The 2015 summer season will be remembered for being dry, sunny and warm through the entire summer months. Along with the great weather we had very little wind and only a handful of foggy days. It also offered up well above average numbers of mature Chinook salmon passing through our local waters on their spawning migrations. Visitors from below the border also enjoyed the start of a monetary exchange rate discount as the Canadian dollar slipped in strength against the US dollar. This slippage of the Canadian dollar has continued and as of the end of the year there is now a 38% discount for visiting anglers from the US.
There were some larger Chinook available for a period of time this past summer, specifically around the last week of June and the first week of July. Many fish over 30 pounds and a few over 40 pounds were taken at this time in the Sooke waters. Overall, the entire peak summer Chinook season (June - September) produced well above-average numbers of these sought-after trophy fish. There were lots of limits and happy fishers. The Chinook season did run longer than normal this past summer with larger fish being caught up until October.
Halibut fishing was excellent all season long as well. Right from opening day on February 1st through to the season’s close at year-end, the catches were consistent and again limits were a common occurrence. We have already heard from fisheries scientists that the 2016 halibut season will be very similar to the 2015 season. We are expecting the season to once again begin on February 1st and remain open to the end of the year. This will be confirmed sometime in January after the IPHC has finalized its meetings and an official announcement can be released.
2015 was not predicted to produce a strong Sockeye salmon return to the Fraser River and neither a commercial nor sport fishery was anticipated. This was confirmed when summer test fisheries yielded poor returning numbers. There were no Sockeye openings on the entire coast for Fraser River-bound runs.
Pink salmon were however very abundant for most of July. In fact, they were often a complete nuisance as they hit gear being fished and intended for Chinook salmon. For the first time in my 30-year guiding career, I ran out of anchovies that were bought prior to the season and had to buy an extra case to make it through. In July, it was common to go through 7-8 trays of bait in a trip, even after using many of the less damaged anchovies two times in an effort to reduce the amount being consumed. There are 8 anchovies to a tray. The pinks were smaller than normal (2-4 pounds) and we heard that most of these were bound for the Squamish River just north of Vancouver.
Fall Coho salmon fishing was the big disappointment for 2015. We all expected the huge numbers of fall Coho we have seen the past 4-5 seasons to repeat again this fall. This did not happen. The fish that did show up were also smaller than normal. In fact, a Coho over 10 pounds was almost impossible to find. We only managed one over 10 pounds for the entire September and October migration through Juan de Fuca Strait. Overall numbers were down significantly as well. Most local streams had overall counts that were only 20% of 2014 return numbers. Those observations also noted much smaller fish returning in 2015 - some so small, they even slipped between the counting fence bars. The drop in numbers and size is likely a result of warmer ocean waters caused one of the strongest El Niño’s on record. El Niño’s are never good for pacific salmon returns. In past stronger El Niño events, we have seen mackerel move into our warmer than normal local waters. Thankfully this did not happen this past year.
For the second year in a row I was one of the main organizers of the Alpine Group Juan de Fuca Fishing Tournament. The tournament is held every Father's Day weekend in June. Proceeds from the two day event are destined for the Sooke River Chinook Project that will help boost the river’s production. The many extra fish that would be produced are meant to help feed our local resident killer whales. Over 600 public and sponsor tickets were issued, with entrants competing for over $85,000.00 in total prizes. The tournament winner won $20,000.00 for the largest Chinook (34.4 pounds). The 2nd place winner (32.8 pounds) walked away with a Zodiac boat, Mercury motor and trailer valued at over $5,000.00, and also won a couple of team jackpots that were worth a total of $12,000.00 in cash! You needed a fish over 27 pounds to be in the top ten. I’m already preparing for the 2016 event. The derby will have a new website soon at www.jdfderby.ca
I will be making a $400.00 donation to the Sooke Chinook project with funds collected from charter fees and customer donations. This is done through the BC Salmon Recovery Fund that I set up last year, where local guides are encouraged to sign on and contribute to the project.
I will no doubt be hearing from many of you again early in the new year to book your preferred fishing dates. Winter Chinook fishing is underway now (December) and will remain strong into May when the summer fish start to show again. The best time to fish halibut is March through May.
Tight Lines and remember to fish often but only keep what you need.