DO I NEED A GUIDE? – SALMON FISHING GEAR & TECHNIQUE
This is one of the most common questions that we get when people are researching about salmon fishing trips in BC. Most of our guests are successful on their own with our training & mentoring. We do daily seminars, the technique is easy to master & the fishing is nearby the lodge in calm waters. However, booking a guide for part or all of your trip will certainly accelerate your understanding of how to be to successful catching BC salmon.
Here is what actually transpires on your arrival day. After a spectacular 90-min direct seaplane flight from Vancouver BC, you land right on the water at our floating fishing lodge & are greeted at the by our enthusiastic staff. After check-in, registration & lunch, you immediately take part in a mandatory intensive 1-hour fishing, boating, safety & fish conservation seminar. You will be “checked-out” on the equipment & gear before you head out in your assigned boat to the nearby fishing grounds, which are some of the best salmon fishing spots in BC. Of particular importance is a basic understanding of how to operate the rod & reel, use the downrigger, run the boat, & an understanding of the operation of the sounder/GPS & radio. Also important is knowledge of the local area, where to fish for salmon, species identification & salmon catch limits in BC. However, we spend extra time when needed with each individual guest to make sure that you are an expert at operating the rod & reel, tying that crucial fisherman’s knot & using that downrigger, which are the most crucial components to master for success. Oh & the netting. At the end of the day, it is just a big salmon lottery out there & you have a ticket just by being there with your line in the water at one of the best salmon fishing spots in BC. All you need for survive are these basic skills, & of course some good old fashioned luck. You do not want to be “that guy” who hooks into a monster trophy salmon, but due to your lack of skill & attention to detail, you lose the 50 lb. fish of a lifetime in the middle of fight because of a bad knot, bad technique, or both!
The 2 basic skill sets that you need to master are:
The most important part is proper operation & maintenance of the fishing tackle & gear. This goes from the hook all the way back to the spool of monofilament mainline on the reel & everything in between. The first thing you do when you step into your assigned boat is take your rod & reel out of the holder & thoroughly inspect it. We have literally hundreds of rods at the lodge & you only need to be responsible for one of them. If you start your trip with us with this kind of discipline & attention to the details, you will be successful. First, simply look at the line on the reel & make sure it tight & uniformly wound on the spool. We use single action saltwater fly reels with no level wind mechanism so the position of the line as it coils on & off the spool is not automatic. Often when the line is retrieved back, there is no pressure on the gear so it can tend to spool loosely on the reel with loops of line forming. This is potentially dangerous as when you are in the midst of fighting a fish & it takes a big run, a hidden loop of line could jump out of the reel, wind around one of the spinning handles & snap the line. When retrieving the line not under load (ie. not enough weight or resistance to bend the rod tip) you need to run the line through your fingers to put pressure on the line as you retrieve it & make sure it spools neatly & uniformly on the reel. To avoid this potential peril, you need to keep an eye on where your line is on the spool at all times & make sure it doesn’t bunch up on one side of the reel. The second potential issue is the integrity of the monofilament mainline. You can quickly see the condition of the line as you strip out a few feet. It should hang down in the air straight or only loop loosely. If the line has tight circles like a pig’s tail, then you need to strip back the mainline until you get to some clean fresh line that is not all curled up & hangs fairly straight. This curling up of the line is evidence of stress & fatigue cause by the rotation of the terminal tackle as you drag your gear through the water at 3 knots with a 10 lb. downrigger ball. There is lots of line on our reels & we are constantly stripping back to get to the freshest, smoothest, cleanest unused line with the fewest kinks & burrs & the greatest elasticity. Regularly & at any & every opportunity, you need to physically inspect the line by constantly running your fingers up & down the line trying to feel for burrs, nicks & any inconsistencies. These will be weak points where the line can possibly break so they need to be repaired & those sections retied & replaced immediately. All of this happens with the fisherman’s knot. This is the most important skill that you 100 % need to master early on in your trip. Quickly & efficiently tying fishing knots it is key to being able to constantly replace & retie your tackle to keep your gear at maximum strength & “catchability’. The best kept gear with the sharpest hooks & the strongest knots catches the most fish. End of the story. And it is one thing to be able to efficiently re-tie your tackle when you are comfortably tied up to the dock in the tranquility of Sportsman’s Bay. It is quite another to be out there on the high seas bouncing around while skippering your own boat & still trying to keep the fishing tackle up to the level of excellence that it needs to be. You need to be constantly inspecting your own work by continuously running your fingers up & down the line looking for imperfections whenever you can & continuously testing the strength of your knots by pulling them really hard. Better to hear that painful snap of the line breaking while it is in your hand rather than after it had a big fish at the end of it that just broke the line & is now swimming slowly away as it tired & was almost ready to net.
