The Guides View Early Season
Salmon on Vancouver Island's West Coast
By Jason Mohl
The dense ball of baitfish clouded the sonar screen, marking from
ninety feet down to the oceans floor. The impulsive reaction to glance
immediately at the rod tips was followed by the predictable downward
thump of the port side rod. As my frequent early season clients started
to banter about whose arms needed more rest, I watched the second
rod tip dive below the surface. For the next fifteen minutes, I felt
the contentment that most guides would, listening to the laughter
of my happy clients and hearing the sweet screaming sound of line
peeling from the glistening gold of my Islander mooching reels.
Salmon fishing during the early part of the season on Vancouver Island's
West Coast could easily be labeled in a variety of terms, but the
word predictable most often comes to mind.
It is no big secret in the vast world of sport fishing that if you
know your target species, where and when that species will be, and
what their main source of food is, your efforts will be consistently
rewarded with an increasingly predictable edge. Pacific Salmon species
are definitely no exception to this formula, especially during the
early stages of the season when initial migration urges are juxtaposed
with voracious feeding habits.
Early season Salmon opportunities on the West coast are primarily
focused on Chinook, with Coho Salmon adding some diversity, often
by the middle of June. Usually by early to mid. April, the weather
conditions become more of a reliable factor, coinciding with the first
runs of transient Chinook Salmon that are slowly en-route down the
coast to their natal streams. It is this same stage in the Salmon
life cycle that makes them somewhat vulnerable and predictable, as
they have one main activity that dictates where they will be and for
how long. Feeding on a variety of the oceans offerings and the abundance,
or lack of these food sources, will encourage the early season Salmon
to remain in one area, feeding for many tides, or to move with their
A variety of angling methods, gear types and techniques will produce
fish at this time of the year, but from my experience, the following
details will help ensure successful outings.
Locating baitfish is extremely important. This requires the help of
a good sonar unit that shows the depth and density of the bait source,
along with the potential of seeing the Salmon in and around the bait.
Main food sources include Herring, Needlefish, Squid and Pacific Sardines
(Pilchard). Becoming more knowledgeable about the sizes and actions
of these specific baits is a definite asset.
Knowing what type of bottom structure you are fishing around is also
very important. I have been using the new Lowrance lcX-15ct with full
color sonar, GPS mapping and duel frequency transducer to confidently
help me know exactly where I am and what is under my boat. For this
type of fishing, it is an indispensable item to have onboard.
Unquestionably, the most productive fishing method is trolling, and
downriggers are a must, as the majority of early season Salmon are
within 30 feet of the bottom. My Scotty downriggers are definitely
a vital piece of equipment that helps me present my gear at the proper
depths. An item that most guides swear by, but don't often talk about
is the Black Box, also made by Scotty. I strongly suggest looking
into it or ask your local tackle retailer for details.
Medium power Trolling/Mooching rods between 9 and 10 ½ feet
are most common. The Sage 4110 or 3106, G-Loomis 1265, Berkeley Roughneck
or the Shimano Convergence series all fish well, along with reels
that are loaded with 30lb. Test line. My preferred reels would be
the single action Islander MR-2 or Shimano 2000GT. Not as interactive,
but commonly used are level wind reels that enable anglers to retrieve
line faster while utilizing a drag system that won't "bust your
Knuckles". Recommended level wind reels are the silky smooth
Ambassadeur SX 7700 CL or the Penn 310 and 320GTi.
Trolling speed and depth are major factors, but for early season Salmon
off of Vancouver Island's West Coast, work your gear just under or
through any available baitfish. Otherwise, remember slow and deep.
Possibly the most important factor that will dictate the difference
between a successful trip and just soaking bait, would be the "essential
There is a lot of gear on the market, with new items each year that
will continuously catch more fishermen than fish. Granted, these pieces
will periodically fool Salmon that are aggressively feeding, but so
will a bare hook. Being persistent with gear that has been proven
a reliable producer definitely holds merit over the "tackle box
guessing game". I'm not advising anglers to stay narrow minded
or not to experiment, but to consistently produce Salmon like the
best Guides, you need to read the water conditions and confidently
fish the proven gear that suits these conditions. Did I mention that
not all proven gear is general public knowledge?
Some items of terminal tackle that are a must have, and best fished
to suit specific conditions. For early mornings, overcast days or
dark water conditions, Purple Glow, Red Glow or Red Stryper Flashers
can really light things up when necessary. The most productive and
effective piece of gear for Salmon at this time is an Anchovies rigged
in a teaser head 6-8 feet behind your flasher. Glow Green, Chartreuse
and Army Truck heads are all essential. My lures of choice would be
3 ½ or 4 inch Army Truck or Glow Green 50/50 Coyote Spoons
from Luhr Jensen. Four inch Glow Green Gasoline or Army Truck Needlefish
and Octopus hoochies, tied with tandem 3/0 - 4/0 Gamakatsu Hooks will
usually get the Slabs salivating. I tie the Spoons approximately 48
inches behind the flasher, and hoochie tails are preferred at 39-42
When water conditions are clear, or the sun is bright overhead, your
gear selection should change accordingly. Blades in Purple/Silver,
Blue/Silver, Purple/Gold, and the Coho Special series from Oki are
all a must have. Teaser heads in Chartreuse, Clear and the new chrome
series from Rhys-Davis should be down on one side of your boat at
all times. Coyote Spoons in sizes 3 to 3 ½ inch should include
Watermelon, Silver/Prism, Army-Truck and 50/50. The 4 inch Gibbs Gators
as well as the smaller "Krippled K" should not be overlooked.
We should always remember the two pieces of gear that were the main
stay for Commercial fishermen for many years past. Tomic Plugs and
large spoons continue to produce phenomenal results without the drag
of flashers, offering a somewhat lighter tackle option. Stock your
tackle box with 4-6 inch Tomics #602, #700 and #232 as well as 50/50
Diamond Lance, P2B and 6 inch Gator spoons from Gibbs.
Some small tips that have proven helpful and effective for guides
in the past, could be applied to your next outing with surprising
results. I'm a believer in adding stick on eyes to my teaser heads
and some spoons. Try coating these same heads and spoons with clear
nail polish hardener. This helps protect the factory color of your
gear, while providing a wet look that fish don't mind at all. When
the bite is off, try shortening your leaders so the flasher whips
your lure in a more erratic fashion. The use of various scents should
not be overlooked as a little extra "stink" has proven the
difference for me more than once, though I don't use it on natural
baits like Herring and Anchovies. Remember to always rinse your rods,
reels and gear with fresh water, promoting more fishing time and less
time and money spent on repairs and maintenance.
The early inshore Coho fishery that increases by June should not be
overlooked, as this is the start of some great light tackle action,
particularly for the growing ranks of Saltwater fly fishermen.
This fantastic growth fishery has to be experienced to fully understand
the addictive rush of an ocean bright Salmon slamming your fly and
running down to your backing in mere seconds. The light line give
and take that ensues is definitely one of Salmon fishing's optimum
challenges. A 7 weight rod with intermediate to medium sink rate sinking
tip lines will handle most early season fly fishing situations. You
can rely on small Shrimp and streamer patterns in oranges, pinks and
reds to attract and produce.
Please remember that in this day and age of necessary conservation,
the old adage of "Catch your limit, but limit your Catch"
has never been more relevant. Please practice careful catch and release.
The early season on Vancouver Islands West Coast is undoubtedly a
prime time for Salmon opportunities, especially when you apply some
of the above factors, giving you that "predictable edge".
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Jay Mohl-Clayoquot Ventures
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