Fishing Further Afield

I anticipated that once my guiding season got underway that regular delivery of my blog would become a challenge, and so it has proved to be. Without the imposition of a deadline being imposed by someone else fairly quickly I find myself in late June a few days behind the close to weekly output I’m hoping to achieve.
The principle reason is that as has been customary in my work year for some time earlier this month I travelled over to Kyuquot on northwest Vancouver Island where I fish for a small lodge. Only accessible by boat or floatplane, Kyuquot is a small semi-remote community located around Walter’s Cove just a short distance from the open Pacific Ocean. Asked to describe it, I once answered that it’s about as close as you can get to being on Haida G’waii while still being on Vancouver Island.
Like anywhere else, fishing is subject to change from the norms of previous years and this season it’s really different so far. The usual early summer hot spot is a large area generically referred to as Kyuquot Reef, structured around an elevated ridge that runs perpendicular to the shore and a roughly north/south orientation. The ridge 4-5 kilometers out from the surfline can be a hot spot on any given day but there’s a huge gravel bed that slopes away to the west outside the Barrier Islets that ordinarily supports a very productive fishery for chinook, halibut and lingcod, all feeding on the large schools of jumbo needlefish.
But not this year – the entire area looks and feels close to dormant, there are no birds and very few fish, like someone turned off a light switch. What change can have occurred in this local ecosystem that is usually so productive is hard to say but I’m guessing something has happened to a year-class of needlefish.
Whether this is associated with the warmer than usual water in the past few years is unknown. Regrettably, despite their importance as prey for many fish and bird species along the BC coast, there’s next to no research conducted on them and I’m all but certain DFO dedicates zero resources to understanding how this important fish stock is doing. If this change has occurred on a wider scale one signal might be the juvenile survival rate in 2016 of seabirds such as Puffins and some of the auklets in the big nesting colonies like Triangle Island, for whom needlefish form a key part of their diet.
Back to fishing – fortunately there’s been some excellent chinook fishing elsewhere in the area, although it’s kind of a good news/less good news story because the action is all out on the 50 Fathom Line. This major depth break point runs in a line roughly parallel to the shore 15 to 20 or more kilometers out from the surfline near Kyuquot, meaning greater exposure to the weather and lengthier travel time and associated gas burn.
That said on the right day the Highway, as some people refer to this area, is a wonderful place to be and not just for the salmon fishing because it is right on the edge of the open ocean and there’s all kinds of wildlife that I don’t usually get to see. Apropos Dorothy’s comment to her little dog Toto in the classic movie Wizard of Oz, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!” fishing out on the 50 Fathom Line is simply much different than the experience elsewhere in more inside waters. Any time you’re fishing with Albatross, sharks and ocean sunfish, to name but a few of the creatures quite regularly encountered there, is a special experience in my book.
And it’s an interesting (and very welcome!) seasonal contrast this year because usually the offshore salmon fishery doesn’t turn on until somewhat later in the summer. The chinooks are there because there are big schools of large herring present and so as long as they stick around the fishing should remain productive. I’ve encountered very few salmon less than 10 pounds, most are teenagers with the occasional low 20’s fish in the mix, gorgeous silver lavender backed feeder fish in peak condition that seem to pull harder when hooked than fish encountered elsewhere.
Of course there’s more than salmon out there and given the right wind and water conditions there’s an opportunity to target halibut and lingcod, usually accompanied by some rockfish of which there’s quite a variety. There’s a few spots I’ve learned about that must be like some underwater version of Jurassic Park, for it’s not at all uncommon to catch large lingcod that aren’t hooked at all but have latched on to the smaller fish originally hooked and refuse to let go!
To date I haven’t encountered any coho here although I was told of by a visiting angler that he had caught a few – perhaps my lures are too big! There’s news of good numbers of coho being caught in the southern Strait of Georgia now, from French Creek on down and on both sides of the strait. As well the mark rate (percentage of adipose fin-clipped, hatchery origin coho) is moderately strong, around 20%, a good sign for the summer ahead.
In closing, being the last day of June I’m expecting the finalized Salmon IFMP (Integrated Fishery management Plan) to be released by DFO. I don’t think there’s ever been a release date in July before and I suppose the resignation of Minister Tootoo not long ago has delayed things even more than usual, even so this is unacceptably late.