from the cooler and it instantly changed the air quality around us. After our last trip to the Vedder, I started drying some roe that were leftovers. Instead of drying them for only 12 hours, I forgot and they were left on the rack for 48 hours. By the time I checked them, they were hard as rocks and little green fuzzy molds were popping out on the skeins. Disappointed, I wrapped them up and packed them in the fridge anyway for yesterday’s excursion. After being left in the fridge for a couple of days, they had softened up a bit. Since the water is muddy, I didn’t think the molds would matter.

Once I had both our rods out on the holders, the waiting game began. My record in this type of fishing is poor. Too often I end up losing patience or missing bites, that’s why I always prefer fishing with lures or flies. I had my dad’s rig settled not too far from shore while mine was much further out. Sometimes coho salmon travel through pretty close to shore.

During the first 15 or so minutes, there was a sculpin party happening. Little nibbles were happening on both rods until everything was chewed off on the hooks. Once we rebaited, the party stopped and we were greeted by something more appealing. Dad’s rod began dancing in the holder not long after it was cast out. The first set of bites almost pulled the rod off the holder while he was not paying attention. By the time he reached the rod, the fish was long gone. The second set of bites also did not look like sculpins. When the third set of bites took place on his rod, he held it up to detect more bites but little did he notice the line had gone slack. I urged him to reel in quickly as the fish was swimming toward him. By the time he regained tension, there was nothing on the hook.

These were great signs, but it was rather frustrating that no fish had been hooked yet. They were either coho or bull trout. The bites kept coming from the same shallow spot and finally Dad was able to hook a fish. The fish stayed under while he brought it in, suggesting that it was a bull trout. A skinny bull trout surfaced and swam into my net after a minute or so. It was not what we were after, but this was keeping the day very entertaining.

The bites stopped for awhile after the bull trout was released, then my dad was once again seeing bites on his rod. This time the bites were not as big, but still did not seem like sculpins. He held the rod up slightly, to feel the tugs. Once the nibbles became pulls, he set the hook. Immediately, a fish broke surface at where I had casted his rig. It was clearly a coho salmon. I quickly ran down the rocks with the net, without realizing the fish was much bigger than what we first thought. It began swimming to the left and went under my line. I frantically ran back up so I could bring in my line without tangling the fish. Once my rod was packed away, I made my way down the rocks again. Meanwhile, this fine fish performed two jumps in front of us, darting around like a submarine. At one point it swam toward shore so fast that my dad thought he had lost the fish. Eventually, the fish surfaced on its side, within my reach. I extended the landing net and barely scooped its whole body into it. I noticed the adipose fin right away and passed on the bad news to the proud catcher.

It was one of the bigger coho salmon that I have seen caught down here. Back in the mid 90s, it was a norm to see many specimens like this each day, but not so in the last decade. This fish was perhaps just over 10lb. I instructed my dad to climb his way down the rocks so we could get a good photo of it before sending it back home. The tail was so thick that he had trouble gripping it so thanks to another nearby angler, we ended up posing with the fish together.

The rest of the evening was rather uneventful. Like a good guide, I made sure that I did not get any bites on my rod so I would not outperform the guest. Chum salmon were rolling on the surface in good numbers as the tide rose. We called it a day at 7:00pm when the wind became a bit too chilly. Water clarity actually improved a bit when tide was peaking, good enough for throwing a spoon in my opinion.

So, yesterday’s lesson is, rock-hard roe with fuzzy green mold is the ticket if you want to catch big coho salmon in the Tidal Fraser River, so start aging your roe in the garage.

Now that my dad has caught a chinook and a coho during this stay, we have to work on getting a chum before he leaves town on Thursday.

Hunt for Vedder coho comes up empty

Published on Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Yesterday morning I got up at 4:30am and was exhausted after only having four hours of sleep, but I still woke my dad up so we could catch the first light bite anyway. We arrived just after it was bright enough to wade across a side channel, but someone was already fishing at my chosen spot. I wasn’t too chatty as I was trying to find a place for my dad to wet the line. Even though he graciously offered to share his spot, I proceeded upstream because my dad needed quite a bit of space since his margin of error in casting is too big. We headed to a run further up from them, which was surprisingly nicer than when I was there last. An adult spring jumped and greeted us while I was unpacking the rods. The first twenty minutes yielded no bites, but then there were a couple of hits and misses. My float dove in the tailout at one point and I was able to beach a nice chinook jack. While I was cleaning the fish, my dad was able to connect with a small coho jack. It was a hatchery marked fish, but it slipped out of my hand while we were deciding whether we should keep it or not. After that, the bites stopped even though the odd fish were still leaping up from the tailout. Overall it was pretty slow for us, considering everyone has been commenting that fish were jumping everywhere last week. Now we rest for another early morning trip on Wednesday.

A line change yielded good results

Published on Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Today we had originally planned to give the Vedder a go since my dad is visiting and the fishing appears to be quite good. After some consideration, we decided to avoid the crowd and save the trip for a weekday. Instead, we spent a couple of hours fishing the Tidal Fraser River for a variety of species. This time of the year can be rather interesting, because you have a chance to encounter chinookcohochum salmon as well as bull troutcutthroat trout and northern pikeminnow.

Yesterday I managed to have two shakers on the line so after some modification, ie. using a sink tip instead of a floating line, I was determined to land some fish. The fly that I have been using in the last few weeks is just a simple minnow pattern that my friend Carlo showed me many years ago. This has rewarded me with quite a few takers but nothing has been landed, which is rather frustrating. The fish that I have been hooking were either cutthroat trout, bull trout or jacks.

The change of fly line worked today. Within three casts, I was into a good sized fish. I couldn’t tell what it was until it broke the surface. It was a bull trout, a rather skinny one. This is pretty typical for this time of the year before they start fattening up over the winter months after salmon finish spawning.

The second fish came after I changed to a much bigger zonker style pattern. A northern pikeminnow attacked the fly in the shallow water. It fought harder than the bull trout and had me thinking that it might be a jack for awhile.

If you find salmon fishing rather crowded right now, this is a good alternative.


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