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Archive for May, 2013

First Timers for Brook Trout

Published on Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Since I was introduced to them in 2007, brook trout, or Eastern brook char, have been a species I look forward to target every spring. They are not native in British Columbia, but are stocked in some lakes by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC. They are sterile, so cannot reproduce in the wild once released. Fish are released as yearlings, and due to the high productivity of lakes in Interior BC, these fish can reach up to 5lb after spending two years in the lake.

The weather has been unstable lately, but I have been itching to hit the spring lakes for awhile now. Due to family commitment, a multi-day trip is not doable, so I decided to pay a day visit to one of these brook trout lakes yesterday. I brought two friends along, Shane and Jason, who have never experienced brook trout before, so the pressure was on me to deliver.

The weather was surprisingly pleasant when we arrived at the lake at 9:30am. Flat calm surface, unlike the horrendous gust which we often face when fishing at lakes in the Thompson-Nicola region. This was a great start! As we made our way out, fish could be seen surfacing. All these signs suggested good fishing.

The fishing method employed was pretty standard for all stillwater fisheries in BC. We were fly fishing with an indicator. The flies used were chironomids in different colours and sizes, depending on what were hatching from the lake. The indicator depth was adjusted so that the fly would suspend a few feet above the lake bed, where fish tend to cruise.

We anchored both boats at a spot where I had success in the past. The background scenery was almost picture perfect. It is why we keep returning. We just needed some fish to complete the picture.

Beautiful Fly Fishing Lake in Thompson-Nicola BC

After 30 minutes, my strike indicator took a slow dive and I managed to hook it just in time after dropping the other rod. It was a reasonably large fish, most likely one that had spent two years in the lake. I decided to retain it, as brook trout are known to be fantastic table fare. Either grilled or steamed, we find them to be very tasty.

The second large fish, measured around 16 inches, came quickly after the first fish. This was followed by a number of smaller fish in the 1lb range. The hatch was very apparent, quite thick at some part of the lake. These fish should be feeding actively. Somehow the fishing was not as consistent as I had hoped.

Both Shane and Jason were not able to hook up in the first couple of hours. After some spot scouting, they were able to connect with fish. Brook trout can be soft biters. The indicator often just bobs or slowly submerges. Unlike rainbow trout, which always grab and run, brook trout usually eats and suspends at one spot. Once you recognize the bites, hooking them become much easier.

Nice Brook Trout

Netting a Big Brook Trout

The day was definitely not uneventful. We were hammered by heavy rain at times, the loons kept the day interesting. One guarded her nest while I fished, while the other managed to swallow a fish I released. Bald eagles could be seen hunting and harassing other inhabitants.

Nesting Loon

Loon in Thick Spring Hatch

Of course, the fish were the stars of the day. By the end of the six hour outing, we were able to boat around 20 fish, including several fine, large fish which measure between 3 and 4lb. This is why this province continues to be a paradise for anglers. There aren’t many other places where productive lakes can be accessed by the public without additional day fees or club memberships.

A Day's Catch

Fantastic Long Weekend in Tofino

Published on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

The West Coast of Vancouver Island is the ultimate playground for saltwater fishermen in British Columbia between April and September. One of the more popular destinations is Tofino, which is also known for its beach surfing, storm watching, wildlife tourism and fresh seafood dining. This year, we were invited by our friends Jim, Daniel and Brian to join their Victoria long weekend fishing trip. I was both excited and anxious after accepting the invitation. The fishing was undoubtedly going to be fantastic, but the possibility of rough offshore condition, compounded by sleep deprivation due to new fatherhood, may lead to sea sickness. It was going to be an unforgettable adventure!

From Vancouver, it takes roughly six hours to reach Tofino if there are no delays at the ferry crossing. Once arriving in Nanaimo, the drive takes just over three hours. For Nina and I, travelling to a fishing destination is a new challenge which we are still trying to master since the arrival of our son Elliot. With some careful planning, we arrived on the West Coast around mid afternoon. As we drove down a hill along the Pacific Rim Highway, the famous Long Beach appeared in front of us. It was quite a sight, which explains why this area appeals to so many holiday goers.

Our accommodation during the stay is at Crystal Cove Beach Resort, which is tucked away in one of the small bays just south of Tofino. Upon our arrival, I was immediately impressed by it. Crystal Cove is a family and pet friendly resort. The central playground is always entertaining for kids and a life saver for parents who seek for some down time. The beach in front of the resort is sheltered from the wind by several islands, so it stays warm enough to walk along, throw a frisbee or have a picnic on. At night, guests can gather around bon fires under the starry sky. The atmosphere really makes it a true beach holiday!

