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