Last Sunday morning I took the accompanying picture from the Condensory Bridge looking downstream. From my position on the bridge I counted 44 anglers, most of them below the bridge, however there were some anglers out of my field of vision. It is safe to estimate that there were 50 anglers fishing in the waters near the bridge.
After watching the action for a considerable time one angler fishing with a fly line caught and released a salmon, I also saw two others playing fish they lost. Two ladies walked up from the river carrying salmon that I assume were chums.
My impression as of this writing is that there is not a large run of chum salmon that have entered the river so far. It is easy to see that with the current low water conditions the fish may not yet have entered the river in large numbers.
The late set of estimates by the Strait of Georgia salmon survey for chum salmon entering the river, dated Oct. 7, are very low at 15. At the time of this writing (Oct. 12) there were certainly a considerable larger number chums in the river. At this time during the 2013 season there were close to 69,000 chum salmon in the river.
It is however misleading to compare counts from one season to another because there are so many variables such as low water this year. After the rains of this weekend, the river will undoubtedly have a large number of salmon enter on the fresh water from the rain. This will include fall chinook, coho and chums.
With the current and on-going Strait of Georgia salmon surveys most rivers are below the four-year average for coho and chinook this time of the year. The coho run was about 2,000 fish in the current count; which is less than half the numbers of the four-year average. Fall run chinook are at about 3,200; which is about 75 per cent of what the count was four years ago.
It is easy to explain this as a result of the low water in most rivers. It does however raise a question when the Qualicum River intermediately to our south came in with a count of almost 7,000 chinook; which is above their four- year average and the river has a special opening for chinook. On the other hand their coho numbers are way down.
The rains on Monday and for the balance of the week will certainly bring salmon into our local rivers. In predicting the size of returns, much caution must be exercised because temperature and rainfall patterns are not what we normally experience. For the record, I am prepared to predict that the run of chum salmon will be below the four-year seasonal average, but there will be sufficient fish to allow an on-going recreational retention fishery on chum salmon in the Puntledge.
I will also predict we will not have a late-season retention fishery on coho or late run fall chinook. In part my prediction is based on low catches in recreational chum salmon fishing in Johnstone Strait and low returns of the other species so far season. I would take great joy in being proved wrong.
At a recent meeting of the Comox Valley Fly Fishing executive, one member reported witnessing some careless releases of salmon after they had been brought to shore. It is proper to be critical of this type of behaviour on the part of some careless anglers and from the safety of the column I would encourage all anglers to be careful and respectful of the salmon they return to the river. After all the salmon we release are destined to produce the next generation and their fitness and health is important.
On Sunday, Oct. 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the Puntledge hatchery and staff will host its annual Open House. It is a special opportunity for all members of the family, residents of the Valley and our fishing guests to take part in this educational and informative day long celebration that show cases the work of the Puntledge River Hatchery and other salmon enhancement groups in Area 14.
The staff will give graphic illustrations of their work in sorting fish, selection of those ready to spawn and the process of stripping and fertilizing eggs for the next generation. Put the day on your “To Do List.”
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.