Enjoy Miracle On Hali-Hill… this wonderful fishing story from FJ Hurtak, one of our long time friends and a Driftwood guest.
In June of each year, I look forward to my salmon fishing trip to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). For about ten years now I have been booking with the Queen Charlotte Lodge. I have tried other lodges in the area and some are very good, but QCL offers me exactly what I want, that being a converted tugboat called the MV Driftwood, which is anchored right on the fishing grounds in one of the quiet bays. This boat accommodates up to 12 guests on board, and all of us who are fortunate enough to stay there, enjoy the longest fishing day on the coast. Like the QCL 5-Star main lodge it also features a private chef, but the Driftwood has a crew that are such characters, they remind me at times of the cast on the old tv series Gilligan’s Island. Always friendly, always helpful, but just a tad bit off the wall. The fact they are like that is probably why I, and so many others who stay there actually fit right in. It’s the perfect place for the keenest of anglers with a sense of humour, who just can’t bear to leave the water after a great day’s fishing.
The fishing is always good but depending on the various runs of salmon and when they are passing through, some years have been better than others. It’s never ever boring though, even on days when the fish are not biting very well, because on any given day you are going to likely have up close and personal visits from killer whales, Humpback whales, eagles, sea lions, and a myriad of different kinds of sea birds. Some days the sunsets are spectacular as well. For me, every day spent there is an adventure and I have acquired many fond memories over the years, one of which would be impossible to forget, because the chances of it happening again are pretty much 0 and none. This is the story of the Miracle on Hali-Hill.
On a dead flat calm morning, my fishing guide, Lance Mercer, suggested we try for halibut at a place the locals call Halibut-Hill. It’s quite a distance from the preferred salmon fishing grounds, but on days when the water is calm and the weather is nice, it is usually only a 25-30 minute boat ride from where the Driftwood is anchored. Fish 75 to 150 lbs are not uncommon, and according to Lance, this was THE place we had our best chance to hook a monster. Water depths range from 250 to 300+ feet so when fishing with a heavy weight and a spreader bar set-up it can be quite tiring just to reel the line up from the bottom repeatedly. The guides here back-troll and drift this spot trying to avoid snags on the bottom, but the bottom and subsequent structure, is where large halibut spend much of their time feeding, so it’s worth taking the chance. The possession limit in this region for halibut is 2 and only one of the two halibut in your possession may be over 83cm in length, and the maximum length for retainment of a fish is 133cm. The previous day in another location I had already boated my ‘under 83’ so today we were looking specifically for the ‘over’. We had plenty of action almost immediately and I caught a beautiful 11 lb. red snapper (delicious eating fish) and we hooked several smaller halibut in the first hour. We were using two heavy halibut rods and had one out on each side of the boat. We had just elected to drop the baits close to the bottom, and put the rods in the rod holders to give us a break from constantly holding the rod and jigging. Suddenly, the front rod right behind Lance was hit with a solid bite. “Fish on Lance… Grab the rod!” I shouted. Lance had just set the hook and said it felt like a heavy fish. Without warning, I almost instantly heard a loud crack on the back rod right beside me. I turned quickly, just in time to see my rod and reel leaving the boat as the apparent bite was so hard it had snapped the rod right out of the holder and tilted it downwards. In an effort to save the tackle, I dipped my arm into the water and took a wild swipe at the rod, narrowly missing it, as it plunged to the ocean bottom.
Lance looked at me and said, “Don’t know what might have hit that bait but whatever it was it had to be huge, but let’s not cry over spilled milk. Take this rod and reel this one in.” I was still in a state of shock from losing some very expensive tackle but I complied and was soon battling another fish. Several times the reel’s drag screamed out line and as every fisherman knows that’s music to the ears because it’s very likely of the large variety. The standoff continued for several minutes but I was gradually making progress and I knew I was winning and tiring this fish out. As the minutes ticked by it became basically a dead weight with not much fight left in it. As is so often the case though, the really big fish do a final run for freedom once they spot the boat so I was careful. Slowly but surely I continued reeling with the rod tip up and I allowed no slack in the line. Then we finally saw it! It was over 5 feet long! Both our jaws dropped in amazement! BUT it was NOT a fish, it was none other than the rod and reel I had lost 15 minutes earlier, and I had it hooked on the line just below the rod tip. Both fish had somehow gotten off, and even though we had drifted at least 1 to 2 km across the open ocean I had managed to somehow snag the line in the process and get all my tackle back. Both of the rod’s baits were stripped clean. Lance ‘high fived’ me and chuckled “You got your over today F.J.”
Just another day on the magic waters of Haida Gwaii.
F.J. Hurtak is the author of the books ‘Elk Hunting in the Kootenays’, and ‘Hunting the Antlered Big Game of the Kootenays’, and is also a very avid fisherman.
The MV Driftwood has just come out of dry dock after a 2-week stay at Allied Shipyards in North Vancouver. Transport Canada requires that all passenger vessels come out of the water every 4 years for inspection. The shipyard removes the rudder and stock, the propeller and tail shaft and all of the through-hull valves for service and inspection. The shaft is checked on a lathe for true, the bearings are serviced and everything is cleaned and lubricated. The hull itself gets a thorough examination by a shipwright to replace traditional oakum caulking between the planks. They service and replace protective gumwood cover boards and apply a special anti-fouling paint to the entire underwater hull to prevent growth of algae and barnacles.
Wooden vessels of this size are an increasingly rare sight on the coast and the Driftwood attracted a fair bit of attention while in dry dock. Thankfully back in 1944 she was well built to Canadian Navy standards at Star Shipyards in New Westminster. The hull is sound and tight and is an impressive sight from below. The hull above the waterline was scraped, filled, sanded and painted – a huge job that’s really only feasible during a haul out.
With only 5 weeks until she sets sail for Haida Gwaii and another season at QCL, we’re sprucing up the interior and getting her all set up to host our guests on the fishing grounds. Captain Ryan, Trevor, Sparky and crew are looking forward to welcoming you aboard!