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Chum Salmon Update: BC tidal area 13 (Campbell River & Islands) October 2022

The mid-October report regarding the chum run and sport fishing possibilities in the lower straits area above Campbell River is a mixture of some good news with some less welcome developments.

The Area 12 test fishing results indicate that the 2022 run-size through Johnstone Strait (JST) is in excess of one million fish, somewhat greater than in 2021 and above the threshold when commercial fishing may occur. However, there is a real possibility that a seine opening will occur on Friday, October 21 (see fishery notice #1170), the first day of the 20th annual Brown’s Bay chum derby, a case of the most unfortunate timing.

Chum Derby 2016. Joel Unickow

And overlaying all this is the ongoing drought, which has area rivers at record low flows and could be affecting fish behaviour in unknown or negative ways. Like many other open ocean migrating salmon stocks, chum salmon returns to inner south coast rivers have been generally poor in recent years, especially so in 2021 when most of the major producing rivers such as the Fraser, Cowichan, the Qualicum’s and the Puntledge were well short of their escapement targets. Against that background, DFO has adopted a very precautionary management regime for 2022 which, for the first time, has articulated a sliding scale of recreational opportunity based on in-season assessment of returns both in the marine area and in the key indicator rivers. So far, so good, with the Johnstone Strait run-size above the 1 million fish benchmark number and the first escapement estimate for the Fraser River suggesting it will meet the escapement target of 800,000 chum salmon, or nearly so. This also means that the marine recreational fishery will remain open in the short-term at full limits.

Beginning last year, the customary commercial fishing schedule for chums in the Johnstone Strait area has radically changed from the not so distant past, driven by conservation concerns for the chum salmon themselves—for example, no commercial fishing at all in 2021—and an attempt to ensure that every possible Interior Fraser steelhead makes it through any mixed-stock commercial fisheries. In pursuit of this objective, any JST seine or troll opening for chums has been delayed until after mid-October and the gillnet fishery will not proceed at all, or at least until such time as Interior Fraser steelhead recover from the brink of extinction.

“Chumathon 2022”: Grant Mebs and daughter Taylor— Thanksgiving Saturday 2022. Photo credit Jeremy Maynard.

Based on personal experience this fall I would say that recreational chum fishing success has been inconsistent, meaning it’s quite possible to get skunked or load the boat almost on successive days. Fish like salmon are very sensitive to atmospheric pressure and the endless run of dry days fuelled by the high pressure system over southern BC means chum salmon aren’t in any hurry to migrate home, resulting (I think), in significant breaks between large groups of fish.

One positive factor this fall is that all of the chum I’ve encountered have been silver bright and in great condition—no sign of the scrawny fish that can be prevalent in some years. Whatever the run-size turns out to be it would appear that the survivors thus far have found good feeding in the ocean. Although they aren’t feeding any longer, we know from experience they will still bite, more so in some years than others. Chum are determined scrappers when hooked and are neither leader or hook shy, don’t go light or small. Leader length can be important, I generally go at least 48”, sometimes half as much again (ie 4 ft to 6 ft).

Chum Hoochies with 3/0 Gamakatsu hooks & Trilene® Big Game™ 40 or 50 lb mono. Photo credit Jeremy Maynard.

It pays to experiment and if fishing isn’t hot, it isn’t uncommon to find that one particular flasher/hoochie combination is more productive than any of the others you’re trying; it may sound obvious but in this situation try and match the set up exactly on your other lines. Good luck!

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