Archive for December, 2020


Monday, December 28th, 2020


A recent report published in the Narwhal explained that a recent snorkel count of Gold River winter steelhead FOUND NO FISH.

This has never happened before. Former counts range as high as 900 plus (no counts were ever made when steelhead were really abundant) but after 2017, they have dropped to next to nothing (1-4 fish). In a river like the Gold which features some huge, deep pools and some rough water, some fish could have been missed but certainly not many. In the last forty some years, snorkel surveys have proven to be a solid method of enumerating salmonids and biologists have gained a huge amount of experience with the method. So many people were dismayed by the report in the Narwhal. BC steelhead have been in trouble for decades but there always seemed to be hope. Hope because rivers like the Gold are strong and well constructed. Of all the Island streams, it seemed to have the best chance of holding on. For decades biologists have believed that the most significant issue for steelhead production was the rapid logging that occurred mainly prior to the 1970’s. Many watersheds were scalped utilizing some very destructive methods and during some risky times of year. Big time logging on the Gold really didn’t even get going until the 1960’s. There was no town of Gold River until then. Tahsis Company, a branch of the huge East Asiatic Company based in Denmark started up by building a pulp mill near the Gold River estuary and logging in the watershed. Gold River was an instant town that didn’t exist until 1965. It was built on prime deer and elk winter range that was also a good locale for humans. The town ramped up to more than a thousand people by 1968 and everyone was happy. 1968-69 was the big winter on Vancouver Island and people got so snowed in or plagued by cabin fever that they resorted to wife swapping until the sun and green came back. I know this because two of my friends from Nelson worked in Gold River that winter so I received some pretty detailed summaries of the action while guzzling beer at The Gold River Chalet.

Pacific Logging also had a hand in the Gold along with Elk River Timber.

Steelhead angling also started to uptick with the town. Delta Hotel even had expert steelheader Tim Timmons hired on as a permanent guide for hotel guests. Tim had very good knowledge of the Gold and Heber Rivers and I am convinced that he knew every summer steelhead lie in the Heber. Fishing was so good that pioneer biologists Dave Hurn and Bob McMynn caught 100 steelhead at the Gold-Heber confluence and held them in a pool they created on a bar there for 24 hours to assess hooking mortality. Most of the fish survived and the pool became known as the Century Pool. This happened in 1961.

On my first cast on the Gold, a fish followed the fly right to my feet before turning back to deep water. It was a bum cast and I wasn’t ready. I soon hooked another and had several more plucks at the fly.

That’s the way it was then. Highly experienced steelheader Barry Thornton considered the Gold to be the finest wild steelhead river in BC. The BC Fish and Wildlife Branch estimated steelhead returns to be in the three to five thousand range in the 1970s. Clearly, this was a special river. In the January 1984 issue of BC Outdoors, Alex Blake reported on a trip he and two other anglers from Coquitlam made to the Gold. In three days, they hooked and released 22 big winter steelhead. Now? Nada…

How could it fall so low? My own experience with the logging was that it was nowhere near as bad as it was in some other Vancouver Island basins. In my first encounter with the Tahsis Company, Dick Kossick their forester told me how he had a difficult time getting them to think long term. He had set aside some good low elevation timber for winter shows only to have the company cream it in the summer which forced the company to log less suitable areas in the winter. The Oktwanch River may have been the victim of this shortcoming. The Oktwanch is what I call a poorly confined river. It has a rather wide channel that is easily distracted by disturbance. It was winter logged just before my time and became unravelled during peak flow events following logging. Now the channel is over loaded with bed load and parts dry in the summer.


Oktwanch River lost much of its integrity following logging in the late 1960’s

But the Oktwanch enters Muchalat Lake which absorbs its impacts and buffers the Gold. Some other parts of the basin also suffered unduly. I once found the company washing the sediment off a newly constructed road surface by diverting a creek down the road for some 30 meters before it entered the Upana River.


A rough road surface ready to be washed

This road became the Tahsis Road. I let a sample of silt from this event settle out in a graduated cylinder and found the sand and silt were 100,000 parts per million. About as high as can be found. There were also some issues on some Heber tributaries like Saunders Creek and the creek beside Elk River Timber’s Branch 80 called Camel Creek. (Elk River Timber also logged part of the Heber Basin).

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A Heber River tributary called Camel Creek logged by Elk River Timber – debris and yarding damage

Because I haven’t been around the watershed for over twenty years,I recently performed a cursory overview of the watershed via Google Earth. My judgement is still the same: although there are places where it could have been done better, there are no obvious wounds that could have led to river degradation on the scale that steelhead would fail. But it still remains that a lot of the watershed has been logged and roaded and there has to be a cumulative impact. Death by a thousand cuts? It also evident that climate change is having an influence in the river and at sea. The monsoon like rains often called The Pineapple Express because they originate far to the southwest around Hawaii, seem to be much more common of late and they can have serious impacts on instream steelhead survival especially incubating eggs and over wintering juveniles . Warmer and drier summers also take their toll. To top it off, there is now a fish farm near the Gold River estuary.

