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Discussion Starter #1
As a Cow Towner with family in Vancouver and on the Island, I have occasion to drive the Coquihalla Highway several times a year. Often I take the time to stop and walk a length of this stunningly beautiful river. My small efforts are usually rewarded by the sighting of steelhead holding in its clear, deep pools. Alas, I understand that the upper river is closed to fishing year round and that fishing in the lower river is restricted to the period from November 1 to March 31. Further, I understand that this was once a great salmon/steelhead fishery:

- What happened to the river?
- Is there any prospect that it may some day recover?
- Is there a viable fishery on the lower river during open season?
- Is there still railway access to the lower river during open season?

Snowing and cold in Calgary, but out to the Island in a couple of weeks to chase steelies.
 

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Coednakedspey
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Regarding the Coquihalla River.

The Coquihalla River is famous for it's small 5-8 pound Trouty (thanks to there smaller stay in the ocean) Summer run Steelhead. They are aggressive as heck (apparently), fight well, and are very catering to the subsurface fly which makes for a very spectacular game fish. Summer Steelhead are also not found in a lot of systems in the immediate Fraser Valley, so they are quite sought after where available with respect to the above mentioned info.

You are correct about the regulations. Essentially it's a bit below the Falls (actually the Lower Railway tunnel which is a short distance below the falls) down to the confluence with the Fraser that it is only open basically in the winter monthes (check your regs for exact times, etc). This protects the Summer run Steelhead who are above the Falls at this time (note that a lot of Summer run Steelhead streams have a barrier of some kind of them whether it be a falls, chute, or in the case of the Skeena system which I've heard mentioned, a distance/cold barrier which makes fish reluctant to migrate in the winter monthes, hence the Summer entry. With warmer water temps, in the Summer, Steelhead have a higher metabolism which gives them the ability to jump falls, challenge chutes, and run up rivers that would normally be really cold in the Winter). There are a few (you might catch one after a long time worth of fishing) Winter run Steelhead (apparently), and as well as some Bull trout that are possible to fish for during this opening. The Lower River is somewhat accessible, and easy to find, as it runs basically through the town of Hope.

From my knowledge, years and years ago, there was a spill of something from a mine into the river which killed quite a few fish, and the Coquihalla may be said to still be recovering from this, even now (or so I've heard).

The problem with the Coquihalla, with it's awesome Summer runs that are returning in some numbers, even now, the fish are so easy to catch (For instance the FVTH guys can catch all their broodstock in 2 mornings worth of fishing on rod and reel which would be probably about 10 Wild Does, and I'd imagine 30 Wild Bucks: 15 for the Chehalis to spawn with Chehalis Does for the Chehalis smolt program, and 15 to spawn with the 10 Coquihalla does for the Coquihalla smolt program),and this fishery so popular, when open, that the fish get pounded on, and get caught over and over, which in the Summer, equates to some serious C + R mortality because of stress on the fish assosciated with warmer water temperatures.

The Provincial Ministry of Air, Water, and Land protection staff do snorkel counts at the end of August every year on the Coquihalla and Silverhope and if the numbers on the Coquihalla are above a certain number, they used to open it up to C and R, but I don't know if this will happen again. The Ministry is seeking input from anglers on how to open this fishery up, but not let the fish get pounded on like they were when it was last open in 96. The obvious would be making it open to C and R, fly fishing only (like it was back in 96), but even this wouldn't be enough I don't think. The main suggestion I hear is "restrict the catch to 1 C and R'ed and you're out," but how do you regulate this?

I would personally like to see this fishery opened up, but only in the fall when temperatures are on the decrease (lower water temps, better dissolved oxygen levels in the water which means fish ressuscitate (sp?) better) well as it keeps anglers who fish Sockeye on the Fraser in the Summer monthes from going over and pounding the Coquihalla in the Summer as well after catching their limit. I would say make it only open in weekdays as my suggestion, but? that's just a suggestion.

