This Area 14 salmon escapement report is based primarily on information in Strait of Georgia Enhancement Bulletin #9 (dated Nov. 21, 2014) and discussions with Darcy Miller and Laura Terry at the Puntledge Hatchery and the Oyster River winter newsletter.
Last weekend I stood on the Condensary Bridge and watched four dedicated anglers fishing the clear waters below the bridge. I saw two fish released during the time I stood there, but it was my impression that there were only a few fish in the main river; but the channel on the far side had a good showing of spawning chum salmon.
Recreational anglers are coming off one of the best chinook seasons in Area 14 that we have had for a long time. The pink salmon in the Campbell-Quinsam systems were abundant throughout July and August. Beach fishing for coho was productive when you could keep a wild fish.
Generally, chum salmon fishing in Johnstone Strait was a disappointment for most anglers. However the Puntledge River was generous to local anglers. Sockeye fishing was good in local waters as well as Johnstone Strait. To sum it up, recreational anglers in our waters had a generous season.
The fall began with scary low water conditions that did not look good for returning salmon, then the rains came in abundance and everything sort of fell into place. Darcy Miller, manager of the Puntledge Hatchery, put things in perspective when he remarked: “This had been one of the strangest fall seasons I have ever experienced, although overall abundance of most species has been favourable.”
From below average low flow to extreme high water within days, continuing for 3-1/2 weeks when historical moderate precipitation conditions would normally prevail, made accurately assessing the escapement numbers a real challenge. There is little doubt that the extreme conditions in October led to early migration and spawn of late fall chinook and chum in the Puntledge system.
However, time will tell how successful the late run in river spawn under the extreme river conditions will be. Suffice to say that the conditions in our river were far from normal and the count of chum salmon in the river will reflect these chaotic conditions.
Coho counts are generally down in many systems. The count in Black Creek (an indicator stream for coho) indicates a fairly normal return with a high count of jack coho. It should be noted that the count of coho continues into December for most systems and final estimates will be made.
In their winter newsletter the Oyster River Enhancement Society (ORES) estimate a very good return of pink salmon throughout the system this fall. They estimate about 500 chinook made it into the system this fall. The returns of coho also look good, but river conditions make a reasonable estimate of returns too difficult at this time.
The ORES is also active in enhancing chum salmon fry into the Oyster with spawn from the Puntledge system. Returns of chum salmon to the river as of this report appear to be nil.
The Big Qualicum system had an above average return of chinook resulting in an in-river recreational fishery. The latest escapement counts of chum salmon counts appear to be down. Counts of coho appear to be down, but river conditions continue to make accurate counts a real challenge.
Small-stream enhancement societies such as the Fanny Bay Salmonid Enhancement Society have real challenges in estimating returns of spawners when they are dealing with several small streams. They were able to count respectable returns of coho and chum salmon in their Rosewall and Cook Creeks.
You will note I have avoided the use of specific numbers in reporting on the current returns. My reasoning is simply that trends give a more realistic picture of our Area 14 salmon populations.
The 2014 salmon season for many Valley anglers has been one of the best in many years when you consider the unusually good chinook fishing that took place throughout much of the season in local waters. If you were a pink salmon angler all you had to do was go up to the Campbell River and catch your limit. Sockeye fishing was good. However chum salmon aside from the Puntledge River was a disappointment for those who specialized in fishing Johnstone Strait.
In summary, we tend to judge returns in respect to our personal success.
Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.