Sunday, 12 February 2017

Salmon from the sea – By Peter McMullan, 1956

Peter McMullan responded to my call for articles/images on Saanich Inlet fishing in its hot spot heyday of the ‘50s and ‘60s, with an article published in the 1956, UK journal, Angling.
Please send me your Saanich Inlet fishing stories, so we can get them preserved on the web. Or if you know someone who fished it, please ask them to send me information.
There is more of Peter’s story, an image of his recent book, Casting Back: SixtyYears of Fishing and Writing, Rocky Mountain Books, 2016 and a diary of his catches in 1953-54 still to come.

See the images below the article, particularly, Peter freezing to death, but still fishing in Jan 1954:

Salmon from the sea

The majority of anglers in the British Isles are prepared to believe the stories told by other anglers. But when I returned from Canada in December 1954, after living in Victoria, British Columbia for 18 months, and told my friends about catching salmon in the sea they just laughed at me. “Salmon in the sea!” they exclaimed, “Why, that’s impossible and anyway it wouldn’t be sporting.” I am still trying to convince them that it’s both possible and practical.

There are five distinct species of salmon living in the Pacific but only the spring or Chinook and the coho or silver salmon are of any interest to the angler. The humpy, chum and sockeye salmon seldom take a lure and are usually caught in the nets of the commercial fishermen.

These salmon are only vague relations of the Atlantic salmon that we know. In shape they are similar although the spring is usually shorter and deeper than the coho. In size the coho is the smaller of the two, averaging between six and ten pounds. The springs run much larger and it has been known for specimens of more than 90 pounds to be taken in the nets. The average weigh varies from place to place. At Campbell River or Port Alberni, two of the Meccas of spring salmon fishermen, a forty-pounder would cause no special comment.

Their life cycle, too, is very different. Instead of running up the rivers to spawn after three or four years and then returning to the sea as spent fish or kelts, the Pacific salmon all die after spawning. The spawning runs commence in late August and continue into December. When the rivers are low it is possible to stand on the bank and watch the salmon going up in their thousands. Indeed, the annual run in the Goldstream River, near Victoria, is quite a tourist attraction.

After they have spawned the fish die slowly and many wild animals take advantage of this free meal on their doorstep. It is not as uncommon sight to see three or four black bears in the shallows of one of the remoter rivers scooping up the dying salmon and throwing them on to the bank to be eaten later.

Once the salmon enter fresh water they tend to lose interest in the angler’s lures. Consequently, nearly all the sports fishing for them takes place in the sea, most often by trolling from boats.

Methods, like the average size of the fish, are many and varied. My favorite spot was Saanich Inlet, near Victoria, where, owing to the very deep water, we used wire lines of about 30 pounds breaking strain and trip weights of up to two pounds. These were attached to the line in such a way that they would drop off when a fish struck.

While wire lines were a necessity if one wished to catch really large springs they could be dispensed with when one was fishing for coho and smaller springs. For them a nylon or cuttyhunk line of 10 to 12 pounds breaking strain and three or four ounces of weight was quite sufficient.

As for lures, ever fisherman has his own particular fancy. Some use spoons, other plugs. Yet another may swear by a bucktail or streamer fly trolled fast not far off the back of the boat. I have tried them all and, with one exception, have found that one was as good as another. Of course, it varied from day to day according to conditions. In late August and September a blue and white bucktail fly was particularly effective when the salmon are feeding on the large shoals of herring that came into the inlet.

The exception mentioned earlier was herring strip, a bait that served me very well indeed at all times. Cut from the side of a medium-sized herring and trimmed of all its surplus flesh, it was fitted in to a plastic holder called a Strip Teaser. This prevents the bait from disintegrating after a short time in the water and also gives it the necessary action. The lure, with a single hook, when fishing perfectly should be revolving slowly.

Although by no means an essential, many fishermen like to attach their lures to a ‘flasher’. This is a piece of highly polished or chrome-plated metal about six inches long and three inches broad. It is curved in opposite directions at each end and, when drawn through the water, darts from side to side towing the lure behind it, the whole effect being that of a small, wounded herring making frantic efforts to escape.

The technique used in this type of fishing is fairly simple. On reaching the fishing grounds the boat is slowed down to trolling speed and the lures, with at least two rods being used, are let out to the required distance that can vary from 30 to 300 feet depending on depth and conditions. Then the angler settles back and concentrates on steering the boat. I know it sounds dull but wait until a fish strikes on both rods simultaneously. It’s happened to me twice and something akin to bedlam has followed.

As to the cost of all this, I found it to be very reasonable. In British Columbia it is only necessary to have a licence (sic) to fish in fresh water. This means all the salmon fishing is free and unpreserved. This means the angler’s only overheads are tackle and, if he does not own a boat, boat rentals. And a big advantage of fishing in the sea is that it cuts down on the loss of lures by nearly 100 per cent.

The price of fishing tackle is also very reasonable. A good trolling rod costs about four pounds ten shillings with a five-inch trolling reel from the Victoria shop of famous local maker Peetz priced at three pounds ten shillings. Add another two pounds for lures and line and the whole outfit will be priced at an even ‘tenner’, cheap compared to the price of salmon fishing on this side of the Atlantic.

Boat rentals vary in cost with the popularity of the location. I used to frequent Peard’s Boathouse, in Brentwood Bay, where a row boat cost me two shillings an hour while one with a small inboard engine would run go for three shillings and sixpence an hour.

There are very few places where a guide is considered an essential and a complete stranger can reasonably expect to catch a salmon first time out. To maintain the very high standards of sport fishing in British Columbian waters the Federal Government recently instituted a bag limit of five salmon per day per person with heavy fines imposed on any one caught taking over their limit.

In conclusion, a few notes on the culinary qualities of the Pacific Salmon for those anglers who like to cook what they catch. Generally I found the flesh to be considerably redder and oilier than that of the Atlantic salmon. I believe the coho to be the best eating of tem all followed by the spring. The sockeye is the most valuable commercially and form the largest proportion of primary grade Canadian canned salmon.

January 1956, Angling  (UK 1936-1956)  


Peter McMullan  freezing to death, er fishing, and having a great time in Saanich Inlet circa January 1954:



                            Peter Mcullan with a whole bunch of fishy friends: 

                                      Peter McMullan, with a pretty nice fish:



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