Counting crowds

Finished counting Chinook, Rob Brown and Jim Culp decide to count anglers

Jim and I bump gingerly up the haul road that spans the distance between the Clore River and Kitnayakwa Creek. There are nine productive runs in that stretch. Every one has at least one truck parked next to it. Approximately half those vehicles are rentals.

We head back. I’m being generous when I say there are roughly a dozen good pieces of steelheading water from the Clore to Madsen Creek Canyon. There’s a truck at every run.

Every productive run from Madsen Creek to the lower Canyon has some fishers on it. There are only a handful of anglers below that. Our final tally is 67 sports fishers. It’s a conservative number, since there were probably some anglers floating the river we missed. Others may have come and gone while we were counting salmon on Thomas Creek.

Sixty-seven anglers fishing 29 runs generates a figure of two anglers and part of an angler per run on a day when the water conditions are poor and the prime time to fish the Zymoetz is still  several weeks away. When you consider this figure, you must also take into account the fact that most of these fishermen were working the same dozen runs. Steelhead can still be found in the lower section of the river below the first Canyon late in the year, but they are few. As the season progresses, the fish become more concentrated in the upper section of the river creating the unsatisfactory situation where the angling pressure increases as the area with the most productive water decreases. To make matters worse, as this is happening, the weather gets colder and the water drops. As a consequence, the steelhead congregate in pools where they lie stationary as their environs decrease horizontally and vertically.

This change in the river normally happens in November and December. Fortunately the number of anglers starts to diminish at that time.

Unfortunately, fly fishers make up the bulk of those leaving, for, among other things, flies become much less effective steelhead lures when the river is low, clear, and cold. In November the fishermen who prefer to toss lures and pink rubber worms with casting gear show up. They are fewer in number but many times more effective when it comes to catching steelhead, fish that find whirling lures and translucent pink plastic almost as irresistible as salmon roe. At this time, the more or less immobile steelhead take a pounding at the hands of these  fellows.

The kind of gear and the number of anglers determines the number of fish caught per angler, thus the number of anglers and the efficacy of the method they are using has a profound impact on the angling quality for everyone participating in the fishery. It follows then that the only way to ensure a quality steelhead (or salmon, or trout) fishery demands controls on these two factors.

The least effective way to catch is steelhead is with a fly, but very pleasurable steelheading can still be had using fly gear notwithstanding its relative ineffectiveness. Fly fishers are also less successful when steelhead are the most vulnerable. It is blatantly obvious, therefore, that fly fishing should be mandatory for all steelhead fisheries. Bringing this about can be effected by simple regulatory changes. The much tougher nut to crack is how to limit the number of anglers.

The first attempt to deal with this problem was a result of an impending crowding problem on the Dean River where some thirty years ago fisheries staffers in the Ministry of the Environment analyzed the growing problem of angler congestion and came to the conclusion that its primary cause was the growth in non resident alien anglers, most of whom hailed from Washington and Oregon principally because industrial and urban development, dams, and the proliferation of hatcheries there had dramatically decreased the opportunity to angle for wild steelhead there. To curb this growth the Ministry wisely implemented a lottery system that remains in force today.

This measure was successful largely because the Dean is a remote river accessible only by air or by salt water, a factor that greatly limits local participation in the fishery, and circumscribes where those locals can fish. The only boats on the Dean are those of the two guide outfits who were operating highly successful commercial enterprises on the river before a significant number of resident anglers began making their way to the river.

The number of spots in Stewart and Hodgson’s Dean River Lodges was limited because guides are limited to a few clients. When the non resident alien lottery was imposed by the government, their numbers were capped too. Remoteness, logistical difficulties, and the availability to decent steelhead fisheries for lower mainland steelheaders restricted the resident demand on the Dean. This is not so anymore. Crowding and the consequent reduction of angling quality is once again an issue on the Dean.

What now? Perhaps the government will have to adopt the plan implemented on the salmon river of Quebec by a chain smoking foe of Pierre Trudeau, many years ago.  (More next week.)