The sockeye salmon can be one of, if not the most numerous salmon, that migrates through our waters. In 2014, over 20 million sockeye moved through the Fraser river from late June into early October!
Sockeye salmon are highly prized by commercial and First Nation gill netters because of their beautiful silver condition and deep red flesh. They are commonly netted in the ocean, at the Fraser’s confluence in the Strait of Georgia, and the Fraser river itself, including the Fraser’s tributaries (Harrison river, Chilliwack lake etc.) The average size of a sockeye is consistent near the 6 pound mark, but larger sockeye do exist in the Fraser.
The normal diet of sockeye in the ocean consists of zooplankton, a small organism that is extremely abundant and occurs in vast pods, but cannot be easily seen by the human eye. While angling for sockeye in the ocean can be a successful endeavour, catching sockeye in freshwater is not so easily done. While sockeye can be angled in smaller clear water tributaries where they will stop and hold for some period of time during their migration, catching sockeye in the Fraser river is a different matter altogether. We have caught sockeye while fishing for chinook salmon by employing the bar fishing method which is anchoring or ledgering a spinning glo. However, this happens so infrequently, it is not a viable endeavor.
The Fraser method of catching sockeye is called bottom bouncing – a bit of a misnomer to the true angling technique of bottom bouncing. More accurately, and to describe what is really occurring, the method of hooking sockeye in the main stem is more appropriately called “flossing”. The reality is, the Fraser’s sockeye are not biting – at least we have not found a technique at this time that makes sockeye actually bite in the fast flowing and silty Fraser river.
Flossing is a technique that requires two things:
A moderately swift piece of water less than 15 feet deep (4 – 10 feet is best) with small cobble or gravel bottom and no snags
A round weight called a bouncing betty that is appropriately sized to regularly touch the bottom and a long (sometimes very long) leader averaging 10 – 30 feet in length
By casting your weight and long leader across and slightly up river, you allow for your weight to touch the bottom while the swift current swings your line in an arc downstream. You will feel your weight bouncing along the bottom as your line moves downriver. The long leader behind the weight is straight out from your weight. At the far end of the leader is the 1/0 to 4/0 hook and small piece of wool or a small corky attached at the end. If it were legal, using a bare hook would be more effective with this method. With such large numbers of fish swimming upriver, mouths opening and closing in their upriver migration, it is of high odds that your line moves into the mouths of these migrating fish – think of the term “flossing”. The speed of the river against your mainline is what swings the hook into the fish. It is not a coincidence that the hook is found generally on the outside of the fish’s mouth, on the side that is opposite of the angler. On many occasions, you will see foul hooked fish – fish caught by a fin or in the tail. On some occasions, an angler may find the hook “inside” the mouth and wrongly think the fish actually bit, when simply, its just luck. One only needs to look at the speed of the river, and the clarity of the river, not to mention the insignificantly sized “lure” to realize it is simply “odds”.
The sockeye fishery is generally an August fishery but is not consistently open as sockeye runs fluctuate heavily from one year to the next. Openings are not guaranteed, nor known about too far in advance. However, it is a fishery that is heavily participated when open due to the ease of which fish are captured.
Unfortunately, this methodology is employed regularly on the Fraser river, even when the sockeye fishery is closed, by anglers targeting chinook. Consequently, sockeye and other salmon that are closed to angling, are hooked.
The sockeye fishery and its methodology is not a selective fishery. Any fish, from chinooks to sockeye to even a pike minnow can be hooked with this method. As a result, this “fishing technique” has become a popular methodology for other species, on other rivers. This unselective technique is a negative impact to our fishery. However, despite numerous attempts by many, including ourselves, to make improvements to the sockeye fishery that will reduce impacts, improve and enhance sport fishing in the Fraser Valley and even improve the sockeye fishery itself, little has changed since the fishery first started in 1993. It could be said that the only change has been the enormous increase in anglers during the sockeye openings over the last 20 years. Discussions have been been had for years with concerned anglers, yet our government agencies responsible both federally and provincially, along with fishing related groups, clubs and the fishing industry itself (both tackle retailers and guides) are loathe to recognize changes are needed.
Hopefully, meaningful discussions will occur where all stakeholders will sit down and recognize changes are needed – it will greatly improve all aspects of Fraser river angling, including the sockeye fishery itself.
We have not guided for sockeye for 15 years, and will continue to forgo guiding for sockeye at this time.
Sockeye Salmon – Identification
Other common names:
Red Salmon, Blueback Salmon