Well, that was Season #31… it took a little while to get going but when our guests arrived it was all systems go! The delayed opening this summer found us moving our staff onsite a full 2-weeks before opening day on July 2nd – but that extra week of training and preparation provided a crew whose huge enthusiasm was only matched by that of our excited guests.
So that’s why we want to send out a huge Thank You to our 2021 Crew for coming through for us this season, despite all the uncertainty and delays, they totally brought their A-game and gave it all this season at QCL! We all appreciate you!
By any measure it was a great summer – the weather was above average, the fishing was good overall and the wildlife viewing opportunities were exceptional. Along with the “normal” daily humpback whale sightings, this summer there was a sizeable pod of northern resident Orcas traveling and feeding back and forth between Rose Spit and Langara Island; with viewing opportunities lasting all summer long. No matter how often we see whales, it just never gets old!
Our talented culinary team delivered an exciting new menu this summer featuring many of the delicious products available through our Taste of B-Sea program. Of course, our guests will be keen to try these dishes at home with some of the amazing fish going back in their own fish boxes! But keep in mind that throughout the winter you’ll still be able to order local specialties like smoked sablefish, BC spot prawns and albacore tuna loins!
Our Covid-19 protocols were highly appreciated by both guests and staff, easing some of the uncertainty that we’ve all been dealing with. We want to say a big Thank You to all for getting on board and supporting our efforts to keep everyone safe. Working together is the best way forward and we appreciate all your help.
With progress on vaccinations and easing of restrictions we were able to host guests from across Canada on opening day and on August 9th we could welcome vaccinated visitors from the USA. Interestingly, by the end of this abbreviated season we had hosted more British Columbians than in any other year! That’s fantastic!
Now the key priority is coming back in 2022 – there are lots of guests with reservations for next summer who booked their trips in Fall 2019. But they couldn’t visit in 2020 or 2021, so they’re extra keen to get up here in 2022! Certainly, the calendar is looking pretty crowded! So if you haven’t secured your dates for next summer we can’t overemphasize the need to get on that as soon as you can, because they’re going fast! Avoid disappointment, have a look at our Dates & Rates page and give us a call. You’ll be glad you did!
Thursday September 30 is the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, to honour the survivors of Canadian residential institutions and those who never made it home. We all know people in our community who live and struggle with the sad legacy of these schools. We all have a role to play in reconciliation. We can all listen, learn, and support the healing needed to address the intergenerational trauma caused by the residential school system. Reconciliation is not just the responsibility of government–it is a responsibility that belongs to all Canadians. The QCL office will be closed on September 30 in recognition.
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!
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!
We’ve been treated to some stunning moonlit nights up here for a change! You don’t realize how seldom you see the moon until it just appears one night. We’ve sure enjoyed it, but the big tides that come along with a full moon have a more dramatic effect.
Late August salmon fishing is typically divided between hunting along the rocky shores and kelp beds for big Chinooks or exploring the offshore tidelines for schools of migrating Coho. The Chinooks prefer the protective cover and like to feed during the slack periods around tide changes or they’ll often cruise the current seams and tidelines picking off baitfish getting pushed around by strong tidal flows. Tide swings of up to 16 feet this week have definitely provided those conditions! But our guides and guests have been quite successful at finding them – the Tyee Bell has been fairly noisy in celebration! QCL guest Spencer A found a big beauty over at Slab Rock yesterday with guide Tristan O’Brian, who quickly taped the Tyee out to 43-pounds before releasing it to continue its journey to the river. Tim G landed a similar prize off Bird Rock 1 which tipped the scale at an even 40. Jeremy K released a 37-pounder at the Mazzaredos last week with guide Ryan Borschneck and Mike A boated a 35 with guide Colten Mochizuki off Parker Point. Nico B didn’t make any mistakes battling his first big salmon on the weekend and celebrated at the Bell Ringer with his friends and guide Logan Allen, joining the QCL Tyee Club with a stunning 42-pound Chinook.
