This past summer started off with one of the least amounts of sunshine on record. It wasn't until the latter part of July that we finally started to see our more normal summer like weather settle in. Thankfully from that point on the weather remained warm and dry until the middle of October. This past fall had to be one of the nicest I can remember. The fishing season had its ups and downs this past year. The winter fishery that runs from the start of the new year and into May was one that would have to place in the top ten. There were lots of feeder Chinook salmon around all winter long. The fishing was consistent, active and the fish caught were well above average for size. A high percentage were hatchery marked stocks which originate from south of the border. The US salmon hatchery program is doing a great job at stocking the ocean with millions of Chinook and Coho salmon.
The early spring halibut fishery was one that was best described as average. There were lots of halibut around and I think everyone caught what they wanted and needed. I'm giving the halibut season an average rating mainly because there were fewer large fish caught this past season. For most of us this is irrelevant as we know that the best fish to eat fall between 20 and 60 pounds anyway. The weather was also a bit of a factor with the spring and early summer being windier than in a normal year. This meant there were a few more days when you couldn't fish at all or the comfort level wasn't as good as it could have been.
The summer Chinook fishery was also best described as average overall. Again there were enough fish around to keep everyone happy but the size of fish was noticeably smaller this season. There were lots of fish in the teens and low twenties all summer long but fish over 30 pounds were very, very scarce. The smaller fish were not just being caught in Sooke as it was the same scenario coast wide. This appears to happen in cycles and we can only hope that next season will see a return to good numbers of larger fish being available. That is part of what makes sport fishing so appealing, never knowing for sure what might happen. In my mind I'm always two minutes away from the best fishing experience of my life.
Our best day of Chinook (spring) salmon fishing of this past season happened on August 24th. I had my website guru and friends out for a morning's fishing. I take Rob out every year when I can fit him in between bookings. We left the dock that morning at 6 AM and headed up to Muir Creek where I had been putting in some time the previous few days with mostly good results. We arrived at Muir by about 6:20 and had the gear in and fishing by 6:30. Before 9 AM we were heading back to the dock after landing 31, 21, 20, 20, 17, 16, 16 and 12-pound springs. We released two more 10-pound springs and lost another five to long-line releases. That was 15 springs hooked up on the gear in 2 1/2 hours of actual fishing time. That is called "on fire"!!
Another notable trip began on the afternoon of August 9th, a four-hour charter with Johnny and Jim from Vancouver. They caught a morning ferry over from the mainland and we departed the marina at 1pm again heading up to Muir Creek. The bite came on for us at about 2:30 that afternoon. Johnny and Jim played 3 double headers in a row!!! The first 2 fish were both landed and went 22 and 21 pounds. The gear was reset and only in the water long enough to get us back over the same spot when two rods went off again. Again both fish ended up on board and they went 29 and 27 pounds. We still had an hour left and decided to try and find a Coho or two before we called it a day. Again two rods popped off the riggers and they had two nice springs on the gear. This time after playing the fish for some time both fish shook the hooks and we never did get a good estimate of their size. Johnny and Jim had also already booked six hours of fishing for the next morning. So we met in the morning and went back up to Muir Creek. That produced 22 and 19 pound springs and another that we never got to see.
I have to tell one more story as this one involves yours truly. I got a call from my buddy and mechanic Ken who had two tickets for the "Bite Me Fishing Derby" given to him. He doesn't own a boat so his call was to query what I had going on for the weekend. It just happened that I was free Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. So we planned to meet Saturday afternoon after I finished my morning charter.
We left the dock at 1:30pm and headed up to Muir Creek. It was fairly slow, typical for a derby day! Most of the boats eventually moved off and left just us and one other boat in the area. That is when we hit a double. We only had two tickets so we were only fishing two rods. Both our fish came to the boat at about the same time and mine was in the low 30's and Ken's appeared to be in the low twenties.
I told Ken I wanted to net my own fish as I used to fish on my own a lot at one time. But before I could net the fish it took off again and buzzed out a bunch of line. I looked over and seen Ken's fish basically laying there so I put my rod back in the holder, grabbed the net and netted his fish. I handed him the net and said you deal with this I'm going back to my rod.
My fish was still running. I took a look at Ken's fish on the deck and noticed that it was a hatchery spring and there was a prize for the largest hatchery fish caught in the derby. I pointed that out to Ken and got a high five.
My fish then got really strong, too strong. I said to Ken that something wasn't right. This fish shouldn't be able to run this far and hard the second time. Sure enough just after those words were spoken up pops Mr. Sea Lion with my fish locked in his mouth.
Well, let's just say he won. The winning fish in the derby went 31 pounds and change. So we had a contender for first place so close. That was the only fish that I lost to a seal or sea lion all season in Sooke. Damn you, Murphy!!!
Sockeye numbers returning to the Fraser River were not sufficient enough this past summer to allow an opening for either the sport or commercial fisheries. Again these runs are cyclical with sizable swings in numbers both up and down. Hopefully next year is better and we get an opening.
Fall Coho fishing was off the charts!! One of the best ever. Not only was the fishing fantastic the seas and weather were too. The Coho followed the trend this season with fewer really large fish. I estimate that 14 to 15 pounds was the largest that one expected to see. Most seemed to fall between 7 and 12 pounds. Still nice fish with lots of action. It was common to hook up with 25 to 35 of these fish in a 6-hour outing. During this fall fishery we also got to enjoy the daily visits from a half dozen large Humpback Whales that were feeding in the area. How could it be any better? We had awesome fish action, flat calm water all day, hot and sunny weather and then the whales around us all day too.
In a couple of weeks (middle of November) we will be into another winter fishery. Early reports are very encouraging. There are already lots of really decent sized feeder springs being taken. It already looks like this winter will be a repeat of last season's great winter fishery.