Category Archives: Fishing

Ripple Rock

Every year when the captain (my captain, that is) takes his commercial troller from Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands on the northern coast of British Columbia (and back again), he has to go through a tight passage called Seymour Narrows.

Located just north of the town of Campbell River, this stretch of water was described by Captain George Vancouver as “one of the vilest stretches of water in the world.”

Whenever I have accompanied “my” captain through the narrows, I’ve nearly given myself an ulcer beforehand, as Seymour Narrows has such a terrible reputation. Yet each time, going through the passage has been a piece of cake, with calm waters. That’s how it should be, if you wait for slack water, between tides.

The passage through Seymour Narrows is now much safer thanks to the removal of the tops of Ripple Rock,  a submerged twin-peak mountain that lay just nine feet beneath the surface of Seymour Narrows. According to Wikipedia, it was a serious hazard to shipping, sinking 119 vessels and taking 114 lives.

In the case of the William J. Stewart, when it struck Ripple Rock  in 1944, I’m not aware of any loss of life, and the ship was beached and later restored. It was due to be scrapped in 2017.

On April 5, 1958, after twenty-seven months of tunnelling and engineering work, Ripple Rock was blown up with 1,375 tons of Nitramex 2H explosive. It was quite the project.  A 500-foot vertical shaft was built on Maud Island, and then a horizontal shaft of 2,370 feet  was drilled out to Ripple Rock. From that point, two vertical shafts were drilled up into the  peaks, with shafts for the placement of the explosives. Very advanced technology for 1958.

I think those columns of smoke are blowback  from the explosion, coming out through the drilled shafts.

The explosion spewed debris almost 1000 feet into the air falling on land on either side of the narrows.  After the blast, the two peaks were 13.7 m (45 ft) and 15.2 m (50 ft) underwater.

Some very smart engineers had the foresight to detonate the charge at a time when the tide was running its fastest, so the rocks  blown off the tops would not fall straight back down onto the peaks, but rather, be swished along beyond them.

Even after the top of Ripple Rock was removed, it remains a challenging route. In March 1981, the Star Philippine, a freighter, ran aground in the narrows.

When the captain was coming home from a summer of trolling, he took pictures of his navigation instruments as he went through Seymour Narrows quite close by Ripple Rock. The red triangular icon represents his boat as he is heading south, just past Ripple Rock. Arrows show the direction of the tidal flow at that time. You can see the depths of the peaks as 15.2 m, and 13.7 m.

In the monitor of the depth sounder below, you can see the twin peaks of the rock. The number on the bottom left should be the depth in meters, directly below where the boat is at that moment. The reading is taken on the far right where the scale is marked. This tells me that the boat has just passed the second of the peaks of what is left of Ripple Rock.

Even knowing that the rock has been topped, I still have a healthy respect for this stretch of water. The colour photos (near the beginning of this post) of the swirling eddies are recent, well after the explosion of Ripple Rock, so you can see that going through Seymour Narrows when the tide is running full is still not a good idea.

My preference is to stay on land whenever possible.

 

 

 

Fishing is Hard Work

If only fishing were as easy as lying on your back in the grass beside a creek, waiting for the trout to bite. Commercial fishing, catching fish for people to eat, is much harder work than that.

To survive in heavy weather and rough seas, the fish boat must be in good shape structurally and mechanically. If it is a wood boat, it needs extra care in the form of dollars and sweat.

Once a year, before leaving for the north coast of British Columbia, the fish boat gets a facelift. Actually she gets a total body lift by a Travel Lift that puts straps under her hull and lifts her right out of the water and deposits her on the dry parking lot.

 

She is set down on wooden blocks. Jacks prop up  each side to prevent her from tipping over.

The hull is power washed to get rid of any sealife that may have attached itself to the wood. Once the hull is clean  and has  dried off, the upper parts are sanded and scraped to prepare them for a coat of paint.

Bars of zinc are  attached to the rudder and the iron shoe of the boat. Molten zinc is poured into a tin can mold attached to the wheel nut of the propeller, and more bars are attached to the cooling pipes not shown in this picture. All the zincs are meant to be sacrificed in lieu of the other metal parts of the boat (like the rudder, propeller, and cooling pipes). It is better that the zinc, rather than the propeller, be “eaten” by electrolysis.

