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Langara Island - Rest Stop on the Salmon Super HighwayBy Dave Vedder,
Daybreak and high tide arrived simultaneously at Langara Island's No Name Point. Tiny, almost indiscernible, glass-smooth swells distorted underwater images as if seen through an ancient windowpane. We cut the motor and drifted silently toward the point. No other boats spoiled our solitude. The silence was complete, save for the shriek of eagles wheeling overhead. It seemed as though Mother Nature was holdings her breath, awaiting our arrival and the convergence of several of her celestial cycles.
Ahead, a patch of water the size of a house shivered, then exploded as thousands of herring sought refuge in the unknown from the certain enemy below. Suddenly our suspicions were confirmed as a huge Chinook salmon swirled on the surface in pursuit of a daybreak feast.
We knew we were approaching one of salmon fishing's magic moments. Hurriedly, we baited our hooks, checked to see that the cut-plugs had just the right roll and stripped out fifteen pulls of line.
I watched my line sink through the multitude of bait. My rod tip danced with dozens of tiny twitches - herring colliding with my line. Then the rod tip surged downward, bounced back up and slammed down again, until the tip was beneath the surface. My partner, Doug, was paying me no heed. He was reeling frantically, trying catch up to a Chinook that had slack lined him. While Doug's fish seemed intent on seeing the sky, mine sought refuge on the bottom.
Doug finally caught up to his fish, about the time mine reached the bottom and changed course for shore. Then Doug's fish streaked toward the bottom, as mine doggedly bore toward a kelp bed less than 75 yards away.
My fish tired first. Doug put his rod in the holder with the drag loose and helped me net my fish. We estimated it at nearly forty pounds, removing all of question of whether I would keep it or not.
In a few moments Doug's fish was at the side of the boat. I reached over with my needle-nosed pliers and slipped the hooks from a fish many salmon anglers would die for. It was only 25 pounds! We were experiencing the type of fishing that lures thousands of anglers to Langara Island each year. While days such as that are not a certainty at Langara, they are not at all uncommon.
Langara, the northernmost of the 150 plus islands comprising British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, is the first land mass encountered by migratory Chinook salmon as they begin the marathon journey from the Arctic feeding grounds to their natal rivers. This journey is a leisurely one. Chinook bound southern rivers often tarry at Langara Island to feed on the huge biomass of herring and anchovies that are swept against the sheer rock flanks of the island. No doubt the salmon and bait fish have rendezvoused here to play out their predator/prey drama for centuries. Man has only recently become a player in this remote and wild marine environment.
For many years commercial anglers have ventured to the unprotected waters surrounding Langara. The bounty they found there was almost unimaginable. Trollers struggled back to port, holds crammed with giant Chinook salmon. In a single day skilled skippers landed hundreds of trophy Chinook averaging more than forty pounds.
The remoteness of Langara kept all but a few local sport anglers from sharing in this bounty until the 1980's. But as sports anglers grew more adventurous and seaplanes shrank our world, Langara became home to a handful of fishing lodges. Today adventuresome anglers can ply the waters near Langara from May through September. The fishing is reliably excellent all season long, but each month brings different opportunities.
Typically, sports anglers begin targeting Langara Chinook in early June. However, in recent years lodges that have opened as early as mid-May have found abundant numbers of trophy-sized Chinook. The Chinook run lasts through August and often extends well into September. The peak months are June and July. Often the commercial fleet has an opening in early July. If possible, avoid the commercial opening. You will find good fishing in spite of the presence of a bazillion trollers, but it is no fun trying to fish around these guys.
The coho can show up anytime after mid June, but the average size and the numbers of fish increase as summer progresses. If coho are your quarry, plan to fish from early August to the end of the season.
Many anglers come to Langara with halibut as a secondary quarry. If things go as planned, anglers can bring home limits of salmon and halibut. Langara is no doubt one of British Columbia's premier halibut destinations. Almost every season someone takes one weighing more than 200 pounds. In 1998 a 320 pound plus monster was landed near the lighthouse.
While halibut are taken at Langara all season long, the prime time is typically July and August. If your heart is set on tussling with a barn door sized halibut, plan your trip for mid-summer. If halibut are a secondary concern, time your trip to maximize the salmon of your choice. There are almost always fair to good numbers of halibut around Langara. Lingcod and rockfish are plentiful year around.
Where to Fish
Langara Island is small enough to circumnavigate in a small boat. Anytime ocean conditions are benign, boats from any lodge can fish any part of the island coastline they choose. Unfortunately, this part of the north Pacific isn't noted for calm seas.
Most days you will be restricted to the leeward side of the island. This is not a problem as Chinook and coho congregate near the headlands on all sides of the island. If you find flat seas and calm winds, try Lacy Island on the west side of Langara. McPherson point on the east side or the point near the lighthouse on the northeast corner of the island.
Several of the lodges provide guides for their guests. Your best bet when in doubt as to where to fish is to look for the guided boats. The guides from West Coast Fishing Club are exceptionally skilled. Look for them in their big Boston Whalers, but be sure to give them plenty of space. Another trick for locating the fish is to cruise around the island while watching for boats with arced rods. I often cruise at full speed watching for a group of boats that have at least half the anglers fighting fish. If I don't see plenty of fish on, I keep moving. Traditional hot spots include Lacy Island, the Lighthouse, No Name Point, McPherson Point, and Coho Point.
Both Chinook and coho tend to feed in the top 20 feet of the water column when near Langara. Local guides usually tell guests to strip out ten to twenty "pulls'" of line. A "pull" is the amount of line you can strip with one hand - usually the distance between the reel and the first guide on the rod.
The standard Langara Chinook rig is a ten-foot rod, a single action reel, a three to a six-ounce sinker and a ten-foot leader. Cut plug herring is the universal bait of choice. The baits are cut to spin in a tight "bullet" roll. Trolling speed is usually dead slow. Many guides kick the motor out of gear every thirty seconds to let the bait flutter down deep. Strikes often come when the boat begins moving forward again.
Don't be afraid to experiment with what works best in your part of the world. I have had excellent success at Langara fishing Zzinger jigs in the 2 and 4 ounce weights. A few year back no one was catching fish until a Luhr Jensen tackle representative tried using Diamond King spoons fished deep. He limited in nothing flat as did everyone else who could get their hands on the spoons.
What to Bring
All Langara lodges provide top notch rain gear and boots, don't waste valuable space bringing your own. Do pack lots of high quality long underwear, wool sweaters, gloves and a top notch waterproof hat. Even in summer Langara is often cool and usually wet. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.
If you don't like fishing with the Canadian style "knuckle buster" single action reels, bring your favorite from home. All the lodges have excellent mooching rods and heavy duty halibut gear. If you want to jig for salmon or bottomfish, bring your own jigging rod. I always bring my Lamiglas "Puget Jigger" which works well for all species except big halibut.
Be sure to bring a good camera and a ton of film. You will want to bring back photos of the spectacular scenery as well as the big one that didn't get away. Humpback whales are a common sight at Langara as are eagles, sea lions, Minke whales and island deer.
Lodges Serving Langara Island