Sunday, 28 May 2017

Brentwood Angler Shows East How It’s Done – Alec Merriman, Aug 27, 1972

Atlantic salmon can be taken in the ocean on sports fishing gear but it took a Pacific Coast Vancouver Island angler to show how it could be done.

After five weeks of fishing, in two years of experimentation under federal fisheries auspices, Saanich Inlet fishing guide Jim Gilbert of Brentwood developed a planktonic-type lure with which he caught the first Atlantic salmon ever known to be caught in salt water on sports fishing gear.

New Industry?

His catches this past summer may signal the start of a brand new sports salmon industry on the Atlantic coast… an industry to put back to work at least some of the commercial fishermen who were left stranded by a decision to ban commercial Atlantic salmon fishing as a conservation measure.

Before he got his first Atlantic salmon, Gilbert tested some 300 Pacific Coast lures, in combination with dodgers, flashers, leader lengths, weight, wire line, monofilament lines, trolling and mooching.

No Teeth

“I finally experimented with a planktonic-type lure which was successful in catching my first salmon,” he said.

The reason he developed the planktonic-type lure was that after examination of the mouth structure of Atlantic salmon, netted by the fisheries department for research, he discovered they had no teeth to speak of and they looked like an ocean-type river-bound steelhead.

“This rang a bell. In all the years I have fished, I have never caught a river-bound steelhead, so I concluded they could possibly be plankton feeders.” (Gilbert has taken many Kelt steelhead, out-bound after spawning in the rivers, but that is a different situation.)

That is why he developed his special Atlantic salmon lure… a plastic fluorescent wobbler, about 1.5 inches long in association with shocking pink fluorescent hootchie strands, half an ounce weight, and 200 feet of line.

River Mouth

He hooked his first Atlantic salmon June 17 about five miles offshore from the mouth of New Brunswick’s famed Miramichi River.

“Atlantic salmon can be taken successfully in the ocean. I think they could be taken in good numbers… anywhere where they run to rivers,” says Gilbert. 

“They didn’t think it could be done. On capture of my first Atlantic salmon there was silence. I proved it could be done. Instead of the end, this is the beginning,” he said.

Gilbert explains that in the east “They have no concept of sports fishing other than in the rivers. They don’t know about rods and reels, like we have, not even rod holders. Sinkers, flashers, lures and spoons are all new to them.

“They have no regulations, no gear, no seasons in any aspect of ocean angling for salmon or any other species.”

First Trip

Gilbert was hired by the federal fisheries department to go to the northern New Brunswick area at the request of the Newcastle fisheries division on the Miramichi River to see what the potential was in the Maritimes for a whole sports fishing industry on the Atlantic seaboard, similar to that on the Pacific Coast.

Part of the program was to see if Atlantic salmon could be taken with a lure in the ocean.
His first trip was in the fall of 1971 to fish a three-week period when the fall run to the Miramichi was expected to fill the estuary portion of the river system.

He fished for three weeks, caught mackerel and other cod-like species but not even a strike on a salmon.

“I went with the impression there would be a run of 40,000 fish but fisheries officials didn’t feel it exceeded 4,000 fish that year,” Gilbert said.

This past June he went back for three weeks to fish the summer run and decided to fish in the three different areas.

First choice was the estuary portion of the Restigouche River in New Brunswick’s Bay of Chaleur on the Quebec border. He got involved with the tail end of Hurricane Agnes, which restricted fishing and although he didn’t get into salmon, he did get sea-run speckled trout up to three pounds, on troll with a four-inch smelt and half an ounce of weight.

The New Brunswickers hadn’t been in the habit of catching the trout in the tidal portions of the Bay.
Next week they went and fished the saltchuck in an area offshore from the Miramichi River in Northumberland Strait in a chartered 40-foot lobster boat.

Out of Water

It was there that Gilbert hooked his first Atlantic salmon on the planktonic-type lure.

“It hit. It came out of the water, but after a 3 to 5 minute battle it out-foxed me and broke the leader,’ said Gilbert, who has probably battled more Pacific salmon on sports tackle than any other person.

“I was pretty disappointed. I had my nine-foot steelhead rod right up in the air, reel running free and he beat me.