The last job is to paint the bottom of the hull with anti-fouling paint. When that is done, the Travel Lift picks up the boat, carries it over to the water, and lowers it in.

In the photo below you can see that the boat has been carried away from its blocks on its way to the water again.

Feeling more comfortable now in its usual surroundings, the boat rests calmly, waiting to make the trip back home.

Passing  a sailboat  that is leisurely making its way out to sea, the fish boat hurries home.

For photos of the boat being lifted out of the water, click the link below.

https://wordsfromanneli.com/2016/03/11/uplifting/

Get in Line

The commercial salmon troller (not to be mistaken for a trawler) is shown here in early June, all tiddled up, ready to leave for the summer fishing season in the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii). But now that the season has ended, the boat is a bit tired and ready for some TLC. Like every summer, it has taken a beating, pounding into the waves in bad weather. Rigging, fishing lines, gear,  equipment, and even other boats have rubbed on its hull.

The question friends and acquaintances most often ask after it’s all over, is “How was your season?”

The main thing is to survive the elements, stay safe from the many hazards that can befall a fisherman. Beyond that, it’s a case of trying to be in the right place at the right time and hook some salmon that happen to be swimming by.

Commercial fishermen work hard to supply us with fish to eat. Turns out though, that we humans have to get in line. No, I don’t mean the line in the grocery store. I mean get in line behind the more aggressive predators. Here’s how it comes to be that way.

This year, the Captain tells me, it has been an exercise in frustration. Yes, there were good days, but there were extra obstacles besides the ongoing bad weather. The blue shark below is one example. Often they are quick to take advantage of the salmon’s inability to escape the hook. This one was unlucky and bit the lure himself.

Sometimes the Captain might hook a salmon and before he can get it into the boat, a shark has helped himself to a meal.  Here is what’s left of the fish after the shark has taken a bite. I’ve blurred out the deckhand’s face for the sake of his anonymity.

And then there are the pyrosomes, a new phenomenon in northern waters this year. They are not really a jellyfish although they could easily be mistaken for them. They are really small creatures (zooids)  held together in a colony by a gelatinous substance. If they break apart, they just multiply and grow again. Soon we could be overrun … er .. overswum?? with them.

The deckhand holds the hoochie (a lure meant to simulate a squid), which has the hook hidden inside its rubbery, synthetic tentacles. Some pyrosomes are snagged on the steel cable and slide down to where the monofilament line is attached, while others are snagged on the monofilament line itself and slide down to the flasher or the hoochie beyond it.   A hook that is covered with pyrosomes won’t attract a fish, so the lines have to be cleaned off constantly.And then we have the same old deadly predators, the sea lions, who often follow a boat, lazily waiting for a salmon to be caught so they can snatch it off the line for their own easy meal.

With a lot of stress and frustration, the fisherman does his best to catch enough fish to sell to the buyers who will supply the stores to feed humans. Looks like we have  to get in line behind these more aggressive feeders and take what they leave us.

Herring Time

When the herring roe fishery happens each spring on the BC Coast, the seine boats and herring skiffs congregate close to shore because that is where the herring can be intercepted as they rush the beach to spawn. At night when the boats have their anchor lights on, it looks like a floating city just offshore.

Sea lions and seagulls and eagles patrol the area in hope of some tasty bites.

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Photo courtesy of P. Knettig

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It’s a bluebird day. Hard to believe it was rough and windy just a couple of days ago. Still it was fishable and the herring filled the seine nets. Then disaster struck as an extra heavy net caused a boat to list  and not recover. The fishing community lost a fellow fisherman. His brother is quoted on CTV News:

“They had a really big set. The boat was listing and Mel went down into the engine room to turn the pumps on, and while he was down there the boat rolled over.”

It brings home to all of us once again, how dangerous fishing is. While the fleet mourns the loss of one of their own, the fishery goes on, as it must. The pretty night lights, and the bluebird daytime sky and sea belie the sombre mood and the heavy hearts of the fishing fleet.