Ocean survival is also becoming a stronger factor. Temperatures at a station off Washington have increased by 2.7 degrees centigrade over the average. A warmer ocean is hard on salmonids because predators from the south become involved and warmer seas hold less plamkton. Ocean smolt to adult survival of Keough River steelhead has fallen from 15 to 4 % since 1990.

There may be a solution to logging impacts. In the early 1990’s, I prepared a report for the then Ministry of Environment that delineated what were termed Recreational Fishing Corridors. They covered a broad swath of streams including the Gold. The corridors don’t just protect access and aesthetic considerations, they also protect Fisheries Sensitive Zones like over steep ravines, zones of instability and highly riparian areas possibly subject to flooding. The zones would cover all aspects of development, not just logging.

I have been unable to follow up on the fate of the corridors to any degree but after moving to Port Alberni in 2017, I was shocked to learn that a big house was built right on the trail to Money’s Pool. When I found out why I was told that the ministry was reluctant to apply the corridors to private land and most regional district planners are not much concerned with matters to do with fish protection which is very unfortunate.

But according to The Narwhal, there may be others who are certainly interested. The Nuu chah Nulth Tribal Council has proposed the idea of Salmon Parks as a means of protecting salmon streams. Much of their assessment work may already be done via the Recreational Fishing Corridors. But the heavier part of the work is having government and industry accept them. The Forest Companies will argue that they have improved their act markedly which is certainly true. But they are going to have to get even better if we want to keep steelhead and salmon around.

Ted Burns, December 21, 2020


Unlike the Oktwnach, the Gold is a strong river well put together


Part of the Lower Gold. Increased bed load is starting toe show up (1990 photo)



Tuesday, December 15th, 2020


For the better part of 20 years I lived and worked in and around Chilliwack, a good hockey town but overblown with bible passion. What bothered me most about living there was the state of the watercourses .The vast majority of them were ditched and virtually useless as salmonid habitat despite the Fedfish claim that much of the Fraser’s coho production came from the lower valley. The most frustrating thing about these ditches was, despite the mess they are in now, a relatively simple fix would have brought them into a decent level of production. Most of the ditches are very slow moving with a mud and silt substrate. There is almost no gravel spawning habitat and not much cover or complexity. Nonetheless, these waterways could support a reasonable number of coho fry if reproduction was possible – I believe it is.

There are some valley streams with good levels of habitat essentials including spawning gravel and there are some degraded ditches that have a few stretches of gravel with suitable gradients. I once walked for miles along ditched and dead water Chilliwack Creek. I wondered if there may be some gravel and gradient up toward the Ryder Lake area and perhaps a few spawners there . Sure enough, as I rounded a bend and heard a waterfall in the distance, I also heard the thrash and splash of spawning fish. There were several groups of chum salmon making the best of a stretch of good gravel below the falls. In those days (mid 1990’s), I was working as an environmental monitor for West Coat Energy. They were more than game to replace muddy substrates with gravel when they backfilled ditches they had excavated to replace old sections of gas pipe. They were also agreeable to shape the ditches somewhat to speed up the current. They did this at a few locations at Maria Slough. I had the crew narrow and shape the channel at the pipeline crossing and above and below Cuthbert Road Bridge. An excavator shaped the channel and the gravel was cast in place by a clamshell bucket

I was able to monitor the improvement for 22 years and was surprised to learn that smallish red Chinook salmon most often used the platforms. 39 chinooks used the sites along with 15 chums 6 coho and 8 sockeye

Since 1993, I have built a number of these riffles. The outlet of Cowichan Lake, the outlet of Gillespie Lake, Beaver Creek, and Kissinger outlet. I guess my first attempt was at Six Mile (Duhamel ) Creek near Nelson when I moved boulders aside to expose good gravel. The spawning kokanee swam right to the newly exposed substrate  and started digging. Of course my efforts were washed away in the spring in this steep mountain torrent that gallops along in high water rolling boulders and gravel downstream. There is a fair amount of scattered  spawning spawning habitat in this creek where Mountain Whitefish and Bull Trout also spawn  I just wanted to try and help the redfish of that year (1968). The  Fraser Lowland ditches are highly deficient in gravel and the careful placement of spawning riffles with some streamside cover thrown in make it even more attractive to shy spawners like coho is a sure winner.

DFO has also utilized similar methods to improve habitat In the Fraser Valley. Another location on Maria Slough has been successful as well as an improvement on Hope Slough at Quarry Road Below .

