Whoever said ‘you should never go back’ was wrong.
I recently returned from Canada after another great fishing holiday with Keith Armishaw of ‘River Reads’ fame and his family and to suggest we caught more than enough fish would be an understatement.
|the wide expanses of the Fraser River on a perfect autumn day|
We were based in British Colombia, the first few days of our adventure on the Harrison and Fraser Rivers, the last few on Vancouver Island’s Stamp River, interspersed by an afternoons salmon fishing with down-riggers in the Salish Straight off Comox.
|the hotel looks out onto the massive Harrison Lake and is surrounded by high mountains - perfect|
Before that, we stayed in the Harrison Hot Springs Resort, an ideal base for Keith’s wife and daughter with it’s three pools, one being a thermal cooker. It was ideal for us too because after a good breakfast, [crispy bacon with scrambled egg – nice!] we only had to walk a few yards across the lakeside garden and step onto the jet boat. With flask of hot coffee and packed lunch on board it would be our fishing base for the day.
|jetting our way to a favourite mark|
|Keith enjoying the comfort with our guide Morgan|
I’ll spare you a long list of what we caught [well, I might], but on day one our guide Morgan led us to a side bay on the Harrison which was solid with pink salmon. The pinks only come up the Fraser every other year so catching one would add a new species to my life list. [I had actually swum with them a few years ago while making a film about Alaskan wildlife but that’s another story].
|Keith failing to catch in our appropriately named 'No Take Bay'|
Without fly tackle on board we would be lure fishing for them and so thick was the shoal that it seemed impossible not to catch one. The pinks had other ideas. I hooked and lost one, Keith too but I did manage to land a small pike minnow which thus became our first quarry in our holiday species hunt. For us, size wasn’t the goal, fun fishing for maximum variety and enjoyment certainly was. We obviously called this spot 'No Take Bay'.
Having failed with the salmon we dropped downriver into the Fraser to try for sturgeon. With only a few showers of rain since May, the river was the lowest it had been in living memory, with many pools too shallow to allow access. In one of these ‘no go’ areas we’d caught big ‘uns last year of between seven and eight feet, monsters to a roach angler like me but we had no such ambitions for this holiday so told all our guides that the maximum length required was five feet!
|a five foot leaper from last year|
|a brace of fives - quite big enough for a bit of fun fishing|
These give you a good battle for ten minutes or so, thus avoiding the half hour or more of bruising tugs of war that the larger sturgeon put you through.
|Keith's monster was still leaping after an hour|
|what a simply awesome creature - all 7ft10ins of it - with our ace guide Jeff|
Keith’s 7ft10ins brute last year didn’t give up for 1hr. 28mins and he didn’t want to be tested to exhaustion like that again … and neither did I.
|at 7ft 6ins this monster had me struggling for half an hour in the rain - great fishing|
When our guide Morgan had found a promising spot, we used the pike minnow I’d caught for sturgeon bait and this soon resulted in a surprise pink salmon, quickly followed by Keith’s perfect sized sturgeon of 65inches.
|the right sized sturgeon in the right place - perfect|
|fantastic looking creatures|
|measuring from nose to fork of tail - important science|
So the day with Morgan ended well, especially as he didn’t insist on us dragging our catches ashore for trophy shots. We just measured and released them in the water alongside the boat. Unduly stressing fish for the sake of a picture doesn’t seem fair to such precious, pre-historic creatures.
|the government records of sturgeon populations are impressive|
|the ever cheerful Matt greeting us by his jet boat|
|Matt had all the gear and plenty of idea|
His skill levels were impressive and he was so enthusiastic about our ‘maximum species quest’ rather than the usual visitors ‘monster sturgeon quest’ that the following three days fishing were as good as it gets. He provided every conceivable type of tackle, especially the specialist ‘Czech nymphing’ gear and this enabled Keith to catch the diminutive and always ignored whitefish. Matt had learned the specialist skills while fishing for Canada in Slovenia and taught Keith well enough that he soon had a silvery PB whitefish of a glorious six ounces!
|Keith struggling with his PB whitefish - slippery little devils|
We did try the 'No Take Bay' with Matt but it stayed true to it's name and we blanked there again, though it remained as beautiful and fish filled as ever.
|such lovely scenery to fish in, even if this was 'No Take Bay'|
We crossed the river to the shallows and while Keith was teasing the tiddlers I thrashed the water into a foam with my incompetent fly casting. We found that long fluorocarbon leaders and small flies did the business and I managed to land a succession of feisty pink salmon and the occasional chum.
|plenty of rod bending action for a poor fly fisherman like me|
|lots of feisty pinks kept my fly rod bent|
There is something magically tactile about feeling the fly edging across in front of the salmons’ mouths, even if most of the time they politely moved to one side to admire it’s passing. However, often enough I felt that tightening in my fingers and the satisfying thump of a firm hook up.
|an ugly male - the fish I mean|
Apart from this more sensitive fishing, we found that casting a fly at the shoals didn’t disturb them as much as a spinner. These would drive the shoal away downstream and require resting the swim until they relaxed and returned to their preferred lies.
