Sunday, 2 April 2017

Deep Cove and the Saanich Inlet: 1946 - Richard Lake, March 2017

June 1946--a child arrives in paradise.  At six years old, a Canadian who knew nothing but wartime England, came to Deep Cove. We moved into the "shack" on my grandparents' property which, the previous year, had been temporary home to child evacuees from England (at least one of which since returned to Vancouver Island to live).  The "shack", built in 1924 by Tom Sauvary a pioneer Deep Cove boat builder (as of 2017, still occupied but somewhat renovated with electricity and running water), stood above the beach with its pair of (even in 1946) elderly clinker-built boats.

My mother and I were the keen fishers in our immediate family. My father, less keen on fishing, loved boats and was mechanically inclined which helped him wrestle with the cantankerous pre-war outboard. My brother, in 1946 too young to fish, was a less patient fisher and tended to tie up his line; on one occasion an obviously large fish took it into the depths of Sansum Narrows along with a substantial piece of our uncle's boat.

The targets for a Deep Cove child in 1946 were coho grilse. Usually, for about an hour we joined the parade circling "the beacon" (Wain Rock). Half a dozen tasty eight to twelve inchers were a usual reward but some longer ventures yielded up to thirty, though (absent refrigeration) some of them would be released. Twenty boats might be there on a summer afternoon. Although my grandfather had a rod, for us it was hand lines. While the adults might use a heavy line of cotton cord with a spoon and a pound of lead weights, half a light cotton line with a Cowichan spinner, carefully shone with Brasso, and baited with a worm was the norm for the children. Some grilse fishers used the more expensive willow trolls. I don't know whether they caught more.

The old boats rowed well and slipped through the water when the outboard worked but they were tippy. No life jackets if you could swim but the rule was firm; nobody stood up, for any reason. If a child hooked a mature salmon there was no problem; it broke the light leader to the hook. If it was an adult, the child or children had to sit in the bottom of the leaky boat while an adult tried to gaff it. But we didn't get wet bottomed that often as everyone fished so shallow that the chinook rarely saw the lines.

A supply of worms was crucial but my grandmother maintained a marvellous worm farm fed with tea leaves. Memories remain of the search for the perpetrator of the heinous crime--coffee grounds in the worm farm. The salmon searching adults had their favourite spoons. Constance Kelly, who retired to Deep Cove from Pender Island, swore by abalone shell. She was the best fisher I knew and brought home the big springs (chinook).  Although she used the outboard to go out and back, she turned it off to fish--and rowed.  She remained physically fit and mentally sharp until 101.

Wain Rock and the Saanich Inlet were very different then. What is now a barren rock was surrounded by a thick bed of bull kelp. The water between the kelp and the rock and just outside the kelp seethed with 'small fry' (baitfish, presumably young herring). Some fishers swept rakes through them to collect bait. The grilse seemed to always be in the vicinity and grew to more than 12 inches (30 cm) by the end of August.  Mature coho arrived by mid-July, weighing three to five pounds.

Both sides of Satellite Channel also had thick kelp beds. Just around Moses Point was Cod Rock with thick kelp to a depth of 50 feet and where, if we had no grilse, my father would stop and connect a lead jig to his line. A ling cod was almost inevitable. We preferred the blue ones, smaller than today's legal minimum. I never remember retaining a large ling but do remember being shown one stubbornly hanging on with its teeth in our fish until its head broke the surface and it slowly returned to the depths. My grandfather was reputed to have taken a sixty pound Pacific cod from Satellite Channel. Smaller members of this species have recently returned to the Channel.

We rarely saw seals--lots of porpoises but few seals. If we did see a seal, it was "up lines" and leave. There were orcas. When a "blackfish" entered our cove, my grandfather became disturbed; children had to leave the beach. Over the 17 years since we returned to the property, orcas have occasionally entered the Inlet but we have never seen them within Deep Cove. This is not surprising. These animals are used to the open ocean and dark nights. The night sky that used to be a blaze of stars is now dominated by the street lights of Arbutus Ridge.

As we understood it in those days, Saanich Inlet was recreational only and closed to all commercial fishing including crabs, prawns and ground fish. We never saw a commercial boat fishing there. I presumed special designation. It was certainly closed for commercial trollers (as I remember from later days when I had a commercial licence), and a ground fish trawler in Satellite Channel was carefully watched as it approached but didn't cross the line. The closed area was demarcated by white triangular Fisheries signs on Moses Point and Cape Keppel, with another pair across Sansum Narrows.

The parade of fishing boats around Wain Rock inevitably included rentals from Holders. The Holder boat rental operation was located in the centre of Deep Cove. The clinker built open boats had small simple inboards and appeared quite stable. They rarely ventured far. Only one had a cabin, Mr Holder's own boat. The shelter was high and he fished standing and facing the rear, with a rod on each side. I can't remember an evening when he wasn't out fishing, and he always ended trolling home around the north side of the Cove.

And, there were the beach and the crabs. There were no oysters on the Deep Cove beaches or rocks in 1946; they came later when the water warmed.  But, there were clams. We dug them and ate them mostly in chowder. Red tide was a concern that was monitored but, with outhouses not flush toilets, our beach (possibly incorrectly) was presumed clean. The red rock crabs we caught with a garden rake, even as children, wading in from the beach. The adults would use the rake from a boat to harvest many more. We rarely saw a Dungeness.

The plethora of small boats are gone from this once internationally famous angling destination. The last of them went when summer closures were implemented in the early 2000s to protect the waning Cowichan chinook. Was this transition to what some local anglers call the dead sea the inevitable consequence of shoreline development? What has happened to the ecology? Could the kelp beds be restored? How might the Inlet's recreational fishery be recovered?

The most conspicuous issue is the loss of forage fish and invertebrates. So much of the productive capacity of the Cowichan Delta has been lost to industry. We didn't realize its importance to the salmon when industry was allowed/encouraged to locate there. Saanich Inlet prawns have been denuded by intensive commercial and recreational exploitation; no longer do we find salmon stuffed with them. And, can the herring--immature and spawning--be brought back to the Inlet? Is there the political will to terminate the Georgia Strait roe herring fishery?

No comments:

Post a Comment