Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Skeena Steelhead Conservation

I didn't really expect to catch much when I decided to go fishing last Saturday, rather, I viewed it as an opportunity to practise my double spey casting techniques and to enjoy the steady step and cast of steelhead fly fishing as I worked down through the run. As fate would have it though, a magnificent Steelhead decided to grace her presence and took my black and blue tube fly for a good run. It was not a large fish, at 6 or 7 lbs, but it held some significance - it was my first Summer Steelhead of the year, and for lack of a better phrase, it made my day. What did distract from my overall experience with this fish, however, was the net marks seen on its flank - areas where its shimmering scales were ripped off -a common occurrence seen on steelhead during the peak of the commercial fishing season.

To date, the return of summer steelhead to the Skeena River and its tributaries has been above average, and our fishing thus far has seemed to reflect this. Whether plunking on the lower river, or fly fishing our favourite riffles and pools, there seem to be fishable numbers of steelhead and, optimistically, we hope that this trend continues into late summer and fall. However, commercial fishing interests seem intent on maximizing the extraction of enhanced sockeye salmon to the detriment of other non-target species, most notably steelhead and summer run coho salmon.

It's the same old story - one of blatant ingnorance of the very principles that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) themselves created to minimize the impacts on steelhead and other non-target species. And while I could go on about all the bureaucracy, political interference and lack of enforcement that seems to surround commercial fishing each year, rambling or complaining to like minded individuals might not change things much. By forming a united stand on these issues and taking action though, we can have a positive influence on steelhead and salmon in the Skeena. In case you haven't done so already, I highly recommend joining and supporting the North Coast Steelhead Alliance (NCSA) - a group whose voice continually fights for the preservation and conservation of these wild fish. The NCSA can be reached via their website at www.ncsteelheadalliance.ca. Also, for timely and up to date information regarding the commercial and tyee test fishery this season, be sure to check out the NCSA blog site at www.skeenafisheriesblog.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nicholas Dean Lodge Weekly Fishing Report - No. 478

Backtrolling plugs can make for a long day when you're on the oars, but it all comes together when you see results like this. Here, my brother Craig and his girlfriend Abby pose with their first BC Chinook Salmon, a 25 lb Kitimat hen.
Chad Black Photo
Hello Anglers,

About the only thing that I can say right now about fishing is that it's very very good. The Skeena, Kitimat, and other tributary rivers are fishing very well for Trophy Chinook, and Sockeye Salmon are being caught in good numbers on the Skeena. Essentially, our Summer fishing began in early June, and has only improved as water levels have reached ideal heights and clarity, and Salmon runs have continue to build. Needless to say, when the fishing is as good as it has been, you have to pick and choose which fish stories to tell - not necessarily an easy thing to do when there are several!

Let's start with the story of my little brother Craig and his girlfriend Abby, who were visiting me in late June. After doing a little sight seeing on their first day and getting used to the change in time zones, we made plans to wake up at 4:00 am and be on the road by 4:30. Though getting up this early in the morning can be a little painful later in the evening and sometimes the day after, it's worth it to ensure that you get to the river first, as you are able work through some of your favourite pools before other anglers. Besides, sunrise was around 4:30 am, so it was already light out anyways. As we drifted down a shallow stretch and approached the first pool, I was getting excited. Both Craig and Abby hadn't really experienced "west coast fishing," big Salmon, and long, hard fights, and I was hoping that we'd at least hook into a few fish so that they would understand why I get so excited about the fishing out here.

After casting spoons into some of my favourite pools and seams without any signs of fishy life, we decided to change tactics. Though I'd never "pulled plugs" (also known as backtrolling) before, I had watched Sky on more than a few occasions and at least had an idea of what to do. So, for the next long run, I decided that we'd send out a fluorescent yellow and orange Kwikfish, as well as a Hot Shot, and row them back into some of the preferred Salmon holding lies. I'm not going to lie - it took a little getting used to - figuring out how to slow the boat down, using each oar stroke to your advantage so that you weren't overexerting yourself - but after awhile, it started to make sense and I could see the plugs were reaching bottom by looking at the rod tips.

We didn't hook anything at this first pool, but as we reeled in the lines and prepared to drift to the next run, I saw a good-sized Chinook roll on the opposite side of the river. There wasn't a lot of time to tack the boat over, but the fact that we saw a fish roll was a good incentive. After scrambling to reach the far side, Craig and Abby expertly sent the plugs drifting down river, and I tried my best to manoeuvre the plus tight to the logs where I'd seen the fish. As I double checked my positioning, I looked back at Abby's rod, only to see that it was keeled over, rod pumping, as the drag on the reel began to scream! Now, you have to understand that when you have a fishless morning and the first bite of the day comes, adrenaline often gets the better of you. I started screaming "grab the rod, grab the rod," but unfortunately, Abby's fingers had gotten caught in the rod holder. With Craig on the other side of the boat, he had to scramble over top of Abby, get the rod out and set the hook before the fish got away, as I was continually hollering (hey, us "guides" get excited too!). Somehow, the hook held after this melee, and as the fish surged upstream towards a sunken log, Craig responded by directing the fish away from the log and downstream where it would be easier to land the fish. After finding refuge in a slower back eddy, Craig and I were able to get out of the boat and play the fish on solid ground. Amidst a lot of whining that his arms were sore, Craig was actually doing a good job playing the fish, and it was beginning to tire. Waiting for an opportunity to net the fish head first, my chance eventually came and I seized the opportunity, breathing a sigh of relief and a yell of excitement at the same time.

Both Craig and Abby were ecstatic at landing this fish, and I was too. It was a gorgeous Chinook, about 25 lbs, and still bearing sea lice. That they landed a great fish like this after an epic battle will no doubt stay with them for a long time. To this day, they both argue about whose Salmon it was - it was hooked on Abby's rod but Craig played and landed the fish - but, in the end, I'm sure what will remain is the common bond, friendship and experience that rivers, fishing, and the outdoors bestow upon us.

Until next week, tight lines and screaming reels...

Chad Black
Operations Manager