Well, here we are into the final week of the ‘22 season and we’re happy to say that all the wheels are still on the bus! It’s been our biggest and busiest season ever with all the attendant challenges (and, of course, a few surprises too!). We’re still enjoying an outstanding summer and it’s looking to be pretty fine right through the weekend, save for a little southeasterly blow through Friday night.
The salmon catch is getting a little more random with anglers finding five salmon species all over the fishing grounds… top water Coho chasing everything near the surface (but there’s good ones down 30-50 as well) and aggressive Pinks hitting whatever they can get their teeth into in the top 20 feet. We’ve got Chinooks of all sizes – migratory spawners and local feeders – showing up inshore, and offshore while we’re fishing halibut! And just to keep everyone on their toes, we’re finding a few Chum and even a couple of Sockeye on every trip. Carl P released a beautiful 32-pound Tyee with his guide Tommy G last trip while we had several nice fish in the low 30’s come to the Bell Ringer over the past week. With the help of his guide Ryan K, Mike F boated an impressive big buck that tipped the scale at 44-pounds on the weekend. Halibut fishing continues to be solid with most anglers happy to pick up a third teen-sized hali for the freezer.
The humpback whales that have been keeping us company all summer are still feeding constantly in the quiet bays from Wiah Point around to Inskip Pt, and from Hannah Bay all the way around past Green Point. We’ve even had one or two feeding regularly right inside Naden Harbour since June! While their constant presence is something we’re so accustomed to, we never get tired of the pure awesomeness of it!
As the season progresses at full speed towards the metaphorical finish line known as Labour Day, I find myself getting more nervous, almost disappointed, rather than excited. A lot of people would probably assume I am ready to go home, ready for a change of scenery, ready to do anything other than go fishing. But a lot of people don’t know what it’s like to be a fishing guide at QCL.
Being a fishing guide, to me, means a lot more now than it did 4 years ago when I started. It’s not just about the fishing. It’s about the atmosphere, the surroundings, the laughter and entertainment amongst the crashing waves. The people you meet over the course of the summer and the connections that are created are irreplaceable, even if they are short lived. The most cherished memories that I take away from this experience always seem to revolve around the people first.
With the beautiful weather, bountiful coho catches and Tyees still coming in every trip, I can find excitement knowing that there are still three trips left in the season. This past week, the DFO increased the halibut retention limit to three fish, if they are all under 90 centimetres in length or one fish between 90 and 133 centimetres in length. The opportunity to take an additional halibut home is a significant bonus for an angler. It’s another great example of why fishing later in the season is never a bad idea up here at QCL.
The abundance of humpback whales breaching, sunfish sightings and big Chinooks lurking by the kelp beds are just a few of my favourite takeaways from the 2022 season. As unsettling as it may be to see my QCL summer come to an end, I am thankful for this experience and know that it will live with me for years to come. I also need to keep reminding myself…
The memories can’t start until the experience ends.
Before most fishing was done by downriggers and trolling, boats would go out and motor mooch for salmon. The fisherman would make a cut-plug herring and thread it on to hooks and a leader. The leader would then be tied to a 4 or 6 ounce weight and then the weight was tied directly on to the main line. This was the BC standard for fishing for Chinooks and Coho.
One day in the early 1990’s I had a chance to introduce a husband and wife to the fishing up in Haida Gwaii. We made our way from the dock out of Naden Harbour to fish at the famous Bird 1 hotspot. There had been quite a few very large Chinooks taken over the last few days so I was very excited to see how this brand new fisher couple would make out. The tide was soft and the seas were calm – ideal weather and water for fishing with newcomers to the game. They watched as I cut the herring and rigged it up. They listened carefully as I explained how to let the line out and put the rod in the rod holder. I demonstrated how a mooching single action reel works and I drilled them on what to watch for and do when the inevitable strike comes. After a little bit of Q&A they were ready to go. The wife saw it first. The almost imperceptible first pull by a Chinook on the herring. Almost before she could say anything, the rod took a strong downward bend as the Chinook was beginning to panic and feel the hook. She was like a coiled cobra as she sprung to the rod… a natural. She reeled down to the fish and struck it hard. Line screamed off of the reel and the line angled up as I knew we were going to get a good look at this fish. Sure enough he swirled distant from the boat and I could see his wide gold green back. Eight inches across and all of 50 pounds or more. I was the only one that saw the fish and I was surely not going to further compromise the first few minutes of the fight with a description of how large the fish was. For now, this was information for me to keep to myself.
