Honeymoon Adventure: the Fraser Valley and beyond

To celebrate our marriage, Alisha and I crossed the Rockies into lovely British Columbia. The idea was to have a hiking/photography trip and, of course, my plan was to nab as many west-coast species as I could during the two weeks.
 
After renting a car, our first stop was the town of Maple Ridge. The B&B had a nice stream running through the back of the property, and so on day #1 on cast #1 I brought to hand a lifer rainbow trout. Casts #2, #3, etc. resulted in the same and it was soon obvious that this particular stream was absolutely loaded with small rainbows. Though they were small, I was glad to tag a first one of these fish in a place where they actually belong. Hopes were high for a pikeminnow but it was not to be. 
 
 
The next morning we began a day hike in the nearby Golden Ears Provincial Park. This is a gem of a place with temporate rainforest ascending steep mountains, dotted with lakes and crisscrossed with streams.
 

Breathing coastal air by a deep cold lake put us at east almost instantly. 

 
 
Giant banana slugs. These were very common on the trails and were likely the reason we hardly saw any desirable mushrooms in a forest that looked like a shroomer's paradise.
 
 
The next day, we wanted to rent a canoe and explore the inaccessible east shoreline of one of the bigger lakes (and maybe, just maybe get a cutthroat trout in the process). At $35/hour, our plan quickly changed and we opted to go on another hike instead. We chose Mike Lake trail which, according to the map, surrounded the mountain pond that was Mike Lake. This was a bit of a letdown as the trail disappeared for large stretches at a time and the parts that were there were covered with bear shit. I did manage to poke my rod through the shoreline vegetation several times but was unsuccessful in tempting anything.
 
Next stop was Chilliwack. I had booked several days of guided sturgeon fishing on the Fraser River. The bite was off the whole time we were there as the river was too warm. It was so warm, in fact, that on the morning of our second day we were informed that the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans had temporarily closed all salmon fishing on the Lower Fraser to prevent C&R-induced deaths of the already stressed salmon. Apparently this happens there every once in a while and usually lasts only a few days. 
 
The salmon were there; however, as were the sturgeon. There is no way to really describes what goes through your head when a fish rises vertically out of the water up to its pectoral fins and you estimate that its head was twice the size of the engine box you're sitting on. Here there be monsters. 
 
Even though the fishing was less than spectacular, I was very happy to learn that the Fraser is to this day a free-flowing river. Didn't think southern Canada had a single large river left that still flowed in its natural state, so this was a nice surprise. 
 
The first fish had a 68" fork and took a piece of a dead chinook that came floating boatside. The second had 54" fork and ate a roe bag. 
 
 
There were a good number of these guys around as well. Pretty neat seeing harbour seals over 100 clicks up a river, but I guess they just follow the salmon.
 
Bait thievery was constant. In the shallow holes, pikeminnow were the main culprits while in the deeper sections I was told it was most likely mountain whitefish. Inquiries as to where/how to actually try and catch these fish were (as expected) met with weird looks. Whatever, where can I buy some worms?
 
And so, in the evening I ventured solo to the Vedder River -- a clear tributary of the Fraser. Total troutfest. I suppose rainbow trout in the BC lower mainland are like yellow perch here in Eastern Ontario. Absolutely everywhere and annoying as all hell when targetting anything that isn't them.
 
Finally I spotted something that wasn't a trout, hanging in a bit of slack water behind a log. It took the worm on the first drift.
 
Northern pikeminnow.
 
I spent the following evening and the morning after shore fishing the Fraser behind our B&B. Not a bad looking area, I think you'll all agree. The bites were pretty consistant. 
 
 
Prickly sculpin.
 
Peamouth.
 
 
Northern pikeminnow.
 
 
Leopard dace.
 
 
Gotta love it when evey single fish you're catching doesn't exist in your part of the world. It was surprising at how subtle the differences between the peamouth and pikeminnow were, but the mouth was definite giveaway.

Next we ferried to Vancouver Island and began the moutinous drive to Tofino. Along the way we made a pit stop at Cathedral Grove -- an ancient stretch of old growth forest. Big trees, big trees everywhere.

 

Situated on the western shore of the Island, Tofino is a community of ~2000 people, famous for it's surfing, food, and warm climate. Pretty amazing to see coconut and banana trees growing year-round in Canada. If I wasn't a winter lover, I could easily see myself living here. Spending the days hiking and island hopping via water taxi while observing various marine life, then beachcombing for sand dollars at low tide in the evening was something I could easily get used to. 

