PhotosGreat Fishing on the Wild Central Coast of British Columbia
Great Fishing on the Wild Central Coast of British Columbia
Fast fishing for salmon, halibut and more awaits at this scenic edge of the North Pacific, a brief flight north of Vancouver.
September 16, 2014
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Late summer on the British Columbia coast generally means a couple of things: lots of salmon and lovely weather. Sure, there are always exceptions, but in many summer trips to the wild coast of this province, I’ve almost always had good and often great luck. A visit in August with a couple of other eager anglers didn’t disappoint, and this gallery will offer some proof of that. Besides these photos, watch for other compelling images and all the details in the Sport Fishing magazine feature on this trip scheduled for the March 2015 issue. You might also enjoy galleries showing more B.C. action at Hippa Island in the far north and off Tofinoin the south, on Vancouver Island. In this shot I snapped with my GoPro, my amigo Dave Lewis, a fishing journalist from Wales (also a group-trip organizer for anglers) fulfills a lifelong dream to fish for salmon here, as George Cuthbert, owner of West Sportfishing, nets an early morning Chinook(known by Canadians as “springs” if less than 30 pounds and “tyee” — i.e. a trophy — if 30 or heavier). (All photos by Doug Olander unless noted otherwise.)
An aerial view shows Cheney Point, the rocky area at left. Note the small boats trolling back and forth; this is a light crowd. Several times that many boats, from several resorts plus private craft, may work the grounds here; as you might figure, it’s also one of the places most consistently popular with salmon.
LAY OF THE LAND (AND WATER)
This chart, from the West Sportfishing website, shows Cheney Point and more. Milbanke Sound is an area bordering the open Pacific off the central B.C. coast, west of Bella Bella. It offers endless fishing areas both outside and in inside waters.
The black inside of this salmon’s mouth marks it assuredly as a Chinook. Cohohave white gum lines (and also relatively little spotting compared to Chinook).
Of two fishing operations we visited, we started at Central Coast Adventures at Shearwater, a short boat ride from Bella Bella (where the flight from Vancouver landed). Trevor Gustafson, our host and skipper, fishes spoons, hoochys (plastic squid) and herring for salmon but he most of the time, favors anchovies rigged in plastic keeper heads and held in place with a piece of toothpick, as here.
Dave Lewis holds proof that salmon like anchovies, hefting a big coho that Jackie Olander caught on light braided line aboard Gustafson’s Grady-White.
We return to Central Coast Adventures’ intimate, homey bed-and-breakfast arrangement (where all the fresh Dungeness crab awaited — and was just the appetizer before dinner!). (Photo courtesy Dave Lewis.)
Halibut are abundant in many areas, usually fished in 200 to 400 feet. Here, Trevor Gustafson eases a nice barn door towards the swim platform, taken at “the Mushroom” (see chart, image #3). This is another photo I actually shot from inside the boat, using my GoPro Hero3+.
THEY WERE JUMPING IN THE BOAT!
Well, not quite, but coho and pink salmon were indeed leaping constantly here and there as Trevor took us for a couple of hours to a quiet bay where hordes of salmon were congregating near a river mouth. Though they generally weren’t feeding with great enthusiasm, we did manage to hook several on small lures.
BRAID IN A MONO WORLD
Or at least in a mono fishery since nearly 100 percent of the downrigger effort for salmon utilizes monofilament. But braid works too. Here, Jackie has clipped the 15-pound braid into the back of the downrigger clip, which provided just enough tension to keep it set until a salmon (or weeds) struck, when it would pop and more often than not, the fight would be on.
READY FOR FIRST-LIGHT BITE
While we brought some light gear up from Florida, nearly all salmon along this coast are taken on standard 10-foot soft-action mooching rods with single-action “knuckle buster” reels like with 20- or 30-pound mono this one, bent over sharply, following the angle of the downrigger cable. Typically the downriggers will be set from 40 to 100 feet or deeper.
