I missed my annual visit to my family’s home in Bliss Landing, British Columbia last year as my daughter was born in March and I was enthusiastically adjusting to fatherhood. This year I carved out some time and made plans to spend some days up here with my father and two college friends from Portland. While the fishing has been consistent, the size of the fish we’ve been catching has been disappointing with only two keeper Chinook coming home with us in four days of fishing.
I’ve asked my Dad before if he thinks that are luck is a lack of experience or a lack of fish, and in his mind it may be both. Well, I think that we would both agree that our collective experience is no longer a limiting factor. Everything involved, at least on the technical side of things, is dialed in. Downriggers and their attached lines spend more time in water. Our trolling gear is fine-tuned and tackle mostly limited to what we now know works. There’s very little, and I can say at this point that this is true for all of the fisheries I participate in, “riff-raff” or novelty tackle in the tacklebox. We’ve become better and faster at recovering from and avoiding malfunctions that in previous years stymied or ended the day’s angling. With that said, fishing has been slow and this has been stated by others online who see fishing near us and by the staff of the tackle shops I frequent while up here. Knowing that others are in the same boat does help ease the feeling that is is not us, but them.
We have had some success with our two keepers coming aboard and some very nice wild Coho being caught and released. Our two keeper Chinook were caught at around Sarah Point, but we’ve gotten into hot bites of undersize fish at Sutil Point, Grant Reef, Mystery Reef, and off of Kinghorn Island. Almost all of the fish landed have been on the same flasher/spoon combination that was suggested to us by a young buck at Marine Traders in Powell River. Normally and despite purchasing suggestions from tackle shop employees I’ll wave off these acquisitions as novelty or last-ditch, but in this case I owe credit where credit is due. At least in the case of the spoon he recommended which was a black/green Silver Horde Coho Killer. I used his flasher suggestion as inspiration to choose my own.
Humpback Whales Off Hernando Island
In our run from Sutil Point to Grant Reef on a day before the smoke really came in we spotted some whales approaching us. We were quick to see they were bigger than Orcas and cut the engine as two humpback whales cruised by. The whales circled back to our boat and the following video is the amazing encounter.
My family set down some new roots with the purchase this past spring of a second home on Whidbey. The island is surrounded by multiple marine areas, all with separate and regularly changed in-season regulations and I plan on wetting a line in all of them throughout this summer and hopefully into fall. Without a boat and shore-bound, all of the photographs will be of fishing from the beach using rotator/hoochie combinations, lead jigs, buzz bombs, and big spinners occasionally.
Long distance shot of J-pod orcas. This group included the mother carrying her dead calf. They were spotted in BC waters the next morning.
I stumbled upon Pete Rosko’s “one man show” video collection while searching for some footage of anglers jigging darts for Chinook salmon. It was nice to some of the techniques and rigging that I’d been using up in BC while fishing from a small tin boat and often also by myself. I’d basically figured out what I was doing over hundreds of hours bobbing around in a small tin boat, close to Bliss Landing. Fred’s Hump is a classic spot for me and one that I learned about from a former caretaker at Bliss who was also a guide on the side. I’ve fished this way, with 2 oz. Pt. Wilson darts for years and hooked enough fish to keep me out there as much as I can when I’m not in the big boat trolling. From Pete’s tactic for measuring depth to his choice of lines, leaders, color, how to cover water, etc. It’s a great technique and one that can even be employed without a depth finder..as long as you have a good set of charts, keep an eye on the weather, and fish with the tide changes. “Teacup on a wooden dowel” comes from Pete’s description of a de-hooker design that one can make in a pinch. We don’t get to see a prototype, but the description leaves one to wonder.
My family has a home at Bliss Landing which is at the mouth of Desolation Sound in British Columbia and for the past three summers I’ve been allotted the use of a small tin boat with a 25hp engine. From this boat I primarily fish using Pt. Wilson Darts, targeting Chinook salmon (called Springers here in BC) that come into shallow areas chasing bait fish pushed up by the high tide. It has been a frustrating learning curve getting these fish in the boat. The first summer I spent first discovering that there was a spot close to our home that I could access safely in a boat that frequently had mechanical issues and is very small. By the middle of August I think had hooked 6 kings, but not a one made it into the net. I was having troubles with my reel and rod choice and the appropriate amount of drag to be using. Barbless hooks were another challenging variable and I was also hooking these fish by myself in most instances, doing a one man keystone cops impression as I attempted to keep the line tight on the huge salmon now at the surface, while trying to get the net positioned effectively. On one memorable day I had hooked three, losing one that ran then surfaced close to fifty yards off of the back of the boat and another that broke off after I lost the net in the water and tried to host the 25lb fish into the boat by grabbing the 30lb test leader.
