Cloudy, rainy days filled with chrome

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by Jason Bowers

After a long stormy day on the water a pod of chrome coho finally showed up at the Gnarlies – just as the dinner bell rang.  The cold, wet afternoon was redeemed by a few hot coho at the 11th hour.  We headed back to the lodge with our heads held high – no longer minding that we were being pounded by marble sized raindrops.  Back at the dock as my fishing partners headed in for supper I couldn’t bring myself to take my gear off and head for shelter.  I needed more!

 
After a quick turn around I headed back out solo.  Dropping the anchor in the exact spot we had just left, the surface of the water in all directions came alive with fast and fierce swirling coho.  They were aggressive – tossing water in all directions with each swirl.  If you looked closely enough you could catch flashes of chrome as the coho devoured juvenile herring on the surface and quickly disappeared into the darkness of the depths below.  Tossing a gurgler from the bow, the coho were so aggressive that you could see their white mouths open as they rocketed toward the surface devouring the fly.  Cast after cast the increasingly tattered fly would disappear inside the mouth of a bright 8-11 pound coho as the fish turned, peeling off line well into my backing.
 
The current was unsettled and waffled from one direction to another.  With every change in direction the surface action would settle.  I would dash down to the stern where my wet line lay idle.  Casting in all directions with no hits I wondered, “where had they all gone?”.  Within minutes came an arm-pulling jerk from well below the surface and a frenzied coho cartwheeled into the raindrops trying to dislodge the hook.  It was time to run back to the bow and continue throwing the dry line, again hooking fish after fish.  After two hours of this routine and 20 plus coho to the boat, the tide swung and the current changed direction.  The pods of chrome bullets disappeared back into the depths.  Reeling up both fly lines I headed for home.  
 
The stomachs of the 2 fish I harvested were completely empty – they were new arrivals to Dundas, showing up with empty bellies and voracious appetites.  Back at the lodge taking off my gear I felt more than satisfied and almost in disbelief at what I had just experienced!  
 
These moments can happen to anglers frequently this time of the season and we all hope to be one of the lucky ones – in the right place at the right time.

Dan’s Focus on the Fishing Hole – Fresh is Best

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Haa-Nee-Naa Lodge has it’s own currency among guests and guides.  No it’s not the US dollar, the Loonie or even the Yen, it’s a freshie.  Walking around the dock and on any boat you will constantly hear the term “freshie”.  “Do you mind lending me a few freshies?”, ” How many freshies do you have?”, ” WOW! Look at all those freshies!”, “If there are any left-over freshies I will take them”.  These are a few of the many common phrases you will hear on the boat dock at the lodge.  
 
Now, while someone who has never been to Dundas Island and fished at HNNL may think freshie is another word for money, a freshie in fact, is something that money can’t buy.  Most important of all though, it is a treat no salmon can refuse! A morning-jigged Pacific Herring is what we call a freshie. There is a reason why we wake up at 4:30am to be the first boats on the water hunting for these little silver bullets: they are without question the best bait to use when mooching for Pacific Salmon.  Herring are exactly what a chinook salmon eats, so it is only fitting to use the exact bait.
 
Heading out to the herring grounds, gulls and diving birds are a dead give away for the location of bait, especially when the birds are literally diving into the water and slurping back these precious baitfish.  Orcas, sea-lions, porpoises and humpback whales are also often in the mix when a large school of herring is near. Many guests fall in love with herring jigging and we literally have to grab the rod from them in order to start salmon fishing.  “One more stringer, please”… Famous last words!
 
With a cooler full of fresh bait – it is time for the real fun to start.  After rigging up a cut plugged herring you must ALWAYS inspect the “roll”.  You want that fish to give off a certain movement that says “Eat Me!”.  It is important to handle the baitfish with care and leave all the scales intact.  The scales are what give them their deadly sparkle in the water – flash which we joke, can be seen from a mile away.
 
One morning last June we ran an experiment on one guide boat: We rigged two rods with freshly jigged cut plugged herring and the other two with brined bait, also known as “T.V. dinners”.  The freshies out-fished the brined herring 5-0!  The experiment ended quickly and all rods were switched over.  On several occasions last season boats using fresh herring vastly out-fished boats using T.V. dinners.
 
So trust me, it’s worth driving around like maniacs looking for fresh bait in the morning.  Some days it takes a little longer than others but the extra time spent is well worth the reward.  Plus, do you think we would reach our hands into the freezing cold ice water at 5am picking out perfect freshie if they did not work?  I think not!!

Outlook for 2016

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Chinook

It is always interesting to read through the collected data from the past season’s sport and commercial fishery.  Comparing the data to previous years, biologists come up with an educated estimate of run sizes for the upcoming season.  It causes us to reflect on last season’s ups and downs and pushes us to think long and hard on how to characterize a whole season at the lodge in just a few paragraphs.
 
