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British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii: Canada’s Best Fishing

chinook_salmon

I promise: islands of British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii provide the ultimate adventure for the angler.

In This Fishing Article You Will Discover:

  • How to Salmon Fish in BC’s Haida Gwaii
  • The Ultimate Fishing Lodge Experience
  • What To Expect When Fishing in BC
  • And So Much More!

Every salmon angler who has ever used a single-action reel remembers his or her first real knuckle-duster (when an angler gets his knuckles rapped by the spinning knobs of a fishing reel). Mine came many years back, fishing with my father at the mouth of the Big Qualicum River, on Vancouver Island. I recall being buckled over in pain, the weakling youngster that I was.

My girlfriend, Erin, had escaped her first Canadian West Coast salmon fishing trip — two years ago in Rivers Inlet, British Columbia — un-dusted. In fact, she had been unconvinced that a dusting was cause for concern.

Today, trolling off Andrews Point, on Langara Island, Haida Gwaii, BC, she is not so lucky. A wily, twenty-something-pound early season chinook feigns defeat long enough for her to relax and expose her cold, wet knuckles to the aluminum knobs of my Islander reel. One unexpected and powerful dive into the icy North Pacific sets the knobs a-blur and my poor girlfriend experiences a pain that makes reaching into bait-brine with a fresh knife-cut on your hand seem like a spa treatment by comparison.

coho_salmon

Erin with a nice 13-pound coho salmon.

Truly adding insult to injury, within moments of this knuckle-dusting, the brown spectre of a one-ton sea lion appears beneath the offending salmon like a de-cloaking Klingon Warbird and proceeds to disembowel our prize catch while we watch, helpless as babes in a crib.

When the event ends, Erin is left with a throbbing hand, the entrails of a gorgeous chinook and a story that would regale friends and family from Vancouver to Vermont.

In a nutshell: fishing the Haida Gwaii is an adventure. Yet operations such as Oak Bay Marine Group make it just so accessible for all.

red_snapper

Bottomfish like this red snapper make wonderful table fare.

The Islands of the Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) are fishing’s final frontier. Legendary the world-round for fertile waters rich in all five species of Pacific salmon, plus bottom fish such as halibut, red snapper and ling cod, it is no hyperbole to proclaim the area as the greatest fishing destination in the world.

Even if the bite slows or you find yourself more a master of long-line releases than net-work, whale sightings, eagle cries and the salt-scented sunrises elevate this area beyond any freshwater destination. It is an ecosystem that is bursting at the seams with life, from the barnacles on the rocky shoreline to the humpback whale doing a spout-and-dive dance on the horizon.

I first visited the Islands in 2005, and this year marks my third trip. More importantly though, it marks Erin’s second-ever fishing trip. Maybe I had skipped over a few steps by asking her to jump feet-first into one of the most challenging and exciting fishing destinations in Canada, but I felt her contribution to 2008’s massive 43.5-pound Rivers Inlet chinook was enough of a resume.

My reasons for taking her on this trip may have been selfish.

I need a kindred spirit on the home front, supportive of fishing in all its forms. But I have a feeling her motives her no purer: after all, I’m the DFC in our duo (Designated Fish Cook), and barbecued salmon is Erin’s favourite dinner.

king_salmon

Erin with a large, 22-pound chinook salmon.

We set out from Oak Bay Marine Group’s floating lodge, the MV Charlotte Princess, moored in the protected waters of Henslung Cove on Langara Island, our first afternoon under unlikely sunny skies — a Haida Gwaii summer can be more like a Vancouver winter — with nearby Cohoe Point as our destination.

Fishing from a floating lodge Langara Island, a tiny rocky islet on the northwest side of the Haida Gwaii archipelago, is wonderfully convenient as fertile fishing grounds are within 20 minutes’ run from home base. (Female fishers can appreciate the significance of a quick and easy lodge-run during the day.) Beyond that, it is simplistic to move from point-to-point, or switch between salmon fishing to halibut fishing throughout the day without wasting hours piloting your boat.

The first day of a fishing trip is always a funny one. Even myself, a fisherman with 25-plus-years of experience, needs to re-wet my feet a bit. How do I slice a cut-plug again?

I try to appear in control. Erin’s a touch trepidatious about this trip. Fishing Rivers Inlet, as we had in ’08, is easy by comparison. Why? Calm waters, for one, make the nervous-bellied among us more comfortable; and we had been staying at Oak Bay Marine Group’s King Salmon Resort — a land based lodge with roomy cabins and walking paths to stretch your legs.

Although we are greeted by easy skies, weather around Langara is temperamental, and the gusting breeze that keeps our jackets done-up tightly hints at the possibility of rough-and-tumble waves on these unprotected waters. Furthermore, since the MV Charlotte Princes is a floating lodge — a converted yacht once owned by the rock band The Eagles — we’d never been fully free of the ocean’s sweet sway. It’s a good thing she loves salmon fishing so much.

When I mentioned the trip early this year, she had told me it sounded romantic.

“Really?”

“Just you and me, no e-mails or cellphones, alone in a boat for four days? You bet.”

So that’s what they call a woman’s perspective. Here I was looking forward to the telltale “blood in the boat” (ultimate indicator of a great day) and she was swooning over the romance of it all. Turns out — and I should expect this from the Better Half — her motives for the trip were as pure as they come.

By dinnertime the first night, though, it’s easy to see what she means. Our first afternoon had been more a re-learning of “How to Salmon Fish” than a conventionally successful outing, but it didn’t matter one bit. A day on the water, good laughs, good times, great scenery and gorgeous salmon (mostly on other peoples’ lines)? I’ll chalk it up as a raging success. I’ll be darned if I’m not starting to pick up on this female perspective.

