Just Returned From → Milan, Italy. Headed To → Tofino, British Columbia.

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The Best Salmon Fishing Adventures in British Columbia

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Salmon Fishing off British Columbia’s Central Coast is “Shear” Delight. (Yes, I intend a pun.)

In This Fishing Article You Will Discover:

  • Where the “True Wilderness” Can Be Found
  • How to Have a Real Nature Adventure
  • How to Catch a Massive Salmon
  • And More!

It is a rare treat to see a coast so untouched as that of British Columbia’s central region. The vastness of this Pacific Coast defies comprehension — there is 25,000 km of it and only the smallest fraction has any real development. What truly defies comprehension, though, is the thought that a feisty salmon, barn-door halibut or monstrous ling cod could be lurking in any nook, cranny, off-shore shelf or rocky bank within that coastline. (Which, by-the-by, if you were to troll in its entirety would be the equivalent to fishing a straight line from Vancouver , BC to Christchurch, New Zealand — and back. Yes, what I’m saying is that the BC coast is extensive.)

BC Sport Fishing

Visitors to the few inhabited locations between British Columbia’s southernmost destination, Vancouver — and Terrace, near the north-coast-last-stop, are usually the hardy recreational anglers, or perhaps a logger or commercial fisherman on leave from camp.

There are many spots to try your hand at fishing along this coastline. One of the most popular, however, lies just about dead-centre between the 49th parallel and the Alaska Panhandle, right around the burg of Bella Bella, and its even more diminutive neighbour, Shearwater. The epitome of an isolated coastal town, Bella Bella has a character all its own. It’s the frontier to be sure, a Wild West town that needs not be explained to anyone who has spent an evening with locals at the marina.
vFor those who have not, and perhaps don’t fancy themselves pugilist or diplomat, Shearwater, next door on Denny Island and home to Shearwater Resort & Marina, is the best alternative.

And perhaps most alluring of all is that a trip to Shearwater simply requires you to fly into Vancouver, BC, and the resort does the rest, right up to delivering you on the doorstep of the lodge.

Flying north from Vancouver is a lesson in the vastness of Canada, and how uninhabited this country of ours is. As the town of Powell River, about a half-hour flight from Vancouver International Airport, disappears from view, you will see no sign of human life for almost two hours, when Bella Bella and Shearwater appear. North of that, expect another two hours of Mother Nature’s embrace.

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Gorgeous, cedar-sided Shearwater fishing lodge.

Anglers — take heed. The height of fishing BC’s central coast is done from Shearwater Marina & Resort, a friendly full-service operation tucked amidst the dripping wet evergreens of Denny Island. The charter plane will drop through the omnipresent layer of clouds and land on a paved strip, and a bus, perhaps once used to trundle local schoolchildren around the rough roads of Bella Bella, will hustle you into the settlement of Shearwater.

Relax, you’re here. Everything is easy from now on in.

Shearwater has a distinct difference from other salmon lodge operations on the BC coast. Rather than a floating lodge, away from even the faintest trace of cellphone or radio signal, Shearwater is a tight-knit community, where a pub, restaurant, laundromat, general store, marina, post office and tackle shop are all at your disposal. And perhaps most welcome of all to those fishermen who are returning from a 12-hour day on the rolling salt-chuck, everything is on terra firma. It’s a community based around fishing, for fishing and devoted to fishing. And for myself, and avid angler and even more avid vacationer, the moment I stepped off the plane I knew there was no other place I’d want to be.

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David Webb with two nice coho salmon, caught on a rainy “Wet Coast” day.

Natural Experience

Despite arriving to heavy clouds that sit atop the West Coast like a lid on a saucepan, keeping the moisture in and the sunlight out, I awoke the first day to a strange and wonderful sight. At first, I admit, a born-and-raised West Coaster like myself was scared. But Shearwater head guide Mike Pfortmueller was quick to calm my nerves by explaining the blue above me was the sky, and the yellow ball was in fact, the sun. I watched through darkly tinted glasses as this sun of his crested the low-lying mountains and lit up the cedar-sided Shearwater Lodge as fishermen, stuffed from the buffet breakfast, made their way two-by-two to the water’s edge. It wasn’t the only thing Pfortmueller was right about this trip. He, and his experience guides do their absolute best to ensure you get the most of your fishing experience. Self-guided or fully guided, they’ll direct you to the hot spots, offer up advice as to what’s enticing the salmon to bite and what they’re turning their noses up at and help you out with just about any other request you might deem worthy of mention.

Each pair of fishermen has a fueled-up 17-foot Hourston Glascraft at their disposal. Twin downriggers, bait, tackle and a cooler for lunch and a few beverages — we would not see the dock again until dinner time, and the sun had just risen. That’s the central coast reality. You come to fish, and fish you do — hard. Twelve hours is not uncommon, and by day’s end you feel robbed by nightfall, pleading for the sun to stop its descent into the sea to allow you just a few more fish to fight.

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Apres fishing fun – call this “Bella Bella Golf Links.” It’s 360 yards to carry to the island. Did I make it?

The learning curve of this fishing might be a bit steep for some newbies (flat-landers especially) — especially if one has never fought a 30-pound chinook with a “knuckle-duster,” single-action mooching reel.

Why the nickname? Try to hold onto the spinning knobs of that reel as an angry salmon makes a nose dive for bottom, and you’ll figure it out.

Fishing from Shearwater Marina & Resort is also a fascinating exercise in freedom. For one, the only limit put on your exploration is the gas in your fuel tank. Drain it if you wish. On any given day, you can run your boat full-throttle for 1.5 to two hours north or south from the lodge, putting yourself in regions so secluded it can be unnerving to those accustomed to the city life. And once alone, in your 17-foot boat that seems to become smaller with every mile you put between yourself and home base, wonders reveal themselves to you.

Wonders in the form of salmon — coho, chinook, chum and in alternating years, pink and sockeye salmon. The waters in the many bays of the central coast are calm, sometimes glass calm, yet are sure to shock by the amount of hard fighting fish that come out of the depths to attack your hooks.

Wonders in the form of unruly bottom fish, yelloweye, black bass, ling-cod and of course the mighty halibut, which reach sizes guaranteed to have your friends claim you’re telling Fish Tales when your return. (After all, what would you say if your buddy told you he caught a 200-pounder?)

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You can catch massive ling cod (pictured) and halibut while bottom fishing around Shearwater.

And there are wonders you won’t find with hooks in their mouths as well. Bald eagles, for one. A symbol of First Nations mysticism and mythology for millennia, they hover above your head, screeching their ancient song and plucking hapless black bass and coho from the water with an ease you wish you could emulate.

Wonders in the form of whales — yes, whales — they come with regularity, signalling their arrival by spewing thick mist into the air. Humpbacks, gray and minke whales mostly, with the occasional pod of orcas or dolphins, will, if you’re really lucky, pass by close enough to grace the viewfinder of your camera.

But aside from the fish, birds and whales, the greatest wonder of all is just to be there. A newbie will find himself literally floored by the beauty of it all. Rugged, uninhabited and pristine — vacations to anywhere else in the world will lose their impact, as no matter where you travel, you will have seen sights more stunning right in your own backyard.

It’s the nature of the BC Coast, that is — the nature, of nature itself. And here, there is no better example.

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

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