Saltwater Fishing

A brisk February wind blows off the Pacific Ocean as you wander the docks of Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The halibut season is under way. Your charter operator helps you aboard the boat, hands you a cup of steaming coffee and points the bow seaward. The halibut, he says, are being caught 20 miles out and 150 to 300 feet down. The lucky lures, he adds, are the Slammer or Norwegian. You settle back in your seat, examine the dozen fishing poles lashed to the stern and wrap your cold hands around the hot cup of coffee. A dozen other boats are on the grounds, rocking in the ocean swell. Tossing the lure overboard, you peel off a couple of hundred feet of line and settle your hook just above bottom.

For a couple of hours you wait when suddenly there’s a strong pull on the line, the tip bends to the water’s surface and your guide yells “hit it!” Somewhere down below, a 50-pound halibut begins a 300-yard run, interspersed with sudden stops that allow you to reel in a few feet before it takes off again. The fight – and there’s no other word for it – lasts a good 45 minutes. Line out. Line in. Line out. Line in. Your fingers cramped around the reel handle, you switch from one side of the boat to the other and back, keeping the tip of your rod in the air, the line tight. Just off the stern a pale white flash signals that the tiring halibut has just about given up the battle. But has he?

Now alongside the boat, the 50-pounder is gaffed and hauled onboard. There’s still some fight left, and the huge fish flips and flops against the bottom of the boat. Amazed at the size of the fish, you are even more amazed at a nearby fishermen’s luck. His halibut, well over 100 pounds, is too big to take aboard and is tied to the outside of the boat. Tonight, at the hands of the lodge’s great chef, halibut is definitely on the menu.

It’s mid-week, and the evening crowd strolls along Discovery Fishing Pier in downtown Campbell River, the Salmon Fishing Capital of the World. Discovery Pier, the first of its kind in Canada, has become a hot salmon fishing spot for both residents and tourists. Renting a rod and reel, you find a spot along the railing and cast your Buzz Bomb into Discovery Passage. Jigging is the best method off the pier, particularly now that it’s mid-August and the tyee (chinook salmon 30 pounds or more) have arrived.

As a huge cruise ship glides north on its way to Alaska, you feel a good tug on your line. Setting the hook, you watch line peel off the reel. You’ve hooked into a big one, possibly a famed tyee. The other fishermen reel in their lines to watch your battle. A pier worker runs up, grabbing a weighted net on the way. With the crowd watching, you play the big fish for 45 minutes, ending the fight with the salmon floating side up next to a leg of the pier. The net’s in the water and you drag the fish into it. Hauled up onto the pier, the fish is weighed by the pier worker. With just a little bit of pride, you see your name chalked up on the catch board. Next to it: chinook salmon – 36 pounds. A famed tyee!

From your vantage point on the pier, you notice a cluster of small boats off the Cape Mudge Lighthouse. Talking to a fellow fisherman, he tells you the lighthouse is the hotspot so you decide to book an early-morning charter.

It’s 4:30 a.m. when you step aboard the 17-foot Boston Whaler. Still groggy, you grab a seat on one of the two swivel bow chairs. Seconds later, you realize your mistake; you forgot to wipe off the morning dew that is now soaking through your pants. Uncomfortable, but still undaunted, you’re on your way to the lighthouse.

Your guide appears excited when he explains the back eddy off the lighthouse has set up nicely and the conditions appear perfect. The sun is still somewhere in the east behind the mountains when the first line is dropped. A live herring is sent to the bottom with the aid of a 10-ounce cannonball weight. Your guide tells you to watch the rod intensely as the bites can be very hard to see. You’re quick to comply with his instructions.

As you concentrate on the tip of the rod, your guide suddenly yells, “Wind.” You look at him with puzzlement. “Wind,” he screams again. You begin winding in and he pipes up once more. “Faster, Faster.” You blindly obey his command. “Okay, hit it,” he shouts. With a hard jerk, you set the hook and are amazed to feel significant weight at the other end of the line. The rod bends and bounces erratically as the spring (chinook salmon) head shakes 200-feet below. As you begin winding in with the single-action reel, the line abruptly tightens as the chinook decides to go for a run. “Let him run,” advises your guide. You loosen your grip on the reel and it spins out of control while rapping off your knuckles (and removing some skin). In an attempt to regain your composure and control over the fish, you latch onto the reel again. The rod doubles over as the line tightens and then unexpectedly goes slack. The guide looks at you with amusement and says, “I guess you’ve never used a knuckle duster before, eh?”

Hoping to learn from your mistake, you drop the line down once more. Twenty minutes later, you notice a slight tweak at the end of the rod. “Wait,” says your guide. Slowly the rod begins to bend over. “Now,” he says. You strike up on the rod with authority. Immediately, the salmon decides to run. Tentatively, you let go of the reel handle and the line peels out. As your guide instructed you after your earlier misfortune, you softly palm the underside of the reel to keep even tension on the chinook as it runs. After 100 meters of line fleets out from the reel, the salmon appears to be tiring and you begin winding it in. The battle continues for another 30 minutes. Finally, you can see the cannonball weight, and 10 feet further down you notice a great silver flash as the tired salmon continues to struggle for freedom. Your guide grabs the net and tells you to lift the rod tip up as high as you can. The chinook slowly comes to the surface and the guide skillfully slips the net underneath it and brings the fish aboard. You breath a sigh of relief as your guide shakes your hand.

By now you’ve completely forgotten about your wet butt although the salt water on your skinned knuckles is causing them to sting. But it has all been worth it. Back on shore, the chinook weighs in at 27 pounds and you explain to envious onlookers how you expertly played the salmon – a typical fish story.