Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chehalis River Coho Fishing

Dad had been away for two weeks visiting little brother Christian in Mexico (see Christian's blog here), and I didn't get any fishing done without him.  He is back now, and today was his birthday so we decided to go on a father-son outing to explore the Chehalis River in British Columbia.  It was still dark when I left my house (yes, finally moved in!) and the wipers pushed slush off of the windshield making me happy that I packed gloves and plenty of layers.  At Dad's we quickly loaded the tools of the trade and were soon on the road with his boat in tow.  The Trumpeter Swans were plentiful as we passed Wiser Lake and many farm fields were filled with Canadian Geese.  The low hanging clouds lifted briefly as we passed through Sumas to reveal snow near the bottom of the foothills, but for the rest of the drive the weather looked glum.  As we followed the Fraser upstream Dad easily spotted salmon carcases and although I didn't see them, their presence was confirmed for me by the Bald Eagles in the trees, which increased in numbers as we neared our boat launch on the Harrison River.  I started counting Eagles once we were on the water.  On one stretch that was less than a mile long, I counted 125 eagles on just one side of the river.  I actually gave up because they were getting so thick that I couldn't count them; some trees had more than 20 eagles on them!  The carcass abundance was equally impressive.  They lay hollow eyed on the banks, could be spotted in underwater heaps that looked like miniature logjams, and drifted belly up and nose down in the river- tracing lines in the sand with their gnarled snouts as the current pushed them towards the sea.

Were we too late?  No fish were jumping and the only ones we saw were Chum that looked like zombies.  We were also having trouble finding the mouth of the Chehalis.  It empties into the Harrison through several channels in a large tidally influenced (freshwater) estuary.  We had already motored up one channel as far as we could go and were forced back by shallow water.  In the distance we saw two fish biologists that were counting salmon carcases and we motored over to ask for direction.  Half way there the signs improved: we saw our first Coho jump and two seals in the water.  The mouth of the main channel was just up ahead around the corner, and so off we went.  It wasn't exactly as easy to find as they made it out to be, and we ended up parking the boat and walking for about half a mile, but at last we came to the crystal clear water of the Chehalis.  The Coho were thick in the deep slow moving water.  As we walked along the bank to scout out a good place to fish, they spooked easily and moved off shore even further.  I rigged up quickly and cast a pink colored weighted fly over a small school of fish... they all spooked.  We tried drifting flies, setting them on the bottom, and Dad put on several different patterns, but nothing would entice them.  They were onto us and all we could do was watch and delight at the splendid display of life (and death) around us.

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