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May 02, 2013

Tofino: Close Enough for Comfort

Families Find Fast Fishing, a Wealth of Outdoor Activities, and Comfortable Accommodations in This Scenic Coastal Village

Anchored Up for Big Halibut

But salmon are hardly the only fish in the sea, and those ­oversize flounder known as Pacific halibut create a high demand among visiting anglers. Certainly, most in our group wanted the chance to tangle with halibut.

The species has historically been a poster child for good management, as overseen by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. But cyclical swings in year classes and abundance are inevitable; after many up years, the past few have trended downward. But that hardly means they’re sparse, particularly for skippers who know where the better halibut “beds” are, usually four to 10 miles out.

Big Halibut
By August, coho become thick and inclined to pile on when they catch sight of a bright, fluttering spoon.

Drift-jigging and dropping bait account for many of the flatties brought into Tofino. These often run in the 10- to 25-pound range — tasty, if not trophies. They also can be taken by trolling spoons or plastic squid just above bottom. But Temple prefers to target larger halibut relatively close to shore with big baits. “Those fish are feeding on large octopus, cod, and crabs near reefs and rock piles,” he says.

The real trick to getting them: dropping the hook. “The extra effort to anchor up really pays off,” Temple says. “There are tremendous numbers of bigger halibut around Tofino,” he says of the 60- to 80-pounders he targets, “and it always surprises me how few boats seem to target them.”

Temple lived up to his words: Anchored in 130 to 160 feet, we caught a share of small guys, but we boated a number of 40- to 65-pound fish as well.

Variety: Spice for Anglers

The three species described so far — chinook, coho and halibut — are certainly the holy triumvirate for Pacific Northwest saltwater anglers. But wait — there’s more!

Our group certainly proved that. Among the species of fish pulled into Temple’s Grady were rockfishes of many stripes and colors — yelloweye rockfish, canary rockfish, black rockfish, yellowtail rockfish, quillback rockfish, China rockfish and others — plus lingcod, cabezon and greenling, offering an ongoing variety of fish coming over the gunwales. Like most fishes of the North Pacific, all of these species make fine eating.

The majority of these fish associate with bottom, so fishing most any jig or bait, whether intended for salmon or not, will likely bring a strike that might as well be from a 40-pound ling as from a four-pound rockfish.

halibut and other fish
All in a day’s fishing off Tofino: At far left, a brilliant canary rockfish and, below, a bright coho salmon. Center: Josh Temple pulls aboard a big halibut, caught while chumming at anchor. Above: Long, limber mooching rods and single-action reels are the norm here.

Most of those bottomfishes put up a rather modest struggle when hooked; I like to carry light spin or baitcast gear with 10- or 12-pound braid, since that will handle even large lings and smaller halibut but offer a lot more sport. I also use the same gear when possible for salmon.

That said, like most British Columbia guides, Temple is happiest when anglers are using his gear. Many ­provincial guides appreciate the unique tradition brought to their salmon fishing with the use of long (8 to 11 feet), very limber, slow-action rods and single-action “knuckle-buster” mooching reels. The long rods help anglers set hooks without tearing the soft mouths of salmon.
That also probably accounts for the nearly universal popularity of monofilament over braided line. (Also, thin, hard braid is harder to fish in downrigger clips than ­larger-diameter, softer mono.)

Five fabulous days in Tofino proved a big hit with everyone involved in our large group — though that’s hardly time enough to really enjoy all the (primarily outdoor) activities that Tofino has to offer. And then there’s the fishing ....

A Tofino Timetable for Anglers

• Chinook — April through September (smaller “resident” chinook are available October through March, weather permitting)
• Coho — Mid-June into October (largest coho — “­northerns” — are more available after mid-August)
• Halibut — May through September
• Lingcod, rockfish — All year