Archive for August, 2018

Lord Stanley’s Steelhead

Friday, August 31st, 2018


There can be no finer time and place than spring on the South Island. It starts very slowly in James Bay gardens when the first snowdrops poke up in January. Out in the nearby woods listen for the tin whistle of the varied thrush and look for the Indian Plum buds. On the rocky hills of Thetis Lake Park will be Satin Flower, Blue Eyed Mary and Spring Gold. Winters on the South Island are usually quite mild and not too hard to take but spring is still much appreciated – indeed. I sometimes imagine a great satellite image of the province that starts to light up with spring. First the rims of the South Island: Victoria, Cowichan Bay, Nitinat Lake, and St. Andrews Church Yard in Nanaimo. Then Delta and on out the Fraser Valley and into the Southern Interior at Places like Osoyoos and Creston. By that time the lights are coming on strong and everyone is starting to feel some light and color.
By mid April on the South Island there is the green mist of alders. In the river valleys, some salmonberry blossoms and even some early showings of Dogwood in the canyons of the Chemainus River will be thrilling people who notice such things. Most steelheaders will be starting to pack away their gear and thinking of breaking out the trout tackle. Even the summer steelhead aficionados will take a break. But not all. There are few real fish hawks that know a spring run of fresh steelhead comes in long after the winter runs are done and gone. A surprising number of streams get a few fish and even enough that could be classed as a small run. But they are usually on the verge of spawning and shouldn’t be bothered. The males are often aggressive and easily caught with a flashing spoon.
Ted Harding Senior was an angler who knew the spring runs. Ted was a mentor to a number of Nanaimo area steelheaders including his son, Ted junior. I once fished with Ted Senior and Mike Prey on the Big Qualicum River. I had spotted a steelhead lying beneath a big cedar stump that overhung the river. If you snuck up and peered between the roots, you could see the fish clearly. Ted went upstream and drifted a piece of roe held up by a float right to the fish. You could tell she saw it and was going to take it when she shifted her position just a tad and her pectoral fins started to quiver. As the bait came, she openened her mouth and sucked it in only to spit it out in the blink of an eye. No signal went up the line and the float did not move at all. That was a lesson I would not forget and I kept a hook sharpening stone with me at all times thereafter I think many steelhead just gently mouth the lure or bait to test it and get hooked when the current is fast and they catch the hook a bit when they try and spit it out. If the angler is fortunate he feels something and tries to set the hook. If it’s sharp, bang!
It was Ted Harding Senior who told me about the spring fish in the Chemainus. “Mother’s Day Steelhead, I call them” he said. “Wait until then before you try them.”
Of course, I didn’t wait and was prowling the river in April hoping to find an early fish or two. I was not alone. Ted Harding Junior was often there too. He had a little boat he put in at Four Mile near Banon Creek Falls and took out near the highway. The river was so beautiful and the promise of a good fish was there so it simply was not possible to wait while the sun warmed the canyons and the dogwoods painted the landscape. But I never caught a fish in April despite some frequent, prolonged efforts. I fished from below the highway to well up in the rough canyons – nothing and that went on for years. I learned a lot and found some good trails to places I was sure held fish at times but I neither caught nor saw any. I would go so far as to wait at Copper Canyon falls which stop all fish except steelhead. I hoped I would see one leaping at the falls but I never did. After a few years, I wondered if the fish were still there. Summer swimmers would call me “saw some steelhead in the Forestry Pools” they would tell me. I would head down with mask and snorkel and see a dark kelt or two. Years back when I worked for the BC Fish and Wildlife Branch, I spent a lot of time working with the Cooper Canyon loggers because the upper river had been trashed and I needed them to change course. I remember Tibor Jando, Tom DeBozy, John Phillips and Cougar Clem Ingram as some of the M and B guys who knew the river up around camp. They told me they sometimes saw groups of steelhead in the upper river. But I never did. I must have stopped the Boulder Creek Pool a hundred times.
One year in the 1970’s, I swam upstream from Four Mile to Copper Canyon Falls. The river was crystal clear. It was famous for that before the loggers went wild. Trevor Green sometimes told me that he had never seen a river so clear. He said the Cowichan used to be like that before they started booming in Cowichan Lake. Trevor was a well respected historian and naturalist who lived in Lake Cowichan from around 1912 until his death in 2009.
I kept careful notes of the swim. I saw lots of resident rainbow/juvenile steelhead
