As usual since 1924, the Tyee Club of BC annual season closed down at dark this past September 15th. Based in Campbell River, with its clubhouse situated on the aptly named Tyee Spit overlooking Tyee Pool, the club must be the angling organization with the longest running continuous history in the province.
And as always in this now unique fishery participants are looking back at what took place this past summer, this time with a considerable sense of satisfaction. First of all the total count of registered tyee’s, chinook salmon over 30 pounds caught under club rules, reached 44 fish, greater than the past three seasons combined. Notably, 21 of those fish qualified the angler as a new member of the club. Secondly, the amount of action enjoyed by anglers, mostly with fish that weighed less than the qualifying weight. I suspect that there were many rowers like me that landed ten or more “undersize” chinooks for each fish over thirty pounds boated in a rowboat during the 2017 season. We won’t know for sure for several months but it looks like the return will be similar to last year’s count of 8,000+ fish.
Quite apart from numbers of fish is the issue of where they were holding after arriving from their north coast feeding grounds and this year they wanted to be in Tyee Pool, where most of the rowing activity takes place. Last year the majority of the return held along the downtown waterfront until almost the end of the club season and a wholly disproportionate number of the registered tyee’s landed in 2016 were caught by the relatively few rowboat anglers who fished there.
What accounts for the changing behavior of the fish between years is a mystery but over the past couple of decades there’s been a growing trend for the returning chinooks to spend their last few weeks in the ocean further southeast away from the river mouth itself. Frenchman’s Pool on the northwest side of the estuary, covering from the end of McDonald Road up to Orange Point, used to be a highly productive place to fish until the mid 1990’s since when it has become essentially deserted. Why, no one knows and is all the more puzzling considering the environment there is far healthier than it used to be.
The largest tyee landed under club rules in 2017 was 40.5 pounds, caught by Terri Sambrook and guided by Mark Thulin. Both are veterans of this fishery, who literally grew up taking part from the time they were old enough to hold a rod – congratulation to them both. Not unusually as these things play out Terri finds herself the recipient of several club awards, not only becoming Tyee Man 2017 but getting the Lillian J. Sparrow trophy for the largest fish caught by a female angler and the Gavin Chisholm trophy for the biggest fish on a single action reel.
Several rowers had especially productive seasons, topped by Mike Mackie who rowed five tyees, an impressive feat in this day and age, for which he will receive the Dr. Julien E. Benjamin trophy. I won’t go further into notable catches, all of which can be reviewed in the catch record section of the Tyee Club website (www.tyeeclub.org), other than to say that congratulations are due to all those who participate in this fishery which is so much a part of the culture of the town on Campbell River.
And some final thanks to a special couple who didn’t go fishing but contributed so much once again to the success of the season, Judy and Bob Goodwin. Bob is the club weigh master, a title that encompasses responsibilities far beyond actually weighing the fish brought to the scale. The couples’ skill and patience at dealing with an endless stream of visitors for two months non-stop and their upkeep of the grounds deserves special mention – thank you both!
The big jump up in the number of tyee class fish in 2017 is due primarily I think to improved marine survival for the offspring of the 2012 broodyear which went to sea in 2013. Other notable success stories from that sea entry year were the enormous return of pink salmon to the Campbell/Quinsam in 2014 and the very large return of predominantly four-year old chum salmon all around the BC inner south coast in 2016. There were a lot of four-year old chinooks in the return to the Campbell/Quinsam watershed last fall, fish in the 15-25 pound range for the most part.
Given the multi-age at maturity characteristic of chinook salmon, it seemed probable there would likely be more age-5 around this year, tyee’s or close to it, and so it proved to be. If the six-year old gene still exists in the Campbell River chinook stock there could be a few real whoppers in the return next season. As well, given the number of high teens to low twenties weight fish around this season, mostly four-year old fish, it’s likely we may see a repeat of a strong tyee return next year, something to get excited about!
One interesting development in the fishery has been the use of split cane rods by a few anglers. This has come about because George Deagle of Quadra Island took up building these rods as a hobby in his retirement. He became curious about the fishery and found out there was a standardized rod built for it known as a “3/6”. These numbers relate to the strands of linen line used, 3 at approximately 6lbs. breaking strain each and hence the power of the rod, and 6, the weight in ounces and length in feet of the tip section from the handle onwards. Several years ago he built one and donated it to the Tyee Club, where it hangs on the wall for display. Since then several have gone into circulation within the rowing community and this year one tyee was successfully landed using one – thank you George for reconnecting the club with an important piece of its history!
This fish was my contribution to the 2017 tyee count – as an adipose fin-clipped chinook it had additional meaning for me as it almost certainly originates from the Quinsam hatchery so I likely had something to do with its early life during my seasonal work there.