Monday, September 16, 2019

Vancouver Island - Salmon Fishing Day 3, Haig-Brown Pools


Determined to wash the skunk out from the previous day, Kelly and I headed back to "Kelly's Rock".  On the trail, we made way for a young lad on a bike and as he passed he warned us of a bear on the river from the day before.  As we made our way to Kelly's Rock there was a terrible stench so we could smell what might have drawn the attention of a hungry bear.  The lad was spin fishing just below us - poaching fish and smoking weed.  At least for us, the fishing was better.  
I think I caught ~ half a dozen on various flies with a combination of chartreuse and pink. 
There was a young boy, maybe 12, with his father as his gillie, making long casts and catching fish.  We hollered encouragement across the river with each hookup.  At first, he was glad for the praise.  But then as his confidence grew, he began to mock us when we came unbuttoned or lost a fish.  All in good fun - we gave as good as we got and I'm sure he had a good story to tell his mother when he got home.

After a time, we were looking for a change of scenery and we moved upstream to a spot below the famous Haig-Brown pool and caught another half dozen on pink/chart. 
This was one of several times we had a double hookup.  Mine was definitely a male - with its humped back and hooked jaw!
 Kelly was doing well with his "Scotch fly" - a little bit of a thing that a fellow angler has shown him once when he was slaying them.  Paying it forward, Kelly shared one with me and I caught my last pink of the day on the Scotch Fly.
We met a young couple who were vacationing from their home in Canada (can't remember where from) and they asked us for some advice on flies since they saw us catching fish and they weren't having any luck.  We advised them to add a sink tip to get the flies down, gave them some pink and pink and chartreuse flies that had been working, and Kelly even gave them the secret Scotch Fly I think!

Before we finished for the day, we hiked up to see the celebrated Haig-Brown pools (upper and lower), the "island" he described in his book, and the dam that did not exist in his time.  There was an eagle on the gravel bank in the middle of the river eating a salmon.  
 Fully satisfied, we walked casually back to the car, removed our waders and boots, and returned home.  

On the way though, Kelly took me down to the waterfront to show me where the Tyee Club rowed boats the old fashioned way to catch large salmon in deep holes.

He also took me to a first nation cemetery decorated with large and venerable totems...

 some of them carved by Sam Henderson.
We hung everything out to dry, and I disassembled the rods and reels and pre-packed my gear for the next day's flight.  Kelly made me my first (blue) martini and he gave me a tour of his home office showing me all the planes he had flown during his service and practically piecing my eardrums with his massive speakers - envious!

For their gracious hospitality, I promised Kelly and Sheridan a meal so we went out to eat at one of their favorite local restaurants.  We had margaritas, fajitas, and shared a massive chocolate dessert.

Returning home, we stayed up to watch Tombstone, which Kelly says is a Canadian Air Force cult classic.   At the conclusion, it was time for bed.

Sunday - My last day on this trip to be on Vancouver Island, I got up as per routine, made coffee and had some cereal while I watched the sun come up and then later Sheridan made me some eggs.  This is livin! The TV caught me up on the details and path of Hurricane Dorian- looking like it would brush the Outer Banks but then turn out to sea so my home would get only moderate winds and some heavy rain.   Not so bad.

Kelly and I dropped Sheridan off at the kitchen shop where she worked and then we took the dogs, Watson and Raven to the dog park.  When we got back home, we deposited the dogs, I did a final packing job, threw my stuff in the car and we were off to the Comox for lunch before my flight.  We had a nice lunch outside overlooking a saltmarsh estuary and then Kelly dropped me off at the airport.  

The return home would take me from Comox to Vancouver, through customs (while still in Canada?), and then to Seattle.  I got to spend a night and the next morning with cousin Jennifer and her husband Brian (and of course, their kids).  We talked into the night and then hit the hay.

Monday morning, I recombined all my camping and fishing gear, clothes and cameras.  Brian, Jen and I took Luna for a long walk to a different park with a marsh walk and wide open fields for ball throwing and fetch.  Later, Brian and Jen's son Mason took me to the airport.  

Mason dropped me off at SeaTac, the skycap checked my bag at the curb, and then I made my way through the long security lines into the airport's inner sanctum.  I flew Southwest to Baltimore and had a meal, and then, after a delay, flew home to Norfolk - not bad really.  My darling wife picked me up at the airport late, she drove me home and I crashed in anticipation of the next day's return to work - ugh!

What an amazing trip.  I'm so grateful to my cousin and her family, my Canadian friends Kelly and Sheridan, my new friends Ken and Cynthia, and my dear wife for supporting all my hijinks.  This trip was salve for mind, body and soul.  I can't wait for the next adventure!


