January 12, 2021

Lake Whitefish Camp-out

 In October of this year, Alex and I made our way out to Ontario to fish for some Lake Whitefish at a lake one of my co-workers had been telling me about all summer. We left early in the morning, picked up a canoe at Alex's sister's, and finally got to the lake around 14:00. We were late but the water conditions were perfect and we couldn't wait to get out on the water.

We launched the canoe and paddled out to find our friends. I cast out a spinner to try trolling our way out, but only saw some small perch that weren't interested. We met our friends at the far end of the lake, and quickly made the decision to spend the night at an awesome campsite they found. Unfortunately, that meant paddling all the way back to the car to get our gear for the night. We did see an otter on the way though!

North American River Otter

After returning to the car and getting back to the campsite, it was finally time to fish! We paddled out to a fishy area and casted out some small jigs for the whitefish. The fishing was slow, we saw a couple fish surface but saw no action on the end of our lines. After about an hour, I felt a small tap but missed the hookset. The bite was so light, it could very well have been some debris on the bottom. Just in case, I cast back to the same area and began slowly dragging the jig on the bottom, and... fish on! It was a spirited fight on my ultralight setup, but I got the best of it in the end :)

Lake Whitefish

We fished a while longer, but that would be the only fish of the evening; the whitefish bite just wasn't happening today. We returned to the campsite, enjoyed some nice sausages and beers around the fire, and went to bed.

It rained a bit overnight, but not enough to completely soak our gear. We woke up bright and early, to make time for the day's plans. We fished a bit on the way out, but didn't catch anything for our efforts. The rest of the weekend was spent exploring the backwoods looking for waterfalls, abandoned mines, and those great Canadian fall views.

January 11, 2021

Cross-Canada: The Long Way Home

 It was now time to head back home. Of course, we had to break up the long drive with a couple of stops. The first of which was fishing session on the Fraser River, to try and knock off a couple new species. This was a huge system and I soon realized I was severely under-gunned. The current ripped my 4oz sinker downstream in seconds and I could tell by the size of the fish jumping that I would never be able to land a big one.

The biggest fish we saw were, of course, White Sturgeon. As cool as it would have been to catch one, it wasn't meant to be on this trip. Just seeing them jump was cool enough!

It wasn't all bad though, there were smaller species to be had and I soon started pulling in smallish Northern Pikeminnow that were hanging out near shore. Soon, between all the pikeminnow, I pulled in something that looked slightly different! I noticed the bump on it's snout and realized this had to be a Peamouth, another new one!


I took some pictures of the new species and released it on its way. I quickly cast my bait back out and managed to catch several more, amongst an equal amount of pikeminnow. However, on one cast, I got extremely lucky and somehow hooked a micro on my conventional tackle. Superficially, it looked like a Longnose Dace, but I could tell something was off. I sent the photo off to a few friends, who told me this was in fact a Leopard Dace! A relatively rare species endemic to the west coat :)

Leopard Dace

I fished a while longer but the sturgies never showed up, it was time to move on and we still had a couple stops left out in the prairies. After a scenic drive back through the mountains, we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere in central Alberta.

We pulled up to an unassuming pond in the farmlands, with polluted water, an algae slick, and all. But, I could see some fish milling about in the shallows. This reservoir was stocked with giant Tiger and Rainbow Trout, but I obviously wasn't here for those. The fish I really wanted were Prussian Carp, an invasive species that has been ravaging the prairie ecosystems in Canada.

Catching one was pretty well instantaneous, and well, that was that. I tried to catch a bigger specimen but only the little ones seemed interested. Maybe I could have stayed longer, but we wanted to make some good driving time. Anyway, here's the photo:

Prussian Carp

Next, we headed south to the town of Medicine Hat to fish with Adam, another angler I met online. He had been catching lots of Flathead Chub in the spring, a species I haven't been able to catch yet. As it turns out, it would stay that way... no chubs for me!