Offshore fishing has been no less productive, though the large number of Pink salmon passing through lately has certainly kept anglers out of their seats! Coho have been found mainly out over the Pinnacles and on the halibut grounds. We’re finally starting to see some of those larger, chrome bright Cohos that many of us get so excited about! Bottom fishing times have to be carefully planned during these big tides and our guide team have that schedule very well dialed. Most everyone manages to get their limit of halibut, and many are finding some of the larger “overs” in the 25-50 pound class, which is quite a thrill, and a serious workout! We haven’t been finding as many “barn doors” in the past couple of weeks but that will change next week when tide swings mellow to just 6 to 7 feet.
With September just around the corner, keep in mind that we’ve extended our 2021 season by 2 trips – adding a Monday-Friday trip – September 6-10 and a final weekend trip September 10-13. There’s been so much demand this summer – everybody is loving the opportunity to escape and kick back up here at The Lodge! If you can find a way, you should seriously consider jumping on one of these September trips – it’s absolutely the best way to finish the summer!
QCL anglers have enjoyed the best of both worlds recently with a return to our traditional summer westerlies but avoiding those big water days that can restrict access to the fishing grounds. The salmon action has been quite consistent with anglers fishing all their favourite spots from Green Point all the way back to the Mazzaredos. Bigger tides over the past week have helped to turn on “the bite” at various times of day and our guests are having good success with Chinook catches inshore. While we’re still seeing lots of teen-sized feeders there have definitely been more twenty-somethings and Tyee-class fish in the mix. The stretch of awesome Virago Sound shoreline from “the Mazz” around to Bird 2 has turned out a lot of good fish this season, especially over the past 10 days. Tim C, with his QCL guide Shawn Breau, did the dance with a powerful big Chinook at the Mazz last night before Shawn was able to get the net under it and finally have a good look. Tim knew this fish had to get to the river and easily decided to let him go. A couple of quick pics and Shawn soon had this beauty back on its way. Great work guys – Congratulations Tim!
The Tyee bell has certainly been noisy this week with quite a few big fish being celebrated, some released and some coming back to the dock. Reports of huge halibut catches are down recently with the bigger tides being a factor, but everyone is getting out to pick up some nice keepers to take home. The average is still around 15 pounds but we’re seeing several chunky ‘buts between 30 and 60 pounds on the scale every trip. Coho fishing has come on strong in the offshore waters and it doesn’t take long to pick up a few nice ones. We’re finding them from the 100 foot line all the way out to the Pinnacles and 250+ feet of water, fishing down 40-60 feet seems most consistent. Coho in the double-digits are becoming more common now and Scott N boated a beautiful 14-pounder last week, so those amazing & feisty Northerns are starting to show up. They have a huge fan club and we can’t wait to see more!
A challenging but very rewarding fishery here at Queen Charlotte Lodge is the search for lingcod near the underwater peaks and shelves that litter the ocean floor. Feeding on the flood, these aggressive predators snap at nearby bait and lures alike with their powerful jaws and gripping front teeth. Nothing prepares you for the first time you haul up a large ling-dinger and see the head emerge out of the dark depths as you crank away on your sturdy Avet saltwater reel!
Before coming to work at QCL in 2017, most of my saltwater fishing experience consisted of chasing around small lingcod with buzzbombs in the inshore waters of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast region. From my dad, I learned to gut and clean my catch, and how to carefully separate the filets from the carcass. We’d cook the ling with lemon and butter, perhaps some parsley or tarragon if we were feeling adventurous.
Just as my lingcod fishing has evolved, so too has my culinary technique; in the kitchen today, we don’t just stop at lemon, butter and herbs for our lingcod dish. Inspired by similar latitudes on the other side of the North Pacific, the lingcod dish I chose to serve at QCL fuses local line-caught lingcod with Japanese ingredients and techniques for a dish packed with flavour and steeped with memories.
