|Cut plug perfection at Cape Scott|
by David S. McRae
Late July 2009 a phone call came in from a friend, William Strong and his brother Richard Strong. They were planning their annual cut plug fishing trip based out of Port Hardy. In the past they have always joined forces with the late Cory Hayes of Cory’s Fishing Charters in Port Hardy, a good friend and co-worker of all of us. With no charter vessels available in Port Hardy for the planned weekend of fishing, William, asked if I would like to join the fishing team, of course I would have to bring my boat, the Kuroshio a 35-foot aluminum Armstrong.
I do all my salmon fishing at the south end of Vancouver Island out of Victoria and cut plugging is not the desired style of fishing. In Victoria anchovies, spoons and hootchies are standard fare. My favourite for the south coast is the Jack Russell, time proven to be the most reliable lure for the area. I had the weekend off, so I joined the fishing team. It was impossible for me to miss the opportunity to learn the fine art of cut plugging and the trip to Cape Scott. I have been close to Cape Scott in the winter, participating in the sea urchin dive fishery. To be honest the place scares me. I have always been there in middle of winter, or at least close to it. I have seen the standing waves at the Nawitty Bar 20 feet high, the wind blowing hurricane force and the waves mountainous. A few years ago there was a 127 foot wave recorded in the area. Back to cut plugging.
I was not a believer in cut plugging, since when attempted in Victoria a boatload of dogfish is the most likely outcome. The trip to Port Hardy would take me about eleven hours if it was calm. A few miles past Nanaimo the seas turned nasty, 10-12 foot chop and a solo voyage made me cautious. Ten hours later I pulled over in Port Neville at 8 pm, the current was going to have to change direction for me and the Kuroshio to make the rest of the trip to Port Hardy. Four o’clock in the morning the weather had come down and I was on schedule to pick up the rest of the crew in Port Hardy at 7 am. We arrived at Cape Scott at 9 am. It is a 50 nautical mile trip from Port Hardy to Cape Scott.
After arriving, William and Richard had the fishing gear in the water in just moments. I was looking for a nap. The long trip, rough seas and little sleep had me focused on the bunk for the moment. “How fast are we going? HOW FAST ARE WE GOING?” I could hear William yelling from the back deck. A little slower than I normally go I told him. Now, both Richard and William were looking over my shoulder at the GPS. The Kuroshio was doing about 1.9 knots. Richard yelled, “We have to go slower if we want to catch the big ones.” I slowed the troll speed to close to one knot. Smiles appeared on Richard and William’s faces. They were happy with the speed now. The seas were 2 meters, the winds were light, and the fog was thick. We were trolling in about 40-50 feet of water just outside the kelp beds, using 15 pound canon balls on all four downriggers. The crew had settled down and all eyes where on the rods and the depth sounder. This was my chance to catch up on some needed sleep; I climbed into the fo'c'sle for a power nap.
An hour later I felt quite refreshed and headed out onto the deck to see how fishing was progressing. I asked, “What’s happening guys?”
“We have two Tyees already, look in the tote.”
I was sure they were joking with me, since I didn’t hear any action on the deck while napping. I lifted the lid to inspect the catch and there, to my surprise, were two monster salmon. I wondered how they got these 40 pound salmon in the boat without me hearing. These were the biggest salmon of the season caught on the Kuroshio, the first fish caught cut plugging, and they were huge lunkers. I thought, Wow; cut plugging really catches the big ones. Now I wanted to learn the details about this style of fishing.
I guzzled a couple of Red Bull then headed to the stern of the boat where the action was. The Kuroshio is outfitted with four Scotty downriggers. Fishing all the downriggers at once is full-time fishing, lots of line checking and gear re-setting. Today there were many tide lines, lots thick with baby bull kelp, not to forget the full grown kelp and kelp balls. We had a total crew of six, so there were plenty of guys to take shifts tending the lines. At the stern, I saw bait and rock salt everywhere. Herring were at various stages of thawing out and getting closer to ending up as bait.
William was tending the rods and preparing bait. I asked him, “What are the most important aspects to be concerned with when preparing the herring to become a cut plug?“
“The roll and speed,” replied William.
I needed a demonstration, and it wasn’t long before kelp was on one of the lines and the bait would have to be checked and the line cleared of kelp.
Preparing the herring, first the head is cut off at an approximate 45 degree angle from behind the gills. I noticed that the cut is sometimes angled to the side. The angled cut causes the bait to roll when trolled. The exact angle of the cut and the speed of the boat will cause the bait to roll at a specific rate.
First step is to get the boat down to a very slow troll between 1 and 1.5 knots. Then it is time for the herring to be transformed into a cut plug. The head is cut off and the entrails popped out. Next the hooks, two single hooks on one leader, one hook is inserted near the head and the other near the tail and the excess leader is wrapped around the herring or cut plug. William trolls the cut plug in eye-sight to check the roll and any other action the bait may be showing. He explained to me as we watched the bait that you want a slow roll - this will ensure the smaller fish stay away and won’t waste our time. With both of us standing on the swim grid we jumped back in surprise as we saw a monster salmon swimming in to check out our cut plug. It took one quick swipe at the bait 10 feet away from us. It missed, but got the adrenaline rushing though the whole crew. William let more line out as fast as he could. The bait drifted behind the boat like it had been thrown in, slowly sinking and twisting a few feet deeper and still only 20 feet away. The huge salmon returned in a big flash and took the bait and hook. We landed that one. It was quite a sight watching a 38 pound Tyee take the cut plug and go for a 20 minute run.
We fished Cape Scott for two days filling the boat with 10 salmon averaging 35- 45 pounds and a couple of halibut in the 40 pound range. That was the most scenic and spectacular two day fishing trip onboard the Kuroshio I have ever experienced. The cruise back to Victoria went smoothly. I am looking forward to repeating the adventure.