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) forecast for our region concerning Chinook salmon always seems to be about the same: average returns, all hinging on ocean survival of outgoing smolts.  When you really sort through the data you can see some downward trends and some definite trends looking upward. It appears that the early season Nass and Skeena fish, which make up a large portion of the fish we intercept on Dundas Island, seem to be fairly stable or slightly down from the historical average.  However, the percentages of fish swimming by Dundas to the central and lower parts of the Pacific Northwest seem to be on the rise. It is only a matter of time before we get a bumper year on the North Coast tributaries and when combined with the increasing numbers to Central and Southern rivers, we could be in for some incredible fishing.
 
Last year saw some of the largest returns of big fish to our local tributaries.  At one local hatchery, fish in the 70 pound range were being harvested for brood stock on almost a daily basis. The hatchery manager on this tributary anticipates this season to be even better! These big fish are still out there and swim past Dundas – who will be the lucky one to get their fish of a lifetime this season? Our regional biologist has noted some highlights from last year: in 2015 the average weight of the commercial troll fishery  Chinook on the north coast was only 11 pounds. In most fisheries when there is a large return of jacks or smaller fish, the next year tends to get a bump in the population of 4 and 5 year olds (big fish). With any luck we will see that bump in 2016.

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Coho

The outlook for coho on the North Coast has been described as abundant for 2016. This is good news given that late run Skeena coho numbers were down last season. These low numbers didn’t seem to impact our experience – we continued to have incredible coho action on both cut plugs and on the fly throughout August and into early September. We are excited by this forecast for next season and hope to see large numbers of coho passing through the waters on the north end of Dundas.

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Bottom Fish
 
Possession limits for halibut will remain the same in 2016 (one halibut per day, 2 possession), however there will be changes in the size restrictions.  The large fish will remain at 133 cm and the second fish in possession will drop from 90 cm to 83 cm.  We are also anticipating a change in yellow-eye limits from 3 per day down to 2 per day, four in possession.  We look forward to more great fishing for halibut and all other bottom species.  Fishing may even get better as our guides and anglers are always trying new techniques and locations to further our knowledge of the area.

What to expect in August?

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As the summer winds gently blow warm air off the Pacific so comes with it one of our finest fisheries of the season.  It’s NORTHERN time:  when large, hooked nosed coho begin their journey past Dundas Island.  These large coho can grow in excess of 18 pounds and boy do they fight!  Cartwheeling through the air and making long screaming runs they are a true testament to what is still wild and pure.  Plentiful and very aggressive, they are significantly different in appearance to the early run fish.  Shiny blue backs are replaced by olive greens with noses hooked in preparation for their upcoming spawning battle.  After a long 3 or 4 year journey into the open Pacific these perfect specimens are destined to northern rivers like the Skeena, Nass, Kitwanga or the Kwinamass, just to name a few of the local watersheds.  This is exciting fishing which tests light tackle to the max!  Many guests prefer to put down the mooching rods and jig buzz bombs or Stingsildas with even lighter tackle while others enjoy bucktailing or casting a fly.  Whichever method you choose they can all be very successful and produce some heart-stopping excitement.  As table fare, coho salmon is one of the finest.  Lean, bright red meat lends itself nicely to the smoker or on the BBQ. 

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Combine this coho action with the fabulous bottom fishing and it makes August a great time of year to come enjoy Haa-Nee-Naa Lodge.  Remote by nature, Dundas Island has very few local anglers or charter boats making the long trek to our waters in August and early September.  It is remote, quiet and exciting, everything that you expect out of a fly-in fishing trip.  When the day is done you can look forward to our fabulous hostess preparing you a specialty cocktail and après-fishing treats on the back deck.  A great way to wind down after a long hard day on the water, after all catching big coho and halibut and be very stressful!  

2015 Year in Review – Coho Fishing

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Coho Fishing
 
What a fantastic year for coho!  Large numbers of coho arrived in early June holding strong through early August, and they were big!  Many of these bright, blue-sided early coho were tipping the scales at well over 10 pounds.  These fish were not likely returning to our northern rivers but rather were headed to the south or central coast – hence their early arrival.  The strong early presence of these fish was a great indication of what was about to come in August.
 
August fly-fishing was outstanding!  In the history of our fly-fishing program at HNNL it ranked among our top three seasons.  Double-digit days were normal and not the exception in 2015.  Some of our anglers were even lucky enough to tackle a Chinook on the cast fly!  Although rare, such events do happen and when they do, watch out!  Not nearly as abundant as previous years, our late season local coho seemed to follow a different pattern than usual.  These fish weren’t found offshore chasing deep schools of herring but instead we found them regularly driving jack herring in amongst the kelp forests into very shallow water.  While looking down you could often watch pods of coho cruising for feed.  These fish seemed to really focus on surface presented flies.  There were many days throughout August where anglers didn’t have to throw a wet line and could watch coho voraciously attack gurglers on the surface cast after cast.