When I first got back to the mainland, my fishing bug had severely diminished. There’s definitely a much more limited selection of fisheries available, and I tend to lose my drive as soon as there are crowds involved. Fishing so much throughout the winter tends to burn me out too. It wasn’t until my work had gone to a 7 on and 7 off shift (due to Covid-19) that I finally got the fishing itch a little bit on my long stretches of days off.
I only had two days left for one of my favourite fishing systems before it closed, so that was my first choice. I called up a buddy, and the next day we met up at the river. We took two separate cars (social distancing measures), and it felt really weird, being that we are often carpooling when we can. The one advantage was gas at this point in time was cheap (down to 76 cents a litre!).
We arrived at the river and fished a ton of water, focusing on the lower river first. The water was absolutely mint, but we fished through 4 runs without a tug at all. It was strange to see this stretch so absent of life – typically at this time of year, you’ll often find fresh spring run fish on the water bumps. We finally get to the last run that Joe calls the “Redemption run.” He was kind enough to let me go first through with metal, and he followed up behind me with a fly. In a true testament to show that the fly isn’t always a “starvation stick,” Joe managed to peg a beautiful doe behind me in really shallow, slow edge water that my spoon couldn’t effectively fish.
After his fish, we decided to start up at the top of the run again. Half way through our second pass, I managed to connect on a savage spoon grab. The equally nice buck took me for quite a ride before finally tossing the hook. That was the only action of the day for the first trip out, and the second day wasn’t much better with only a couple fish lost. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be my 20th river of the year for 2020.
Next up was my final goal for the year: to finish off brood collection for one of my favourite canyonous mainland rivers. Each year it seems we are scrounging for a buck or two late in the season – for whatever reason, we always seem to get a 5 to 1 doe ratio here. Sam and I elect to start in an easy section first before venturing deeper into the canyon. This spot only has a couple of runs, but at least one of them is normally good for a fish. We fish through the first two, and head to the third without luck. Fishing multiple spots in this system without luck seems normal – you’ll often have to hit a dozen or more spots before finding the one or two runs that are stacked. The issue is that every run is nice, and each one often holds fish, so you really need to put a lot of work in each day to find where they are all holed up.
The third hole just so happened to be where the fish had decided to hang out on this day. We fished it a good 10 minutes without anything before deciding to max out our float depths to well over 10 feet deep to dredge the run for a couple casts. Sam hooked up first time through with a sweet little doe. She was super hot, and managed to break him off just before tailing. I put the net back down as he re-rigged and my second cast out, I too connected with a little doe that ended up in the tube. Right after Sam had gotten rigged back up, he got another nice little doe into the bag. As precaution to not lose the fish, I elected not to take snap shots of them before going into the tube. This picture of the tube lying in the water will have to do for my 20th river of 2020!
After tubing those does (which we didn’t really “need”, but we were still 3 does off our brood target, so we took them anyway), we were now really desperate for a couple of bucks to pair with them. Luckily for us, the very next run resulted in me missing a fish. It’s a good thing I had an even better angler along to clean up my losses – Sam managed to hook what we think was the same fish (same spot), and the first buck of the day was in the bag! We continued up to the next run and saw another buck and doe in the tail out, but only managed to get the doe to bite before spooking the buck off (that doe was also lost).