All Up in the Hills

With apologies to my oldest followers, I’m reblogging this post from four years ago.

Pictures were taken with my tiny Olympus camera before the days of my Nikon. Only this first photo is different, taken by my friend, Ken Johnston.

grizzly

A few years ago, the Captain and I went on a camping trip west of Williams Lake in BC with another couple to fish the highly esteemed Chilko River.

Chilko River

I knew it was grizzly country but in spite of my ursaphobia I didn’t want to miss out on this adventure.

Choelquoit Lake with the Chilko River Valley at the base of the mountains.

Chilko Lake ahead with Chilko River flowing out of it.

The Chilcotin Plateau on our way to Chilko Lake and the Tatlayoko Lake area was scenic and spectacular. Real cowboy country. Near the horse corrals of Chilko Lake Lodge we parked our trailers side by side in a designated camping area.

 

Perfect camping spot

Anonymous checks out “A Room With a View”

I kicked aside hoof trimmings with sharp tacks still sticking out of them. Didn’t want to step on them later.

Horses live here.

We fished some of the many smaller lakes in the area, as well as the Chilko River, for which we needed a special licence (and a promise that we wouldn’t sue if we got frostbite on the river). It was June, and sunny, but the temperature was cool at this altitude.  Chilly and cold.

“Hey! Maybe that’s why it’s called Chilko Lake—‘chilly cold lake.’” I thought I was being witty, but all I got was eye rolls from my shivering companions.

I’m not petite, but with many layers of coats, sweaters, and life jacket on, I’ve doubled in size.

All those layers of clothes and still chilly and cold on the Chilko.

“We should try to find a better spot to launch the skiff,” the Captain said. “There’s a good place right around here.  Saw it last year. The main road runs parallel to the river. Somewhere, there’s a trail between the two.” Moments later he spotted it. A narrow road had been pushed through the dense woods. It might have been passable with our four-wheel-drive truck except that large boulders had been strategically placed to prevent vehicle access. We got out and walked through the woods.

Hiking time

“I don’t mind a hike, but what about grizzlies?”

“Oh, you don’t need to worry about them. They’re all up in the hills this time of year.”

Why didn’t that reassure me? “And you know this, how?”

“I just know.”

I shrugged my shoulders and strapped on my bear spray. “Okay, let’s go.”

“The river’s got to be just around the bend,” the Captain said. In the next twenty minutes he would repeat this phrase many times.

My neck felt rubbery from swiveling to check behind me. “Are you sure about the grizzlies?”

“No grizzlies this time of year. I told you, they’re all up in the hills.”

This sounded very familiar. It was the same thing he had said when we were stranded in grizzly country on the coast the day we got cut off by the tide.  “You always say that.”

“No really, they are,” he said.  “It’s too early for grizzlies.”

The launching spot we eventually found was nowhere near where we hiked that day through “non-grizzly country.” We fished the river and were amazed at the huge fish that remained, for the most part, elusive. Three things stood out for me on those days on the river:

1. The scenery was spectacular.

2. It was cold enough to freeze your goosebumps.

3. Blessedly, there were no grizzlies on the river (which is why I liked being in the boat).

Pretty cool trip

After several days at the horse ranch, the forecast of heavy rain marked the end of our stay.

We packed up and started for home. Outfitted with walkie-talkies in each truck, we led the way, chatting occasionally to our friends who followed behind in their rig.

Time to leave

The roads were turning ugly in places as the downpour dampened the clay gumbo under the gravel topping. We were getting out just in time.

For sure it was time to leave!

That’s when it happened.

“Did you see that?” I pointed to the road in front of us, then turned to see where the two grizzlies disappeared into the trees. We pulled over to the side to peer through the woods. The trees were so close together I wondered how a grizzly could fit between them, especially at a gallop.

“Two grizzlies just ran across the road in front of us,” the Captain said into the walkie-talkie.

“Oh yeah? Well, you’ve got a flat tire,” our friend said.

“Ha, ha! Very funny,” we answered into the mike.

“No, I’m serious. Your back right trailer tire is flat. I’m parked right behind you and believe me, it’s flat.”

“Is he messing with our heads?” I asked. “Right where the grizzlies went into the woods?”