We start by making the tentsuyu broth, which is a slightly sweet Japanese broth commonly served with fried tempura items like tofu, vegetables or ebi. The broth starts with simmering shitake mushrooms, to which we add kombu (a dried kelp), mirin (sweet cooking wine), rice wine vinegar and tamari (gluten free soy sauce). Once these ingredients have begun to release their impressive flavours, we briefly add and steep some katsuobushi (dried and smoked bonito flakes). After ten minutes we remove the bonito and simmer the broth for another thirty minutes. The combination of kombu, katsuobushi, and mushrooms imparts an intense umami flavour. Umami is that meaty, savoury mushroomy-anchovy-raw tuna hard to quantify but “you know it when you taste it” taste.
Once our broth is prepared, the rest of the dish comes together quite quickly. Into a hot blue-steel pan we add a tablespoon of grapeseed oil, chosen for its neutral flavour and relatively high smoke point. Our lingcod filet is then slid into the hot pan, with the side first touching the pan intended to be our presentation side once all the cooking is complete. After a few minutes, gently flip the lingcod, and reduce the heat to the pan to just cook the fish through to medium-moist. You don’t want to overcook this lean white fish!
In another hot pan we start a brief sauté of sofrito (onions, garlic, and olive oil), into which we add a season mix of mushrooms, including chanterelles, baby king oyster, maitake (hen of the woods) and shimeji, as well as five Salt Spring Island mussels. After one minute, we add three halved fingerling potatoes which have been braised with some of the tentsuyu broth sous vide (under vacuum) in an immersion circulator. The potatoes are packed with that umami flavour and form the base for the plating of the dish. A short simmer with some vegetable stock under a lid to open the mussels and heat the potatoes through and we are ready to plate.
Into a wide bowl we evenly distribute the halved potatoes, forming a base upon which we can build some height and drama for the finished dish. Naturally allow the mushrooms to fall around the potatoes, settling into the bottom of the bowl. The mussels are placed around the potatoes, showcasing the delicious bite within each shell. On top of this umami platform, we place the just-cooked lingcod filet, crispy golden side up.
The final stage of the dish involves the garnishes, of which there are three. First, we do a quick pickle of thinly sliced radish, just a minute or so in a combination of rice wine vinegar, mirin and a touch of Maldon salt (a large-flaked English sea salt). As the radishes are absorbing the slightly sweet and acidic pickle, we quickly dip a cluster of enoki mushrooms and a few slices of wakame or yakinori (both types of seaweed packed with umami) in a loose tempura batter, and quickly fry them until crispy and golden brown. A quick toss in some house made furikake (a Japanese spice mix consisting of bonito flakes, seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar and salt) and our crispy nori and mushroom hay is ready to crown the piece of fish. The radishes are naturally set up against the other ingredients to showcase their colour contrast and provide some freshness, as well as some balance to the other flavours.
Once we have assembled the stacked potatoes, mussels, mushrooms, seared fish, and garnished with our pickles and crispy components, the last thing to do is to pour some piping hot tentsuyu broth into the bottom of the bowl. The heady aromas, intense layers of umami, seared and flaky white fish, lightly pickled radish, and fun and frivolous crispy tempura garnish are all essential parts to one of my favourite, and deeply personal, dishes on the QCL menu this year.
QCL Chef Chris Green
With the morning light just starting to dawn, my guests and I decided to leave the dock as early as possible. But we weren’t alone and one quick boat steered towards our fishing spot of choice. Fortunately they changed their minds and we got there with the spot untouched. With a purple dawn barely broken and not a breath of wind disturbing the waters, a magic hour was upon us. Our lines not yet in the water, we knew the bite was going to be swift upon us. “First boat, first pass!” I said to my guests. The first salmon we hooked immediately but she slipped the hook after steaming sideways next to the boat. We reset our lines and although there was a wait, we boated two nice Chinook salmon! Streaks on the sonar, calm water and the laughter created by the odd salmon biting our gear set the tone for the day. Excited to capitalize on our time on the water, we took advantage of a to-go order on the lunch boat, the M.V. Driftwood. Loaded with hot burgers cold beverages on the boat, we fished the day away, enchanted by the surrounding trees, waves, and rocks offered by the northern coast of Graham Island. Don’t worry, we topped the day off with a sighting of orcas dipping and fishing their way eastbound along the coast.
– Logan Allen