Sockeye fishing on the Fraser River
August 25, 2014
The sport is conducted on sandbars and from anchored boats when the fish run up the river in enormous numbers. Sockeye are fine fighting fish, prone to using the fast current for leverage, and bursting into unpredictable leaps when they see shore approaching.
Of course the water is too murky to see anything, so one must cast on the assumption that the river is full of the things. Sometimes it is; most times it isn’t, so fishermen tend to herd into areas where others are catching fish.
After a placid morning with a single sockeye, my beginner’s luck fish, we got wind of a hotspot and crowded onto a sandbar eroded by what seemed a powerful current. Chad worked hard to beach the 20′ jet boat and keep it from dragging the 60 pound anchor and chain right back into the river.
But the fish were there, and fishermen on all sides of us were hauling them in. Jim and Molly fished from the boat while Jamie and I preferred the coarse gravel of the bar. We started getting hits, and some came to the boat, to be netted, bled, and put on a stringer to keep them fresh in the cold water.
All afternoon we made long casts across fast, shallow water with a 4 oz sinker to anchor the hook, followed by a little, floating plastic egg.
Chad taught us to bounce the sinker down the current, with 12′ of mono leader behind it before the hook, feeling for anything that isn’t rock. Strike instantly.
The fish get hooked around the mouth, and so they call it flossing, or bottom bouncing. Fights are impressive.
The strenuous part of the fishing, though, is cranking in the heavy sinker back against the strong current. It’s like landing a fish each time you retrieve.
I grilled two fillets for supper. Words fail to describe the eating quality of this fish.
UPDATE: 26 August, 2014
Day two of sockeye fishing began quickly with a series of hits which had Curtis, our guide of the day, sprinting up and down the sandbar with a large net to land fish. We kept him busy.
I asked him to rig my favourite bait-casting reel, an old Shimano Calcutta, in lieu of the spinning reel he provided. Things improved dramatically after that, though an occasional backlash would send the 4 ounce sinker and accompanying tackle halfway up the nearest mountain.
But I averaged two good fish per backlash, and I didn’t complain when he missed a particularly fine sockeye at the net. It just became another of my many remote releases.
The problem with the spinning reel was that everything was out of whack. My body just wasn’t designed to crank that thing. Tony told me it was because I was turning the handle with my right hand and making my left do all of the strength work. He may be right, but my skeleton had nothing good to say about the series of spinning reels which passed through my hands Monday.
I had managed the odd backlash with the spinning reel, too.
This morning the more experienced fishermen made good use of the wave of fish passing the bar and we filled our limits quickly. Then we lazed in the sun while the inexperienced member of our party struggled to find a sockeye, any sockeye, so that we could finish up and go chinook fishing.
Chinooks were scarce today, so we came in early to sort out the fish packaging for one group in our party. Before we could find our beds, Tony, Sean, Sharon and I cleaned, packaged and froze twenty-three pristine sockeye salmon which ranged from five to nine pounds. They are beautiful fish.