Salmon fishing with your partner is pretty romantic after all.

orca_whale

A pod of orcas (killer whales) encircled our boat.

Erin has never been a morning person. Until 2008, that is, when she proved to be the one rousing me at 4:00 a.m. for first slack tide.

Twenty-ten is no different.

“Wake up!” Elbow, elbow. The Charlotte Princess staff is all-too-timely with the requested 4:00 a.m. wake-up call. My suggestion to Erin for “five minutes more” is denied.

Salmon anglers live and die by the slack tide. Slack — indicating the window when the tide neither ebbs nor flows — is prime feeding time for salmon. Furthermore, it’s also the only time when bottom fishermen can keep their boats still enough to deepwater jig effectively. We study slack times, and we make sure we’re are hooks-down when it happens, no matter what species we’re angling for. Virtually all of our salmon would be caught that weekend within a few hours of high or low slack.

And trust me, the morning slack bite is the ultimate bite. That first morning, a few lucky anglers actually caught their daily chinook limit before 8:00 a.m.

“That’s great,” I say after hearing their boastful proclamation over the radio, “But now what will they do for the rest of the day?”

(And that is what we call sour grapes.)

Not that Erin and I have anything to complain about. We have put a wonderful 13-pound coho in the fish box by the time 6:30 a.m. flew past, and a twentysomething-pound chinook before it was even time for the mid-morning snack.

It is my earliest-ever trip to Langara Island — mid-June — and there is a learning curve for early season fishing. For starters, you’re less likely to hook into a massive chinook — a theory completely refuted by fellow guest Carl Lund after he landed a 44-pounder on the final day — but there are plenty of teenagers-to-20-pounders about. These fish are fresh from their Arctic feeding grounds; they are mean and tough and have the stamina of a marathon runner. They punch well above their weight class. Furthermore, while there are a few coho about, June is primarily a chinook fishery — good news for most, although I love the aerobatics of a crazy coho.

Halibut and ling cod are always cruising the depths, but if, like me and Erin, you’re less-than-infatuated with deepwater jigging with gear that’s tantamount to a tow truck, you can limit out on chickens off Cohoe Point by lowering your salmon gear to 50 or 60 pulls. There really is no bad time to fish the Haida Gwaii.

bald_eagle_fight

Two bald eagles chase one another, fighting over fish scraps.

Huff-puff. Our de facto fishing buddy, a school-bus-sized humpback whale, had moved in at dawn on the first morning and continues to surface around us.

Every time it bears its hump to the air, we stare. Some things never get old. The ol’ leviathan would stay within a stone’s throw of us for three more days; and with the exception of 45 exciting minutes when a pod of Orcas showed up and encircled our boat, holds our attention with every huff.

Erin proves herself a natural with the net. From fish-one, we have never lost a salmon boat-side; remarkable since the observant can easily watch that 90 per cent of lost fish gain their freedom within eyeshot of their opponent. But better yet — for me anyway — she enjoys the sights, sounds and smells of the sea so much she often passes on rod-duty, letting me fight salmon after salmon while she takes a more relaxed approach to the weekend.

Don’t forget guys: the gentleman always asks, “Do you want this fish?”

Although even a notorious rod-hog like myself has been baptized and born-again thanks to these couples’ fishing trips. I’d rather watch her catch a fish than play one myself. Any day of the week.

Six gorgeous salmon later — half of which had been landed by my Better-Half — plus a few bottomfish, and the first full day is capped off with the promise of even better fishing to come. Erin is sold — hook, line and sinker, if you can excuse that inexcusable pun — on fishing the Haida Gwaii.

Is it the whales? Is it the eagles? Is it the freezer full of halibut and chinook we would take home? Is it the gourmet fare back at the lodge? Maybe it was even the sea lion, if only a little bit.

If you ask us, it is everything — even the knuckle-duster (nothing good comes easy, they say). Because that’s what a fishing trip to the Haida Gwaii offers: everything you could hope for in a vacation… adventure, excitement, great food, new friends and stories that will make your friends green-like-seaweed with envy.

And every time we barbecue a fillet, we’re right back there again.

Also read: 5 Reasons To Visit British Columbia That Have Nothing To Do With the Olympics

Travel Advice

  • Pack layers of clothing, as temperatures can change wildly
  • Don’t waste space in your luggage on waterproof gear — Oak Bay Marine Group provides excellent rain gear and rubber boots.
  • There’s no dress code at these lodges — pack for comfort.
  • Take Gravol or other seasickness pills. Nausea will ruin your trip, don’t gamble.
  • Pack band-aids.
  • Take a toque and/or fingerless gloves in the early season.
  • Don’t forget cash for staff/guide gratuities. They work hard to make your trip perfect.
  • Feel free to bring your own saltwater fishing gear, but know the resort has it all on-hand.
  • Don’t forget your camera — and a waterproof camera bag.
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must.

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

4 comments… add one
  • Kaylene May 13, 2013

    When it comes to fishing, some goes for fishing as an
    entertainment activity and many depends upon fishing for their
    livelihood. Never dawned on me that they might want to try it,
    so I was surprised one day in the late-eighties when my
    son called and said they wanted to go fishing.
    Yet sometimes a net is better to use because it usually doesn’t harm the fish and will most likely be easier for you to prepare the fish for later.

  • Nannie Apr 30, 2013

    I almost never comment, but i did some searching and wound up here
    British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii: Salmon Fishing’s
    Final Frontier. And I actually do have 2 questions for you if
    it’s allright. Is it just me or does it seem like some of the responses come across as if they are left by brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are posting on additional places, I would like to keep up with everything new you have to post. Would you list of all of your shared pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  • Erin Dec 8, 2010

    Whoa that girl looks like she is the best salmon fisherman in the world!!!

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