Sock­eye salmon with a French twist

The Phoenix - - SPORTS - By Tom Ta­tum

Fish­ing guide Tim Holmes of Van­cou­ver, Canada, a bub­bling foun­tain of en­thu­si­asm and con­fi­dence, as­sures me I have picked the per­fect win­dow of time for my salmon fish­ing ad­ven­ture on the Sal­ish Sea. “Chi­nook fish­ing has been re­ally, re­ally good for the past three years,” he de­clares, “but ev­ery four years we have our sock­eye run, and this is one of those years, so you’re in luck.”

Orig­i­nally from On­tario, Holmes, 49, has op­er­ated his fish­ing char­ter out of Van­cou­ver for the past four years, but he’s been ply­ing these rich wa­ters for the last 15, chas­ing a pot­pourri of salmon species. “We have Chi­nooks, also called king and spring salmon, year round. We have Coho salmon in the spring and sum­mer and pink salmon runs ev­ery two years. We also have chum salmon which we don’t re­ally tar­get.”

With a fam­ily va­ca­tion set for Van­cou­ver in mid-Au­gust, I took the ini­tia­tive to add a day of salmon fish­ing to the itin­er­ary, sched­ul­ing it af­ter some sig­nif­i­cant on­line re­search where I ul­ti­mately se­lected Holmes’s Salt­wa­ter City Fish­ing char­ters based in Van­cou­ver, BC. I re­served my pre­ferred date with a down pay­ment and re­quested that Holmes add one or two other an­glers to the char­ter to help keep my costs down. To that end he re­cruited two fish­er­men whose trip last year had been cut short by rough seas and bad weather.

So join­ing me on this ex­pe­di­tion were a pair of an­glers from the South of France, Michel Sar­fati, a physi­cian from Mont­pel­lier, and his son Sacha, cur­rently liv­ing in Van­cou­ver and serv­ing as the as­sis­tant man­ager of the Four Sea­sons Ho­tel here. Michel, 63, and Sacha, 24, are both de­voted fish­er­men quick to share smart phone photos of catches of bass, salmon, and var­i­ous Mediter­ranean Sea fishes. I re­spond in kind with photos of floun­der, tuna, and dol­phin caught this sum­mer in Ocean City, MD.

Once we’ve boarded Holmes’s 19 foot cuddy, an Arima craft pow­ered by a 135 horse Ev­in­rude E-Tec paired with an 8 horsepower Yamaha trolling mo­tor, we shove off just af­ter 8:00 a.m. and head out for the fish­ing grounds on the Fra­zier River. The river is one of a num­ber of coastal wa­ter­ways that com­prise the Sal­ish Sea which in­cludes the south­west­ern por­tion of the Cana­dian province of Bri­tish Columbia and the north­west­ern por­tion of Wash­ing­ton State in­clud­ing Puget Sound.

It’s a bumpy forty minute jaunt (think me­chan­i­cal bull). “It’ll be lumpy like this on the in­com­ing tide the whole way out,” Holmes cau­tions. At one point Holmes stops to set out two crab traps, tar­get­ing the de­li­cious Dun­geness so com­mon in these western wa­ters. “I set out two prawn traps yes­ter­day,” Holmes re­ports. “We’ll pull them and these crab traps on the way back. We’re hop­ing for a tri­fecta to­day -- salmon, crabs, and prawns.” Once the traps are set in about 150 feet of wa­ter, we get un­der­way again. It’s a beau­ti­ful sunny day, marred only by the haze of smoke that shrouds the moun­tain­ous hori­zon, fall­out from over 600 wild­fires still blaz­ing across un­told acreage of Bri­tish Columbia forest­land.

A fleet of some sixty boats trolling near the north arm of the Fra­zier River sig­nals that we have ar­rived at the fish­ing grounds. Holmes makes a few calls for re­ports from his char­ter com­rades, checks the Lowrance fish finder, and plots our strat­egy. In ac­cor­dance with reg­u­la­tions, bar­b­less hooks are re­quired, which gives a dis­tinct ad­van­tage to the fish. “On av­er­age we lose about half the salmon we hook,” Holmes ex­plains. “Yes­ter­day we hooked nine salmon, but boated just two of those.”

The depth finder reads 479 feet as Holmes metic­u­lously read­ies the rigs, ex­plain­ing we will run down­rig­gers at depths of from 30 to 60 feet weighted with 15 and 18 lead can­non­balls. Holmes also af­fixes three flash­ers off the down­rig­ger lines, set pre­cisely at five foot in­ter­vals, all blue on one line, green on the other. The flash­ers im­i­tate trail­ing salmon and are de­signed to at­tract fish to the baits. We’ll be trolling four lines specif­i­cally rigged for sock­eye. Ter­mi­nal baits are a soft plas­tic pink Hoochie and a pink Squirt (a smaller ver­sion of the Hoochie). A stick­ler for de­tail, Holmes thins the ten­ta­cles of the baits and soaks them in krill juice. “I like fish­ing the tide­lines,” Holmes de­clares, “that’s where the bait­fish pile up.”

Holmes then feeds out ex­actly 62 feet of 30 pound test monofil­a­ment line from four 10 ½ foot Shi­mano Con­ver­gence rods and we’re good to go. Holmes works with­out a mate, so while he’s oc­cu­pied with the gear at the stern, Sacha and I take turns at the helm, steer­ing the boat at Holmes’s be­hest.

Holmes ad­vises us to keep a close eye on the rod tips -- even the slight­est mo­tion could in­di­cate a bite. Al­though we are fish­ing in al­most 500 feet of wa­ter, the depth finder read­ing drops to 60 feet or even 20 when­ever large schools of fish pass be­neath us. It’s al­most ten o’clock when Holmes de­tects the sub­tle twitch of one rod, quickly grabs it, and passes it to me. At the other end of the line is an eight pound sock­eye salmon that has fallen for a pink Squirt. Af­ter a brief bat­tle I crank the fish to the tran­som as Holmes scoops it into the net and onto the deck.

Holmes is as ex­cited about the catch as we are. His un­bri­dled youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance cou­pled with his an­gling ex­per­tise re­flects why his char­ter ser­vice gets such glow­ing re­views on­line. The salmon well ex­ceeds the 30 cen­time­ter le­gal min­i­mum (about 12 inches) and Holmes slips it into the box.

The bite is on and by 11:30 each of us has al­ready boated two sock­eye apiece. We’re beat­ing the av­er­ages and have landed six out of eight hooked fish. Credit for the two lost sock­eyes tech­ni­cally goes to Michel, courtesy of the bar­b­less hooks and through no fault of his own. Holmes is quick to as­sure the French physi­cian (whose English is not near as flu­ent as his son’s) not to blame him­self for los­ing the fish, and urges Sacha to clearly re­lay that ex­cul­pa­tion to his dad in French.

Af­ter all, we’re way ahead of the curve on catches ver­sus losses. The daily limit on salmon here is four per an­gler, but only one of those may be a Chi­nook. Holmes’s aim is for us each to col­lect three sock­eye, then tar­get the much larger Chi­nooks.

And with more than four hours still re­main­ing on this trip, we have plenty of time to do just that.

For more on Tim Holmes’s char­ter ser­vice, go to http:// salt­wa­ter-city.com/

NEXT WEEK » We try for a salmon, crab, and prawn tri­fecta.

TOM TA­TUM - FOR DFM

French­men Sacha Sar­fati (left) and his fa­ther Michel Sar­fati dis­play sock­eye salmon caught in Bri­tish Columbia’s Sal­ish Sea.

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