March/April 2013

March/April 2013
March/April 2013
March/April 2013
March/April 2013
March/April 2013
March/April 2013

Feeder Chinooks

Throughout the winter months passengers aboard BC ferries plying the waters between the mainland and Vancouver Island often see anglers trolling about in small boats. It’s much the same with island highway travelers driving from Victoria to Port Hardy or from Sidney though Victoria to Sooke. Where ever saltwater can be seen from the road, a few boats are frequently part of the scene. The attraction is immature Chinook salmon know as “feeder chinooks.”
The term immature might lull you into thinking these fish are small, but such is not always the case. Many are “shakers’, under the minimum size limit but some areas yield “smileys” of 20-pounds or more and occasional tyee exceeding 30-pounds can be found.
The size of an individual fish depends on the amount of time spent in its home river before migrating to saltwater, its age, how well it has fed and the time of year. Juvenile Chinook may remain in fresh water rivers or streams for up to a 12 to 18 months. As a rule, shakers are in their first year or two of ocean living, smileys in their or fourth and tyee in their fifth, sixth, even seventh year in saltwater. The size they reach all hinges on the abundance of food available until such time that the urge to spawn finally kicks in. This is all assuming, of course, that other ocean conditions don’t affect the cycle. Disruptions might include roe herring fisheries that decrease food supply, El Niño events attracting hordes of mackerel and hake to dine on outward migrating juveniles, and predation by harbor seals and sea lions intercepting spawners in the estuaries and river mouths.
The popularity of winter Chinook fishing seems directly linked to a given area’s population base, but it’s seldom anywhere near as crowded as during warm weather. Many of the more popular areas are located around urban and fairly well populated areas.
All the areas around Vancouver Island offer winter Chinook fishing that range from fair to outstanding, weather permitting. As a general rule, fishing for feeder Chinooks in many areas is a year-round proposition conducted fairly close to shore, often in protected waters. When periodically overshadowed by the arrival of larger migratory salmon, things usually get hectic until they move on. This means relatively un-crowded fishing is available for 10 to 11 months of the year. From October through May, Chinook from 4 to 15-pounds are available on most feedings grounds but, as the season progresses on offshore feeding areas, they are joined by larger migratory fish.
If there are any secrets to successful winter fishing for chinooks they are based primarily on common sense. It all starts with “weather permitting”. Protected inshore waters may be fished with fairly small boats but, as winter winds can be deadly, this should be attempted only where it’s possible to get off the water in a hurry if necessary.
Personal comfort is of the utmost importance, especially if fishing from a small boat. Whether you prefer insulating yourself with the old-fashioned flannel and wool or the latest in modern synthetics, you always need the added protection of top quality rain gear. Without fail, it always takes much longer to dry out than it does to get wet.
Also required are boots that will keep your feet warm and dry, a hat or cap with ear flaps and loose fitting gloves or mittens — the kind that come off quickly when a fish hits.

No matter where you plan to fish, an important item for winter Chinook fishing is a local marine chart to familiarize yourself with reefs, shoals, water depths and contour lines — those edges of drop-offs and ledges where Chinooks often prefer to feed. Another “must have” is a tide guide for the area, which will help you determine peak high and low slack tides. Pay particular attention to early morning changes, for these periods when Chinooks generally feed close to the surface. Many aficionados don’t even bother with afternoon or evening fishing, maintaining that the best action always occurs during the mornings.
A good depth sounder is invaluable for locating deep swimming bait, it will also help you follow those contour lines when Chinook are feeding at specific depths. Although you can still rely on sea birds, fish ducks, gulls and terns to indicate feeding activity near the surface.
Generally, winter fishing tactics differ little from those that work best in a given area during warm weather. Some advocates use smaller flashers out of deference to water that is somewhat clearer than during the summer fisheries. If you know that mature herring are the main winter forage, your bait preference should lean towards whole herring from five to seven inches long. If it’s sandlance, try various lengths and widths of herring strip or small anchovies, or long, slender drift jigs. Lure colour doesn’t seem as important as matching the size and shape of the baitfish.
Troll at faster speeds while using flashers with baits, use leader length from 42 to 60 inches. Or troll at slower speeds and try using green and white hootchies or chrome spoons trailed 24 to 42 inches behind a flasher, the shorter leaders provide a faster action.
A good searching technique is to troll one bait or lure down about 40 to 50 feet from the surface and another 10 to 20 feet off the bottom — even if it means going down 200 feet or more. Trolling as many lines as feasible like fishing for sockeye, can work, varying the leader lengths until you determine which one turns on the Chinook. If fish start producing at first light near the surface you might consider bucktailing — trolling large streamer flies right on or just beneath the surface. If you use large streamer flies ranging two to six inches long use slightly slower trolling speeds than for coho with sinkers weighing from one to four ounces. Typical patterns consist of a white belly and back in varying shades of blue, green, pink or grey. A small silver spinner blade ahead of the fly is recommended.
Trolling success for winter Chinooks often hinges on finding just the right combination of light conditions, water depth and tidal flow and, weather permitting, of course.



Huxley’s Run: 

Mooch, the greatest of fishing dogs, didn’t come by his name because of a canine’s penchant for begging food. Mooch got his name because one of his new young masters couldn’t pronounce ‘pooch’, which the family had called him while trying to come up with a name. As things happen, the name stuck.

Mooch was one of those remarkable dogs that needed neither collar nor leash. He would come, stay, heal, fetch — all with simple word commands. He was my fishing friend’s dog, but mine as well in a way.
While I was suffering from an arthritic knee which has since been replaced — I did the operation myself — I would lag behind on fishing trips. Mooch would alternate between taking the lead and coming back to, I think, check on me. If I rested, he would look ahead with concern and then back at me with equal concern. Torn, I think between master and invalid, he almost always chose the weaker of the two.

One of his favourite things to do was come running full tilt right at me when I wasn’t watching. And just at the end I would hear the thump of paws that sounded more like a horse.

He would weave in and out of the forest as we fished along. Never very far away, he would still disappear at times — the tips of the ferns waving on a windless day would be the only tell-tale sign that he was there.
On one particular trip, his master Brent went ahead to the next pool. I fished the pool I was on, noticing that Mooch was nowhere to be seen. I finished the pool and looked around. No Mooch. So instead of a bushwack through the woods to the next pool, I decided to wade around the corner, clinging as I could to the foliage on the embankment.
The water was up to my waste, making the deep green of the bank head high. Things were going well until I took one step that indicated a slippery slope beneath my foot. I stopped and reached deeper into the foliage to see if I could find something stronger to hold on to other than plant roots.

That’s when Mooch’s head poked out from the ferns right in front of my face and my poor waders came close to being a sanitary system right then and there.

In January, while coming up from a pool on the Gold River, Mooch’s heart gave out for some inexplicable reason. He was five years old. Mooch, best friend to Brent, nursemaid to seven-year-old twins Nick and Josh, guard dog for four-year old Travis and an unfathomably intelligent friend of mine, had left to spook another forest.

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