Including some good sized fish of twelve inches or more, some of them had distended stomachs from feeding on caddis larvae. I could see the outlines of the gravel cases pushing the fish stomach walls. After swimming for about an hour, I came to a place so deep I could not see bottom. Suddenly a massive fish came out of the depths and sped up to the pool head where he crowded under a ledge. It was an early run Chinook salmon. I had forgotten these rare giants were still around. Quite a number of Island Rivers have them – Nanaimo, Cowichan and Puntledge to name a few. David Groves of Westholme has a small hatchery dedicated to keeping the Chemianus early spring salmon going.
It was exciting to see the big spring and I was glad for it but there were no steelhead. Later that year, I took the mask and snorkel along and poked into some more hidden holes in the canyon reaches. Some were breathtakingly beautiful and I was sure I would find some fish tucked away in a deep green pool. I had some great swims and found some lovely places but there were no steelhead.
I halted my search in the early 1990.s. The Copper Canyon logging road was gated and security guards made life miserable for people trying to access the river. I was still in the process of my inventory of Cowichan area fish habitat and used to go up beyond camp and spend a few days in my camper as I completed the work. “Not permitted” said the guards. For awhile I went in via Widow Creek, a backdoor route near Youbou that was tenuous at best but it washed out as did a portion of the mainline above Rheinhart Creek. I even found a way in from Mt. Franklin on a marmot searching expedition but it was really rough – a truck destroyer. So I kind of gave up on my steelhead search. I knew they were there and the river was recovering from the logging abuse so why bother so much?
Then sometime in the mid 1990’s, a fortunate event occurred – the Cowichan Lake Salmonid Enhancement Society of which I was a director, participated in a Fishermen’s Assistance program. The commercial fleet had been decimated by fewer openings and a buyback program. Fishing was ramping down and lots of people were at risk of unemployment. The feds started a program where regional fishers would team up with Salmonid Stewardship groups like ours and learn some fisheries management skills. It wasn’t a bad idea. I had long felt that fishermen could contribute during the off season by helping with habitat inventory and resource improvement. So a group of guys showed up and were anxious to get to work – indeed.
They would get a bit of book work and lots of field time. We had them helping with fry salvage, stream bank restoration, brood stock collection, hatchery operations and habitat inventory.
I had a couple of the more energetic guys walk the Upper Chemainus River to see if there were fry salvage needs and other features like left over log jams (the river was once really plugged up and I thought many jams would have to be removed, but all of them eventually flushed right out of the system which was remarkable). One morning in the month of June, Jim Young set out to walk a portion of the Chemainus above camp. Young was a wiry, high energy character who thought nothing of walking hard miles in the bush. On the second day of bush whacking, he and his pals came to a shallow canyon that did not show on any map or even air photos. They hopped from boulder to boulder and were suddenly staring down at a school of steelhead bunched up below a falls. I went up the following day and saw about 20 fish in spawning colours. There were a few redds in downstream gravel patches. I was amped but also humbled. I had looked for years always going to where I thought the fish should be and never were. Jim Young put has teeth into the wind and just kept on going until he found the fish – indeed.

Adrian Curtain

Friday, August 31st, 2018

The Adrian Curtain

I am a biologist with more than 40 years experience in working with pipelines. I am quite confident that large diameter pipelines can be constructed with little impact on the land. Streams, mountain ranges, wetlands and important wildlife habitat can all be crossed without serious harm and there are often opportunities
to improve the environment with careful planning.
However, when it comes to the marine zone, I don`t think we have enough confidence to minimize the risk variables – especially oil spills – to an acceptable risk. I have been considering possible control measures for decades and, although i haven`t been able to conjure a method that would provide a high degree of confidence in all situations, i have a suggestion that may offer an important step:


The Adrian Curtain is a simple concept that was first proposed by a fellow biologist as a method to partition small lakes for study purposes. The curtain would be like a floating net except that it would hang much deeper. It would consist of a heavy lead line attached to a flexible sheet (curtain) supported by a float line of strong and flexible material like large “ corks “ or inflatable material like an aqua dam. the curtain would be a semi – permanent fixture around loading docks or stored on large rollers in a ship`s hold so they could be played out around a spill. Once the spill is surrounded (contained), it can be pulled into a central pool and pumped to another hold then ultimately re-processed or cleaned back to a finished product.

Ted Burns
RP Bio