Resting the swim had the advantage of not only providing a quick strike but gave time to admire the
wildlife while downing a welcome coffee and having a good chat in the beautiful scenery, a win win all round.
|ace guide Matt with another battling male pink - not a pretty site|
|I wish I was back there now - such a great place for a fishing holiday|
We were having so much fun that sturgeon fishing was relegated to the afternoons, though each day we'd catch one or two each of the designated five feet or so.
|bent into a good sturgeon|
|nearly five feet again|
|I never tire of seeing the mottling on their prehistoric backs|
|released without stress|
On one memorable day we caught eight different species of fish and all in glorious warm sunshine.
What’s more, we had an osprey plunging into the tail of one of our salmon runs, just beyond where I was playing a fish and having failed to catch, it landed in a nearby tree, followed soon after by a merlin.
|that splash is an osprey that I missed trying to steal our fish|
|the osprey came to see how we were catching, even if they have the advantage of four hooks on each foot|
|seeing a merlin was a rare treat|
|strike action - an osprey that I didn't miss|
|bald eagles were seen frequently every day as they feasted on dead salmon|
|I'll never tire of seeing these wonderful fish|
|Western Canada is such a beautiful part of the world|
|a sockeye heading for the net|
|well, the fly was nearly in his mouth|
|happy days for keen danglers|
|they might not be silver salmon but sockeye are certainly colourful|
|last laugh on us, sheltering in the boat while Keith gets wet|
|an impressive chum for a poacher|
|heave ho - and at last we get a take in 'No Take Bay', this time from a five foot sturgeon|
|sturgeon fight really hard in the clear waters of the Harrison River|
|never beaten, just waiting to be unhooked|
So our final afternoon was punctuated by the most enjoyable rod bending action before the nearby hotel bar called for a few beers with Matt and the girls. What a truly civilized place to enjoy a bit of dangling.
|they don't have to be big to be fun - a happy 'Queen of the pike minnows'|
|the clean air makes even cloudy days look good|
|the Salish Straight was wind against tide bumpy|
|lots of seals gaurding the harbour entrance|
|Steve checking the downriggers for enquiries from the salmon|
We left Comox with skipper Steve and despite there being lots of bait fish showing on his echo sounder, the big Chinook failed to bite.
|the rockfish were most attractive - like perch with attitude|
We were using flashers and flies held down with cannon balls in the bumpy swell but all we caught was a couple of little cohos and two good looking rock fish.
|Stamp Falls without water, a challenge for migrating salmon. Last year it was so high the river was un-fishable|
|with awesome determination to ignore obstacles, the salmon pressed on up river|
|several dippers took advantage of the low water for a spot of fishing|
Little dippers dashed about in the shallows while impressive numbers of fish waited below, an encouraging sign for our fishing the next day.
|the fish counter showed us the size of our quarry for the next few days|
|with so many fish in the river we felt there might be a chance of us catching one or two|
|bruised bum time, even if beautiful|
|what a gorgeous time to cast a line|
|jack coho provided early success|
From here on the day proved ‘challenging’, not just for the reluctantly biting salmon but the over zealous guide that we had. He meant well and we did catch plenty of fish, from jack cohos and springs to big chinooks but it wasn't much fun as he inflicted a constant stream of criticism.
|Keith latched onto a lump|
|they sure do put up a good scrap|
|Keith and Josh with a large chinook|
|Keith's first wild rainbow trout - another species to savour|
|the pike minnows were fun too - or is it a baby salmon of some sort?|
|lots of black bears patrolled the shore for dead fish|
We saw five black bears that day, delightfully confiding creatures, like something from a Disney cartoon as they searched the rivers’ shallow edges for dead salmon.
Next day we saw three more bears while guided by Nick, the owner of the company and he led us to some superb ‘chromer’ cohos and chinook, the biggest up to nearly twenty pounds.
These were caught float fishing,
trotting chub style with globs of salmon egg for bait. Keith was the ‘ladies man’
that day, landing some fresh run beauties … while I was relegated to battling
with ugly blokes.
|a large fresh run coho leaps clear in the early morning mist|
|Keith with a simply beautiful coho|
|chinooks carry on fighting for ever|
|Nick and yours truly with an ugly one|
|such a beautiful river to fish|
|a female common merganser - in Europe we call them goosanders|
|how could you not be enchanted when casting a line here|
|my pal Chris Wild with a PB twenty pound plus common, stalked as it fed a foot from the bank|
|Disney like creatures and delightfully confiding|
|Nick hit the jackpot for Sandy and Jenny with this cute family|
|big chinook seldom get more beautiful than this - fresh as a daisy - what a great catch|