But make no mistake. This isn't just some sort of hippie paradise (which it is); angling opportunities abound. Coho salmon were crashing right in the surf and a few brave souls filled their limits by wading chest deep and chucking spoons. 

Hanging out at the local harbour, we saw locals bringing in their catches -- mostly salmon, lingcod, and halibut. Most cleaned their fish on the spot, and that is where I tried my luck.

Shiner perch.

Blue rockfish.

Casting a piece of herring a little further out I was rewarded with numerous pacific staghorn sculpin and copper rockfish. Most of these were coughing up salmon roe which they picked out of the recently discarded entrails. None of the sculpins vibrated, unfortunately. 

 

There were also needlefish here, but they wanted nothing to do with me. 

We headed for the east shore of Vancouver Island to Campbell River. Locally, this town is known as the 'salmon capital of the world'. I'm not sure how this slogan would hold up if anywhere north of Campbell River was compared to Campbell River, but I do know that the Campbell River was absolutely chocking with pink salmon. The local tackle dealer told me that pinks will hit anything pink and so following his advice I purchased a few pink rooster tails and buzz bombs. Two hours later, after not so much as a sniff on these fruity lures I tried various non-pink spinners and spoons I had brought with me. I was running out of things to try so I tied on a 1/2oz red and white shad dart -- a little souvenir from my June shad/broken car window excursion. On the second cast, the hit was brutal. Pinks are strong fish and this one took me for a good ride before being banked.

Lifer pink salmon.

The morning following we took a flying coffin to Knight Inlet Lodge. This is a former "men only" fishing lodge that the owner turned into a wildlife viewing headquarters. Luckily, they were more than willing to let guests fish from their docks. Luckier still, the Chef turned out to be an avid angler and was kind enough to give me the low down on water depths at different areas around the floating lodge. 

First light pinks were everywhere and hit anything on almost every cast. It was silly. A staff member who had the day off and was heading out on his boat asked me for this fish to use the belly meat as bait. 

A few hours later he brought this back with him.

First night I jigged up a pile of tomcod that were schooled up under the dock lamps. A few shiner perch made it into the mix as well. 

Skipping lunch the next day, I visited another dock that gave me access to ~100 feet of water at high tide. First fish was a whitespotted greenling. 

Then came a few dover sole and a rocksole.

On the last drop before I was due on a boat, I brought up a snake prickleback. Ok, who among you bear and cat experts has a decent marine fish field guide on hand? No one? Damn. I had to wait to get back to Ottawa to figure out what this fish was.

After dinner I was back on that dock like flies on poop. A few more rock sole came up and mixed in among them was a surprise english sole.

As the sun went down, the eelpout appeared. These things are worst than burbot when it comes to wrapping themselves around anything. I had to unwrarp most of them from around the line before I could unhook them. Cool fish nonetheless.

The next day the scenario repeated itself with me catching five more prickleback infront of our room.

Picking the Chef's brain a little more revealed the presence of cutthroat trout and a dolly varden. I thought for sure I had missed my chance at a cutty, but here they were. A small syclops at dawn proved to be the key and a few of these beauties came to hand. 

The sculpins didn't mind chasing down a spoon either.

I pilfered some salmon scraps from the kitched and cut them into strips. At dusk we parked ourselves on tip of the furthest dock and I patiently waited as the jig made the all too slow descent to the bottom. Salmon were topping everywhere. The air felt a little electric. 'Shit is going to happen, I just know it', I said to Alisha as the jig finally made contact. After several lifts, there was a good knock and the rod doubled. A few minutes and a lot of 'please don't be a sole' later, I was holding my first ever shark. A spiny dogfish!

Such beauties they are. Venemous spines and white dots and all. Two more followed as well as a breakoff and a biteoff. I had no wire leader so the hookset needed to be instantaneous to avoid the shark taking the jig past the teeth.

I giggled to myself at the idea of using something as revered as salmon for bait to catch something as locally despised as dogfish. 

Of course the fishing wasn't the real reason for us being there...

Getting to watch bears being bears was amazing.

Huge thanks to Ken for helping out with the IDs.

Cheers.

