Island sports fishing best in years — chinook catch ‘spectacular’

Chinook salmon are returning to Island waters in strong numbers, making this one of the best years in recent memory for recreational fishermen and charter boat operators, especially off the east coast.

Anglers are thrilled that they are catching lots of big silvery chinook salmon just off Greater Victoria’s waterfront.

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Dawn Harris spotted a man toting a large salmon on the Ogden Point breakwater Friday morning. As he walked off the breakwater, “everyone started going crazy” and applauding, she said.

It turned out the man is a tourist from Montreal. He bought a $20 rod, which broke, but managed to get his fish, which Harris estimated at “at least” 20 to 35 pounds. Harris put the salmon in her SUV and gave him a lift back to his James Bay hotel.

“We have had a really great return to the waterfront so far this year. I’m really impressed,” said Darren Wright, co-owner of Island Outfitters on Douglas Street.

“It seems like there’s a lot of chinook coming in right off the waterfront.”

They are biting on anchovies and flashers, and other lures such as hoochies and spoons, he said.

Chinook are prized by fishermen, who love hauling in the largest of Pacific salmon.

Chinook are travelling south, returning to spawn in rivers in B.C. and the U.S.

Fishing results vary around the Island, with numbers extra-high off the east coast by Campbell River.

Anglers are coming from near and far. Cliff Moors, owner of Cliff’s Chinook Charters in the Comox Valley, had a group fly in from Israel to spend three days on their first salmon fishing experience.

Moors said catch numbers are up but is waiting for larger sizes to come through.

Susan Barcham, Oak Bay Marine Group spokeswoman, said this year’s chinook fishery is “pretty spectacular.”

Many are in the 20-pound range, a few are 30 to 40 pounds. The company has fishing resorts and facilities in Greater Victoria, on the Island’s west coast, and at Campbell River, where it has Painter’s Lodge along with April Point Resort and Spa on Quadra Island.

“I’d say it’s the best we’ve seen in many, many years,” Barchan said.

Healthy herring stocks were a precursor to this year’s strong returns, she said.

Visitors have travelled from locations such as Dubai, Ukraine, Argentina, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Japan, Barcham said.

“Last year was an extraordinary year for sports fishing, and we are hoping that 2014 is at least as good or around the same level,” said Andrew Thomson, Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s area director for the south coast.

Overall, the number of recreational fishing boats on the water is slightly below last year but still above a typical year.

About 7,000 chinook were caught in June in the Campbell River area, considerably higher than the five-year average of 2,000, according to the department’s survey.

Off Victoria, about 3,200 chinook were caught last month, up from 2,900 for the five-year average, he said.

As for the Island’s west coast, Barkley Sound yielded 2,300 chinook in June, a small increase from the long-term average of 2,200.

Chinook retention regulations vary by area, and Thomson recommends anglers check the DFO website for specifics.

Because a huge run of pink salmon is expected back to the Quinsam and Campbell rivers, anglers are permitted to keep four pinks per day, Thomson said. Campbell River is celebrating with a pink salmon festival today. The Quinsam had 1.2 million pinks return last year and numbers could be that high again, he said.

Recreational, First Nations and commercial fishermen are all waiting for the lucrative Fraser River sockeye return, which will start in a few weeks.

A pre-season forecast, with a 50 per cent probability, said 22 million sockeye could be on their way.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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