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Anything Goes at Salmon Seeker

By David Y. Wei with Suzanne L. Clouthier, 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


The tip of the tightly-arched Shimano mooching rod dragged deep into the water. Violent shakes then pounded the port downrigger. Our guide, Mat Regier, grabbed the bucking rod from its holder, wound quickly, and popped the line free of the Scotty Power Grip downrigger release. Feeling the full weight of the chinook, Mat set the hook solidly.

As he handed me the rod, he asked me to set the hook one more time. Avoiding the madly spinning reel handles on the single action reel, I locked the rim with my right palm, and with my left hand high on the handle of the rod, slammed it up.

An authoritative pull slowly spilled line off the tightly dragged reel. Unlike the screaming runs we'd witnessed during the previous two days, this was different. The fish just motored away sedately. The run seemed endless. This was the tyee Mat had promised.

Mat turned the boat around and followed my fish. It had taken a lot of line out, and now I was concerned about the half-dozen lodge boats that were bringing up "century mark" halibut less than 100 yards away.

Luckily for me, the fish's run was parallel to the other boats. I wound in line furiously as the fish suddenly turned towards us. Raising my rod high over my head, I kept the tension on. After a few heart-stopping headshakes, the fish dieseled off again.

Mat's relentless pursuit, combined with the additional drag of a Hot Spot flasher, soon had us right over the fish. After several minutes of pump-and-wind we could see the flasher a good 30 feet down in the clear blue-green water and, five feet further back, the camouflaged silhouette of a large chinook.

A sudden rush of adrenalin had my heart pounding. Frustrating when your prize is in sight, but just out of reach. My left arm was starting to cramp as the fish swam around and around the boat, not pulling line, but not giving any either.

At least we knew the fish was well-hooked. We could all see the glow-green-tiger Coyote spoon flickering occasionally from the corner of its mouth.

Its last desperate runs were getting shorter, and on each one, I could gain some line. The flasher was now at the surface. We could admire the tyee's deep silvery body and beautifully spotted back.

I dropped the rod tip and wound the flasher close.

Mat waited with the net as I leaned the rod back over my head. A quick lunge with the net, and Mat had my tyee.

The 20-minute flight from Sandspit across Graham Island's mountainous spine to Salmon Seeker, Oak Bay Marine Group's floating lodge in Kano Inlet, was breathtaking. Seeing the rugged, treeless peaks, still streaked with snow, from the Plexiglas bubble of a small helicopter was an unexpected treat.

It was our first-ever flight in a chopper. The pilot flew his Bell Jet Ranger part way down Skidegate Channel at a couple of hundred feet, then climbed at almost the same angle as the slope of the mountains to reach an altitude of 2300 feet in a dizzying few seconds. We flew with the peaks and ridges right beside us before taking an exhilarating descent to 50 feet above sea level at the head of Kano Inlet. The pilot made a quick circle of our ship before landing on its helicopter pad.

Well-protected Givenchy Anchorage at the head of Kano Inlet offers a glorious setting for the lodge. Mountains rise sharply out of the sea to form a U-shaped bowl. When we visited, the past winter's heavy snowfall accumulations and late spring had left enough snow on the upper peaks to make us feel like we were "houseboating" on a lake in the Rockies.

Salmon Seeker was originally built in Holland as a coastal freighter in the 1950s. Later it was sold and came to Canada to serve the Hudson's Bay Company for many years. North West Transport then purchased the ship and made modifications, including putting in a helicopter pad, to convert it into a survey ship for work in the Arctic. Another charter company converted it into a floating fish camp before the Oak Bay Marine Group acquired it for its sport fishing operations on the west coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Guests are housed in 14 two-person staterooms, each with two single bunks and a wash stand. One of the biggest laughs at supper was guests' stories about getting in and out of the bunks. The bunks are located a good leg-stretch off the floor, since they sit atop a couple of under-bed storage drawers. Those of us who are packing a few extra pounds found a new aerobic exercise trying to rock our centres of gravity off the edge of the bed so that our feet could reach the deck. Suzanne just snorted at my predicament, and brought out the thoughtfully provided step-stool so I could get out.

The embarkation buffet of salads, chicken-'n'-ribs, fruit, and pastries more than filled our growling stomachs. It would be the last time we felt hungry for the next three days.

While we dined, our Captain, Mark Kennedy, gave us our orientation. Their emphasis on our safety when boating, sightseeing, and fishing in these rugged wilderness conditions impressed us. We newcomers looked highly skeptical when they described the previous group's fishing luck - believe your fishmaster and guide when they recommend catch-and-release for all chinook less than tyee-size the first afternoon.