Only flat on the bottom

“I’ll check it out.” The expression on his face when he came back to the cab told me it was bad news. “We must have driven over one of those hoof clippings with the tacks. You take the shotgun and stand right there while I change the tire.”

My neck felt prickly but I couldn’t wimp out and leave the Captain to be grizzly bait all alone, so I stood there with the shotgun. Our friend stood guard with his rifle — brave soul –, and his wife stayed in their truck — smart woman.

After a while, I got bored. The gravel on the roadside looked soft, and the grizzlies—a mother and a teenage cub I would guess—were really moving, so they should have left some tracks. I wandered a bit, looking up and down the ditch for the tracks.

“Here!” the Captain called. “Just stand there with that shotgun. I don’t trust those buggers.” No more pooh-poohing my ursaphobia now. I should have felt some “I-told-you-so” satisfaction but all I felt was jumpy nerves.

At last the spare tire was on and tools put away. I did a quick check for overlooked tire irons and such. And that’s when I found it—the grizzly track I’d been looking for—right behind the newly changed tire.

Either a grizzly or Bigfoot

“Oh my God! It’s exactly right here that they went into the woods!”

As we drove away, the Captain scrunched his face up. “Ahem … I didn’t want to tell you earlier,” he said, “but a rancher near Tatlayoko Lake lost some livestock to grizzlies last week.”

“All up in the hills. Hah!”

A Proper Prop

No wind or rain today! Here’s a chance for the Captain to put the troller on the grid and exchange the old prop for a new one while the tide is out.

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He’ll have to work fast before that water rises again and floats the boat. As soon as the tide has dropped enough to give him a working surface on the grid, he begins.

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The old prop needs to be pulled off, but that isn’t so easy. Nor should it be. It’s meant to be on there good and tight. Not something you want to have wobbling on the shaft or twirling right off the shaft and whooshing away into the deep. It’s hard work but the wheel puller (fishermen often call the prop a wheel) that he puts around the propeller puts physics to work and with a bit of elbow grease and a few grunts, the old prop pops loose.

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This boat is going nowhere until the new propeller is put on. You can see the gadget that helped pull off the old prop lying on the ground next to blue kneeling pad. The propane bottle on the left was used to heat and expand the hub of the propeller, making it easier to release it from its tight fit on the shaft. Like holding a stubborn jar lid under hot water to make it easier to open.

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The new propeller is placed on the shaft. It’s a bit like changing a tire only harder work. The blocks of wood under the bottom blade will stop the prop from wanting to turn as the wheel nut is tightened to hold it in place.

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Whew! That was hard work. The Captain drops the pipe wrench on the ground while he stretches his legs and gives his arms and shoulders a rest. But OH! Look at the back of his coveralls. Which washing machine will want that mess in its tub? Bottom-of-the-boat scunge and copper paint. So much fun for Ahab’s wife.

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The annual spring cleanup of the hull of the boat is yet to come. A proper shipyard will be needed for that job. For now, Ahab’s wife will try to enjoy how shiny the new propeller is and forget about how grungy her Captain looks after a hard day’s work.

*****

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Surf and Turf

Apparently the term “Turf and Surf” has been around since 1961. It has taken me 54 years to know about it and figure out what it means. As I’m sure everyone else in the world already knows, “Turf and Surf” refers to meals of meat and fish, especially when speaking of steak and lobster.

Yesterday the Captain and I had a Turf and Surf day, but it was a far cry from steak and lobster. We went to a store that sells commercial fishing gear near the small town of Coombs on Vancouver Island, and took care of the annual gear upgrade. Then we went to the Coombs Market where they keep goats on the roof as a tourist attraction. You may recall that we did this same outing last year and it has become a bit of a tradition: Buy fishing gear, go to the Coombs Market to buy a few picnic fixings (Black Forest ham for the bread I brought from home, some fancy mustard to put on it, and two Starbucks Americanos), and then drive ten minutes to Qualicum Beach for a seaside picnic.020

The turf was on the roof of the Coombs Market building,

004and the surf was on the nearby beach.

It wasn’t steak and lobster, but we had a beautiful day for a picnic by the beach.