HARBOUR: As far and as fine as you can get|
Windcatcher Lodge - floating comfort in the wilderness
by Andrew Kolasinski
Winter Harbour has some of Vancouver Islandís best salmon fishing. The tiny
boardwalk village, at the extreme northwest tip of the Island, offers the
first chance at intercepting returning salmon. Huge chinooks, and great
northern coho salmon can be caught right inside the sheltered waters of
Quatsino Sound, while just outside the Sound giant halibut, lingcod and
other bottomfish are super-abundant. The edge of the continental shelf is
just a couple of miles off-shore, closer than any other point along the
coast of North America, so the deep-water migrations of salmon coming in
from the open Pacific first make contact with the continent here. And, there
is very little pressure from other anglers due to the remoteness.
Winter Harbour is truly the end of the line. The road ends at the shores of
this snug harbour off Quatsino Sound, and there are no other communities
west of here on the Island. The village is closer to China than any other
point of North America.
This coastal boardwalk village, with less than a dozen permanent residents,
was a busy port in the 1800s. During winter storms it remains a safe haven
from the surging ocean. Commercial fishing boats and Canadian Navy and Coast
Guard ships still put into the little harbour, but it is now a salmon and
halibut sport fishing and eco-tourism destination. The settlement is also a
stop-over in the Van-Isle 360 Yacht Race that circumnavigates Vancouver
Island. The community has a general store, bait and tackle, liquor store,
camping, and a full service marina.
Winter Harbour is about a forty-minute drive south of Holberg along the
South Main Logging Road. Holberg is the half-way point along the logging
road, an additional 40 minutes out of Port Hardy. This is an active logging
area so during working hours on weekdays use caution and beware of the
danger from huge trucks. One option, if you don't want to haul your boat
over logging roads, is to launch at Coal Harbour near Port Hardy and arrive
by boat in about an hour.
Holberg village was the site of a huge military base during the cold war. It
was disbanded in the 1980s and only a few ruins and roadways to nowhere
remain as evidence.Along the way you will pass the "Shoe Tree" where Cape
Scott hikers retire their worn-out footwear.
* * * * *
Late in the 2009 fishing season I took the drive to Winter Harbour to sample
the fishing and the hospitality at Windcatcher Lodge. This unique
accommodation is a floating hotel that can be used as a do-it-yourself
base-camp for anglers with their own boats, or a fully guided fishing
vacation. Windcatcher can accommodate groups of up to 16 guests and is
furnished with all of the necessary amenities that will help make your trip
a great one. There are fully equipped kitchen facilities, hot showers, fish
cleaning stations, freezers, generated electrical power, barbecues, and
spacious covered patios, as well as ample room for mooring additional boats.
Rates are reasonable, especially if you bring your own boat and a couple of
fishing friends to share to expenses.
The author with a 15 lb coho caught at Windcatcher Lodge, Winter Habour.
Owner Bob Welsh has been a
fishing guide for more than 25 years. He has guided and operated lodges out
of Port Alberni, Bamfield, and Kyuquot before settling into Winter Harbour
as the best choice. "You could say I've almost run out of Island," says Bob.
His knowledge of the local waters and expertise at hooking into huge salmon,
combined with the great fishing at Winter Harbour, almost guarantee that you
will catch all the fish you want.
Windcatcher Lodge is anchored in a secluded bay about 10 minutes by boat
from Winter Harbour. It's about the same distance to get to the nearest
prime fishing grounds.
I was lucky to be guided by Bob Welsh himself. During my stay in Winter
Harbour the weather got nasty for the first time that season, but the
sheltered waters of Quatsino Sound still allowed us to fish at the
lighthouse point despite the 45 knot southeasterlies. Normally the inside
waters of the Sound are protected enough to not seem like the open Pacific
lies is just beyond the point, but this weather front was unexpectedly
The bumpy sea conditions were no problem in Bob's custom-made 26 foot welded
aluminum boat with 200 hp outboard with all the electronic, navigation,
safety, and fish-finding equipment. Other lesser boats might have had to
seek the shelter at the dock, but we were fishing high and dry. Bob's boat
has air-cushion seating to smooth out any amount of wave action. Each day we
were able to catch our limits of coho salmon in about 20 minutes. So we
began to get very selective, releasing any coho that were smaller than about
15 lb. Trolling shallow, between 30 and 60 feet, with herring in standard
teaser heads behind gold or purple flashers resulted in quick hook-ups to
these crazy energetic northern coho. Fishing with spoons and plugs was
equally effective. We had several incidents of double header fish-on. And,
one notable scene of a coho leaping repeatedly, spitting out the hook, and
another coho immediately taking the same bait, while a third fish, in an
absolute feeding frenzy struck at the downrigger clip. This coho fishing was
as good as it gets.
"Out here when they're on the bite they'll hit just about anything if you
can put it in front of them," said Bob.
The rugged wilderness of Winter Harbour ensures that you'll be impressed by
nature's pageant of characters. Outside my bedroom window at Windcatcher
Lodge I saw sea otters frolicking every afternoon, deer wandered along the
shoreline browsing on moss and kelp, and from the other window looking onto
the Quatsino Sound gray whales could be seen spouting and finning near the
far shore. I also saw pink salmon leaping clear of the water just a few
yards from the lodge. A well-place cast from a fly rod or a spinner could
result in good catches without even leaving the lodge. The night sky on the
lodge's floating patio decks presented a spectacular starlight show, utterly
untainted by artificial lighting. Later when the storm clouds blew in we
were treated to a display of distant lightning flashes, as the entire lodge
began to sway gently in the rising winds, ensuring a good night's sleep for
* * * * *
Fishing for the big chinook salmon begins as early as June and lasts through
the whole summer. The fishing for northern coho salmon begins in August and
is consistently productive all the way through September when there are
hardly any other anglers around. This coming salmon season is forecast to be
another great year, so plan your summer wisely and get the most out of your
To reserve your accommodations in Windcatcher Lodge's floating cabins for
economical do-it-yourself fishing trips, or fully guided vacations phone Bob
Welsh at 250-723-1009 or 250-720-9323, see the website
www.windcatcherlodge.com . or email Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org