Monday, September 2, 2013

Bait on the Fly

Bait on the fly

I enjoy fly fishing immensely, in fact you might say I sort of live and breathe it. When I’m fly fishing I’m focused and singularly lost in the action and am alive as the ancestors must have been, existing moment by moment with little thought for future and holding onto experience only as a past.

Beats the hell out of mortgage, kids’ secondary education, and who keeps leaving the toilet paper roll empty? While we are at it, who left the lid on loose for the salad dressing anyway?!?!??
Life gets ‘interesting’ doesn't it? Guess what I’m saying is fishing sort of turns the world off and allows me to become one with the universe. As best I know how anyways.

This doesn't apply exclusively to fly fishing either; I am also a big sturgeon fisher living 10 minutes from a launch on the Fraser River. If you've never tried sturgeon fishing it’s much like (as a buddy described it once I’d gotten him hooked up a few times) latching onto a plow horse and having somebody slap it’s behind and holler “Giddy-up”. Then you try and stop it with rod and line with drag set tight enough to pull a large boat sideways in the current of the mighty Fraser.

Now there is a fishery that allows me to combine my love of both fishing the fly as well as dropping goo for the dinosaurs.


OK, here is my take on pink salmon. I really enjoy them for the table but they have to be chrome for me to retain them. The answer to this comes in the Fraser River just outside my door. Before they reach fresh water in the brackish Fraser, the Pink Salmon are chrome as one could wish. Most males haven’t even gotten much of a hump early in the season while the females are still plump with roe.
My goal is to fish for a limit of these wonderful game fish with a fly rod, retain a couple of females hopefully, and use the roe and belly flaps to, you guessed it fish for sturgeon for the rest of the day. If I only bang males then heads, gills, tails and entrails of cleaned fish as well as any belly flap I prefer to remove.

Remember one must leave the waters and clean fish at home if they have to remove heads/tails of their catch as per regulation. This of course is for species ID if a Conservation Officer wants to review your catch and/or retention/quota(s). Roe of course can be removed and bagged up in nylon as soon as the fish are cleaned and deployed as sturgeon bait. One can also remove any belly flap (scissors work the best) and use that right on the hook – just leave the fish intact with regards to head and tail.

I enjoy Pink salmon fresh and baked on a BBQ or in the oven in tin foil. Many seem to like them smoked but myself I love them fresh from the river. Scaling, gill removal, and cleaning should take place as soon as the priest is deployed for the best table fare. Follow this by a really good packing with ice both in the body cavity and between/around individual fish, and your BBQ will be simmering with one of the best Pacific salmon for the table available.

Visibility is a very key part of salmon fly fishing in the “Muddy Fraser” and thankfully when the salmon enter the river this takes care of itself as the water will have dropped with all the snow fall of the previous winter having melted away. This is for the most part is true but be prepared for low visibility if any summer storms have recently blown through both the LML and/or the interior, this will colour up the waters but will clear quickly as better weather returns. It can take from a single day to return clarity, on up to a week, depending upon the size, length, and fury of any weather moving through. Keep an eye to the Weather Network for cues and clues – it really helps with planning for a successful outing.
As we are talking the tidal waters of the river, "tidal" should really be taken into consideration when planning an outing. No matter the species when tides are involved chances are the fish you are after will relate to that ebb and flow in a predictable manner which can in many cases give better odds of putting fish on the end of your line.
For salmon fishing in general high slack and an hour on either side is about the best time to be fishing. In the river the pinks seem to start milling around rather than swarming up river en-mass and as such seem to be far amicable to taking an offering. The hours or so before and after this can be good as well, of course getting better and poorer as the cycle comes and goes. The next best but far inferior time is low slack tide which again promotes the milling around behavior, just not as many fish make it up as with the push of the incoming tide and as such the percentage of you hooking up goes down proportionately.
Areas - historically the south side of the river sees the majority of the fish traffic and as such starting there is a good bet. Finding things like islands with shallow passages on the inside that reveal themselves with tide changes are good to stack fish in low tides and sand bars that appear in low tides can be great spots to target fish on incoming flood waters - the up coming bottom bunches migrating fish tighter losing it's depth and putting more fish in the top part of the water where the fly is most effective. The fly relies mostly upon sight. Fishing deep in 3' of vis is pretty much pointless in my opinion. 3' will give you a silhouette at about 6' down viewed from below is my estimation, after that it's a lost cause.
Fish moving and rolling fish. Fish areas you have caught them in before even if they aren't showing, showing isn't a rule. Pinks will move for a fly, especially if one of their buddies see it first numbers put things in your favor. This is true of most salmon and I say this a lot but when the quarry isn't feeding you must adapt and take advantage of it's other instincts like eating something for the simple reason your buddy wants it.

