Saltchucking From Shore

Saltchucking from Shore


When I first came down to Vancouver Island in 1969, one of the most interesting stories I heard was about catching salmon from the shore. This greatly appealed to me because I don`t care for large boats and all the other paraphernalia that salmon anglers seem to require and I couldn`t afford them anyway.

One of the first shore fisheries I heard about was for fall coho on the fly at places like Black Creek, Saratoga Beach and French Creek. There were fantastic stories of large fish rising all around you in waist deep water and followers racing right to the rod tip before grabbing the fly and charging seaward in crashing leaps. It turned out to be quite a few years before I got to try this fishing.

The autumn of 1976 followed a summer of almost endless rain. Day after day of monotonous overcast and showers as Pacific storms tracked across the coast. But toward the end of September, skies cleared and a faultless October followed. There would be no more significant rainfall on the South Coast until March in one of the strangest winters I have ever seen. Some mark the non – winter of 1976 as the harbinger of climate change in the northwest.  In November I was finally able to get free of work and found myself camped at Parksville Beach on a golden morning. I drove north to French Creek at first light looking for jumpers or finning fish but there were none. It was a clear day and Georgia Strait was a lake of dark blue glass. I headed up to Miracle Beach and Black Creek where conditions were much the same. There were a few leaping coho off Black Creek but they were out with the Scoters well beyond casting range. I was able to wade out over 100 m from shore but they were still distant. I hiked a kilometre or so up the creek to see if any fish were in. There were none and very little water. In most years, at least half the run would be in by now.

The next morning was bright and very clear with a steady northwester blowing down the strait. These conditions often put the fish deep and offshore on the Vancouver Island side of the strait. But I stopped at Englishman River Spit on my way down Island and was amazed to see numerous jumpers within easy casting range. On with the waders and into the surf! I had two followers on the first cast and the second cast yielded a strike right at the rod tip. I managed to hook the fish and land it after a strong tussle. Over the rest of the afternoon, I landed nine coho and two chums and lost at least that many more. They were all large, fast fish and usually broke off after the first hit and run.

I gradually discovered other places to catch salmon on the fly from shore. I caught pinks on the North Island and Chinooks in a number of places including right around Victoria. When the young herring of the year are near shore in June, the feeder springs often come right into the beaches and coves to chase them down. The salmon burst into a school of herring fry stunning a number of them then circle back and pick off the stragglers. I used to hike down to Mackenzie Bight in Finlayson Arm and patrol the shore casing a small bucktail into the action. Sometimes the fish chasing the herring were Copper Rockfish or sea run cutthroats but often they were spring salmon up to twenty pounds. It was very hard to land the brutes but I managed to get a few onto the beach. I sometimes went out with a big spinning rod and a small crocodile and once caught a beautiful twenty pound Chinook at Cormorant Point with Rob Falls.

There were plenty of places to spin cast form shore for salmon. When I lived in Nanaimo from 1969 to 1974, I often went out to Neck Point and the Brickyard to catch spring salmon, rockfish and an occasional greenling.  Fishing was usually slow but I caught more than a few good fish.

The best spin casting day happened on July first 1970 on Hornby Island. My first wife and I had an Airedale named Loobus. We were hiking the
shore at Cape Gurney near Whaling Station Bay when we heard Loobus barking wildly. We rushed to investigate and were amazed to see coho chasing herring right up onto sloping bedrock shore. The salmon would race onto the rock shelf after the young herring then flop back to the water. Loobus came very close to catching a couple. We raced to the truck for our rods and cast Crocodiles and Stingsildas to offshore boils where the coho were working the herring. We caught about a dozen beautiful early summer coho before the bite ended as darkness fell. The next morning was almost as good but the fish were further out.

