Apr/May 2010

Apr/May 2010
Apr/May 2010
Apr/May 2010
Apr/May 2010
Apr/May 2010

Flatfish, Flounder, Sole, Sanddab, Place and Halibut

By Ralph Shaw

According to the Guide to Northeast Pacific Flatfishes, we have at least 17 species of flatfish in British Columbia coastal waters. The British Columbia Tidal Sport Fishing Guide lists all flatfish except halibut under the broad classification of flounder and sole. For purposes of simplicity I shall do the same.
In the northeast Pacific 39 species are listed, and worldwide there are over 500 species of flatfish, which are important food fish and are much sought after by the commercial fishing industry. They are also important fish to the recreational fishing sector on a worldwide basis. I will always remember watching a wharf fisherman in Wales, England after he landed a nice flounder that would have weighed about three pounds. I asked him what he was going to do with it and he said “I am going to take it home and have a celebration as we eat it.”

The coastline of Vancouver Island has hundreds of kilometers of prime sole and flounder habitat that is only occasionally fished by dedicated flatfish anglers, but when you consider the coastal mainland inlets, we have thousands of kilometers of prime flatfish habitat.

The truth is that fishing for flatfish is often done in conjunction with other fishing activities, such as while waiting for prawns to fill the traps. They are also targeted during bottom fishing trips for lingcod and rockfish.
Halibut fishing is totally different than fishing for sole or flounder. Halibut can be a huge fish up to several hundred pounds in weight while your average flatfish will weigh a little over one pound and measure 30- to 37-cm in length. We have occasionally caught flounder that were up to 45-cm in length and weighed about 4 pounds. The larger fish are real trophies of the flatfish world.

On a recent day of fishing with friends, we targeted flounders in depths varying from 50- to 100-feet. We used three very different types of tackle. Bran Allen was bouncing a 2.5-oz lure off the bottom with consistent success. Gerry Scot fished with a herring jig setup. Earlier, we had been using the jig setup to try to catch some herring - Gerry outfished both of us. I was using Berkley scented plastic minnows that are very productive. The important message from this exercise is that flounders and sole will bite almost anything that is small enough for them to handle as long as you fish it along the bottom. One of the traditional baits used for flatfish is clam necks and other muscled parts of bivalves that stay on a hook.

Flatfish are a cleaning challenge if you are not used to handling small, slimy fish that must be cleaned with a razor-sharp knife. Step one in cleaning a flounder or sole is to rinse it well in freshwater to remove the slime. You can dry them with a paper towel, or just drag them over the dry, lawn grass for a little bit and they become easy to handle. Next step is to lay the fish on a convenient cleaning surface with the white side up. Start at the top of the head and carefully insert the knife along the back bone and make a cut all the way down to the tail following the fin. Now return to the top and carefully work the knife along the backbone, press firmly and cross the back bone below the stomach area and cut along to the tail. You should now be able to flip a white fillet off the fish after completely cutting it free from the fin. Repeat the process on the other side. You now have two fillets with the skin attached. Lay a fillet on your cleaning board, and gently cut the skin from the flesh by sliding the knife between the flesh and the skin. Wash, and you have two gourmet fillets ready for the frying pan.

Sole and flounder abound in the waters off our island. With rockfish stocks much reduced, these prime fish should continue to grow in popularity and appreciation for the wonderful addition they are to our recreational fishing opportunities.
I have actively fished the smaller flatfish for close to 40 years, enjoying the simplicity of catching them and more importantly, Elaine and I enjoy them as very tasty seafood treats we rank high on the gourmet seafood list.

Elaine has several favorite recipes for cooking flounder. Their soft delicate flesh has a flavor like no other fish. Coated with flour and fried in hot olive oil makes them a special treat in our house. I am always surprised that they are not more popular as recreational fish in our waters.
Flatfish are available throughout the year. In many parts of the world winter flounder are prime recreational fish. During the winter they move into shallower water to spawn. The roe of these winter fish is much sought after as a delicacy in many countries.
If you are looking for a saltwater fun fish for children to catch on light tackle, you need look no further than these abundant seafood gifts from our local waters. For adults who enjoy light, easy angling for gourmet food, flatfish are in a class by themselves.

Reference – Guide to Northeast Pacific Flatfishes by Donald E. Kramer, William H. Barss, Brian C. Paust, Barry E. Bracken – University of Alaska, Fairbanks.


Apr/May 2010
Huxley’s Run: 

When I was editor of BC Outdoors (the old BC Outdoors when it had such a great mix of fishing, hunting and environmental stories), I regularly went through many submissions from would-be contributors.
On one particular evening in downtown Vancouver, the after-hour avails of the Georgian Court pub were wearing thin, so I headed back across Beatty Street to my third floor office.
Mail had come and I opened a few letters before coming across a brown envelope that was thick and interesting. I opened it and the covering letter told of an amazing steelheading story that had ‘great’ pictures. There were three sheets of slides – about 72 pictures if I remember correctly.
I took them to the light table (yes, it was that long ago) and put the eyepiece on the first one. There, before my eyes, was a Thompson River buck steelhead, about 19-pounds, rosy and bright and fresh like strawberry ice cream.
The pose of the angler and fish was perfect – tail wristed, head cupped. Absolutely fantastic. Possibly a cover, I thought. I put it in the negative scanner (yes, yes, it was that long ago.)
The picture was fabulous and I reached for the hard copy (yes, yes, yes, it was that long ago.) The story was titled “Thompson Steelies – A Day to Die For.”
I read the first couple of paragraphs and realized I would need a backhoe, two graders and a demolition expert to get it close to publishing form.
Oh well, I thought, at least we have a great cover shot. Then the image came up on the screen. It was even better than I thought. But, two things stood out in my
mind. The first was that the river was nowhere in the picture. Then I thought maybe the photographer had taken it while standing in the river. The second thing was the seal-bite mark, or what seemed like a seal-bite mark. It was about 2- to 3-inches long, a crescent down from the adipose fin
to almost the lateral line.
I returned to the story. It was a multi-fish day, the author said. The other slides obviously had other anglers in them. I glanced through the eyepiece and was surprised how every picture, well, looked the same. So I scanned the first picture with a new angler and read some more of the story.
Eighteen fish, all on the fly – all catch and release, it said.
My eyebrows went up and so did the second scan. And so did the seal- bite mark. I scanned four pictures of four different anglers. But they were all posing with the same fish. It was horrible.
Some morbid curiosity led me to the next step. I zoomed in on the steelhead’s head in the first picture and saw its eyes, still looking down to see what stung its mouth so badly. It was the same in the picture with the second angler. But in the third and fourth pictures
the eyes were staring out straight. It might as well have been on ice on a supermarket shelf.
I eagerly grabbed the manuscript and its cover letter. I was so enthused. I knew there would be a phone number. I called it. Our office was empty. Good thing, because the air became quite blue.
And soon the Georgian Court bar had, again, another very-needy customer. I toasted the fish not for the results I saw, but for which it had died.

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