WAITING FOR THE “POP”
Much of the time, we trolled with one light spinning outfit out, down to 10-pound braid, which made for a great fight. Once popped out of the downrigger clip, the braid offered minimal resistance and salmon often came up and made long runs that sizzled across the surface.
FISHING FAMOUS WATERS
This nice light-tackle Chinook came in the waters southwest of Shearwater, near famed Hakai Pass. (Photo by Dave Lewis.)
NEXT STOP: ST. JOHN’S HARBOUR
West Sportfishing, our next destination, flies guests in/out via turbine jet helicopters. It’s about 10 minutes from Bella Bella. This is the view from the co-pilot’s seat
Sit back and enjoy the views, folks; I’ll have us at the lodge in just a few minutes.
The West Sportfishing lodge sits nestled in St. Johns Harbour. The operation still refers to it as King Pacific Lodge, the original moniker of the luxurious three-story lodge when it first began operation many years ago in Whale Channel, a bit up the coast.
FAST AND FURIOUS
All hands to the (movable) floating helipad! A Helijet chopper delivers incoming guests and gear and leaves with the outbound, typically in about 10 minutes or less.
A FLEET READY TO FISH
Boats sit ready for newly arrived guests. The custom-made 20-foot Ironwood are aluminum but have the look of fiberglass. (Photo courtesy of Dave Lewis.)
PREMIER FISHING GROUNDS
Cheney Point is usually busy with boats — and with anglers catching salmon. It’s one of the top-producing spots on the provincial coast, and less than a 10-minute run from St. John’s Harbour. High-sided and big-beamed, West Sportfishing’s Ironwoods are some of the best boats any B.C. fly-in resort has to offer, whether guests fish guided or prefer to fish self-guided.
We went the self-guided route and had a ball. Here, Dave admires a lovely coho taken just off Cheney. Coho become both larger and more prevalent in August.
Some guides and anglers prefer spoons or plastic squid for coho. Certainly both work — and don’t require frequent rebaiting (or smelly fingers).
The frequent fog banks that come and go can play tricks, as here, making the sun into a glowing orange-pink ball, casting its red reflection over the calm Pacific. First/early light is the peak period to find big Chinook prowling right at the edge of the kelp line, which is why this boat is trolling that zone.
HALIBUT LOVE BIG SWIM BAITS
With help from George Cuthbert (left) Dave hauls in his first Pacific halibut, which he jigged up from 350 feet using a 9-inch Storm Wildeye Giant Jigging Shad tail on a 14-ounce lead head that he brought with him from England.
“Red snapper,” as yelloweye rockfish are widely known, are a prize among many species of Pacific rockfishes since they grow larger than most. Like all rockfishes, they’re delicious eating.
Lingcod abound in these rocky waters. Jackie caught this one over a rocky ledge south of Price Island, a 45-minute run west of Cheney Point.
This silvergray rockfish latched onto Bomber lead head before a halibut could find it.
The lodge at St. John’s shares the harbor with a family of sea otters.
The vermilion rockfish is well-named. Generally found somewhat shallower than yelloweye, vermilions tend to fight harder and suffer less from barotrauma than many species of rockfish.
Dave gets some idea of just how many species of rockfish (genus Sebastes) dwell in these waters, here with a lovely canary rockfish, one of several caught jigging in 50 to 150 feet with light tackle one evening, along with eight other types of rockfishes.
The lodge carefully records every fish brought in throughout a trip, by which anglers and notes the weight. Two hours after this photo was taken, the board was wiped clean for the next group.
Actually, this specimen might be a non-believer, for all I know, but in any case, the waters beneath the West dock were loaded with Pacific mackerel, sometime summer visitors here. Chloe Cuthbert generously agreed to catch a few for us one afternoon for halibut bait. At night, hordes of squid moved in under the dock. (I was glad I’d brought a squid jig with me!)
Departure day means fishing until late morning, then dashing back to be ready for the chopper ride out. This 11th hour Chinook (literally and figuratively) made my day. (Photo by Dave Lewis.)