Adam did give me a spot in Manitoba though, for Black Bullhead! It was only a short eight hour drive until we got there (JK, it took until the next day haha), but we did make it eventually. Excitedly, we rigged up and baited a line, and I dropped down under the dock. I waited a few minutes but nothing seemed to be biting so I re-cast into the middle of the river. It didn't take long before I got a bite and reeled in my target! Shortly after, Alex got one too :)

Black Bullhead

And, just like that, we had caught the final lifer of the trip. We would try a few more spots on the way home in Ontario, but to no avail, so here's a final picture of the long way home:

Trans-Canada Highway

January 10, 2021

Cross-Canada: Coastal Lowlands

Last time we left off, Alex and I had successfully made our way across the country and ended up at the Pacific ocean in Vancouver. We made it to the city a bit ahead of schedule, and had a bonus afternoon to work with. Not quite sure where to go, we chose the closest pier and figured it might be worth a shot.

The first thing I noticed was a mass of thousands and thousands of small dark fish swimming around the base of the pier. I whipped out my tenkara pole and got to fishing the tanago rig, keeping my bait within the school. There were literally thousands of fish but all of them just ignored the bait. I kept at it a while longer, and eventually my perseverance paid off... my lifer Northern Anchovy!

Northern Anchovy

Not the most exciting fish, but apparently they're usually pretty unwilling to take a bait so no complaints here! But, having caught one of the anchovies, I switched gears started using my ultralight rig with a sz12 hook, tipped with a small chunk of squid. The fishing was rather slow compared to other saltwater fishing I've done, but eventually I realized there were fish that would only hit an actively moving bait. I started jigging and bites started coming! Unfortunately, they were all juvenile Coho Salmon, and needed to be quickly released to avoid injuring them.

I did manage to catch two new species between all the salmon though. The first was a Shiner Surfperch, caught while it was feeding right against the nearest pilon. The second was a Pacific Herring; a school passed through for a brief moment and I managed to capitalize along with nearly every fisherman on the pier.

Shiner Surfperch
Pacific Herring

Eventually, the herring action slowed and I took the time to message some local fishermen I had been talking to online. I told them about my success at the pier and one of them said I should be able to land a Speckled Sanddab in the area if I dragged a small enough bait along the bottom. We still had some time to spare, so I gave it a try. It took a little while, but eventually I felt a small bite and lifted up the desired species :)

Speckled Sanddab

Having exhausted the species available at the pier, we packed up our gear and enjoyed a nice coleman-grilled steak dinner on the beach. The plans for later in the evening were what I was really waiting for. We were going to be shark fishing with the lifelisters I mentioned above, right in downtown Vancouver!

We packed up our cooking gear, drove over to the shark spot, and found parking in the busy downtown area. My new friends were running a bit late so they told me to bait up and take a cast while I was waiting for them. I didn't expect much, but, five minutes later, my rod doubled over and it was fish on! About a minute into the fight, our second rod started going off and Alex was forced to leave me alone to fight her fish. These were proper fish (compared to the ones above lol), and it took a little bit to fight them in. Our next obstacle was the seawall and fence we were fishing off of, there was no way to get to the fish. On top of all this, we had amassed quite a crowd of spectators, and it wouldn't be easy to land both fish. I handed my rod to Alex, who was now holding a rod hooked to a shark in each hand, and hopped over the fence to land each fish. Incredibly, it all went smoothly and we both got pictures with our first Pacific Spiny Dogfish!

Our friends showed up after we had released both our fish, and we spent the rest of the evening with relatively few bites. If I remember correctly, we collectively caught one more dogfish and a sea cucumber.

Giant California Sea Cucumber

Ending the night, we said goodbye to everyone and headed away from the city to try and find a free campsite for the night.

The next day started bright and early because it was Saturday and I knew our first destination would get busy fast. We arrived at the lake right when the access opened at 8:00, and it was already lined up! We didn't let this ruin our optimism and quickly made our way onto the dock to claim a small area to ourselves.