Anyone else in here have any info to add? How about comments or ideas on opening it up? An open fishery is essential now in BC a days because of the lack of Conservation officers to enforce closures, at least with some anglers on the river, we have some eyes to watch for poaching on the river. Mind you there are some groups, that if you tell them that we have to restrict angler effectiveness (IE bait bans) to open a fishery up, they would rather see it closed than with a Bait ban, yet these are the same guys that also argue for open rivers. Go figure.

Hope this information is of value to you.
Scott
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Wow! Thanks for the reply. I too would love to see the upper river opened to angling, provided it would not adversely affect the long-term health of the fishery. How about a one month season on the upper river (October?), with limited numbers of anglers determined by a lottery. The lottery would have a non-refundable entry fee ($20.00?), with proceeds ear-marked for this fishery. Additionally, if selected by the lottery, an angler would be required to hold a Class I Waters licence for each day the river is fished. Plus the general licence would have to be held by the angler. So for me, being a resident of AB, I'd have to have a non-resident annual licence ($42.80), a steelhead stamp ($42.80), a lottery ticket ($20.00) and a Class I Waters licence for each day fished (is this $20.00 per day?).

Regards!
 

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I think the fall opening is a bad idea. The coq fish tend to stack in the few pools available and are very vunerable to the effective angler. My suggestion would be an earlier opening from say june 1 to august 31. That way you can target the fish on their return as they move through but not get at them when they stack up and it becomes shooting fish in a barrel.

BWO
 

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I like the lottery or limited entry idea.It would allow access to people who are obviously serious about this fishery.Fly only and C&R would have to apply and a very short season(1 month).The river would benefit IMHO from some educated anglers policing the waters,especially with the lack of CO's these days.A fishery can only be "no-fishing" for so long before people start to forget about it.Pretty soon the only ones going there are the poachers.The river's return levels have varied so much in the past that it's tough to say what is best for it.Every time there is a strong return and it looks like there could be some hope,the next couple of years are dismal.
 

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Coednakedspey
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Great suggestions so far people. I encourage EVERYONE, including you people from south of the border, to contribute any ideas, because you have been exposed to many things we haven't and vice versa in terms of management and what not.
What I'm gonna do is alert some people in the ministry about this thread to get some input.

My reply to the ideas mentioned.
First off, I think that a Fall opening, October, Fly fishing only, C and R only, is a good idea for a few reasons.

1) Colder water temps which happen in October have better dissolved oxygen so the fish can breath easier and recuperate faster.
2) The Summer (July/August, sometimes, September) brings a plethora of Sockeye Anglers on the Fraser who will kill their 2 on the Fraser and go fish somewhere else if possible. If the Coquihalla is only open in the Fall, when there are virtually very few other oppurtunities in the area to fish for other species, anglers who want to fish the Coquihalla will have to drive out to Hope to fish it just about specifically. Considering fall rains which will bring the Coq up once or twice, this will give the fish some protection in a one month fishery. The closest fisheries that are utilized by similar minded anglers are the Thompson which this would almost be on the way (but not quite) and the Skagit which is a good hoof out of the way.
3) The lower Fraser Tribs such as the Vedder, Harrison, Chehalis, Stave, Alouette, on top of North Shore Rivers like the Capilano, Seymour, Squamish, and Cheakamus are already receiving much attention from Anglers fishing Salmon in October which means the Coquihalla will be all but another option and might not receive as much pressure because of these other popular fisheries with more fish and bigger fish (chinook, coho, chum, etc) as well as retention. Also consider the Coquihalla is farther away from the Lower Mainland than any of these rivers by at least 50 KM.
4) Since the fish will be holed up, as was mentioned, this is when poachers will be at their best, but the very ethical fly angler will have his eyes on the river while he welds his rod.
5) An opening, period, will give some lobby support back to the river by anglers who start to care about it again, instead of a bunch of disgruntled people who are sick of hearing about it being closed and who don't give a crap.
6) October Caddis hatches will bring the Steelhead to the dry fly!!

