If we can define a particular month for fishing a specific species of salmon, October fits the bill for chum salmon fishing in east coast Island rivers and saltwater fishing in Johnstone Strait.
This is the month when they arrive in their tens of thousands to spawn in their natal streams and then die to consecrate their bodies to the river so that it can create the nutrients that will nurture the new generation – to give them a good start in the unforgiving marine environment where they will live and grow for the next four to five years. The cycle of life renewal of the chum salmon is a primordial event where no quarter is given and only the most fit survive to create the new generation.
The recreational chum salmon fishery is a gauntlet type of angling that takes place in two different environments. The first is the popular troll fishery with flashers and sockeye type hoochies, in the waters of Johnstone Strait at locations such as Deepwater and Plumper Bay.
The bite seems to be triggered by tidal movements and knowing how to fish these tides takes time and experience. The migrating fish travel through the swirling currents where they bite an appropriately presented hoochie. It is an in close type of highly charged trolling where the boat next to you is within easy talking range.
You can image the excitement when you hook a large chum and it wants to take line and there is no place for it to run. Then add to the confusion excited anglers when you have a double hook-up in these close quarters.
This happened when I was fishing with Charley Vaughan, his daughter Sharon and her husband Quinn Robinson from Texas. My major role on this trip was to help net the fish because Charley has an injured shoulder when he bashed it against some rocks on the west coast of the Island. On this occasion we netted both fish and of course Sharon’s was in the 12- to 14-pound range while Quinn’s was about 10 pounds. I sometimes think the lipstick factor is significant in the sports of fishing and hunting, otherwise how can you account for the ladies frequently catching the big one? Never mind the details, Sharon and Quinn each took their limit of four chum in a
memorable day of fishing with Dad.
The second type of gauntlet fishery is completely different than the marine fishery. When chum salmon enter freshwater they have essentially stopped active feeding and only rarely do they pursue and bite a fly or lure.
The most popular type of freshwater chum salmon fishing is with a single barbless hook and a small piece of fluorescent wool held next to the hook, as in a popular steelhead hookup. This set-up is tied to a swivel with about an 18-inch leader plus or minus. Then a piece of pencil lead or heavy split shot is attached to the line. It may be fished this way or with a float depending on your style of bottom bouncing.
The method is called flossing, because as the hook with baited wool drifts along the bottom in the fast current it will frequently drift into the mouth of a chum swimming in the current and when you feel the slight pressure you set the hook in the fish’s mouth.
The gauntlet part of the fishery occurs along popular places on the river that invariably attract numbers of anglers all casting side by side in their attempts to put their hook in front of a chum salmon. You can imagine the jostling that occurs when one or more angler hooks a chum in these close quarters and the fish heads towards the sea. They are powerful fish and many more are lost than ever get landed.
To the charter boat industry, resident British Columbians and hundreds of tourists from all over the world, the chum salmon fishery is an important recreational and commercial event. Chum salmon fishing makes an important contribution to tourism and local businesses on many fronts. In the past week I talked to anglers from Italy, Scotland and England – and spent an exhilarating day on the waters with two Texans. While fishing we were entertained by hundreds of porpoises cavorting in Johnstone Strait.
“Yes” – chum salmon fishing is important to anglers.
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.