The fight waged for more than 45 minutes. Long, strong runs were followed by deep sulking. She had, by that point, developed her routine of pumping up the rod slowly, when the fish would give ground, and then franticly winding to pick up line and keep pressure. There was very little chatter as it seemed appropriate to let the wife focus on the giant Tyee salmon. Forty-five minutes stretched into an hour and I could tell the fish was quickly tiring. The pumping became easier, the runs not as strong and purposeful, becoming more panicky and weak.
Then it happened. Right at the top of the pump the rod went slack. Clearly this Chinook had found a way to rip the hook out of its mouth. As always, I encouraged the fisher to wind quickly to see if the fish had simply turned and we needed to catch up with it. I knew it was gone but we had to try. Just as I was about to say that the fish was gone the rod started to twitch and shake and the line came in easily. In an instant I knew what had happened. The big fish was truly gone. As the lady reeled in the empty hooks a small 12 inch Coho juvenile salmon had raced after my red hooks mistaking them for krill shrimp. He was now hooked and coming quickly to the boat. Before I could explain anything, the exhausted lady angler had brought the tiny salmon to the side of the boat. She looked down in disbelief and exclaimed that if a 12-inch fish could fight that hard she did not think she would be able to land a really large salmon!
I guess we could call it the height of our summer! The past few days of brilliant sunshine delivered some of those iconic deep colours that say it’s summer at the lodge! The fishing effort was largely focused on the waters from Yatze east to the Mazzaredos and the salmon action was quite steady overall. Anglers were busy reeling in lots of nice Coho mixed with a bunch of Pinks; punctuated by a chunky Chinook every so often! We managed to find a few Tyees in the mix, between 30 and 36 pounds – and lots of those amazing 20-somethings, the top target of our salmon anglers! We caught a break on Thursday and the winds died right off to send the entire fleet offshore to load up on halibut and lingcod, which they did quite successfully.
Seeing as it’s already August 13th (or Foggust as many call it) we’ve been really lucky to avoid much fog in the area so far. But a big bank rolled in late Thursday; we usually watch it creep in from the north and settle over the east side of Naden Harbour. Combined with a brilliant super-full-moon, it made for another dramatic visual this week.
I hope you enjoy this eclectic collection of photos that pretty much describe how the week went! But don’t worry, the weekend, so far, has been different! Tune in next week for the update!
It’s hard to believe but we are officially at the halfway point for the 2022 season up here at QCL! After an unseasonably late start to “summer” in June, the past 2-3 weeks have been pretty awesome! Lots of fish, better than average weather and so much fun on the water and back at the lodge. We’ve enjoyed very healthy numbers of what we’d call “feeder salmon” in recent weeks. Lots of Chinook salmon in the low-mid-teens and hungry Coho in the 6-8 pound class are keeping anglers busy throughout most of the fishing grounds. The presence of larger Chinook has been increasing steadily with regular catches of those stunning twenty-somethings, and the Tyee Bell is ringing every night now in celebration of Tyee-class fish either kept or released. Everything is feeling more like a “normal” fishing season, just a little later this year.
We started off this week’s trip with a bang on Monday night at the Bell Ringer with David H cracking the bell four times after releasing a big beautiful Tyee that taped out to 43-pounds before guide Alex K carefully returned it to the water. Roger P celebrated releasing a 30-pounder with his partner and their guide Colton M and Dan B was turning heads with an impressive 42 lb Chinook that came back to the dock with guide Dan R. We’ve been very fortunate to find solid salmon fishing off most every point of the fishing grounds, at the right stage of the tide, which have been especially large this week with ranges up to 18 feet!
However, nice calm seas on Monday thru Wednesday provided perfect conditions for any angler’s preference! Halibut fishing is very reliable on most days and this week was no different with many anglers finding impressive fish over 30-pounds and some tangling with the proverbial “barn doors” out on the grounds. Finding that magic number where it’s “not too little but not too big” is a challenge that definitely comes with fishing and Dan S pretty much maxed out his opportunity, bringing a 55-pounder back to the Bell Ringer! Lionel W turned back a 5-foot-long halibut that scored over 100 pounds and Matt C hauled up a 75-incher which scored 230-pounds! But the big catch this week went to Josh P who battled an 87-inch behemoth that would weigh about 273 pounds if you could get it in the boat! While not every angler wants to work that hard, there are endless possibilities out there for those who dream of catching a fish larger than themselves! Up here we seem to do that every week.