I also think that maybe making it no guiding aloud, maybe a classified water, or maybe even a specific Coquihalla stamp (10 bucks or something, or maybe make it a Coquihalla and Thompson stamp) where the money could go directly to assessment, habitat work, etc on the Coquihalla, or Coquihalla and Thompson rivers.

I think it would implied that fly anglers which have evolved to catching Steelhead on the fly, many with drift fishing in the past, have evolved to the point where they can catch 1 fish and call it a good day and anything past that is a bonus, but that they will call it quits once it has moved past being an expiereince, and become a numbers game. I don't know about you, but myself personally I get pretty much as much pleasure in one STeelhead on the fly as I would on a few and don't need to rack up numbers to do anything really. So we shouldn't have to set C and R limits, and I would really wonder anyways, how they would be set up.

Anyways, just my ideas, opinions, and justification, please add yours!!

Scott
 

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The Coquihalla has been subjected to a number of affronts during the past twenty years ;not the least of which were the contruction of a gas pipeline alongside the river, the construction of a major highway,and the isertion of a fiberoptic cable which crosses the river at a number of points.
During the fiber optic construction a coffer dam was created at the secong pipeline road crossing . Provincial environment staff were on hand to supervise . !/4 mile upstream one of the construction gang had establised a portable sluice box mining operation which the environment staff apparently either ignored or were unaware of. Certainly no water use permit had been granted.
This is just one minor example of the laxness of BC Environment staff and these are the same people charged with protecting our freshwater fishery It would be a joke if it went so sad.
I can only wish I had been able to fish it before all the construction took place .If you follow the old road or the abandoned rail line you get some impression of what a beautiful river it once was.
 

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I would think that an early season fishery on the coq would be better than a late season (oct.) fishery. Why would you want to fish on pooled up fish that have already spent 3-4 months in freshwater and are getting ready to overwinter? A season that started in late june early july would not have an "opening" day rush. By fishing early season the fish would start trickling in and only serois fishers would go. If the closing date was sometime around the end of spring run-off before the water warms up (early august) the fish should less stressed for the warm/low water summertime. The last time the river opened in mid-sept. fishing was good and now almost every sthd fly fisher in b.c. is waiting for this to happen again. Also one missed point is m.w.l.a.p. has been stocking the river for all these closed years and maybe we either should be fishing or taking the money spent on the coq. and aplling it to river systems like the squamishor somewhere else that needs it more.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Well done Scott! I particularly like your point number 6 - really gets the blood flowing.

One other thing that might be helpful in some form or another is the concept of stewartship, something we've been discussing on and off with respect to the Bow River here in Alberta. Under this concept, a group of individuals would take on the responsibility for a period of time to take care of a stretch of the river. For example, ensuring that the river and its environs are refuse free and that any problems relating to the river are reported (poaching, spills, etc.). Additionally, this group might assist with fish counts and participate in habit preservation or restoration.

Regards!
 

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Sorry Scott,I've got to disagree with you on this one.As one of the lucky individuals to fish the Coq on opening day back in 96 I feel compelled to fill you in. The opening was kept pretty low key, I found out at 9pm the night before and made plans immediatly. As we motored out to Hope in the early morning downpour,Downey and I questioned wether the river would even be fishable. Stopping for coffee in Chilliwak we ran into Scotty B, a long way from home. We eyed each other suspiciously, each wondering if the other knew, neither of us folding. Sure enough we passed Scott's truck at the bridge an hour and a bit later.Close to 600 of the most agressive summer run Steelhead on the planet,just sitting there waiting, undisturbed for days, weeks, perhaps a month or more.The rain had subsided, with the river coming up slightly with just the right amount of colour. It really wasn't that crowded, not that it mattered anyway. I saw over a dozen fish hooked in one run barely large enough for two anglers to fish. Later on we fished the same run with another half a dozen hook ups. This was all on drys and unweighted sub-surface flies.I'm glad I was there but it definately changed my perspective on catch and release(not quite a PETA fan yet though). The real solution for the Coq is as follows:

KEEP THE RIVER OPEN FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE RUN
-Always having eyes on the river will help thwart poaching. Sometimes even accidental poaching due to limited signage on the river. What do you think happens when little Johnny chucks out the pink powerbait into that lovely trout stream alongside the highway.I hate driving the highway cause I always feel compelled to see just what that camper is up to, why the heck are there no big signs at proven rest areas?