If you didn't already know, I'm a lot more into freshwater fishing than I am into marine species, so I was happy to be back in my element. There were a number of new species I could catch here, chief among them being the Largescale Sucker. I didn't see any suckers around, but there were a lot of small minnows that bit readily and turned out to be small Northern Pikeminnow (lifer for Alex), and Redside Shiner (lifer for me!).

Northern Pikeminnow
Redside Shiner

There were also some Threespine Stickleback in the shallower part of the lake, so I took the opportunity to take this scenic photo of one the little beasts:

Threespine Stickleback

Eventually, I had found all of my targets except for the sucker I wanted so badly. The water was very clear so I could see that there were none around. I scanned and scanned the bottom, and finally saw one after an hour of searching! Aaannddd... it spooked right away.

Luckily, it didn't go too far and I was able to keep track of it while I re-baited my hook. I placed a cast about three feet from it's snout, and it immediately swam over and  took the bait! I fought it back to the dock and nervously swung it onto land, lifer caught!!

Largescale Sucker

Catching the sucker took a little more time than expected so we were off as soon as the fish was properly released. It was time to head back to saltwater.

This next spot was our last stop before taking the ferry to Vancouver Island. It was supposed to be one of the more diverse fisheries in BC, but I must be lacking some skill because I only ended up catch one new species, a Pacific Staghorn Sculpin. I'll also tag on a Tidepool Sculpin I caught the next day in Victoria, just because.

Pacific Staghorn Sculpin
Tidepool Sculpin

The scenery on Vancouver Island was spectacular, but the fishing was less so. Most of the spots I wanted to try were overcrowded and the only catch of note was the Tidepool Sculpin in the photo above. I'll end off this post with a few scenery shots taken on the island, and finish the trip in the next one :)

East Sooke Regional Park

Rainforest Walk

Little Qualicum Falls

January 05, 2021

Cross-Canada: Into the Badlands and Across the Mountains

The Covid pandemic has pretty much shut down travelling worldwide so many travellers have been stuck in their home countries for most of 2020. Alex and I decided to make the best of the situation (and of our summer), by taking a second road trip across Canada. This trip would allow us to knock off some species we missed last time and explore some of the less touristy parts of the West.

Saskatchewan Scenery

The first portion of the trip was pretty much gunning it across the prairies to the city of Lethbridge in southern Alberta; we made it in two days. There were sampling reports of Spoonhead Sculpin in the irrigation canals around the city and I knew there were some populations of sterile Grass Carp in two urban ponds. But... we failed on both fronts :(

The Spoonhead Sculpin were nowhere to be seen, I bounced around several spots any never saw any sculpin at all :( However, our Grass Carp efforts proved slightly more fruitful. I finally saw some in the second pond and actually got two to bite! Unfortunately, both got off after screaming runs and that was as close as I'd get. At least we saw some!

The whole time we were in Lethbridge, the Rockies were on the horizon beckoning us closer. It was only noon of the second day when we decided to continue west into the mountains. Our destination was Castle Mountain Provincial Park, the newest park in Alberta and one of the least visited. Access was free and there was even organized free camping!

Castle Mountain Provincial Park

The park didn't have the world-famous views of Jasper or Banff, but was beautiful in it's own, unique way. The mountains here seemed to support far more greenery, and the streams much clearer and full of life.

At this point, we were far enough ahead of schedule that I knew I could squeeze in some bonus fishing time. We scouted out the trailhead for the next day's hike and fished the river we'd have to cross in the morning. I mistakenly left my waders in the car but I toughed out the freezing alpine waters and waded my way down to some nice pools. I had been casting a small Mepps spinner when I finally saw a trout follow the lure out of an especially deep pool. It didn't strike but I casted again and it hit right away, my lifer Cutthroat Trout!

Cutthroat Trout

It wasn't huge, but a beautiful fish nonetheless. Cutthroat Trout are actually one of the fish listed on the Quebec list of freshwater fishes found within the province. They were introduced into a few rivers in the early 70's, and were caught occasionally over the next couple decades, but seem to have disappeared during my lifetime. I haven't totally given up on catching one near home yet, but it was definitely nice to catch this one!