“But I was encouraged. If I hooked one, I could hook another.”

He then made a complete swing around in the experimental gear from bait to planktonic-type lures.
“I took some pink hootchie strands and put them over a customized No. 1 Krippled K spoon. I fished it 24 inches behind a No. 3 Krippled K slender, steel, narrow dodger on wire line.

I fished two on wire with 50 feet and a pound of weight and three on nylon, 200 feet and half an ounce of weight.

“We didn’t see any fish showing… no indication of fish.”

His next Atlantic salmon hit the wire line.

Fantastic Jumps

“As soon as he hit, he came right to the surface and made fantastic jumps. Finally, I got him up to the boat after 15 minutes and gaffed him… a 9.5 pounder… June 18… about seven miles offshore from Escuminac Breakwater and 12 miles from the Miramichi mouth… the first authenticated Atlantic salmon taken on sports fishing gear in the saltchuck.”

Next day they fished 15 to 20 miles offshore towards Prince Edward Island. They didn’t take any more salmon there but they did prove there were unlimited supplies of fish to be taken on sports tackle for a charter boat operation, one on wire line. They also caught mackerel.

“We proved the potential of a sports fishing industry on the Atlantic seaboard,” said Gilbert.

He said that just because he caught them on a planktonic-type lure doesn’t mean they wouldn’t take another lure.

Danes There

Reason for the interest in an Atlantic saltwater sports fishery is that in 1965 the Danes got into offshore Atlantic salmon feeding grounds off Greenland and started to net them. By 1967 they were taken 2,000 metric tonnes a year.

That caused drastic declines in Atlantic salmon stocks in all river systems in the Atlantic region.
This year Canada’s federal fisheries department banned all commercial fishing by Canadian commercial fishermen for Atlantic salmon, because of the concern for the depleting stocks.

Economic Use

Canadian government compensated the fishermen for their lack of fishing opportunity. In the Miramichi estuary there had been 110 trap licences and 130 gillnet boats.

Federal fisheries officials are interested in swinging commercial fishermen to charter boat and marina operators. They want to make economic use of the stocks of Atlantic salmon left, until they can rebuild the runs or stop the Danes from exploiting the salmon on the high seas.

Good Sports

They got 70 one- to three-pound mackerel that fought like Pacific Coast bluebacks and plenty of Atlantic cod by trolling plugs, bait, hootchies and spoons within two feet of the bottom. Cod ranged to 20 pounds and they took 560 pounds of them.

“They fought far more than our ling cod. They were good sports and fine catching,” said Gilbert.
They finished up fishing the estuary portion of the Miramich Rvier to see if it would be feasible to establish a small boat sports fishery in inshore waters. They used 16-foot out boards and took two 9.5 pound Atlantic salmon on the Planktonic lures… one on nylon.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Saanich Inlet Angling with Jack Seedhouse

My father who passed away when I was quite young loved fishing Saanich Inlet and Saturday was when he would journey to Brentwood Bay. Dad had three regular fishing partners although I only recall the names of two: there was Bill Webb, a house painter and Canon Jull the Anglican Minister at Saint Marks Church. Upon arriving in Brentwood at Creed’s Landing their choice of rental boat whenever available was the Faye. This was a sixteen-foot clinker built vessel named after one of the Hugh Creed’s daughters. The boat was powered by an air-cooled engine probably a Briggs and Stratton and back then these boats were called putt putts. They took a lot longer to get from Point A to Point B than the craft seen on the water today.

Hugh Creed was also a guide using his launch the Tern for charter purposes. I well remember my early days fishing the Inlet with my father and his friends as I was allowed to run a hand line over the stern of the Faye which as a general rule produced not much more than great expectations.  On one day, however, I was thrilled out of my mind catching a steelhead kelt on a Gibbs double spinner. This was perhaps some seventy-five years ago.