I thought about the failures of that day all winter long. Last summer I came prepared, or so I thought. I bought a small arsenal of jigs in all sizes and colors. I spent so much time throwing every color in the rainbow at them that I ignored the color that had worked that day the summer before: white. A long 4oz white needle fish jig with red eyes had hooked every salmon I had got into the summer before. I lacked patience and ignored many of the environmental contributors to great salmon fishing (tides, time of day, bait fish and bird activity). I landed one 14lb salmon towards the end of August in the small boat, but I was trolling and brought it in on an Islander mooching reel and a lucky net job.
This summer I’ve experienced hundreds of more days fishing and even more hours to think about what I was doing wrong. I stocked up on those white darts in a variety of sizes. I’ve had ample practice netting and playing fish in other situations that have practical applications to landing these larger ones. I pay more attention to the environment that I’m fishing in when it is both and not. These things are ingrained in me now, and have allowed me to focus more on technique. My rod and reel of choice was once just my rod and reel of default, but I’ve come to like using it. It’s a 6′ casting Shimano Trevala Jigging rod. The reel is a Shimano Calcutta with 50lb braid as it’s mainline. It’s the shortest rod I use in all my fishing, shorter than my ultralight trout rod, which lends itself well to netting fish by myself without having to worry about breaking it. To the braid I tie a snap swivel and about 4ft of 30lb flurocarbon leader which is then tied to the dart jig. With the drag set right, this reel and line do a great job of tiring a running salmon down.
In putting this equipment to work I do what is generally referred to as drift jigging. I’ll motor to about the middle of the bay north of Fred’s Hump and put her in neutral, waiting to see which way the current and wind are gonna push me before I cut the engine. Once I get an idea of the drift I’ll go north or south along the shore depending on the direction I’ll be drifting, so that I can start at the “top” and drift across the small bay where there is a drop off from water averaging 90 ft in the bay to 300ft just outside of it. I try to drift right at the edge of the drop off. I’ll drop my dart to the bottom and then reel up about 11 times to get off the bottom and out of the way of the small rockfish. As I’m dropping the jig I’ll keep my thumb on the spool and every so often I’ll feel a fish bump it on the way down. When this happens I stop feeding line out and give the rod a couple mooches. Twice I’ve hooked salmon this way.
I’ll drift jig until I’ve drifted into water too shallow or deep to productively cover water where I’ve historically hooked fish. I’ve hooked two big salmon drift jigging in water under 40ft deep. This summer I landed three nice Chinook in the tin boat at Fred’s Hump. It’s taken a long time but I feel I’ve finally figured out most of the techniques that are successful and learned to work with most of the variables that might suggest tweaking these techniques.
I spend the bulk of my summers up in British Columbia at my family’s home in Bliss Landing. Bliss is on the inside passage of Vancouver Island, about one mile south of the entrance to Desolation Sound at Sarah Point. We can harvest clams, oysters, trap crab and prawns, and fish for multiple species of rockfish and salmon. During my last trip, from August 1st through the 10th I was loaned a 14 foot tinboat which was outfitted with a downrigger for trolling. When I have others in the boat we normally simply jig for salmon with Pt. Wilson Darts and Buzz Bombs, but when I am alone I troll for salmon. I caught the 13 lb Chinook salmon above with a green flasher and black & white Luhr Jensen “Cop Car” or “Cookies & Cream” spoon. There is an oyster farm in a small bay about one mile north from Bliss that is home to what I have called “Fred’s Hump”. The name comes from the owner of the farm who was once the caretaker at Bliss Landing. The “Hump” comes from an underwater rock formation that juts up from the sea floor on the southern side of the bay. It gets relatively shallow in the bay, ranging from 100 ft to 35 ft, and I have hooked salmon jigging there on multiple occasions. Last Friday I spent some time at the Hump throwing buzz bombs to gauge if there were any salmon lingering in the area. After an hour of casting and catching shaker salmon I hooked into something big which immediately spit the hook out as I was re-calibrating my drag (I was using my Temple Fork steelhead casting rod which only had 10lb test line on it). At about sunset, say maybe 8:30, I dropped the trolling gear in the water to 85 ft and almost immediately had a strike. I played the fish delicately on a new Islander mooching reel and landed the lunker after the second swipe of the net. It wasn’t the only salmon I landed this summer, but it was the first out of a tin boat by myself.
There will be days when the fishing is better than one's most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse. Either is a gain over just staying home.