Canada - Pacific Salmon and Halibut
I have been quite lucky in achieving my ambition to catch different fish and last year travelled with a small party to Canada in search of Pacific Salmon and Halibut. We flew to Vancouver, stayed overnight and next day flew onward via a small local plane to Sandspit Airfield on the southernmost of the Queen Charlotte group of islands. We then took a small helicopter over the spectacular Haida Gwaii mountain range to our final destination Tasu Lodge. The remote timber lodge has been built on a floating platform and based in Tasu Sound – a small estuary on the Pacific coast of the island.
We were quickly kitted out with wet weather gear and flotation jackets, were allocated a skipper (guide) and two anglers to an 18 foot aluminium boat, most of us went fishing as soon as possible. All fishing gear was supplied, the expected multiplier reels and seven foot rods for the Halibut, but the Salmon gear was amazing – 10 foot carp rods with single action wide arbour (fly fishing type) centre pin reels, 15 lbs mono line, a massive 10oz ball weight and at the sharp end of a 9 foot trace 2 barbless hooks set up pennel fashion.
Each of the 20 guides at the lodge has a nickname and ours was “Cowboy” – we soon found out why – the boat ride to the outer estuary was extremely rough and he delighted in bouncing the boat at full throttle over the waves in a race toget ahead of the other boats.
The Tasu Sound Estuary is bordered on both sides by mountainous cliffs rising to 600 feet with fir trees growing on every available ledge. At the foot of the cliffs there is a thick kelp (seaweed) margin and it is here in over 100 ft of water that the larger salmon hunt their prey and the guides show their boat handling skill in keeping the boats as near as they dare to the eddies by the cliffs in the racing tides – the boats do not anchor.
Large shoals of Herring invade the estuary and form the principle quarry of the salmon, who need to feed as much as they can before travelling north – as far as Alaska, to their breeding grounds.
There are four types of Pacific Salmon – Sockeye, Pink, Coho (known as Silvers) and the largest of all the Chinock salmon (known locally as King salmon)
“Cowboy” showed us how to cut the Herring bait at a special angle and after inserting the hooks we lowered the baited traces into the tide to check that the bait had the right wobble and when satisfied with the presentation released about forty feet of line. Then we set our rods into the quick release holders either side of the boat to await the first take.
Within minutes, my companion angler’s rod tip slammed down as a big fish raced off with the bait, he grabbed the rod and wound like fury to connect with the fish and set the barbless hooks (whilst the guide and I quickly wound in our line to let him fight it unhindered). This King salmon raced off, frequently changing depth and direction, but after about 15 minutes a lovely but still lively fish of about 18lbs was brought to the side of the boat and after agreement with the angler, released to fight another day.
All salmon which are not retained, are released at the side of the boat and never brought into the boats (even for a photograph) to avoid damage to the fish. Fish protection and conversation are major concerns in Canada.
My first ever salmon, a bar of silver, took the bait about 10 minutes later, this proved to be a large Coho salmon and let me on a merrygo all round the boat both diving and next bursting 8 feet out of the sea in an aerobatic display as well as attempting to empty all the line from the reel. After what seemed to be an hour, but was probable only 5 to 10 minutes, the fish was tamed and surfaced near the boat. I allowed this fish to be netted as I was persuaded it was well worth retaining – it was later weighed at the lodge as 12lbs.
Nearly all the salmon we bought to the boat that day were released, but I had a very exciting battle with one King which we boated of 25lbs. It took 30 long minutes to bring this fish to the surface following several deep reel screaming runs, I was exhausted and my arms felt as if they were dropping off.
Next day most of the other anglers took the opportunity of a calm sea to fish for the large Halibut just offshore, but we decided to have another day with the salmon fishing. Did we have a good day? – I say we did, we actually lost count of the fish we released at the boat but later we estimated we each brought 30 salmon to the side of the boat. I had a spectacular fight with a large King salmon which emptied the reel several times in many directions against as much rod and reel pressure as I was able to safely apply, with me gaining the line back as quickly as possible in order to keep contact. About 40 minutes later I was able to bring the fish near enough to the net. “Cowboy” was quite excited and declared to my delight that this deep bellied Chinook would weigh at least 38lbs and probable over 40lbs.
After a hot lunch, brought out from the Lodge to the anglers, we decided to make the 20 minute boat ride back to the lodge in order to officially weigh my large salmon and celebrate in the bar. The fish weighed 43lbs and proved later to be the largest at the lodge for the week, winning me a very nice trophy to take home.
Next day, we decided to try for Halibut, but the offshore sea was now too rough for safety and after failing to catch inshore, we gave it best and headed back to the estuary for the salmon. Another great day, we did not catch as many fish as before but I brought back a 32lb King to be weighed, as well as a very nice 15lb Coho which equalled the lodge best Coho of the season.
This year I will be returning to Canada, as I have still not achieved my ambition to catch a Halibut. I know that there are white Sturgeon to be caught in the Fraser river near Vancouver but these will have to wait for another year.