Species List: 
Peamouth
Dace, Leopard
Eelpout, Blackbelly
Perch, Shiner
Pikeminnow, Northern
Prickleback, Snake
Rockfish, Blue
Rockfish, Copper
Salmon, Pink
Sculpin, Pacific Staghorn
Sculpin, Prickly
Shark, Spiny Dogfish
Sole, Dover
Sole, English
Sole, Northern Rock
Sturgeon, White
Tomcod, Pacific
Trout, Cutthroat
Trout, Rainbow

Comments

Dr Flathead's picture

Wow, thats some fantastic looking area!  Very cool stuff...

andy's picture

Those sturgeon are awesome! So is everything else actually. Sounds like you had a cool trip,.thanks for sharing

Deftik's picture

Eli, your pictures are always NUTS. You and fellow site members continue raising the bar for spectactular pictures, fish, and narratives that set the precedent for me to strive for. The fish? Where do you even start Pikeminnows? White Sturgeon? All of the fish are mouth drool-ingly cool.

The scenery is almost comparable to the immaculate wildlife photos. I got half way through the text but i'm going to have to return to it tomorow, but this report its nuts. Keep up the good work man you definately have at least one fan...

Your momma fishes for lifers with Eagle Claws.
zippyFX's picture

Wow!

 

Congratulations on your nuptials! Alisha seemed to very patient about your fising on your celebration :)

 

You must be some sort of fish whisperer your catches and pictures are amazing!

 

 

Mike B's picture

Awesome that you got all the species you were after. Love all the guerrilla dock fishing. I imagine hardly anyone else which is why I've never seen a picture of a snake prickleback until now. BC rocks.

mike b

Jknuth's picture

HOLY!!!!  WOW!!

Awesome pictures to go with an awesome adventure.
Congratulations to you both. 
Thanks for putting this up. 

Corey's picture

Love the photos.  And the Spiny Dogfish is a fish I've read about since I was a little kid - a small shark that the locals kinda despised.  When I read about them as a kid in my fish-books, I thought ... if I ever had a chance at those guys, I would absolutely love catching them.  Kinda the precursor to the whole roughfish thing.  Kudos.

Graceclaw's picture

If you're ever in the Bremerton/Silverdale area of Washington State, my family can put you onto LOTS of them. I always targetted them when I was bored of catching flounder and sculpin (we called them bullheads growing up). Dogfish and Ratfish, though ratfish tend to be harder to track down.

Nice trip! It's cool that so many of the species I caught growing up are present near the Fraser, too (Not that it's surprising). Good work!

2018 Goals:
Quillback (Check)
Musky
10#+ Flathead Catfish
5 New Standard Species (Current Count: 6 - Check)

Gunnar's picture

Congratulations on all the fish and the marriage. You picked a patient woman with a hell of a long lens, both of which show you chose wisely.

Peamouth! Pikeminnow! Those would have been enough. Everything else is frosting on the (wedding) cake.

 

Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers: moxostoma.com


2018: 34 days, 39 species, 5 lifers. 2017: 49/52/14 2016: 48/33/5

Hengelaar's picture

Wow, dude.

So much fantasticness. The fish are awesome (PRICKLEBACK!), the trees, the country, the water, the sky, the animals (BEARS!!!!), and your lady's camera lense. Where can I find a girl with a camera lense like that? Just great and daybrightening all round. Thanks.

 

Oh, and bent lines and tight rods as well when you head to Yellowknife (ya bastid)...

Fishn sure is neat

Cast_and_Blast's picture

Nice variety of species.  Looks like a great time.  Thanks for sharing some cool pics.

Ali Iyoob's picture

Between the photography and the awesome species, looks like a little slice of heaven. 

Great report, man! The only time I spent on Vancouver Island, I was there without a rod. Wish that weren't the case now!
Spiny Dogfish was my first shark as well, but mine came from California. 

Gunnar's picture

My time on that island also was without fishing gear. I was an engineer (= diesel mechanic) on an environmentalist boat anchored for a few days in Clayoquot Sound. It was beautiful. Some locals provided fresh shellfish, crabs, fish, corn, etc., to us. Others threatened to kill us. No time to fish even if I'd had gear. But WOW was it beautiful.

Gotta go back.

 

Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers: moxostoma.com


2018: 34 days, 39 species, 5 lifers. 2017: 49/52/14 2016: 48/33/5