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Hope Slough at the Quarry Road footbridge. DFO squeezed the flow already constricted by the Quarry Road foot bridge by adding a directional berm and placing gravel in the right side channel.

I am not aware of how successful the improvement has been. But I have seen both Chinooks and chums using the site.where, as far as I know, no fish spawned before.


Maria Slough spawning platform at the West Coast Energy (now Enbridge) natural gas pipeline crossing


Paula Ditch in Chilliwack with fresh willow stakes starting to grow on the left bank.

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A sample of Fraser valley ditch water – a mix of sediment, manure and who knows what? Conditions are especially bad in the spring when field are still saturated with water and farmers spread liguid manure to fertilize their fields


Rough sketch of a Burns Riffle. Vegetation band should be species such as willow and red osier not the usual Fraser Valley ditch assemblage of Himalayan Blackberrry and Reed Canary Grass.

Ted Burns

December 13, 2020


Monday, December 7th, 2020


Pappy Flynn – A Traveling Man

Thomas Joseph Flynn, my maternal Grandfather was born in The Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco on April 8, 1881. He died June 29, 1960 in Grass Valley California. He was said to be  one of 13 children although only three survived to adulthood. The family lived at 610 18th Street in the Potrero where his mother Julia ran a small neighborhood market. His father, Michael was a drinker and Pappy told me that one night he and his brothers way laid him as he was coming up the stairs to where they lived and knocked him down the stairs. Evidently, he never returned.


Potrero Hill neighborhood of 2020. In Pappy’s day, it was quite rural with fields of California Poppies on south facing slopes. It gradually evolved into a working class ghetto. These days it has become highly gentrified with a few rough spots. Recently an old, beat up house came on the market for 2.5 million. This has happened to many of the old neighborhoods of  THE CITY as Californians like to call it. As far as they are concerned there is only one city in California – San Francisco.

Tom enlisted in the US Navy at Mare Island, CA in 1897 at age 16; his mother had to give consent. He was paid $9 per month. He was on the receiving ship USRS Independence until August 1897 (a receiving ship was an old semi-retired vessel anchored somewhere to act as a recruiting depot.) Next he was on the USS Adams until February 1898. The Adams was a single screw wooden hulled bark rigged steamer. She spent the fall of 1897 visiting ports on the West coast of US and Canada. In November the ship docked in Hawaii for three weeks. Next stop for the Traveller was the Cruiser USS Baltimore. They delivered badly needed ammunition to Commodore Dewey in Hong Kong and Mirs Bay. From there they


The Baltimore

sailed to the Philippines for some serious action. The Baltimore served with the US Asiatic Squadron under Dewey and took part in the battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. She was the second largest ship in Dewey’s fleet and an important part of the attack which was mainly a duel with Spanish shore batteries. The only casualties on the Baltimore were caused by a single shell which rattled around the deck wounding 8 men. The Spanish Fleet was destroyed. The Baltimore remained on the Asiatic Stations convoying transports and protecting American interests until May 1990 when she sailed for New York via the Suez Canal.

Thomas didn’t go along. He was stationed on the USS Yorkton from June 1900 to April 1901. The Yorkton was a steam driven schooner rigged small cruiser classified as gunboat and patrolled the northern Philippines. With the Boxer Rebellion underway in China, she was sent to Northern China to assist in relieving foreign legations that were under siege from Chinese troops. Her landing force served ashore at Taku. In June of 1900, she assisted the Oregon in backing off a reef there then departed Shanghai and reached Cavite in the Philippines a week later. She resumed pacification duties there.

In February 1901, Thomas began suffering from vertigo and nervous prostration which became quite disabling. He also contracted malaria. He was honourably discharged in San Francisco and was awarded The Spanish, Philippine and China Badges.

He moved back to San Francisco and found that his nervous condition had rendered him unfit for manual work. His mother nursed him at home. Because of his inability to do hard work, he took a course at Heald’s Business College in San Francisco for six months then landed a job as a time keeper at Risdon Iron Works where he stayed for about 5 years.

About 1905, he moved to Goldfield, Nevada where he was a bookkeeper at the office of Webb Parkinson. He moved back to San Francisco about 1907. He married Mildred Hanson at San Jose in about 1909. He was living with Mildred in a tent outside of Bishop, CA when he had a stroke that left his right side partially paralysed. This condition lasted the rest of his days. He had to have his clothes custom made to accommodate his handicap.

In October, 1909 he was back living with his family in the Potrero working as a book keeper. Mildred is living in Los Angeles with her father and Thomas is now working as a stock broker. During this time he went for trips to Santa Cruz, to Nevada and to Williams AZ for his health.. He and Mildred were divorced on June 5, 1911. Shortly after the divorce, she married Fred Thomas and they operated the Bullard Hotel in Silver City, NM.