With a high pressure ridge just settling in to the region, fresh northwesterlies, which completely cleared the region of clouds, with gusts up to 40 knots rocked the inlet. Our 20-foot Boston Whaler Outrage centre-console fishing machines soaked up the rollers and chop, with only the odd bit of spray coming over the bow. Suzanne and I sat facing astern almost completely oblivious to the adverse conditions.

Mat wanted to take us outside of the inlet to fish between Kindakun Point and a hill called Cone Head to the north. Unfortunately, conditions were too rough to cross over the "bar" at the entrance to Kano Inlet where the waters rise sharply to 90 feet from 300 feet. He said we would still catch fish in the calmer lee-side of the inlet, but the fishing would be much better if we could round the corner at Kindakun Point.

As he started up the 15-hp Johnston kicker, Mat said this was the place to experiment with any lure that we wanted.

He only insisted that he put his favourite #651 six-inch Tomic Tubby Tyee, nicknamed "Dr. Evil," on the port side at his favourite depth of 145 feet.

I had brought a number of 4.5-inch Tomic Terminator lures to try and selected a #500 to start. We set my lure on the starboard rigger at 120 feet. Mat trolled in 200 feet of water, from the edge of the kelp at Kindakun Point east towards a large sea cave.

Within minutes we were in action. Chinook smacked both our offerings with hard takes, most releasing the lines from the downriggers themselves. In spite of this, Mat still set the hook, driving the rod over his shoulder several times to be sure the hook was embedded well beyond the squeezed-down barb.

Free of the downrigger clips, and with no weights or flashers to hinder them, even the smallest chinook that we hooked managed long, squealing runs against our tightly dragged Shimano 2000 GT single-action reels. Suzanne especially liked the one-way drag system of the reels. She could reel in drag-free, then put both hands high on the handle of the rod to let her fish run or to pump the fish up when it sulked.

We played each fish hard and brought them in quickly so we could release them relatively fresh. After regaining line from the first long runs, we pressured the chinook close to the boat, then stretched our arms to allow the rod to absorb most of the head shakes and short charges. The Shimano Canadian Custom Series CC405PH mooching rods had very sensitive tips to absorb the shock of sudden runs, yet had enough backbone in the butt section to haul a sulking salmon from the depths.

Coho loved the Tomic Terminator lure. Any time we released the lure from the downrigger to play another fish, we had a coho follow and occasionally attack the lure right on the surface. While playing one coho, we were amazed that another was trying to grab the Terminator hanging out of its mouth. Without even trying, we landed and released a half-dozen of these acrobatic fish.

Mat just rolled his eyes when we asked to keep two chinook that first afternoon. We had already released a number of smileys over 20 pounds. Coming from Vancouver, we just couldn't accept that the fishing could get any better.

Too soon, we had to return for supper. Evening meals start with a soup, something exotically delicious like ginger carrot, or a fabulous seafood chowder. Salad - like the truly sublime greens with smoked salmon and dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette -follows.

Main courses include either a meat or pasta choice. The first evening I succumbed to New York strip smothered in mushrooms, but was so intrigued by Suzanne's choice of rotini in creamy tomato sauce that I chose the pasta dishes the next two evenings. Meat entrees on other evenings included succulent Cornish game hen, and fork-tender prime rib. Domestic or California white and red wines accompanied our suppers.

Suzanne's favourite dessert was a chocolate mousse that had a good shot of brandy blended in for a special zing.

I really enjoyed a sinful raspberry cheesecake. If any guests still had a corner to fill, there was always a jar of chocolate chip cookies and a plate of pastries on the buffet counter.

Morning brought calmer conditions, but there were still large residual swells and a heavy chop. Mat carefully eased us through cross-current swells as we crossed the bar at Kindakun Point, and headed for the small group fishing an undersea mound halfway to Cone Head.

As we neared the spot, we could already see a number of guests with rods bent over. Mat quickly dropped his "Dr. Evil" plug to 145 feet in the 160- to 250-foot depths. Our cabin was #203, so Suzanne chose a #203 Terminator which we dropped to 120 feet. We couldn't have gone 100 yards before a 15-pound chinook grabbed the Terminator. It was only 6:20 a.m.!

While we trolled about, a large school of Pacific White-Sided dolphins entertained the fleet. Leaping as high as 8 feet out of the water and racing along and under our boats at 30 mph, they gave us an exhilarating show.

The region is noted for its abundant wildlife. Guests told tales of huge sea lions going after their fish, while others described encounters with humpback whales. We enjoyed looking at the variety of marine birds, especially when their diving activity indicated a large school of bait below.

