As I stand knee deep in first river I ever fished for Pacific salmon, my autumn column on fly fishing rivers for salmon begins to come together. That day almost 10 years ago, I float fished, not fly fished, however it was not long before both methods became synonymous with fall fishing and our fishing gear began outweighing our camping gear.
As I wait for the first run of fish to pass through, I think back to the first meeting between the river and I. I had no way of knowing the way it would draw me in. This annual Labour Day trip, like most long weekends, seems to be one plagued with vehicle breakdowns, traffic bottlenecks and full campgrounds. But like the Chinook & Coho salmon we found, we managed to return to the same river system year after year. After a brief hiatus, it was finally time to return to that river again.
This year is the first summer in a couple years that Vancouver Island streams have not been closed due to low water conditions. There are minute subtleties I notice this year as compared with the same time previous years – less dead salmon on the riverbanks; more fisherman packed into the usual hotspots; bulkier black bears; higher temperatures and lower waters. Unless I have gotten taller, river crossings that used to threaten to spill over the top of my chest waders now hit just above my waist.
I’ve spent the past few weeks eagerly preparing for the upcoming salmon season, tying up an assortment of weighted Coho river flies including small hackled eggs, beadhead rolled Muddler minnows and Clouser minnows. Since salmon run deep, I tie up extra so flies lost to the bottom when fishing the right depth are easily replaced. I find lifting my rod tip slightly when I feel the bump of the bottom releases most snags before the hook sets in the rocks and is lost for good.
For aggressive, abundant Chum salmon, so long as the hook is large enough, (almost) anything in the fly box should catch.
I stocked up on fluorocarbon leaders for skittish Chinook and Coho due to its low visibility underwater, sinking properties, abrasion resistance and increased sensitivity. To me, the performance has proved it is worth the price. When tying with fluorocarbon, for failsafe knots, I find it helps to wet the line first.
For Chum, monofilament leaders are a less dense, floating (and therefore slower falling), less expensive alternative which does have a lot less “line memory”. Keep in mind that too long a leader is counterintuitive to fishing a sink tip, which is almost essential to getting your fly down where the fish are.
With the elbow-to-elbow conditions of fall salmon fishing, for both gear and fly anglers a certain level of etiquette is expected on the river – respect other anglers by not jumping the queue, not crossing lines, giving space and playing fair; respect the fish by following regulations, proper handling and limiting your catch; respect the river by leaving no trace.
Openings have already been announced for the Big Qualicum & Stamp-Somass Rivers. Watch for in season opportunities for the Little Qualicum, Nitnat, Cowichan, Nanaimo, Puntledge & San Juan Rivers in addition to the usual openings on the Campbell-Quinsam, Conuma & Quatse Rivers.
Check the water specific regulations online at http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/rec/fresh-douce/region1-eng.html and look for the large white triangles mounted on the riverside trees which indicate fishing boundaries. There is no fishing within 100m of any government facility for counting, passing or rearing fish. There is also no fishing within 23m downstream of the lower entrance to any fishway, canal, obstacle or leap. As always, bait ban and single barbless hook in virtually all Region 1 streams.
The salmon with the most fight take the traditional trek upriver to their spawning grounds, leaping up steep waterfalls; others, take the path of least resistance, the salmon ladder. It intrigues me to watch these fish conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles and daunting distances without hesitation to reach their destination.
Slow fishing conditions led to an exploration trip upriver, revealing a healthy run of Chinook, but not a Coho in sight. Fly fishing, float fishing, upriver, mid-river, downriver, we tried it all.
When it’s hot outside, the best fishing happens at first and last light, especially when the timing coincides with the flood tide. During the long hot days of late summer, the few that are in the system seem to have “lock-jaw” when the mercury rises.
The thing with salmon is that they give themselves away, either by porpoising and rolling on the surface or passing by below in a cloud of black. You can’t catch what isn’t there and if the fish aren’t there, they aren’t there… all you can do is wait for them to show up.
When the fall rains finally begin, fish push into the system and the bite becomes more consistent. When the season’s first silver bullet makes my reel scream, forcing me to chase it along the riverbank, I will be satisfied.