Vancouver Island - Elk Falls & Fishing the Campbell River Upstream

 Friday, I made coffee and sipped it on the terrace as I watched the sun come up.  We had a proper breakfast and then Kelly took us down the Millennium Trail to the Elk Falls.  At the trail's end, we crossed the suspension bridge to get a better view of the falls.
 The bridge was not for the timid; it bounced as pedestrians walked or ran across its length.  The views were worth it.
 After this short detour, Ken, Cynthia, Kelly and I ventured back to the Campbell River, this time parking on the north side of the stream.  
 We walked up the Canyon View Trail, to a place identified to us as “Kelly’s Rock” - Ken downstream, Kelly upstream, and me in the middle.  I think we all got bites and hookups but no one us landed a fish.  The Elk Falls curse?

We left around 3:00 so Ken and Cynthia could pack and get to the airport for their trip back to the east coast of Canada.  Hurricane Dorian was coming! 

That night, Kelly, Sheridan and I had leftovers, watched some TV - a historical B&W Everest documentary, and went to bed. 

Vancouver Island - First-Time Fishing for Pink and Chinook Salmon


After seeing all those big, beautiful Chinooks the day before, Ken, Kelly, and I were ready to fish!  I woke up, made some coffee and was treated to a beautiful sunrise looking out across the Salish Sea and the mountains of the Ts'ylos Provincial Park.
 After breakfast, Kelly took Ken and I to the Campbell River just off the Gold River Highway.  The river was busy with anglers but Kelly found a spot that would accommodate the three of us and we began casting.  I was missing a bunch of hits and then I finally caught a pink salmon.

 My first salmon!  The pressure was off.  Kelly, Ken, and I all caught pinks in the morning.  

 The Campbell River was crowded but the fishing was fun. At one point, I tail-hooked a pink and he screamed upstream peeling out line into my backing, flew to the opposite bank, and then shot downstream and tangled with the anglers below. That was exciting!
After our initial dose of pink salmon fishing we headed inland to try our luck at catching some Chinook salmon.  Along the way, we had lunch at a canyon site with beautiful green pools. 
 We continued on into the interior.  We stopped to check on an elderly guy stopped with a huge boat on a trailer.  He was OK and thanked us profusely for stopping to check even though nothing was wrong.  Good karma.  We eventually made it to our secret destination and fished the first pool for an hour.  
 It was cloudy and hard to see into the depths, but did see a few fish circulating.  There was bear scat all around.
 And before long we saw our first of the seven or eight bears we would see in the afternoon - also looking for fish.  One kept coming at us even though we were yelling at it so Kelly shot his bear banger, a kind of pyrotechnic that whizzes and pops, at it.  It made the bear leave the river bank and veer into the woods where we couldn't track it - even more nerve wracking.  I blew an air horn at some other approaching bears and that seemed to be a good deterrent.

After an hour and a half without success, we moved upstream and Kelly saw another bear.  I just saw this.
Around the bend, we found a family of anglers who regaled us with their last three days of fishing effort.  Only this day and within the last hour or so did they hook some Chinooks.  After some conversation, they packed up their stuff and left us the pool.  We cast and cast and cast with no luck.  They were using orange artificials, we used orange flies (and everything else in the box).  At one surreal point, two teenage girls toting a large standup paddleboard sauntered through our section of river.  As they walked downstream, we warned them of all the bears we'd seen and they seemed not to care a lick.  Shortly thereafter, we moved pack to the first pool.

I still sported the orange fly the family of anglers said was working when I saw a broadside flash and I was hooked up!  I nervously played the fish and it took one giant leap into the air.  I almost had a heart attack!  I finally brought the fish to the shore - my first Chinook, aka king, salmon!  (Thank you Bill Wills!)
After letting her go, I retired from the pool and
became the bear spotter.  I kept a wary eye on one downstream and two upstream.  I blew my air horn and scared them away when they started to get too close.  Mostly, they were just probing the shoreline and looking for any injured or catchable fish.  Unfortunately, the Chinooks did not cooperate for Kelly or Ken and no other fish were caught.  Because of all the bear activity and the approaching darkness, we carefully hiked out of the river and back to the car.  Ken drove us home and, enveloped in wilderness darkness, I alternated from being fully alert to occasional dozing in the back seat.  

We didn't get home until about 10 PM, but Sheridan and Cynthia had a rib dinner waiting for us.  We shared some stories, wine and laughter, watched a few carpool karaoke music videos and went to bed.