This weekend the large tides will start to diminish and we’re enjoying light winds and a comfortable mix of cloud and sunshine… with the occasional shower tossed in for good measure!
It’s fair to say that most anglers who travel to Haida Gwaii on a fishing trip dream of catching a big Chinook salmon, what we call a Tyee or, as our American friends like to say, “a big Kang”! It’s easy to understand why. In these cold northern waters, they are the kings, the royalty of the fish world! Sleek and powerful and bright chrome silver, a large Chinook salmon over 30 pounds will certainly test the angler and their tackle. And it’s never over until they’re lying in the bottom of the boat!
But if you ask these same anglers what fish they prefer on the dinner plate, the answer will often be halibut! It might be the nice meaty texture, the brilliant whiteness when it’s cooked or the subtle, non-fishy flavour and aroma of fresh-cooked halibut that holds so much appeal.
In our early days when we used smaller boats and engines, we had no technology like depth sounders and GPS. The halibut tackle was pretty light duty, and most anglers didn’t want to spend much time hunting for halibut. In fact, many halibut were caught as bycatch while mooching with a weighted rod for salmon! We’ve always been spoiled in Virago Sound, the halibut fishing is never too far from shore and anglers would make a quick run out to the “chicken coop” on the 180-foot line. They’d drop a herring down to the bottom and, in short order, they’d have their two fish limit – enough to keep a promise to their partner at home – and then it was back to working the kelp beds for that big Chinook.
But how the world has changed! We used to use very rough triangulation to remember our halibut holes – line up that big old spruce snag with that point over there and stay even with that big rock on the beach, and you should be close to “the spot!” Well… maybe!
Nowadays we’ve planted so many X’s on the water that pretty well everyone has their own, favourite halibut hole! Modern depth sounders synchronize with apps on your smartphone to actively upload depth and structure data to the cloud. The detailed maps created of the seafloor have revealed a whole new underwater world, out beyond the kelp beds. Sea mounts, pinnacles, rock piles and gravel benches provide habitats for all different species of fish and affect the tidal currents and feeding areas for baitfish. What was, not long ago, a great, invisible, underwater mystery, is now a seascape for exploration and discovery.
We have lots of guests up here every trip who are quite happy to spend most of their time offshore doing just that. We have larger, safer and more comfortable boats and tackle that can handle the proverbial “barn door” halibut. We’re also able to find other species like lingcod and Pacific cod. All of these fish are well managed and the limits are kept low to prevent overfishing of the stocks. And, of course, just because you know where they should be, doesn’t mean you’re going to catch them! Afterall, it’s still called fishing… not catching!
All that being said, here’s a good fish story…
On Saturday morning, Curtis, Jen and Colin were salmon fishing, self-guided, near the Mazzaredo Islands. This is a location, well inside Virago Sound, where the water depth ranges between 30 and 70 feet. It’s been very productive salmon water for much of the summer, so they were trolling for Chinook salmon with cut-plug herring. Curtis had just rigged a new herring and tossed it into the water to set up the downrigger. As the herring started to sink, he noticed some movement below it and leaned over to have a better look… just in time to see the dark shadow open up to reveal a huge white mouth that inhaled his shiny herring! The shadow moved alongside the boat and then back down, flipping a wide brown tail that had to be 18-inches across! In shock, Curtis grabbed the rod from the holder and hung on. The sounder said 32-feet, so the giant fish couldn’t sound too far! But the hook was in its mouth and the 11-foot mooching rod was soon arched over in a half-circle with the line singing tight. Typically, a battle with a halibut is a weight-lifting exercise, with a short, 6-foot pool cue of a rod that bends a little at the tip. It’s often a straight lift with lots of give and take and usually happens in 200-300 feet of water, so there’s lots of lifting to do! In such shallow water Curtis’s fish had nowhere to go but out, so he held on as best he could while his boat-mates stowed the downriggers and made ready to chase down this sea monster. Fortunately for them, the tug-o-war was over in about 15-minutes as Curtis was able to maneuver the huge halibut alongside their boat; quite a feat considering the noodly salmon rod! They used another salmon rod as a measuring stick and after several attempts concluded that this giant was about six and a half feet long – 79 inches in length! It was in no mood to have anyone poking around in its mouth to retrieve the barbless bronze salmon hook so they cut the line after taking a few photos and the giant halibut disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived! A look at the IPHC Halibut Chart revealed that this big female weighed about 265 pounds! Considering where halibut usually live, Curtis’s opportunity to witness this giant take the bait was a rare occasion indeed. While it’s not unusual for us to catch halibut, even big ones, in close to shore like this, we’ve never seen one this big actually brought to the boat. Well done Curtis, Jen and Colin! Surprises like this keep us all interested and excited to get out on the water any chance we can!
