"POOR MAN'S NEEDLEFISH"
Hook: Eagle Claw L67 or L1197N
Five A.M. on a mid-June morning, and we arrive on the dock in Victoria, British Columbia's Inner Harbour. Already, there's activity on the water, with the sounds of outboard engines driving charter boats out into the brightening dawn.
We're met by Steve Hepburn, the affable owner of Riptide Charters. "We've got beer, bait, fresh coffee, and pop-.it's all we need. Let's go!" As we step aboard Steve's 23-foot Bayliner Trophy sportfisher, I'm impressed with the careful preparation that's evident as we look around. He's been on board since four A.M., making sure that all is in order.
We slip out of the harbour. Over a steaming, and welcomed, cup of coffee, the conversation turns to a 112-pound halibut that had come in the previous day. But we're here to fish salmon, and the word is they're hitting west of Victoria. 30 minutes later we decrease speed as we arrive at Church Rock, a small, barren island just offshore between Pedder Bay and Sooke Basin. One other boat is working the area, and over the radio we soon learn that moments earlier they had landed a Chinook "in the high 20's".
That's a good enough sign for us, and Steve busies himself getting the tackle into the water. It's been some time since I last hooked a salmon. Four years, at least, and that was in the Queen Charlottes, where unguided fishing can be the norm. To sit back and relax while someone else handles all the handwork is a forgotten treat, and Steve wastes no time in sending down two anchovies on teasers, and a Cop Car Coyote spoon. The electric downriggers position the bait at ten foot intervals, descending from 40 feet.
There is a magic unique to a sunrise seen from on the water, and today is no exception. The morning light bores through the clouds draped across the horizon, framing Church Rock and the wooded shoreline beyond in the arc of the rod bent over to the pull of the cannon ball weights below. "This is why I fish", I lie to myself, "just to be in a spot like this. Fish are just a bonus". The depth finder marks the odd fish.
"Fish on!", and now we're all working furiously. The two other lines are retrieved, and after a brief stint, what looked like a 10 to 12 pound salmon unceremoniously spits the hook, leaving us all staring into the deep and muttering.
"Well, now we know they're still around" we console ourselves, and disappointment quickly turns to a renewed sense of expectation. Steve offers more coffee and tends to the Yamaha kicker.
Another hour of comfortable trolling through the one-foot chop and Steve declares, "That's it! We're going to Otter Point for some civilized fishing!" Within brief minutes, the gear is retrieved and we're coursing further westward along the coastline. Beechey Head, Secretary Island and the Trap Shack, all spots well-known for good production around Southern Vancouver Island, disappear behind us, and soon we're repositioned among several other boats at Otter Point, working back and forth off Gordon's Beach.
The depth finder marks plenty of bait, and several fish. It's soon evident that Steve's made the right call, as we watch with envy as boat after boat is playing and landing ocean-bright salmon under the now clear and sunny skies. We talk, we watch, we assure one another that it won't be long. The sun beats down. No one will say it, but the time to return is closing in on us.
I'm on the kicker, watching the finder, when Steve leaps up, grabs the rod behind me, and sets the hook deep into the mouth of the Chinook that has just ripped the line from the clip that held it to the down rigger. Steve hands me the rod, and all at once the memories come flooding back as the adrenalin streams into my system. The fish breaks the surface and the flasher spins wildly in the sun light for a moment before they both plunge downward again. I crank relentlessly on the Shimano Charter Special, while the tip of the Berkeley Roughneck rod shakes violently.
Two solid runs and a mouthful of blue language later, and Steve has our prize in the net. Over the side rolls a brilliantly silver 20-pound Chinook, and the joy I sense again after four years away from this experience is complete.
Agreeing that we had accomplished what we set out to do, Steve stows the gear, gets everything shipshape again, and slips the fish into the locker for the ride home. Upon arrival at the dock, he's quick to get it onto the scales and the cleaning table. A few minutes later, and we're on our way home, still buzzing from the exhilaration of the entire morning.
Steve Hepburn has been at the charter business for over four years. His background as a hotel manager and restaurateur, combined with his life-long passion for the outdoors, qualify him perfectly for his charter operation. Guides have sometimes been known to be in the game to enhance their personal reputations and records, often at the expense of their concern for the client. Steve is the diametric opposite: a capable fisherman with a great attitude, and the well-being, success, and enjoyment of his customer as his focus.
You can reach Riptide Fishing Charters at 250.383.5763.
Steve's cell phone number is 250.213.8004, and his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
On the web, Click here to go to Riptide Fishing Charters.