Testimonials:

"I normally do not send a lot of comments about trips but in this case I will. The only thing I can say is if you look up the definition of "class act" in the dictionary you should be referred to North King Lodge. The facilities were great but your staff at the lodge is bar none: It didn't matter which one of your staff we talked to, we were always met with a friendly smile and the willingness to help out. They are just a great bunch of individuals who work as a collective team to make our stay a great one! Many thanks!"

– Lance Chalmers,
August 2007

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2014 North Central BC Coast Fishing Forecast by Bill Haymond

2014 Fishing Outlook

We are roughly five years into a cool phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, meaning cooler than normal water along the coasts of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, and warmer than normal water in the central North Pacific (from Hawaii north to the Aleutian Islands) and in the western Pacific near Japan. The local cool water promotes the growth of copepods and zooplankton that have high fat content, which allows the juvenile salmon to put on growth rapidly and reduces winter mortality. It also promotes the growth of local herring and sand lance populations. This is great for our coho and chinook salmon, and for the halibut and other groundfish. 

During the cool phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation the Oregon and California salmon runs typically prosper while Alaskan salmon experience poor ocean conditions. As an example last fall the Sacramento River chinook run was outstanding, however for several years now the Kenai River and Yukon River returns have been poor. At North King Lodge our June chinook runs, which include the Kitimat River run, are close enough to Alaska to be affected by these ocean conditions and the local impact can vary from year to year.

Ivan Winther is the Fisheries and Oceans Canada specialist on north coast chinook salmon. He indicated to me that in recent years the Kitimat River hatchery has noted a decline in chinook returns as well as a reduction in the age at maturity. Last summer the hatchery manager observed more small (probably 3 year old salmon that went to sea in 2011) males than normal and fewer large (probably age 4 and 5) females. This suggests that this run has experienced several years of poor ocean conditions followed by improving conditions (reduced mortality) for the age 3 salmon. It is likely that the run will have stronger returns in June 2014 as this same cohort returns as age 4 males and females.

There are indications that the central and north coast chinook which went to sea in 2012 experienced excellent ocean conditions and high survival. The Bella Coola / Atnarko system return in 2013 was strong, including about 27,000 large fish and 8,000 jacks (sexually precocious males that return to spawn after only one year in the ocean). This is several times the recent returns for jacks and suggests improving large chinook returns in 2014 and the years following. The Skeena and Nass large chinook returns were very low in 2013, however they also saw high numbers of jacks which indicates the likelihood of stronger returns of large chinook in 2014.

At North King Lodge during July and August we intercept chinook runs heading further south to their natal rivers in southern BC, Washington and Oregon. These include the Wannock River (Rivers Inlet) and the Columbia River runs, and in general these salmon are doing very well with the recent cool ocean conditions. In August 2012 there were more and bigger chinook than I’ve ever seen in the past. That same run last summer seemed much smaller, but I’ve heard that the returns to the rivers were good and suspect that it was a matter of migration route. Normally in early July we begin a weather pattern of occasional clear sunny days accompanied by strong northwest winds. These winds reverse the coastal current so it flows south (instead of the usual northerly direction) and away from shore, which causes upwelling and brings cold nutrient rich water to the surface. That enhances the in-shore ocean productivity and the chinook salmon like the lower temperatures. Last summer in our local area we had the warm sunny weather without the northwest winds, and I think the result was a body of warmer than normal water immediately adjacent to the coast – I noticed that many of my favourite kelp beds were only a fraction of their normal size. I think the adult chinook salmon might have been migrating further from shore, to avoid the warm water.

Our coho salmon also range north and south within the continental shelf and do very well during the cool phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. In particular the young salmon which went to sea in 2012 saw excellent ocean conditions and reduced mortality through the subsequent winter. That was one of the reasons for the really excellent coho run last summer (coho salmon typically spend two summers at sea). 

We’ve seen these general ocean conditions since 2008, but there are local and yearly variations and other important factors including the size of the parent spawning population, freshwater survival and local weather conditions. Last summer the coho run was spectacular and there were times when it was difficult to keep the gear in the water long enough to find a spring. I heard complaints from both guides and guests that there were too many coho, a good problem to have. Many guides changed to big Tomic plugs so they would catch fewer coho. I expect that this summer the run will be closer to average, however because of the excellent ocean conditions the individual coho may be larger in size. 

In January the International Pacific Halibut Commission noted that halibut stocks in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and the Alaskan Panhandle are stable or rebounding. Stocks in the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea and west to the Aleutian Islands are still in decline. This is consistent with recent ocean conditions (cooler water along our coast and warmer water between the Aleutian Islands and Hawaii) and also occurred during the last Pacific Decadal Oscillation cool phase between 1949 and 1973.

I suspect that the Halibut Commission is being conservative -- my personal observation is that the halibut fishing on the BC central coast has improved each year for the past couple of years, with many more big halibut in the area. This last summer I heard of two halibut in the 250 lb plus range being released, and many situations where halibut longer than the 126 cm limit were released.

So in summary: I expect that the June early season chinook runs will have improved returns relative to the past couple of years, and that from July through the end of the season the chinook runs should be strong with lots of big salmon. The coho run next summer will be average and the halibut fishing should continue to be excellent.

Looking forward to seeing you on the water.

 

Bill Haymond