In May, 1913 he is in Winnimuca County NV in the mining business. In Dec, 1915 he is living in Reno and is Secretary – Treasurer of the Nevada Lincoln Mining Company. In January, 1913 he is engaged to Helen Sanderson of Adams, MA. They are married in Goldfield, NV Jan. 4, 1919.


Mother and Auntie going for a walk in Tonopah

In May, 1920 he is the office manager for Smith and Amann, a stockbroker’s office in Tonopah NV where he and Helen are living on Ellis Street. By May 1923, he is back in San Francisco at 364 Bush Street. By May 1925, he is a member of the San Francisco Stock Exchange. He is now living in San Francisco or across the bay in Oakland. In October of 1928; he sold his seat on the San Francisco curb for $47,000 which yielded him a profit of 31,000 in one year. He continues as a member of the San Francisco Mining Exchange which he continued to work with until late in life.

From the Nevada State Journal of October 22, 1928:

“Tom Flynn made quite a fortune during the Goldfield boom most of which he later lost and a serious sickness followed. He is credited with having made a bunch of money during the divide boom. Having learned a lesson from the Goldfield boom this time he kept his money and has been adding to his capital ever sense. He is widely known in Nevada and on the coast and has a high reputation for square dealing. Mr. Flynn has a reputation of being a very shrewd operator…”

It was also said that Tom Flynn had a hand in the development of skiing in the High Sierras.

In September 1932, he bought the Marshall Ranch in Grass Valley, CA. The ranch adjoined the Empress Mine. He became superintendant of the Rockland Mine near Yerington, NV. On May 12, 1920 his daughter Helen Jane (Elaine) was born in San Francisco. From family photos it appears she also lived in Oakland and Tonopah with Hazel her mother and her Auntie Helen who acted as a kind of secretary- executive assistant to Pappy.


The Flynn at 373 Parrot Drive, San Mateo, CA

By 1930, the family is mainly living at 373 Parrot Drive in the Bay Wood neighbourhood of San Mateo, CA. Pappy had this large and beautiful home built from old growth redwood lumber. It still stands as a testament to quality. This is the period when Nana (Hazel) and Pappy did a lot of travelling sometimes taking Helen Jane (my mother along). They visited Europe, especially Germany, The Orient, especially China and Japan and the Caribbean. But the Parrot Drive home was his pride and joy. I once lived there with my Mother while my Dad was away in the Second War. I was very young but remember having a garden of nasturtiums and marigolds and helping Roy the Filipino Gardner and my best friend. I can also remember going over to Halfmoon Bay with Pappy and up to the Stock Exchange in the City on the train. He introduced me to his friends and fellow workers and we had lunch at The Old Poodle Dog, a beyond ritzy restaurant. I also remember him taking me to baseball games and to visit merchants around San Mateo like Mr. Merkel at his cigar store. When I became older (about 12) Pappy, mother and I went to Alaska on the CPR boat The Princess Louise. This must have been one of the most early cruise ships on this run. Pappy provided me with lectures on the stock market and money management and many reminders on table manners. We landed in Prince Rupert, Ketchicikan, Sitka, Wrangell and Juneau and took the White Pass and Yukon Train from Skagway to Whitehorse. Of Course Pappy was fascinated by the old gold rush country and must have wished he was among the stampeders. He loved to travel and as he got older he would stick to more local trips. He came up to BC quite often. He loved to prowl around Ainsworth and Kaslo. They had also had their mining days and had lots of mining history. He also loved to fish and had a good split cane fly rod. I can remember him going up Woodbury Creek and hurting a leg clambering around on the slippery boulders.


The Flynn’s: My Mother, Pappy and Nana

Sometime in the 1950’s Pappy started to slow down. His ailments of the navy days and his stroke aftermath plagued him along with heart issues. He, Nana and Auntie moved to an apartment down by the El Camino at 321 Dartmouth Road about 1955. Pappy died on June 25, 1960 in Grass Valley which was a kind of haven for him. When he became under the weather he would sometimes go up and see Dr. Farthing, his long time physician who would place him in the hospital for a week or so until he was ready to carry on.

A curious feature of Pappy’s life was the lifelong argument he had with Veterans’ Affairs over whether or not he was entitled to a disability pension from his Navy Days. He even hired a Washington DC lawyer to act on his behalf as far back as 1903. By 1910 he was receiving a small stipend which was increased somewhat over the years. He never explained that he was a man of wealth and had no need for the stipend.

He was buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery with a 21 gun salute


Happy Days: Nana in the left foreground and Pappy the second man in from the pole with the white hair. They are on board a ship which was the main mode of long distance travel for many decades.

Ted and John Frederick Burns/2020