WINTER 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.

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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 strong.
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 everyone.

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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 fishing time.
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 bobwelsh@telus.net
 

 
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