The VSIAA, Victoria Saanich Inlet Anglers Association, attracted a significant membership and the goal of many was to catch a button fish that being a Chinook salmon tipping the scales at 20 pounds or better. My first was a bronze button, twenty-six pounds landed at McKenzie Bay on a fifty-fifty #6 Wonder Spoon. McKenzie Bay and surrounding area was a consistent producer of quality salmon fishing. Anglers would often commence trolling at Whitaker’s Point travelling in a westerly direction past the Boulder through Mac Bay and perhaps down as far as Elbow Point known to many as the White Lady. By venturing further, fishing at the Goldstream end of the Inlet offered the productive areas of Chesterfield Rock and Misery Bay.

Stacey’s Boat House was in this area near the mouth of Goldstream and later this boat house became Halls. There has and continues to be a significant escapement of salmon into the Goldstream with chum being the predominant species. Continuing along the westerly shoreline below the highway over the Malahat, it is in this area where the war time movie Commandos Strike at Dawn was filmed starring the late Paul Munie. Further along the shoreline was the location of the Stone House a favourite and at times productive area. Prior to reaching McCurdy Point the Deep Hole was a favourite of early day anglers as a number of trophy size chinooks were landed here. So with respect to the foregoing this journey commencing at Whitakers Point all the way around to McCurdy Point was within the confines of Squally Reach.

Generally speaking Saanich Inlet has a been a deep water score as depths exceed two hundred metres. It is I believe the only glaciated fjord on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Heavy duty rods equipped with roller guides, Peetz reels loaded with wire line and planers designed for fishing very deep were widely used by anglers. Terminal gear consisted mainly of plugs and spoons as these lures predated the emergence and popularity of bait the likes of herring strip and minnows. Rhys Davis, Jim Gilbert and Tom Moss all provided tackle that was both popular and indeed productive.
For Rhys, the Strip Teaser was synonymous with his name whereas Tomic Plugs were the creation of Tom Moss. And as for the multi-talented Jim Gilbert he was a long-time Saanich Inlet guide and at times ran as many as four charter trips a day. Jimmy was a personal friend of mine and I enjoyed many a good time fishing the Inlet with Jim in his charter boat the Kaleeta. Sadly all three individuals have passed away.

Jim Gilbert as a young lad, with Mr. Fish, his trophy-winning fishing buddy, Solarium Derby, 1947:

I have many fond memories of fishing Saanich Inlet. During the decade of the forties a great whale made the Inlet its home for some very considerable period of time. It could often be seen in and around the water adjacent to Senanus Island. I also recall the row boat derbies held during World War 11 at the time of gas rationing. What would happen was somebody like Hugh Creed would pick a destination and tow a number of contestants in their row boats out there and leave them to fish away for the allotted time, after which they were towed back to Brentwood Bay. Derbies were popular events in the Inlet. There was the Solarium Derby – Jimmy Gilbert was the junior champ back in 1947 winning with a 15 lb 4 oz chinook caught on a Martin Plug. A little later on Ladder Derbies were held annually in which I participated a number of times but never made it to the top of the ladder. 

One final story which took place some considerable time ago: I was cleaning a salmon at Gilbert’s Boat House at a time during the run-up to a federal election. While eviscerating the fish, what should pop out but a piece of paper with the inscription “VOTE PEARKES.” Now at the time General Pearkes was running for re-election. Jim and I chuckled about this many a time afterwards but concluded that Harry Gilbert, Jim’s father, may have been responsible and planted the note in the salmon’s gullet! 

And here is a photo of Jimmy Gilbert’s father, Harry, on the right, with a very respectable daily catch of bluebacks, as coho grilse, often from the Cowichan River, were known:

Now a Bit About Jack Seedhouse:

I grew up at 3456 Saanich Road, phone # Empire 8497. Back then, if you were to drive up Oak Street to the T type intersection and chose to continue straight ahead rather then turning left or right you would have collided with our house. Then, our home was situated on five acres of land which now happens to be the location of the Uptown Shopping Centre. I attended Tolmie School still standing on Boleskine Road, Mount View High School on Carey Road and then onto Victoria College where you could complete first and second years as there was not a university here on the Island until a number of years later.

Jack and his share of those Nahmint Chinook, 1957:

Finally, one of those row boats, with Cedric Jones (the one in the hat) and his best friend, 1935:  

[As before, I have left the text as is, and made changes only for clarity.]