Published on April 20th, 2014 by Rodney
In the past couple of years, thanks to our supporter Big Bear Salmon Charters, I have visited Ucluelet and discovered its hidden gems. Last year, we returned in April and were blown away by the non-stop halibut action. After retaining our limit of halibut and transferring two additional live fish to the Ucluelet Aquarium, the guys went out for some early season chinook salmon fishing without me. They were able to pick up one prized fish each in the short outing. Since I missed the action, I was determined to come back this spring. When head guide and manager Darren Dickenson reported hot salmon fishing last week, I booked my dates with no hesitation.
I invited my friends Iwan, Dan and Kitty along for the trip. Iwan and I have known each other for over ten years through his wife Kira. Currently residing in the UK, he travels here each year to visit his in-laws and always takes advantage of it by doing a couple of fishing trips. Catching a salmon in the ocean back home is rare so he was thrilled to tag along. To say Dan and Kitty enjoy fishing is an understatement. When not at school, both spend their free time catching as many fish as possible from every stream. Both have just been accepted as summer staffs at Go Fish BC, so this was kind of a celebration prior to the start of their jobs. This was Kitty’s first saltwater trip, so it was filled with both excitement and anxiety.
Our accommodation for the trip was Whiskey Landing Lodge, which just opened last July. Located by Ucluelet Harbour, the lodge is just a short walk to our charter boat. Available rooms range from studios to two-bedroom suites. Our one-bedroom suites had a spectacular view of the entire harbour. I sat and watched playful sea lions until the sun set on the day of our arrival. This was better than television!
Our game plan for the two-day fishing trip was to hop on the boat at 6:30am and attempt to find chinook salmon around the islands of Broken Group on the first day. The weather was not exactly appealing. After a week of sunshine, the rain returned upon our arrival. Sky water was not our biggest concern of course, the wind is always the biggest challenge when fishing on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
Darren greeted us at the office by the entrance of the lodge where we could change into the suits and boots supplied by the charter. Proper marine wear is important to keep the moisture and wind away from the guests, who need to endure eight hours of fishing in the Pacific. Our boat was the 30ft custom built Weldcraft, which is a new addition to Big Bear’s fleet since last year. This boat accommodates up to six people and has a spacious heated cabin, a fridge and a stand-up washroom. If comfort is important when going on a charter trip, then this is the boat for you.
As we made our way out to the Broken Group, the waves were getting bigger so heading offshore was definitely out of the question. Darren picked the outer edge of Barkley Sound as our starting point where he had some success lately. To catch early winter chinook salmon, we trolled the lures at approximately 150ft deep where they fed on Pacific sand lance and other baitfish.
We decided that Kitty should have the first go because she had never caught one. It did not take long for the first bite to come after both rods were dropped to the chosen depths. Darren set the hook firmly as soon as I called out the the bite and Kitty was in for a surprise once the rod was passed onto her.
“What do I do?”, she held on as the line peeled off the Islander MR2 while the boat rocked from side to side. She struggled to hold on and realized this was a lot tougher than fighting a coho salmon in the river. The rain and wind did not make it easier for her either, which were numbing the fingers and keeping the reel handle slick.
A minute after the hook-up, this fish decided to approach the boat fast like they almost always do. Kitty had to pick up the slack line and keep the tension on. As it reached the surface, Darren was ready with the landing net. The fish could easily be lost during this crucial period. The waves constantly changed the line tension, giving the fish many chances to free itself. The line could have easily broken off if it decided to take another dive while the reel was palmed too hard.
After a short tense moment, the relief came when Darren made the precise scoop under this fine silver chinook salmon. Kitty was exhausted and could barely give Dan a high five. “Another item off the bucket list!”, she said.
Having a fish on board so quickly is always a good feeling. It meant there should be more down there! The following bite came shortly after the first fish. It was Iwan’s turn and this fish pulled just as hard as the first one. To our surprise, it was considerably smaller when it reached the surface. It was still a keeper, as it was over the minimum length of 45cm in Area 23.
Both fish were caught roughly in the same spot, indicating that a school of fish may be lurking beneath. Although the sound may seem like one giant puddle where fish can be swimming anywhere, Darren explained that tide, weather pattern and bottom contour can all influence the bites. Local guides such as himself use their years of experience to locate these fish. Most days the decisions pay off, while the lack of bites on some days can be rather baffling.
Our third take occurred in the same area again, but the hook-up came up empty. Unlike what many might assume, trolling does not always result in the fish hooking themselves. The bites are often hard to spot when the trolling depth is over 100ft deep. Setting the hook needs to be firm and precise, by reeling down the slack line before the single motion hard set.
We originally expected the bites to improve around Noon when the tide peaked, but the theory did not pan out. The rain fell heavily while we watched the rods intently. It is early spring in British Columbia after all.
By late morning, Dan and I both managed to bring in an undersized chinook salmon which we released promptly. A couple of other fish brought in were canary rockfish, which are not unusual encounters when trolling close to the bottom.
I can never get tired of the scenery around the Broken Group. While I enjoy the tranquility of a lake, the ever changing open ocean takes my breath away. Where else can you catch a fine salmon while the waves break along the rocky ledges and eagles perched high above the coniferous forest? The experience is truly world class and British Columbians are lucky to have a diverse selection of terrains where we can spend our holidays.
Seeing how the bites had sharply turned off, Darren decided that we should give another spot a try so we motored over to the Great Bear, which is a well known productive spot. The first pass after the lures were dropped produced a bite immediately. I screamed out as usual while Darren ran for the rod, which was handed to Dan.
“That ain’t a rockfish!”, Darren remarked while the reel screamed in Dan’s hand. The run lasted around 20 seconds before the line went completely slack. This fish had made a complete U turn and ran toward the boat. Dan frantically picked up the slack but Darren believed the fish was long gone. To our surprise, the fish remained on and took another short run before popping up on the surface. Dan and Darren demonstrated great team work as one guided the ten pounder into the net. Everyone clapped to celebrate after enduring a few hours of down time.
With a little bit of time left for this trip, we quickly dropped the gear and made the same pass to see if we could pick up one more fish for me. It was not meant to be, despite of trying for another 30 minutes. It is fishing after all, and I was extremely pleased that my friends were able to experience the thrill which I have enjoyed many times in the past! We headed back to the harbour at 3:00pm to rest up at the lodge so we could be prepared for day two.
For more information on West Coast salmon and halibut fishing charter trips offered by Big Bear Salmon Charters, please check out their website at bigbearsalmoncharters.com. For more information on accommodation at Whiskey Landing Lodge, please visit their website at whiskeylanding.com. Both offer early season fishing and accommodation packages in April and May!