You will encounter First Nations and Commercial nets in the Fraser river depending upon openings. Please give them a wide berth and avoid anchoring up in drift zones. They are making a living on the river, you are out for pleasure - remember that and have respect for your fellow users.

It is also prudent to keep in mind the Mighty Fraser is also a working river, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and there are boats and barges of all sizes as well as log booms moving up and down the river towed and kept in check by tugs, some of incredible size. Don't be in the way be smart, keep your eyes open and yield to anything that is bigger than your craft.

For pink and most other salmon I prefer to use a 7wt fly rod though a 6 or even a 5 could and would do the job fine for pinks. Since I fish in a boat for the most part, lifting them to the net can be a problem over pulling them up into the shallows, in deeper water they just don’t seem to want to quit. In fact 2 years ago I broke my 6 wt figuring I could just lift one when I was ready and the fish was not – wrong. *snap*
For lines I use either a full slime line, or the 40+ combined with a beaded fly. These are personal preferences only as various sink tips in various weights will also have good success along with full sinkers. In the boat all lines apply while the slower sinkers can and are better from shore as the swing will take you into shallower water which is often full of stuff that will take the fly off your tippet if you let it come in too close or ‘hang down’ too long. 6 to 8’ of 6 to 10lb mono as a leader is all I’ve found needed, tapered and longer leaders just end up being a pain in the wind (and the ass) you often encounter in open water fishing. Flies I prefer (but not limit myself to) trout hooks as when the inevitable snag comes, and it will right when you are on the last pattern that seems to turn the trick with fish splashing and cavorting all around, a trout hook will tend to straighten and give you a chance to reshape it. That way you’ll be able to keep up with the partner.

Now pinks can and are caught by ‘bank maggots’ all the time and please don’t let having a boat or not keep you from fishing for them. They tend to move quite close in and will readily take a fly – even a couple of feet from shore. I have a boat and as such I use it, but I also have had stellar success from shore or off log booms.

*** Do NOT walk on log booms that are not firmly on the ground in a tide out situation, they can roll and have one falling between the logs or crush parts of your anatomy with water movement. The key IS to take care and watch for incoming tide which will have the logs floating and dangerous once more. Use CARE and CAUTION and if you are unsure, stay off of them entirely. The actual fact is they are private property and one can get fined for trespassing. ***

In my experience fly selection for this fishery is a bit different than one might think. I tend to lean towards smaller patterns in 10s and 12s. This is not to say you won’t have success with larger and bulkier patterns at all. Though confounding and slightly inexplicable in the limited visibility the Fraser affords, (1 to 3’) the smaller sparser patterns seem to be found and taken. How or why that is I couldn’t tell you, but sure as shootin’ if I’m having a good day it’s a smaller fly that’s taggin’ and baggin’ ‘em.

The kill pattern seems to reveal itself yearly (like most salmon fisheries each year brings what seems to be the killer for that species but often those flies seem to never work as good again??) but most of the patterns I lean towards have a base of silver in them and most salmon flies I tie tend to have silver beads. Mylar is a great material for a slim body.
Punctuate the silver with pink shades. I say punctuate because for my Fraser flies, dressing would be an over exaggeration. I’m not going to inundate you with fly patterns here, just sort of give you a feel for what has worked well for me. One that seems to work every year (and on pretty much all species) is the Gold and Silver pattern, it’s already in the Fly of the Month section of this blog.  There are various flies that have worked well over the years for me and they are all sparse, suggestive of colour, and have a hook in them. That’s it. Other patterns will work; bigger flies will too, some with long complicated recipes that require history lessons and 4 trips to the fly shop to recreate.

Mine don’t.

Have fun with this and check out “Bait on the Fly II” when I wrestle it out of this computer shortly here.


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