Binocular Thoughts

We have a Special Report on Binoculars for the Rivers at the end of this week’s ASF RIVERNOTES. Don’t Miss it!

liverelease1Also, remember that the deadline for your submissions to the “Salmon in the Water” Live Release Photo Contest is coming up Oct. 31. Send along any last minute entries to savesalmon@asf.ca

Meanwhile, there are some very interesting late runs of Atlantic salmon occurring in some rivers. But with government cutbacks on assessments, how widespread are these late arrivals?

New Brunswick

Southwest Miramichi in Autumn.

Southwest Miramichi in Autumn.

Northwest Miramichi – Grilse continue to travel upriver in some strength, with the Northwest Barrier counting 17 for the week as well as a single large salmon. To say the fall run has brought numbers of grilse nearly to last year’s total is faint praise indeed, for last year was a poor year as well. The number of large salmon, at 66 to Oct. 19, 2014 vs 252 to the same date in 2013 is disturbing.

Northwest Barrier returns to Oct. 19.

Northwest Barrier returns to Oct. 19.

Southwest Miramichi – For the week ending Oct. 19, there were 8 grilse and 5 salmon, not exactly a continuation of a fall run. Thus to Oct. 19, the 2014 total is 114 grilse and 83 large salmon, against 244 grilse and 292 large salmon in 2013.  These numbers continue to be of great concern. The full impact will need to await later fall analysis, and one needs to remember that perhaps another hundred salmon should be added to the 2014 total due to the lack of count following Tropical Storm Arthur, but the collapse of large salmon returns appears to require greater action to protect runs.

Dungarvon Barrier, Southwest Miramichi, to Oct. 19, 2014. Note that no fish were counted for about 19 days in July.

Dungarvon Barrier, Southwest Miramichi, to Oct. 19, 2014. Note that no fish were counted for about 19 days in July.

Millerton Trap -

An extra comment needs to be made on the numbers being counted in the Millerton Trap on the Southwest Miramichi.

There have been 743 grilse and 568 large salmon counted at the Millerton trap to Oct. 15, 2014. That compares favourably with the 466 grilse and 377 large salmon in 2013.

One is left wondering what exactly is going on with the numbers. Certainly there have been many reports of large numbers of Atlantic salmon going up the Cains River.

Below is the multi-year graph for large salmon at the Southwest Miramichi Millerton Trap Net.

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Guide wading in Southwest Miramichi, near sunset.

Guide wading in Southwest Miramichi, near sunset.

Jacquet River – There has been an interesting run taking place on the Jacquet River recently. For the week ending Oct. 12, there were 26 grilse and 30 large Atlantic salmon counted, basically a 50% increase over the entire run up to Oct. 5, 2014!  In total numbers, there have been 83 grilse and 92 large salmon to Oct. 12, compared with 114 grilse and 112 large salmon in 2013 to the the same date.

There is no Upsalquitch Barrier this year, so one naturally wonders if other rivers beyond the Jacquet in the north of New Brunswick are experiencing a late “rush hour” of salmon.

Nova Scotia

Margaree

John Hart of the Margaree Salmon Association provided an update today on salmon and river conditions.

Northeast Margaree taken last week, Sky Lodge area. Photo Lewis Hinks

Northeast Margaree taken last week, Sky Lodge area. Wouldn’t binoculars be wonderful, to see what is happening, and to check out the hills in detail? Photo Lewis Hinks

 “The latest on salmon fishing here on the Margaree: It continues to be a challenge.

Fish are being seen in most pools on the river although the vast majority seem to be dark fish, and to date there have been very few males and or grilse reported over the run of the season.

Some visitors have been quite happy with the number of observed fish while the number of hookups have left them not quite so enthused.

Up until recent rains, water levels were at summer levels although levels are currently closer to seasonal. More rain forecast so hopefully moving fish and catch rates will improve.

Special Report on Binoculars for the Rivers

Zeiss Vicrtory T FL 8x32 may be the best binoculars ever made. But they are possibly too bulky for most salmon anglers, except around a cabin or tent. Weight 19 oz.

Zeiss Vicrtory T FL 8×32 may be the best binoculars ever made. But they are possibly too bulky for most salmon anglers, except around a cabin or tent. Weight 19 oz.

Is it time to consider having binoculars in your wilderness and salmon angling kit?  There can be good reasons to have them along, whether it is the “fun” aspect of watching that family of otters or mergansers down the river, the moose grazing at the water’s edge, or if you are canoe angling, to get a good look at the water conditions or the edge of the river for a place to land.

ASF’s President Bill Taylor takes a small pair along when salmon fishing from a canoe for the last reason mentioned.

With the holiday season not far away, perhaps this is a good opportunity to look more closely at what is out there for binoculars. They have CHANGED in the past 15 years, and one can say the general mid-price model is now better than the top models were then.

In part it is the eyepieces, which are now likely to be sophisticated, with wide angle of view, and exceptional eye relief for those who wear glasses. The in-line prism design has reached full maturity with phase-coatings that provide near total transmission of light. Best of all for you salmon anglers out there, most models are now waterproof and fogproof.

So which model? Here are some points to consider.

