Big springs at Port Hardy with Jimís Castle Point Charters

by Andrew Kolasinski

Itís been my good fortune to have fished all over Vancouver Island with some of the most knowledgeable and gifted guides out there. But Iíd never fished out of Port Hardy. So when Jim Henschke of Jimís Castle Point Charters invited me to join him fishing for big springs in his local waters I jumped at the chance.

Jim had forecast Julyís best tides for the biggest chinooks. My fishing buddy, Bruce and I set off on the five-hour drive the day prior to our fishing date, and stayed conveniently on the waterfront at the Quarterdeck Inn. We met up with Jim at dawn at the Quarterdeck marina.

Jimís 24-foot Trophy hardtop is decked out with all the latest fish-finding and navigational electronics including radar, sounder, 2 GPS, etc. We would be fishing with Islander Reels exquisite anti-drag reels. ďIt helps if you own a sports store,Ē laughed Jim, referring to his other business, Jimís Hardy Sporting Goods, the only full tackle and sporting goods shop in Port Hardy.

As we made the run to the fishing grounds Jim told us a bit about his background. He fished commercially with his dad from the age of 12. In his teens he began guiding in Campbell River, rowing for Painterís Lodge in its heyday, as well as Dolphins and April Point. Up north Jim guided for years for his friendly competitor Ken Jenkins of Codfather Charters. Jimís Port Hardy guiding tenure has lasted more than 25 years, and it soon was obvious that he knows these water intimately.

In about 50 minutes running time we arrived 30 kilometres west of Port Hardy near Cape Scott, about a mile off a broad sandy beach. Through the dissipating morning mist we could make out two figures, dark against the vivid green of the forest, making their way westward - hikers doing the Cape Scott Trail.

This was at the edge of a 5 to 10 mile back-eddy that draws in and holds migrating salmon. These fish were bound for the Thomson, Columbia, and Fraser rivers, but would linger here and feed up for the journey. ďA lot of these spots are small and very specific,Ē said Jim, ďThereís no structure to fish around, so you look for the bait and look for the birds. The bait here is being pushed right onto the bottom like something is chasing it.Ē

We were trolling anchovies in purple teaser heads behind gold flashers. By tacit agreement Bruce and I would take turns grabbing the rod with the hit, with the first one going to me (by previous coin-toss). This would be to Bruceís advantage, proving thatís itís all in the luck of the draw, in fishing as in everything else.

Jim maintained a constant watch on the gear and the electronics, switching depths when he spotted fish, checking the roll of the bait, reeling in and freshening it as soon as it didnít look perfect. We all kept a watch on the rod tips, and Jim told us one of the great things about fishing up at the north Island was, ďNo dogfish at all.Ē

Just then the port-side rod tripped and I took it up and reeled in a large quillback rockfish which Jim shook off the hook, before re-baiting and setting it back down. The next strike would go to Bruce.

Half-an-hour later it happened. This hit was stronger. As Bruce played the line back and forth with the fishís surges Jim got enthused, and declared that it was a good sized spring. After a series of powerful runs and shakes the fish was in the net: a thick 35 lb. chinook.

ďIf youíre drinking cold coffee, my dad used to say, then the fishing must be good,Ē said Jim draining the cold mug he had started before duty called.

After another 40 minutes of trolling with no action, Jim decided to take us out in the opposite direction. We went northeast towards the coast of the B.C. mainland, through the Gordon Islands. Jim pointed out Convict Island explaining that the Natives used it as a prison in the old times, leaving their murderers and rapists to fend for themselves with no way off the rocky barrens.

Our fishing grounds now centred around a point where open Pacific swells surged three metres in and out of mussel encrusted rocks. Jim operates his kicker motor using an electric controller, almost like a TV remote. A little disconcerting considering we were trolling only a couple of metres from the jagged shore.

ďIf the power cuts out, exit the boat on the water side. Then, if you make it to shore, walk south. Youíll get to the Sunshine Coast in about two weeks if the bears donít get you first,Ē Jim joked as he explained that on shore there wasnít a hydro-cut, road, or sign of humanity for 200 kilometres. The scenery was spectacular with huge cedars, enormous mussels, and kelp so vigorous it seemed self-animated in the rising and falling swells. A faint mist prevailed, obscuring and making everything look a bit mystical. To the north a stretch of sandy beach went on for miles, and a single other boat was also trolling, while in the middle distance a humpback whale was busy feeding on krill in the bait-rich water.

The next hit would be mine, and it wasnít long before the rod tripped. I reeled and wrestled until the fish came to the net; a halibut just under 20 lb. Not the huge spring I hoped for, but still a great tussle and a nice fish.

Next up Bruce hooked into and skillfully landed another great chinook. This one just a bit smaller than his first, weighing in at about 32 lb. (See cover photo.)

My turn came again soon enough. I brought in a good sized salmon, but not a chinook. It was a shinning silver coho of 14 lb. Again not the Tyee I was hankering for, but instead the biggest coho I have ever caught.

The day was getting on and we had caught our share of North Island fish; it was time to return to Port Hardy. Back at the marina Jim expertly prepared our catch. As he dealt with chinook number-one he told us it was a rare one-in-a-thousand example of a marbled spring, white fleshed with bits of red mixed in, and it would make excellent canning.

Back home in Nanaimo, St. Jeanís Cannery did a fine job processing our marbled spring. It will just about last until the next trip to Port Hardy.

Give Port Hardy a try. It is a great fishery. Call Jimís Castle Point Charters to book your date for the coming salmon season, or ask about a trip that targets giant halibut: 250-949-9294, cell 250-949-1982. See Jim's website http://castlepointcharters.com/

Bruce, our guide Jim Henschke, and the second Tyee chinook caught in a great day on the water near Port Hardy.

IN PORT HARDY STAY AT THE QUARTERDECK INN MARINA RESORT

The most convenient place to stay in Port Hardy is the Quarterdeck. Whether youíre hauling your own boat or taking a charter, the dock is right at your doorstep for easy early morning starts. The resort has a full marina, fuel station, a marine and tackle shop, liquor store and a pub-style restaurant on the premises. The resort also offers whale watching and eco-tours, salmon fishing charters, and scuba diving.

6555 Hardy Bay Rd., Port Hardy, Quarterdeck Inn 250-902-0455, Marina 250-949-6551, VHF channel 66, Email info@quarterdeckresort.net

Website: www.quarterdeckresort.net

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