Vancouver Island, Campbell River, BC - Volunteering with the Gillard Pass Fisheries Association

This blog post follows my Pacific Northwest Odyssey and previous blogs on time spent in Olympic National Park at

The Gillard Pass Fisheries Association works with the Campbell River Salmon Foundation and the Kwiakah First Nation to conduct salmon enhancement projects including tagging, biological data collection, broodstock seining, hatchery rearing and smolt releases that have contributed significantly to Chinook returns in the Phillips River.   Volunteer opportunities on the river occur from mid-August through late October each year.

Wed - Phillips Arm

We got up early and had a hasty breakfast and packed up our waders, boots, extra layers and clothes and rain gear and left for the Campbell River harbor.  Kelly had arranged for Sheridan, Ken, and me to join him volunteering with the Gillard Pass Fisheries Association in the Phillips Arm.  We would be seining, tagging, and collecting biological data from Chinook salmon to assess return success.  As a former fisheries biologist, I was psyched to be getting back to my scientific training roots!

We boarded a hired water taxi that would take us to the Phillips Arm.  We headed north with a fair degree of wind and swell, through the heavy current and whirlpools between Quadra Island and Vancouver Island.  We passed Sonora Island and then made our way up the Phillips Arm and the taxi docked at some sort of a outpost compound.
Workman were regrading the site after a devastating flood and mudslide knocked a few buildings off their foundation and generally wreaked havoc on the site.  The crew's hardscrabble dogs greeted us happily.  We unloaded the volunteers' and the seine net divers' gear on the floating dock.

While we waited for the shuttle jet boat we poked around but our freedom was limited by the threat of bears.  We did spot a grizzly poking around so we kept our distance.  

The jet boat came soon enough but the tide was low so it could only ferry a third of our party of volunteers at a time.  Kelly, Sheridan, Ken, and I were the last of the volunteers to be ferried up the river.
 Rupert expertly maneuvered the jet boat up the Phillips Arm eventually dropping us off on a large gravel bank where we met up with a quad driver who took us the last bit of the way to the Gillard Pass fisheries Association's research facility and bunkhouse.
 We donned waders and boots and Ruppert explained our duties.  We then had to watch a mandatory video on how to interpret bear behavior and avoid or fend off bear attacks.  No time to second guess our volunteering, so we grabbed gear and headed down to the riverbank.  The seine net was loaded into a rubber dingy and connected to a series of lines and pulleys so that we could effectively harvest the salmon in a deep pool below a series of rapids.
 Once set up, it was a firehouse drill setting the net and hauling it in.  Volunteers were clamoring back and forth to help haul the ends of the net to draw the ends closed.  Divers in the water gingerly worked the lead line over large boulders in the pool so that the net wouldn't rip and the fish wouldn't escape.

As the net was encircling the Chinooks, volunteers lined up the bags that would hold the captured fish until they were ready for measuring and tagging.
Once the seine net was pretty close to shore, you could see the large Chinooks blasting through the enclosed space.  Divers got in the net bag, dove down, and wrestled out large Chinooks and put them in landing nets and then they were transferred into the holding bags.
The bags were then clipped with a caribiner to a sort of hookless trotline in the river where the fish could breath and perhaps relax before we tagged them.
While the fish "relaxed" we had lunch.  After a nice box lunch, we helped with the tagging and data collection.  We opened the bags one by one and the fish got a tag just below the dorsal fin.
 Next, the paid staff got a couple length measurements - a total and a forked length I believe.

The GPFA staff would sex the fish and then take scale samples to age the fish.  The fish scales were carefully stored in envelopes that corresponded to the tag numbered fish.

In the net, there were some recaptured fish, and some "Jacks" - juvenile, pre-spawn males that had followed the spawners one their arduous upstream journey even though they couldn't spawn. Both were returned to the river without collecting data. Only returns of spawners count - sorry Jack!  

Our lovely master data collector Sheridan made sure we got all our data straight!
 Once the data was collected from one fish, it was rinse and repeat.

Here are a few more pictures of the lovely jewels we got to touch, if only for a brief moment.

The releases were pretty spectacular too!

Explosive even...
Once all the fish in the net were processed, we stored the net, collected all the gear, and made our way back to the research station/bunkhouse.  We stripped boots and waders and aired out wet clothes as we recounted this unforgettable day.  Thank you Ruppert and the GPFA!

In small groups, we shuttled on the quad back to the gravel beach and then boarded the jetboat and were ferried back to the outpost camp where the water taxi soon arrived to take us home.  
 We were worked so the ride home was mostly quiet. but with a deep sense of satisfaction.  We arrived back at the Campbell River town docks, made our way back to Kelly and Sheridan's house and had some dinner and a round of cocktails as we watched the sun go down and cast it's fiery orange afterglow.

Tomorrow we fish!