Modern roof-prism binoculars with wide-angle eyepieces are incredibly sharp, with wide field and long eye relief. Plus waterproof.

Modern roof-prism binoculars with wide-angle eyepieces are incredibly sharp, with wide field and long eye relief. Plus waterproof.

The standard size binoculars beloved by birders and others, such as 8×42 are just too heavy and bulky, weighing in perhaps at 22 to 27 oz., and besides, they are more than you need. Remember that the first number is the magnification and the second number the objective lens diameter.

There are now superb mid-size binoculars such as 8×32, and the really good ones, made by Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski are perhaps the best binoculars ever made. Period. They may suit you, but still weigh from 18 to 22 oz. They have wonderful clarity, and are sharp virtually from edge to edge. The focus is internal, and no problem if you drop them in the water for they are waterproof and fogproof. Use them in the rain all you like.

Opticron Discovery WP PC 8x32 are only 14 oz., and just 4.3 x 4.6 in., but too big for a vest pocket. Tackle Box size instead.

Opticron Discovery WP PC 8×32 are only 14 oz., and just 4.3 x 4.6 in., but too big for a vest pocket. Tackle Box size instead.

But for the salmon angler the smaller 8x32s are still the bulkiest most salmon anglers should consider. For example, there is an ultra compact Opticron Discovery 8×32 that has an almost entirely carbonate construction to reduce weight, is sharp across 75% of the reasonably wide field of view, and weighs 14 oz. But with a single hinge, it will fit in a field coat, but it is unlikely to go into anyone’s vest pocket.

The best of the modern compact binoculars, generally 8×25, offer the best set of features for a salmon angler. They weigh in at 10 to 12 oz, and the marvelous modern wide-angle eyepieces with 17mm of eye relief or more make them relatively easy to use. It needs to be noted that generally compact binoculars require a little more care in placing the eyes in relation to the eyepieces. But the two models listed below are among the easiest to use.

Swarovski CL 8x25 fold to a compact size, yet are easy on the eyes and are sharp optically.

Swarovski CL 8×25 fold to a compact size, yet are easy on the eyes and are sharp optically.

Binoculars are very individual, so it is a good idea to try them if you can. Two models that you might look at are the Pentax DCF 8×25 that sells for about $100, and the Swarovski CL 8×25 that sells for about $800. That’s right – two good binocs that fold up into a small package, and have good optics – one eight times more expensive and both good. But good is relative, and the Swarovski 8×25 is probably the best compact ever made,  at least according to some. The Pentax is nearly as good, but it is like comparing a Honda Civic to a Mercedes top end convertible.

Pentax DCF 8x25 is even lighter, and 1/8th the cost of the Swarovski binocs. Not quite as wide a view, and just a little fuzzy at the edge, but extremely good value.

Pentax DCF 8×25 is even lighter, and 1/8th the cost of the Swarovski binocs. Not quite as wide a view, and just a little fuzzy at the edge, but extremely good value.

Both binoculars have great eye relief for those who wear glasses, and fine wide angle eyepieces. All of these compact binoculars have narrower fields of view, and the Swarovski is certainly better, but the Pentax acceptable. The Swarovski is clear and bright from edge to edge, the Pentax close, but not quite as good and not quite as bright.

With two hinges, both of these binoculars fold into a small package that will fit in jacket or even large shirt pocket.

Both binoculars are well made and rugged. The Pentax says it is waterproof to a depth of 3 feet. The Swarovski is good to 13 ft. In both cases, if you are using them in a canoe, consider tying the binocular’s strap to a thwart just in case… and both models will do fine if there is a dunk.

One benefit of the small Pentax or Swarovski 8x25s is being able to use them one-handed.

One benefit of the small Pentax or Swarovski 8x25s is being able to use them one-handed.

Are there even smaller alternatives? Yes, but as the optics get smaller, it becomes harder to position them in front of the eye, and without a certain weight to the binoculars, the scene jumps around a little more, and the binoculars harder to hold steady. Also, note that if you don’t wear glasses, you can check out binoculars with less than 15 or 16 mm of eye relief.

What about those Tasco 8x21s that cost $11?  Definitely useable. Not too sturdy, and forget about wearing glasses with them. The central area has reasonable clarity, and they weigh less than 7 oz. But most find them difficult to use, being in that ultra-compact range of binoculars. Great care is needed to place the eyes just right, with some way to support the arms to reduce motion of the binoculars.

Some will say they love monoculars – and they are cutting the weight in half. But many of us find that image just isn’t as satisfactory as binoculars, with that special integration our brains allow us.

Swarovski CL 8x25 extended

Swarovski CL 8×25 extended

Where to look for binoculars? If you have a local store, it provides you the opportunity to try them out. Check whether they fit your hands well, whether the optics suit you, and if they will be rugged enough. Internet stores like Eagle Optics have both US and Canadian outlets, and most definitely your favorite outdoor emporium like Orvis, L.L.Bean, Cabelas and REI has considerable selection. Other sources from Amazon to B & H increase the possibilities further. Finally, there are occasional bargains to be had on Kijiji or Ebay.

One last thing is to check the warranty. Most of these binocular makers have warranties extended from five years to a transferable lifetime warranty.

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