And I am not talking about what to do with the boat or the tackle or anything else to do with the experience here. I am just referring to learning the simple operation of the rod & reel so that it becomes second nature, like an extension of your arms! We use a single action saltwater fly reel with no free spooling centre hub on a 10 ½ ft limber tip “mooching” style rod. What this means is that you need to keep your tip high up in the air & your hands away from the handles when they spin. Sounds like a simple enough concept, but we are often surprised at how little time is spent perfecting this rod & reel technique so that you can be flawless in the heat of the moment. The goal is to keep the perfect bend in the rod so that you have just the right amount of pressure on the fish at all times. Not too much pressure so that the resistance could possibly snap the line, but not too little either, as you need to keep the pressure on & make the fish work for the line to tire it out. Not enough resistance is just as bad as if the fish gets slack line & the pressure comes of the rod tip, the barbless hooks can easily release. Resistance is applied by slowly & steadily putting pressure with your hand & fingers on the outer edge of the reel. What you are doing is slightly impeding the rotation of the reel while it is spinning as the fish runs & the line goes out. The key is to avoid letting the handles hit your fingers when they spin hence the reel’s nick name the “knuckle buster”. Or worse, you put too much pressure on the reel as the fish runs & the line breaks, or more accurately you break the line! To be clear, the line does not break itself much to our guest’s dismay. The key is to keep the rod tip up as high as possible so that you can see the pressure that is on the line & thus bending the rod tip. You quickly learn that you can see the fish run away or turn toward you by the amount of bend on the rod tip. And if your rod tip is held high, you can see this happen a crucial second or so before you feel the pressure in your hands & on the line & fish. This is a crucial second. It is all very visual so when the tip of the rod is down in the water you don’t see the bend get more or less clearly indicting the changes in the fish behavior. You can get caught with the rod tip too low & as the fish runs & you don’t get the visual cue of the rod tip bending before there is full pressure on your gear. It can all be over is a split second, snap … gone. Again, this skill of keeping your rod tip up & the perfect bend which results in just the right amount of pressure on the fish can be practised on the dock so that it becomes second nature. Invest the time in yourself for success. This is because what happens out on the water with you & your fishing partner in the heat of the moment is quite another story. When you get a fish on the line you & your fishing partner need to spring into action instantly with a flurry of required activity to keep the fish on that is a bit like a “fire drill”. Most important is that the angler only concentrates on the fish he is fighting & the other person in the boat does everything else. This is the moment when you might wish you had a guide, but really it is quite simple if you are trained & prepared. First thing is to get the boat & remaining fishing gear on board & under control. If it is a big fish, you need to identify to any other nearby boats that you have a fish on that you can’t control & are just following so that they don’t come too close & get tangled up in your gear. You can make lots of mistakes & learn bad habits with smaller fish but if it is a BIG one you had better be ready for the ensuing chaos & mayhem & be in your best form. Or at the very least just keep you tip up & react to what the fish is doing. We are catching big salmon on light tackle, so we don’t put excessive pressure on the fish & try to turn them like in other game fishing. Our concept is to let the fish run, keep the perfect amount of pressure on the fish with the rod tip high & the right bend in the tip & you simply follow it with the boat. There is lots of line on our reels so you can just let it run & not fear running out of line. Typically, the Chinook salmon at first will take a big, long run straight down & dive deep, then come to the surface way off in the distance & then turn right back around & come straight at the boat. So besides other boats & not having the right amount of pressure on the fish, your next biggest danger out there is your own boat & motor so stay near the mid-ship to bow area as much as possible. The next hazard is the rocks & kelp beds as the smart big salmon often head straight back to the safety of this structure along the shoreline to hide. The only way to combat this behavior is by heading back in toward the shore before the salmon gets there & cutting them off & leading them back offshore to the safety (for the angler) of open water. I have lost many big salmon in the kelp beds over the years where they did not cooperate & after some fruitless kelp cutting to try & clean it off the line, they got away. Battles with these giant salmon can often last for hours & can lead you off shore as you chase them down & attempt to tire them out. We always say, just let it run!
NETTING YOUR CATCH
Finally, the last really skilled part of this experience that you can practice & rehearse on your own is the netting. Often anglers will attempt to net a fish that is not completely tired, still fighting hard & is “green”. Unfortunately, many fish are lost right next to the boat as the fish suddenly gets a 2nd (or 3rd/4th) wind & takes another big run & catches the anglers off guard. The angler panics as he sees the fish starting to show signs of tiring & then it does another unexpected run & in their eagerness & enthusiasm they clamp down on the reel & stop the line running out & then there is that SNAP! You will re-live this tragic moment forever & actually remember “the one that got away” more than the many fish that you have successfully caught & eaten. Worse, this is the moment that you could have trained for & avoided! Netting should only be attempted when the fish is completely exhausted & is almost dead on the surface & it literally rolls over on its side. You often only get one good clean chance to net a big fish. The angler needs to get the fish perfectly positioned for netting by leading the fish, with just the right amount of pressure on the rod, headfirst right along the boat into the netting zone. At any moment in this process, the fish could wake up & suddenly head straight back down doing its hardest run yet. You have to be ready for this at all times, hence training so that it instinctive. Also, you NEVER leave the net sitting in the water & try & herd or corral the fish into it. If you have the net, or even part of it is dangling in the water & your fish makes a sudden, unexpected move or turn, the hooks can get caught in the mesh of the net & in an instant it will break the line & be gone. Instead, you make a precise maneuver with the bag of the net held taut with your fingers to control it & scoop the fish headfirst into the net, release the bag (so that it is not a tennis racket) & then you pull the net straight up & then back to close it. You have it “bagged” at this point, but there is still that final move to hoist it over the gunwale & “land it” on the floor of the boat. If you have been diligent with your technique & kept your eyes on your rod tip only, this should really be your first good look at your catch. As you see, hear, feel & smell (yes Chinook salmon have a distinctive smell) your success at your feet & it is hoots & hollers & high fives all around in this magic moment! If you do want or prefer a guide for all or part of your trip, you’ll need to book this in advance as guiding will typically be sold out once you arrive.