Crystal Cove Beach Resort in Tofino BC

Crystal Cove Beach Resort in Tofino BC

Tofino BC

The resort offers the best of two worlds. Instead of building a large hotel to offer the comfort expected by its guests, log cabins with similar amenities are available. They come in all sizes, from smaller beachfront cabins for couples, to larger multi-bedroom cabins for families. We stayed in a treehouse cabin, which has two bedrooms as well as a bridge leading to a treehouse! The fireplace was stocked up with enough logs to keep us toasty when the marine air cools down at night.

Tree House Cabin at Crystal Cove Beach Resort in Tofino

Tree House Cabin at Crystal Cove Beach Resort in Tofino

Tree House Cabin at Crystal Cove Beach Resort in Tofino

Our fishing guide for the trip was Jeff Hale from Braedy Mack Charters. Growing up on Vancouver Island, Jeff has had decades of fishing experience on the West Coast. His passion is finding the biggest chinook salmon in the ocean. Braedy Mack Charters has been a supporter of our website for many years, so I was eager to finally meet and fish with him.

Because the weather was less desirable on the second day, I opted to stay at the cabin with the family while others battled it out in the sea. It was a good call, because the others looked pretty exhausted after being battered by rain and wind for ten hours. Nevertheless, the fishing seemed pretty good, judging by the catches I saw when greeting them at the dock. I was looking forward to our outing on the following day, which called for drier and possibly calmer weather.

Big Halibut in Tofino BC

Chinook Salmon Fishing in Tofino BC

The alarm clock buzzed at 5:00am the following morning as we had to be on the dock at 6:00am. Our ride, the Braedy Mack 2, is a 25′ Offshore Pursuit with twin 150 four stroke Yamaha motors. A vessel like this is required, for both safety and comfort, when heading offshore.

Braedy Mack 2, 25' Offshore Pursuit in Tofino BC

We left the quiet marina into dense fog, but quickly found clear sky once we navigated through all the inshore rocks and islands. The view was spectacular, with only the ocean in the horizon ahead of us, and mountains floating above clouds behind us.

Heading Offshore from Tofino BC

As we made our way further out, the swells became bigger. The weather may be good, but the tail of the storm from the day before was still hanging around. Jeff reassured me that we could always find more protected waters if it became too rough and we should always tell him if the condition became too much to handle, since this was just another typical day for him. The ride out to the hot spot took around 40 minutes. There were a couple of boats already trolling in the area.

Trolling for Chinook Salmon in Tofino BC

Our first objective was to find some chinook salmon, which usually feed on needlefish, sand lance near the bottom during this time of the year. Using the sounder to see the contours of the sea bed, Jeff found the path where he wanted to drag the spoons and bait through. It was not simply dropping the the cannon balls into the depth and hoping for the best. Jeff was clearly using his experience to decide where the schools might be feeding. Within ten minutes after both rods were in position, the first one popped off the downrigger. While the rest of us were still mesmerized by the big waves around us, Jeff did his split second dash from the captain’s seat to the rod. Fish on! It was a chinook salmon weighing roughly around 10lb.

Daniel with a Chinook salmon in Tofino BC

Seeing how quickly the bite came, Jeff wasted no time to drop the rigs down again because we probably had encountered a school of fish. Sure enough, the second fish came within minutes. Jeff’s son Daniel brought it in after a spirited fight while I documented with the video camera. It was almost identical to the first fish.

With two fish in the cooler so fast, maybe we were going to be back at the dock with a boat load of fish before Noon! I should have known better of course, because there are no guarantees in fishing. Once the rods settled down again, we spent the next hour finding another fish on the line for me to reel in. The waves seemed to be growing as time went by. Boats around us disappeared whenever the swells crested beside us. It was an interesting experience for sure and certainly made the simplest task such as standing up or tying a knot challenging.

As I sat and stare at the back of the boat, one of the rods finally popped off the rig again. It actually took a couple of seconds to register in my head that it was my turn. I grabbed the rod from Jeff while the Islander MR3 screamed. This fish seemed to be much bigger than the first two. I was unable to gain much line at all in the first couple of minutes. Once the fish tired out a little bit, I started lifting and reeling, while trying to stay balanced on the rolling deck. It surfaced a few minutes later but the fight was far from over.