Race Point just north of Campbell River was another most excellent shore fishing place. Along with spin casters, there were some expert anglers who fished small herring with a float like a steelhead drift fisherman. They would attach the herring to a single hook, place a couple of split shot up the line then attach a float. The float would then be drifted with the current just outside the kelp which was only about five or ten metres offshore. Big springs patrolled the kelp edges looking for bait fish and it usually wasn`t long before one grabbed a shore angler`s offering. I once hooked the largest spring I`d ever seen from Race Point but it was only on for about five seconds. I was casting a Stingsilda and the strike nearly yarded my arms from their sockets. The fish boiled and thrashed once and was gone. I was almost glad because I never could have landed the giant. Dodds Narrows is another place like Race Point and my good friend and colleague Ted Harding fished there with a good deal of success. And one of Victoria`s most popular fisheries is at Ten Mile Point where you could often find a dozen or more anglers chucking lures for salmon especially in the winter months. Divers told me it was a dangerous place for them because of the numerous hunks of line snagged on the rocks.
Evidently, some of it was heavy enough to snag a diver.  There are plenty of decent places around the Island shores and many more to be discovered especially on the west coast. I’ve tried Otter Point and Beechy Head, Ogden Point Breakwater, Golf Links Point, Saanichton Bay Spit, Powder Point and Jack Point near the Duke Point Ferry Terminal where some really large Nanaimo River Chinooks hold before entering
the river. Fifty pounders have been taken at Jack Point.

Vancouver Island kids have long known about another form of shore fishing that can occupy them for hours on end. Almost every dock, wharf
or marina on the coast harbours a summer population of fat perch – mostly shiners and pile perch. These fish can be much harder to catch than you would think but this seems to be about the best part of the attraction as you watch them mouth the bait then spit it out before you can set the hook. The tube worms and mussels on the floats work fine. Try almost any wharf or marina. My favourite is the Denman Island Wharf.

Perhaps my favourite form of shore fishing is prospecting the beaches, spits and estuaries with a fly rod or light spinning gear for sea run cutthroats. This is a fishery with a long tradition on our coast but it has suffered greatly over the years as logging, agriculture and urbanization have taken their toll of the small streams that are the primary habitat of these beautiful fish. Over fishing of both adults and young has also aided the decline. I once worked with Bud Smith, a wildlife technician with deep roots in Nanaimo. His grandfather was an early angler in the region and often told Bud about the great abundance of cutthroats in the local creeks. Nanaimo anglers of his day didn’t even bother with steelhead because the cutthroats were easily caught in great numbers in the local creeks like Chase River and Hong Kong Creek and nobody would think of fishing in the dark days of winter when the summer was so bountiful.  I caught a glimpse of what it might have been like back in early Nanaimo when I journeyed to the Queen Charlotte Islands around 1980 to do some work for a logging company. I had the chance to fish the estuary of a creek that flowed into Grey Bay. It wasn’t much of a creek or estuary and the water was almost black from twisting through cedar swamps but the fish were so plentiful that it was hard to believe. In one pool at the head of tide, I caught fifty – two cutthroats between one and two pounds, Funny though, I couldn’t really tell for certain  if the fish were stream residents that had dropped down to the estuary or sea fish that were moving in and out with the tide. I caught more fish at low tide.

The cutthroat numbers on Southeast Vancouver Island aren’t there these days but some fish are still around in most of their old haunts and things could get better. The regulations are much improved and the level of respect for cutthroats is way up. Almost every little stream has a stewardship group standing up for it (when I first came down to the coast, many little coho – cutthroat streams were simply unknown to the fisheries agencies and the public at large) and land use protection is at a much higher level than it was. The Riparian Areas Regulation (circa 2006) is a particularly useful tool for protecting urban streams. However, one large cloud on the horizon is the rapid rate of urbanization in some of the cutthroat strongholds like  Southeast Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and the Lower Fraser Valley. RAR and the ALR may not be enough to stem the tide of housing and pavement.

I hope that regional planning will also recognize the value of shore fishing to an ever increasing number of anglers and reserve the more popular sites from the onslaught of land development. Many good places have been needlessly impacted in the past. I`m thinking of places like the
Brickyard, Turgoose Point, Jackson`s Spit, Englishman River Spit, French Creek and Race Point. Even my little Cape Gurney has been infected by spreading suburbia and it is no longer possible to fish from shore there without trespassing through someone`s backyard. Unless the trend to move the city to the country is tempered, many more cherished shore fishing locales will be degraded or lost to suburban blight. Unless regional planning is able to recognize the difference between resource and real estate and institutes measures to protect the prime shore lands, the great fishing spots will eventually be lost to a jungle of suburbia and some of the very features that produce the desire to live by the sea will be degraded to a point where nobody can enjoy them – not even the real estate developers.

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