Every few minutes we saw someone playing a fish. A few lucky anglers, like Dave Coulter and his son Mark, were already into a tyee. Their guide, Rich Sulsbury, slowly moved out of the pack to follow their fish. I turned to see Mat popping the Terminator line off the starboard rigger, winding, and setting the hook hard. He quickly passed the bucking rod to Suzanne. The port rod was also bouncing and as I grabbed it, a good-sized chinook went screaming out. Suzanne and I crossed our rods under and over each other time and again as we played our doubleheader.

What fun! We struggled to keep our balance in the big swells. Mat had to watch and anticipate where each fish was heading, then motor in the right direction to keep our lines untangled. Mat risked getting us completely soaked each time he used the pliers to remove hooks from the jaws of still "green" fish.

At tide change, all the boats went halibut hunting. Mat tied a couple of huge "j" hooks baited with salmon bellies onto a spreader bar with 24 ounces of lead off a Penn halibut rod and reel. I put on my Bando 603 level-wind loaded with 30-pound Berkley Whiplash Braid on a mooching rod, then tied on a 185-gram lime green Riptide Striker jig.

Kano Inlet is noted for its halibut, both in numbers and in size. The lodge record is a whopping 331 pounds. Up to the time we visited, the "master fisherman" board only had four tyee over 50 pounds, while there were dozens of halibut over 100 pounds. During our stay, four "master fisherman" halibut were landed, the biggest being 165 pounds.

As Suzanne and I only wanted smaller halibut, Mat ran over to the "chicken coop" near Cone Head. He carefully backtrolled into the ocean swells to keep our lines almost vertical in 335 feet of water and allow our lures to stay close to the bottom.

As Suzanne and I only wanted smaller halibut, Mat ran over to the "chicken coop" near Cone Head. He carefully backtrolled into the ocean swells to keep our lines almost vertical in 335 feet of water and allow our lures to stay close to the bottom.

It was hard work to jig in such deep water. The thin no-stretch Whiplash was so sensitive that I could feel every rock on the bottom. An electric bump on my Striker jig! I instinctively set the hooks into something very solid. After a few tentative bounces of the rod, I felt that distinctive undulating wavy run.

I set the hooks three more times. Halibut mouths are bony, and in over 300 of water, it is very difficult to drive any more than the tip of the point into a jawbone. I wound the rod tip to the water, then let a big swell help me lift my fish off the bottom. Even chicken halibut give a solid workout when coming up from deep water. The lighter outfit that I was using allowed these tasty "dinner plates" to give a good line-hissing scrap.

Besides halibut, there are plenty of other bottom fish. I had great sport with trophy lings on a black Rip Tide Striker jig. I love the solid take-no-prisoners jolt of a ling cod's strike. Unlike salmon and halibut, which like to take jigs on the drop, lings aggressively rip jigs on the upstroke. To say lings like to attack lively bait is an understatement. I had one strike that just about pulled the rod from my hands. Line spilled off my reel as my ling tried to get back into its ambush hole. I pressed my thumb down hard on the spool to slow its run. A see-saw battled prevailed. For the first few minutes, I could feel the fish boring head first for the bottom, then allowing me to wind it up part-way with relative ease. When I finally got my "fish" to up to the surface it looked like I had in fact caught a large Pacific yellow-eyed snapper - but attached to it was a 40-pound ling that had tried to swallow the fish whole!

Mat looked relieved when I let the ling release the rockfish and swim back to the bottom. We reluctantly had to keep the snapper, since it was a bit ragged from its role as live bait, but we prefer to release these big breeding fish. We kept very few bottom fish during our trip other than one day's limit of chicken halibut, and two smaller lings. Mat asked us to remind our readers that rockfish don't even start to breed until they are twenty years old, and that large lings and halibut over 60 pounds are also breeding females.

Salmon hit almost every kind of artificial lure. On our last two outings we used Hot Spot flashers and Luhr-Jensen Coyote spoons (4-inch #0761 Glo/Green "Tiger"/Chart-Green "Hot Tail" and 3.5-inch #4499 Silver Glow) to take our two largest chinook. My tyee came in on a Glo/Green Coyote, and a Suzanne fooled a 27-pounder using a Silver Glow. Mat told us that every boat would probably hook one or two tyee during each guest's stay, but it means that, to catch a tyee, it would be necessary to release lots of smaller fish!

Salmon Seeker, on the west coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands, offers some of the highest quality fishing and sightseeing in British Columbia. Unlike many other prime fishing spots, its 14 fully-guided boats are often the only boats in sight.

For rates and more information about Salmon Seeker, or any other of Oak Bay Marine Group's resorts.

Oak Bay Marine Group can be reached toll-free at 1-800-663-7090.

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