Darius Retaskit enjoys a successful fishing afternoon at the Wardle Street bar last Thursday.

Fishermen flock to the Fraser banks

DFO predicts a return of 17.5 million adult pink salmon this year.

Water, water everywhere and not a spot to fish.

With high water levels continuing on the Fraser, there’s plenty of room for the salmon — but hardly anywhere for fisherfolk to stand and swing a cast. As of Monday, most of the popular bars were under water, though Nick Basok of Chilliwack Dart & Tackle said a few hardy fishermen were braving the Haig Bar… up pasts their waists in their waders.

“I’ve never seen the water this high, this late into July,” said Basok, who worked for 25 years with Provincial Fisheries. “This presents migration problems in the canyon, because of the strong current.”

The late high water has been pegged as the latest in 80 years, though there were at least two years in the last 15 where the Fraser was still flowing high and hard, well into July. The sports story in the July 15,1999 edition of The Standard  features a photo of a man fishing from the bench on Wardle, with water lapping around the base.

Two years earlier, the high July flow caused a loss of 70 per cent of a large early Stuart sockeye run, according to DFO spokesperson Wayne Saito at that time. Those who lived near the Coquihalla River during 1997 may remember the stench from the thousands of sockeye carcasses and the rich green slime in the lower courses of the river in the ensuing weeks.

Department of Fisheries and Ocean personnel were not able to be reached by press time, so it is so far unknown if a similar fate awaits this year’s early sockeye runs.

On a positive note, Basok said there are no problems with warm water temperatures, which cause stress for the spawners.

“I can’t foresee water temperature problems this year,” said Basok, noting the cool and wet spring and summer we’ve had so far.

Basok’s other hopeful news was of a predicted huge pink salmon run. The season opened on July 16, along with the chinook opening.

“The pinks don’t usually arrive until August 20th on — but we had the biggest out-migration of pink fry two years ago… one billion plus,” said Basok.

The DFO Pacific website’s preseason forecast is predicting a return of 17.5 million adult pinks in the Mission to Hope stretch of the Fraser, which Basok said is the richest pink salmon rearing area in the world.

The DFO site sets the 17.5 million mark with a 50 per cent probability level and adds, “The forecast has a range of 11.8 to 37.5 million.”

While any opening for a sockeye sports fishery is yet “to be determined” by the DFO, fisherfolk are crowding their way into the limited spaces along the upstream end of Wardle Street.

Rebecca McDonald of Cheyenne Sports said she heard from local fly fisherman, Steve Schroeder, who ventured past the 600 block of Wardle on the weekend.

“Steve said he took a look at Wardle and they were fishing three feet apart. It was an absolute zoo,” said McDonald, who figured the store has perhaps sold 50 to 100 salmon licence tags so far, since the opening of the season.

Coworker Levi Yliruusi said he had talked to one local who said he had caught nine chinooks so far.

The limit for chinooks has been one per day, in the 30 to 77 cm range but this will expand to four per day on July 29, with one over 50 cm and three under 50 cm… the latter being immature males or “jacks.”

Yliruusi said the limited Wardle bar is the only accessible bar for people who don’t have a boat.

“Even with a boat, it’s a little sketchy, because there’s a lot of debris floating through,” he added. “The Rupert Street bar has no access to the beach yet but that should improve with the water going down.

Yliruusi said there are people using a variety of techniques in one small area at Wardle.

“There are some guys with spoons, some drifting, some bottom bouncing and others bar fishing.”

Access should improve in the coming weeks, with receding water levels. In the meantime, you might get more elbow room at creek mouths from Laidlaw to Yale, where you can try your luck with a spincast spoon.

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