We decide to try one more run for the day downriver. It wasn’t long before Sam had another fish hooked up and landed – another doe, but this one was nice and rosy, so we took her as well. A note about brood angling – you actually WANT to catch darker fish. The closer they are to spawning the better – it means we can pair up spawn dates closer to earlier caught fish (which means eggs hatch closer together, and means that there is less size variation for grouping all the juveniles together later in the spring). Closer to spawning also means less time in holding at the hatchery for the adults. Not long after Sams doe, I hooked up a buck in the tail out on a swung spoon that I ended up losing. After that, we decided that 4 fish was good enough for the day, and knew that the work of hiking these things out of the canyon was only just about to begin:
We eventually got both of those upriver fish to the car and into the cooler, and headed back down for the other two does that we had tubed in the morning. I was stumped to find the tube empty of fish upon our arrival. After a bit of inspection though, we found that the fish had hammered the mesh end of the tube hard enough to break the stitching, and both had escaped. In the end, it was probably a good thing though, two fish in this cooler was probably already pushing it for the 20 minute drive back down gravel to the hatchery:
Since we had lost those two tubed fish, there was still incentive for us to get back out there. Sam had gone out with another brood angler once more in between and had gotten another buck and a doe, but we still needed another buck badly before the does in holding ripened. The next seven days off, I planned to do a couple more days out there. Sam and I arrived at the river early in the morning on my first day off and fished through five of the “give me” runs. We were now on the 8th run, and I had peeled off ahead of Sam with metal to quickly cover water. I often employ this strategy. These spring run fish tend to school up, so where there’s one, there’s often more. There is almost always at least one in the school angry enough to go after metal to give the rest of them away. We had been having a tough time finding fish today, so I had just gotten to the point that I was ready to run and gun to try and find an aggressive one. I was now way back in the long run, in a place where I had never caught one (and somewhere where I typically never fish). I’ve learnt over the years that you can’t fish far enough back in runs, especially with a swung spoon. Being that metal is so quick, I often tend to fish more water that I normally wouldn’t try. I decided on three more casts since I was still waiting for Sam to catch up. I took the first cast without action, took my 5 steps, and the repeated my cast. Half way through the swing I was met with an unmistakable grab. I went through again for nothing. I back tracked and went through again. Still nothing. I went even further back up and fished the last 10 casts all over again, all the way through to the shallow tail out and whitewater spill over, and still nothing. At this point I went over to shore and put my spoon rod down and grabbed my float rod. I was sure that was a fish, and I knew almost exactly where it was (based on where I had the grab). Just as I start putting together my float rod, Sam comes down. As I bait up, I explain to him I just missed one. I cast out, and he cast out not more than 30 seconds later. My float comes up on where I missed the spoon grab and it drains hard. I reel down, set hard and get a great hookup. One, two, three flashes, a short run and a top water boil and it’s gone. Meanwhile, Sam’s float has been slowly meandering its way down to where I had just lost the fish. As he comes up on the rock, his float goes down too. Right off the initial flash it was evident his was quite a bit bigger than the one I had just lost. It was a hot fish that ended up taking us quite a ways down the rapids. We eventually landed it, and breathed a sigh of relief. Finally another buck in hand.
That was unfortunately the only fish of the day. Time was winding down for the hatchery to collect fish (the does in holding were getting close to ready). Kitty and I ended up going out to give it one last ditch effort before the deadline to stop brood collection. At this point, we had a suitable number of bucks to does, but it’s always better to have an extra buck or two in case one isn’t ready at the time that the spawning occurs. Kitty and I didn’t have much time to fish the day we went out – only time for one stretch of river. Our very first run, maybe five casts in, Kitty gets a solid float down. We weren’t entirely sure if it was bottom or not (we were fishing deep), but it looked pretty fishy, and it was in the right spot, so we pressed on. Kitty’s determination to flog every inch of the run finally paid off, and she was rewarded with a nice little doe. Strangely enough, it wanted her pink worm rather than my nice roe? Most years, Kitty is on the island teaching at this point, but due to Covid, she was teaching electronically from home. This allowed her to actually come back home with me to the mainland much earlier than normal. Before this day, Kitty had actually never had the opportunity to fish this river with me for winter runs, so it’s another brand new one checked off the list for her! What an incredible season for Kitty – 11 rivers so far and 7 have been brand new!
The next run down resulted in me getting yet another doe, which we released as well. As I said earlier in this blog post, bucks are incredibly hard to find here. We’ve been lucky this year to get just the right number that was required to finish off our brood. It’s actually the first time in a decade that we’ve achieved brood targets for this particular system – something that is worth celebrating! Even if today’s fish was the last of the season for me (it was definitely getting late), I would end it on a happy note. For the second time in four years, I was able to tail fish out of 20 different rivers, and I managed to have a small positive impact on fish stocks to end it on my 20th flow with some brood stock fish for the hatchery program. Hopefully 2023 will see some great numbers on this system as a result!