Story & Photos by: Todd Martin
Within sight of downtown Vancouver’s skyline lays a tremendous year-round salmon fishery. Most local anglers believe that you either need to make the expensive trek to a remote lodge up the coast or wait for the annual fall migration up the Fraser River to have a decent chance to land a salmon. However, a year round blackmouth fishery has been quietly gaining popularity among both locals and guides who operate in the protected waters of B.C.’s Howe Sound and Southern Gulf Islands.
Of course their proper name is Chinook salmon but they go by several other monikers. We call them ‘springs’ and south of the 49th parallel you call them blackmouths, springers, or kings. Whatever you call them, blackmouth are present in Vancouver, B.C.’s home waters 12 months of the year which provides anglers the opportunity to pursue these fish close to home, without breaking the holiday piggy bank.
I had been hearing good things about this fishery for a couple of years and wanted to experience it first hand, so I enlisted the services of local pro-guide, Jason Assonitis, from BonChovy Fishing Charters, to show me around. Jason is a very experienced guide having worked for several other lodges up and down B.C.’s rugged coast for over 10 years, but since 1998 has been guiding out of downtown Vancouver almost exclusively. His favorite time of year is the winter chinook fishery from December through March, as the snow-capped coastal mountains provide majestic scenery and there is very low angling pressure. He also enjoys the hunting aspect of this fishery. If you can find the fish, your chance of success is high, so he enjoys the challenge that the winter fishery presents.
Vancouver harbor, Howe Sound, and the southern Gulf Islands maintain a healthy population of feeder springs year round. The challenge of this fishery is in locating the fish. These fish do have tendencies that can be exploited, which will make your time on the water more productive. They are nomadic within local waters and are constantly on the move depending on the weather, currents, tides and schools of baitfish. If you find the bait, you will most likely find the fish. These Chinook tend to be loners or congregate in small groups. They chase the herring balls that move about with the tide changes and ocean currents.
A winter blackmouth’s happy place is right on the bottom, as this is where the schools of herring tend to congregate. Unlike migratory fish seeking out freshwater to spawn, they are not suspended in mid-water as this makes them easy prey for the annoying harbor seals. To be effective, you need to go deep, and get your gear right on the bottom where these fish can see your offerings. An offshore shelf with a sandy bottom in the 140 – 200 foot depth range is the preferred habitat. These fish are active feeders and tend to be very aggressive. If you locate the fish, drop your gear into their kitchen, and the likelihood of a hook up is high.
One of Jason’s main goals during this winter fishery is managing expectations of clients. Don’t expect constant hook-ups and crazy action all day. As mentioned before, this is a sporadic fishery and you need to chase these fish down. For a full day’s fishing, expect to have somewhere between two to six opportunities for a hook-up. Current regulations are two chinooks per day over 24 ½ inches or 62 centimeters in length. Most of these fish are teenagers, meaning they are in the eight to 15 pound range. Both hatchery and wild fish can be retained. Barbless hooks are mandatory. Do keep an eye open for regulation changes via the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) website for area 29, which is the name for this part of B.C.’s federally regulated tidal waters.
Another reason why the gang from BonChovy Charters loves and promotes this fishery so much is you don’t have to go far. Often the best fishing is off the mouth of the Capilano River and Ambleside beach in North Vancouver. This is less than a 15 minute run from the dock on Granville Island where they are based. This to me is truly amazing as this is alongside Vancouver’s skyline and famous Stanley Park. Other hot spots to try if the fish are not close to town are the south end of Bowen Island, Gambier Island, and off the tourist town of Gibson’s. Jason will pursue the fish as far east as Gabriola Island if necessary to get fish in the boat for his clients, but usually does not have to range that far.
Locals take two different approaches to this fishery. Hunt the fish down and find out where their lurking, or stay in one spot and wait for these transient feeders to find you. Tides do matter and it was explained to me that Howe Sound and the Gulf Islands tend to produce better on an ebb tide, and the Vancouver harbor on a flood tide. The cool northwest winds coming down the sound from Squamish also dictate where you can comfortably fish. In this winter fishery, getting out of the wind so you don’t freeze solid while waiting for the bite is key. A rule to follow is if Howe Sound is rough, the Vancouver harbor will be calm, and vice-versa. Hide in the leeward sides of the islands as necessary until the wind calms down, usually by mid-morning.
As for the gear, the usual flasher and lure combos work well. Artificial lures are preferred by the local feeder springs. Bait is not used until later in the year when there are more fish and more competition for attention. Jason has recently opened a Gibbs Delta Tackle pro-shop in their new Granville Island office. He is a big believer in their flasher and lure R&D program and believes it to be the best on the west coast. Gibbs Delta has just released a new line of UV flashers and part of this is the guide series created with input from the folks at BonChovy Charters. Gibbs Delta are also Canadian distributors of Silver Horde fishing tackle, and they are also leading the way in new innovative lure colors that seem to be especially effective in this Metro Vancouver fishery.
Jason’s preferred flasher this winter has been the Gibbs Delta UV lemon lime. Some of the best lures to trail behind it have been the Coho Killer and Homeland Security by Silver Horde and the Gibbs G Force “No Bananas” spoon. Remember to work your depth sounder and downriggers to keep your lure almost bouncing off the bottom. When fishing with Jason for this article, he was feverishly working both downriggers constantly throughout the day according to the bottom contours. Along with this set up he likes to apply a generous helping of Pro-Cure Herring super gel to help get the bite going.
When I fished with Jason our luck was quick and fleeting. We only had three hits in a half days effort, but we landed two beauties in the 10 pound class in a furious doubleheader near Bowen Island in the morning. After that we moved around to other holes and hot spots without much luck. On the morning run to the fishing grounds we dropped the crab and prawn pots. Checking these traps in the early afternoon rewarded us with a seafood bounty that my wife is still raving about. Overall, my first experience with this winter fishery was one of pure giddy glee. I normally wouldn’t think of fishing for salmon in late January, and certainly not within sight of the Vancouver Harbor! Again, manage your expectations, but if you put in a solid effort you will be rewarded.
Be prepared for this winter fishery with robust clothing. A couple layers of everything topped off with raingear, fingerless gloves and a toque are mandatory to keep Jack Frost out of your bones. Remember, the old adage; there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.
While writing this article, the Canadian dollar was plunging faster than a groundhog into his burrow, after seeing his shadow. Predictions are that the exchange rate will be at 85% by the time this article hits newsstands, which means a cheap holiday when you feel like coming to the great white north. The beauty of this fishery is no long drive and no flights required. You can drop off the family at a downtown Vancouver tourist attraction and escape with your buddies for a few hours of salmon slaying. If you are looking for something new to try this winter and are getting twitchy to wet a line, come north and try out this quiet, urban fishery.
Author Bio: Todd Martin is a well known outdoor writer and angler who lives and writes about the wild splendor of British Columbia, Canada. Todd resides in Maple Ridge and specializes salt water and fresh water fishing for Salmon, Trout, Char and Kokanee. Visit him at www.martinoutdoors.ca
To begin planning your next Canadian adventure, visit our Adventure Match to find the perfect lodge to suit your personal fishing or hunting preferences.
More stories from the Scout network you might enjoy:
Having trouble planning your next adventure? We're here to help!
FEATURE DESTINATION: Totem Resorts – A Perfect Blend of Luxury & Adventure!
Are you an avid Canadian hunter or angler? Join the Fishulo team!