Spurred on by my success, Alex braved the frigid waters and started casting a spinner of her own. It didn't take too long before she had her lifer Cutty as well :) We ended the night at our awesome campsite right by the river shortly after.

The next day involved a big hike up to a set of alpine lakes supposed to hold Golden Trout. The trail was less maintained than we were used to seeing in provincial parks, and we loved it! The hike started with a stream crossing, before heading through the woods and then starting a steep climb up a barren mountainside. The view was awesome but unfortunately the fishing wasn't so great. I only saw one fish the whole time and it was way too small for any of my lures. There are a couple of other Golden Trout lakes in AB I'll have to try next time :)

From there, we headed north out of the park on the forestry trunk road through more parts of the Rockies that most tourists never get to see. This was all crown land and beautiful free camping spots were abound. The road was a little washboard-y, but it was all worth it to have a spot by the river all to ourselves :)

The next fishing adventure happened in Kananaskis Provincial Park, or "K-country". I had heard of an accidentally introduced population of Dolly Varden coexisting with the native Cutthroat Trout in one of the alpine lakes. They were originally identified and treated as Arctic Char, but then they discovered they were in fact Dollies. We were treated with a relatively easy hike up to the lake, and some impressive views:


Finally, it was time to fish! I rigged up a small panfish tube and started fishing a shallow portion of the lake where it drains into a small tributary. I quickly noticed a small Char swimming in the shallows... my target! I couldn't get it to commit but seeing one was enough encouragement to keep me fishing. I slowly worked my way around the lake. As soon as I got to slightly deeper water, the Cutthroat Trout started hitting. It was some of the best fishing I've experienced; beautiful wild trout every few casts!

Cutthroat Trout

Eventually, the grassy shoreline turned into loose scree and I got access to even deeper water. I tossed my lure into a deeper portion and got a hit on the fall. I figured I had yet another cutty, but this time the fish fought differently. It pulled hard and steady, without any of the rolling I experienced from the other trout. I got nervous when I saw the white leading edges on its fins... it had to be a Char! Thankfully, I landed it successfully and got to take a couple photos of my new lifer before letting it swim away.

Dolly Varden

Having caught my target, I handed the rod over to Alex so she could have a shot. Believe it or not, she got her Dolly on the very first cast!

The next portion of the trip involved a lot more beautiful mountain scenery but considerably less fishing. We skipped over the national parks, having explored them on our last trip, and focused on some new stops along the Coquihalla highway as we made our way down to Kamloops. I'll spare you the details to keep things fishing-focused here.

Kamloops wasn't quite what we expected, the Thompson River runs right through town but looked rather polluted and the locals watched us suspiciously as I started fishing. I don't think all that many people fish near town. Surprisingly, the fishing wasn't all so bad!

First, I noticed a bunch of small fish darting in the shallows, the same way that invasive Round Gobies would near home, in the St-Lawrence. But I knew there shouldn't be any Round Gobies around! My hook was way too big but I dropped a small chunk of worm between the rocks anyway and caught this cool Sculpin! I sent off the picture to some of my fishing friends in BC and they identified it as a Prickly Sculpin for me. Another new one :)

Prickly Sculpin

After discovering the identity of the sculpins, I casted out into the main channel in search of some bigger fish. The bites didn't come fast, and the sculpin were incessant, but eventually I did get a good take. I was fishing downstream of some pilons and the fish took the every chance it could to keep itself in the current around the bridge. Nevertheless, I got it to shore soon enough and saw another lifer: the Northern Pikeminnow! I don't know why, but I have a thing for big minnows and catching a native one like this was pretty sick. I was sure I would run into more on this trip, but it was fun to get such a nice specimen early on.

Northern Pikeminnow

Eventually, it was time to move on from Kamloops and make our way west to Vancouver. We drove through the night, up and down the switchbacks north of Whistler, and through the thickest fog I've ever experienced. We made camp under some powerlines before continuing down the Sea-to-Sky highway to our destination.

I'll end the post hear and hopefully not take another few months to write part II :)