-This would keep the fish fished over and a little more difficult than letting them rest up just to be hammered on opening day. Guys would go up early and get skunked, keeping the pressure light and spread throughout the length of the run.

-Since it was so easy on opening day in 96 word has spread. The current approach of waiting for a large fish count builds so much publicity that the opening day crowds would be off the meat rack. Taking away the element of run timing(long the folly of the joebagofdonutsangler)leaves the fish incredibly vulnerable to ridiculous pressure. Every tackle store looking for a sale will spread the word, "there opening the Coq on Saturday, must have a hell of a large run this year"; shudder to think!!!!!!!

FLYFISHING ONLY, DRY LINE ONLY, UNWEIGHTED FLIES ONLY

-Currently in B.C. it is not very PC to discriminate against our gear bearing brothers. In fact there is a very strong lobby to abolish fly only regs on all rivers. I don't really see the problem in making it as difficult as possible to catch these fish, unfortunately there are others who dissagree. By limiting angling to the near surface fish would have some sanctuary on a river that has lost much of it's good holding water. Once again not PC, but these regs would help keep the crowds away.

SELF IMPOSED CATCH AND RELEASE LIMIT

-How many fish do you need to beat up to have a good day?

Sorry about the length folks, do I win for longest post?
Brian Niska
 

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Tommy Brayshaws homewater.....

Well sooner or later some one will expose every little known run of special fish to the www why should the C. be any different. Lots of good post here on the subject of what to do to make some type of limited opening a possibility.
I am like most others who are posting on this subject a little reluctant to do so as too many folks fishing the little river was the percieved problem that faces Mr. Caverhill on the rare years when the snorkel counts look promising for an opening.
As an american I would un selfishly say the first thing that should be considered is dry line only, no weighted flys, a maximum suggested number of hook ups per day.(Not a PETA fan myself ) this was Peters biggest shock last time he opened was the sheer numbers landed by the folks lucky enough to have gotten the word.
I was one of the lucky ones and had memorable angling in great fall weather I camped out on the right bank in my tent camp and stayed for a couple of weeks. After the first couple of days I limited myself to a few boils or grabs and started looking in the spots that had fewer fish just to make it more challanging. Even pursuing them (succesfully) with the dead drift dry an all together pleasant expierence. I include this only as a point of information to make my post as one who has been there and knows of what I speak.
If after utilizing the restrictions listed it is still not enough I would further suggest that to keep someone on the C. ,other than Poachers, that the Ministry open the river to B.C. anglers only. I ,as much as I long to get back to those beautful little fish realize that Peter is right too many people would cause to much harm under the status quo of fly only c&r. More limits must be added if anyone is to ever get back on the water.
The C is not the only place that has special needs these situations are found in a number of areas. Bringing them to the light of public scrutiny I am sure will only add to the problem unless managers are empowered to make a restrictive regime of some needed regulatory options.
I remember seeing news footage of the Great Flood that took out large portions of the Highway and left big bridges high and dry. Don't remember the year but I was pretty sure that one was a big factor in the decline of the run. Its always a combination of factors but that one flood really had an abundance of landslides.
Good luck to those BC residents who want to tackle this one I will support you any way I am capable of.
 

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Cast, step, swing...
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I think RLN and Niska are right....

limit the fish in the barrel syndrome and open it early and close it as the water drops off in August...limiting the gear type like the upper Morice but for different reasons.

I was too there opening day and will never forget it...makes you pine for the old days even more....what it must have been like!

The run down the highway remains open with less than 200 fish, Peter used to state the Coq. needed over 400...but access is the key on the other water so perhaps that can be an issue as well...

Scotty B (McGarva)
 
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