The Tonquin Thorn







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Saltwater Fly Fishing Series

"The Tonquin Thorn"

with Barry M. Thornton


The boat drifts tied to the kelp, the area where most baitfish congregated.

The beautiful sheltered waters of Clayoquot Sound provide the ideal location for saltwater fly fishing for salmon and other pacific sports species. Starting in June, and continuing right through into October, huge schools of baitfish congregate in the large areas of shallow water within the Sound to feed. These baitfish act as magnets for hungry chinook and coho salmon and, for other Pacific marine sportsfish. Within the Sound there are numerous sheltered islands and shallow reefs that provide footholds for kelp forests, a primary habitat for these baitfish. Massive Eel grass beds abound in the vast shallow waters another primary habitat for baitfish and other saltwater morsels. It is the classic culmination of conditions for the salt water fly fisher!

I have been fortunate to fly fish these waters during the past few years while there have been numerous salmon. But, it has only been in the last two years that I have begun to solve the fly pattern riddle of the Clayoquot waters. It is a long story but can be condensed thanks to the tips I have received from other fly fishers and to the numerous salmon fly fishing experiences I have enjoyed in Pacific Northwest waters. Salmon will take a fly, this has been demonstrated so many times in recent years that there is no longer doubt in the active salt water fly fisher's mind. But, what fly? This is the question that has plagued all those who pursue salmon in our coastal salt waters.

Bob Weir holds a coho salmon taken with the 'Tonquin Thorn' prior to release.

Last winter I prepared a new pattern to accommodate the shallow waters in Clayoquot Sound and the sometimes dense mixture of algae which clouds the normally clear salt waters of the coast. It uses the principles of the Silver Thorn, that is, silver thread, a silver stainless steel hook, and a silver chenille body. My pattern change was the addition of chartreuse colored polar bear hair as a wing and chartreuse colored Krystal Flash. It is this chartreuse color that is the primary change from the Hakai Thorn, a pink winged salmon fly that we have found to be so effective in clear salt water. But, it was the two further additions to the new pattern which seem to make it attractive to feeding ocean salmon in Clayoquot Sound; the chartreuse color in the wing, and, the unraveled pearl metallic braid that I added as a tail. The chartreuse color was a tip from a southern saltwater fly fisher who was quite emphatic about this color being able to cut through the dark algae cloud hence making the fly much easier for salmon to see. He was right!

My first experience with the attractability of the fly came while we fly fished the eastern kelp beds at 'Tonquin Island'. We had been chased into these waters by six foot Pacific Ocean swells and a blasting western wind. Behind the island, in the lee of the wind we found relative calm and, most important, schools of young herring and needlefish. These were the baitfish that the salmon craved!

A released salmon dives for deep water.

Tying up to a clump of kelp we soon swung with the tidal current and were casting parallel with the kelp in waters about thirty feet deep. A dark algae bloom clouded the water so I switched to the new pattern hoping that the salmon would be able to see it in the dark water. It was obvious as we tested the fly near the boat that it was much more visible than any of our other patterns.

After a few searching casts out from the kelp bed, I tried a cast right beside the kelp. The salmon strike came in an instant. This was not the slight stop-tug which I had become so familiar with when hooking salmon, but, rather, a smash strike that almost tore the rod from my hand. I hardly had time to look down to see if the recently stripped line was clear when the salmon was on the reel. It was an heroic fight by the salmon; long runs, thumping head shakes, and exciting leaps before I finally brought the fish to the boat to be released. The second fish took in a more traditional manner but instead of turning away from the kelp it darted into the thickest clump, tangled the leader and snapped off the fly. After this second fish my partner quickly changed to this newest pattern and he too was quickly into a water-walking salmon. Suffice to say that we 'had many a fish' that day. The next day was our last of this particular trip and we were quickly into fish once again when we tied up to the floating kelp heads in the early morning. The salmon feeding bite lasted well into the early afternoon and I am sure we were as exhausted as the salmon we released when we had finished.

Weigh West Resort marina. Note the open fly fishing boats on the left.

In recognition of 'Tonquin Island', and the rocks, 'Thorn Reef' immediately west of 'Tonquin Island' where it was so effective, I have added this newest fly, the 'Tonquin Thorn', to my active fly box of successful saltwater salmon fly patterns

'Tonquin Thorn' Pattern Materials

Hook:
Mustad 34011ss #2. thread Silver.

Body:
Silver metallic chenille; lead wire weighting.

Tail:
Pearl metallic braid (unraveled).

Wing:
4-6 strands chartreuse Krystal Flash; Chartreuse polar bear hair.

Weigh West Marine Resort, which was our base in Tofino and is only minutes away from the many islands of Clayoquot Sound (including 'Tonquin Island', about 10 min.), is a modern resort with all facilities including moorage for guest's boats and fish processing of sports fish. Meals are available in the beautiful Blue Heron Restaurant or the Marine Pub. A gift shop is open daily which also has a supply of successful fly patterns. Weigh West Marine Resort . Call toll free: 1-800-665-8922.

Their special "Fly Fishing Package" includes: accommodation (based on double occupancy in room and boat); all meals from the Blue Heron Restaurant or Marine Pub; use of specially designed fly fishing boats and support electronics (GPS, depth sounder, 2-way radio) during all daylight hours, along with fuel; all weather cruiser suits; services of the 'on the water' Fishmaster as to hot spots; plus applicable taxes; fly fishing equipment and fly patterns are not included, however, successful fly patterns are available for purchase in the gift store.

Further information can be obtained from;

Weigh West Marine Resort
P.O. Box 69, 634 Campbell Street
Tofino B.C., Canada
V0R 2Z0

Phone: 1-800-665-8922

 

"The End"

Copyright Barry M. Thornton


Barry M. Thornton

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The Tonquin Thorn