Instead of heading to the side of the boat where we intended to net it, this good sized chinook salmon went toward the other side where the second line was still in the water. Jeff scrambled to move the second rod to the other side while I kept the fish away from all obstacles. As if the fish felt our panic, it decided to turn and head back to the original side when we thought everything was under control. This time it darted beneath the second line, which I had to dodge under. It finally gave us a break on the surface. I reeled down to the flasher, walked back and Jeff reached out with the landing net for one precise scoop. Our third fish into the boat, a bright fat chinook salmon, was estimated to be between 15 and 20lb.

With the perfect landing ratio, we pressed on for the fourth fish. The next hook-up came shortly after. It was Jim’s turn but the fight was short lived. The line actually snapped when the fish surfaced, which was unusual considering its test strength. There must have been a nick on the leader. Jim managed to redeem himself as the next pull resulted in another fine fish at the end of the line. After several minutes of playing, Jeff netted the largest fish of the day – A chinook salmon that was just under 20lb.

Trophy Chinook Salmon from Tofino BC

Perhaps it was the constant stare at my camera’s viewfinder, perhaps it was the lack of sleep back at the cabin with a six month old boss, or perhaps my weak stomach simply couldn’t handle the growing swells as the morning went on. After three hours of trolling, I was becoming dizzy, but thankfully no urge to puke yet! Seeing that his client was starting to turn green, he suggested that we hit some inshore waters where the possibility of finding a halibut or two was big. More importantly, the sea was expected to be calmer at the new location. We motored back toward Tofino happily, as all of us were able to land one salmon each.

Big Waves in Tofino BC

Once arriving near Tofino, we proceeded to head north. It is easy to understand why this area attracts so many users from different backgrounds. Kayakers could be seen making their way through the sound, whale watching boats were packed with tourists who eagerly awaited to see their first humpback or grey whale. We travelled past Vargas Island, Flores Island and there wasn’t a shortage of wildlife sightings. A baby humpback whale emerged beside some big rocks. Sea otters were sunbathing on the surface. Bald eagles waited on a remote island, for an injured rockfish or salmon. This was like Disneyland, or an aquarium, except better. No admission fees can replace these experiences.

Bald Eagle on the West Coast of Vancouver Island

Spectacular View from Tofino BC

We arrived in our calmer spot at Noon. The other guys were able to retain their quota of halibut on the previous day, plus witnessing a 50lb fish lost by the boat when being measured. The slack tide was approaching. The odds of catching one were pretty big. Our choice of weapon was scented white grub rigged on tandem hooks and dangled from a spreader bar. The hooks were also baited with small pieces of octopus for that extra attractant. Once hitting bottom, rig was lightly jigged. Hopefully halibut could follow the scent trail to our boat and find the presentation irresistible.

After 30 minutes of jigging, I could feel a couple of light tugs on the rod tip. Halibut typically suck and engulf the entire bait, so the only way to hook up is to be patient and wait for the big, slow take. Another minute went by, the rod was finally being pulled down. I set the hook hard and could feel a couple of heavy head shakes at the other end. The Shimano Trevala jigging rod worked beautifully. As I lifted and gained line, this fish took a couple of fast runs. When the spreader bar emerged on the surface, Jeff reached down and quickly gaffed the 20lb halibut. Dinner was on board! Halibut is by far one of the tastier saltwater fish in British Columbia, so I was ecstatic to be able to bring one home.

Nice Halibut from Tofino BC

Our trip ended at 3:00pm back at the dock in Tofino. Jeff cleaned our fish and phoned the local fish processing plant to pick them up. Our fish were filleted, cut, vacuum packed and flash frozen at -40C. While it cost a bit to have it done, it was definitely worth it because it saved me the hassle from doing it and ensured the fish’s freshness. The last thing we wanted was to have our fish spoiled on our way home. On our last day, I stopped by the processing plant and picked up all the fish packed in 1lb frozen packs before heading home.

If you are considering a saltwater fishing trip for your family this summer on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, then you may want to give Jeff’s Braedy Mack Charters and Crystal Cove Beach Resort a try. There are many different fishing experiences to be had in this province, some are for more extreme anglers while others are suitable for families. This particular trip, in my opinion, was very family oriented and I look forward to returning so we can share the experience with our son when he is a bit older. What impressed me about Jeff was not simply his local fishing knowledge, but his ability to understand his clients and cater their needs. These are attributes of an excellent fishing guide, who can provide the West Coast fishing experience you are looking for. For more information about Tofino’s Braedy Mack Fishing Charters, please visit Jeff’s website www.fishingtofino.ca.

Watch our video feature of this trip “Tofino Salmon and Halibut Fishing”

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