Getting away and doing something fun and exciting (or relaxing) with friends and family this summer has been the biggest goal of most of our guests. Seeing them leaving the helipad and having their first good look around is priceless… Off comes the mask, revealing a big smile, and the holiday has begun. (Not that we don’t still abide by the Covid rules – we have those too) But being in a beautiful, wild place with wide open spaces and abundant, fresh cool air is pretty exhilarating this summer!
So here we are at the end of August with the end in sight; the days are shorter – off the dock at 7 am just feels weird! But we’re enjoying some really fine weather and exploring the fishing grounds in search of fish and wildlife and adventure. Chinook salmon are still turning up inshore with opportunities to tackle a Tyee, ever-present off our favourite points. Fishing with her husband and their guide Jake off Bird Rock, Nadja M boated a nice 32-pounder on Wednesday as did Leesa A with her husband and their guide Tristan at Parker Point. Anthony C landed a stunning 33-pounder on Tuesday and his wife Mimi followed suit with a 32 on Thursday, fishing with their guide Colten – quite an achievement!
Jaxon R turned eleven on Tuesday. We were thrilled that he celebrated here at QCL with his Dad, his Grandfather and his Great-Grandfather! We are very fortunate to host family groups up here all the time – they’re a huge part of our guestlist every week. But even for us, it’s rare to see four generations all in a boat together! So the opportunity to get that photo to mark the occasion just couldn’t be missed! Jaxon provided the key to putting it all together – catching a nice shiny Chinook salmon on his birthday and the moment was preserved! We know you’ll remember it fondly Jaxon!
And late on Thursday, Marli J was still working the kelp beds off Yatze with her sister and her Dad, with guide DP at the helm. A year ago, they had an epic encounter with a big salmon over at Cape Edenshaw and Marli was able to catch & release a beautiful Tyee. You never expect these moments to repeat themselves but, sure enough, DP lured a big Chinook out of the kelp and it was Marli’s turn at the rod! Her deft touch was still there and with some effort they managed to boat another Tyee Chinook together. This one couldn’t be revived, as sometimes happens, but the group shared another momentous fishing experience that they’ll never forget. Whether you keep a fish, release it, or even lose it, there’s always a story that goes with it; to be shared (and maybe embellished!) with friends for years to come, and that’s one of the things we really like about fishing that never gets old!
While visitors to the lodge can enjoy a range of experiences while they’re here, certainly the big thrill comes with “going fishing.” For most of our guests, their trip to our remote fishing lodge in Haida Gwaii is a major highlight of their year, and we’re thrilled with that. There was a time, many years ago, when the typical lodge guest called themselves a “fisherman” and their days spent up here were just the favourites of many fishing days on their annual calendar. As a fishing destination there’s certainly a consensus that this is “the place to be.”
Nowadays, for many of our guests, this is the only fishing they will do all year. They’re not so likely to consider themselves “anglers” or “fishers” or even “fishermen.” But they wouldn’t miss their annual visit to QCL for anything! That “QCL Experience” is a special recipe that combines a wealth of different ingredients that they’ve come to love.
Getting out on the water, immersed in nature, away from the all the noise and scramble of “normal” daily life, is a real treat. Catching a fish – getting your own food – is a connection to our instincts, with our distant past. The ability to take some fish home to share, proudly, with family and friends is every bit as exciting as catching it. What we’ve discovered with our guests over the years, is how important that connection is. With every vacuum-packed portion that you take from your freezer to share at your table, there’s a story that comes with it. It could be the people you shared the catching with, the weather or the scenery at the time, or even the wildlife that tried to take the fish away from you! All of those ingredients come together to make each fish you take home a very special part of your adventure. And we are so pleased to have some small part in that. Thank you for choosing to share that adventure with us!
QCL Moments is our new slideshow series featuring the many memorable experiences that QCL guests enjoy every summer. It could be fishing, dining, wildlife or wild life! It’s all about the QCL Experience – every day is a new day at the Lodge! You never know what’s going to come your way.