bulletTwenty years of fishing on Vancouver Island

by Ralph Shaw

Congratulations to Andrew Kolasinski and his team in achieving a generation of successfully publishing the Island Angler throughout Vancouver Island.

I live in Courtenay south of the geographic centre of the Island. In 1989 I wrote the following in my New Year’s column: “Happy New Year! Welcome to 1989. One of my most important new year’s resolutions is to continue to fish and explore this paradise we call Vancouver Island.” It is interesting to note that the Island Angler publishes fishing news about the entire Island. In every issue from its inaugural publication in 1989 right up to the present - yet over the intervening 20 I am still working on my goal of fishing all of Vancouver Island waters. Getting one’s head around the concept of how large a territory the Island Angler covers I have drawn from a day trip Elaine and I took to the north Island in 1989.

“Traveling the highway north of Campbell River something strange is beginning to dawn on us. We are driving through majestic mountain ranges cut deep into valleys from which large rivers tumble and wind their way to the sea. Instead of running west as the Fraser does these rivers run east in their journey to the Pacific. How can this be from a false perception that Vancouver Island is a small isolated place?

At the junction of Kelsey Bay, there is a road sign that suggests you check your gas tanks because there are very few filling stations for the next 150 km. Not daunted we journey out of the valley via a steep gorge into a vista of towering mountains and broad valleys covered with lush forests.

Further down the road there is an enticing rest stop, complete with tourist information booth, picnic tables and toilets, by the shore of a beautiful mountain lake. Here we learn that Port Hardy is still 120 km away.

Bypassing the village of Woss, the highway winds down the Nimpkish River and alongside Nimpkish Lake as we travel north - the lake is so big it reminds us of the Shuswap Lake in the interior. What kinds of fish live in these waters? What species of birds and animals inhabit these forests?

We continue our journey to Port Hardy as numerous signs point to places like Port Alice, Coal Harbour, Utah Mines (now closed), Holberg, Winter Harbour, and others. On the final approach to Port Hardy we see signs to the Prince Rupert ferry terminal and points north.

On our return journey we reflected on the idea that if you took a similar drive on the south Island you would encounter at least as many fresh and saltwater destinations.”

It clearly illustrates that Vancouver Island is a land of hundreds of lakes, rivers and streams surrounded by a seacoast rich in marine life. The Island Angler truly reports on a huge area, with exciting adventures that lure anglers from throughout the world who come to test their skills against its diversity of angling opportunities.

For the past generation we have fished the marine waters of our Island for all five species of salmon. We fish chinook salmon throughout the year and while their abundance has varied from one year to another there have always been places we could land these magnificent trophies. The 2009 season has been especially generous, providing the best chinook fishing we have had in many seasons. On our last trip Smitty landed a 41 lb. chinook taken on a spoon with no flasher.

Coho salmon are sometimes referred to as the recreational anglers prime fish. In recent years they have fallen on hard times, but throughout the low years we have always been able to find hatchery and marked fish. Volunteer enhancement groups are making significant contributions to the return of coho to Island waters. As reported in the Island Angler this year they are present in huge numbers on the west coast of the Island and their current showing augers well for the future of these magnificent fish.

Sockeye are traditionally a commercial fishery, but in the last 20 years they have assumed an important role in recreational angling in places like the Alberni Canal which is the focus of a major Island fishery for these delicious, red-fleshed salmon. The 2009 Alberni sockeye run was above expectations in spite of the mysterious disappearance of the major Fraser River run.

Pink salmon have become synonymous with early season beach fishing throughout the coast. Small feisty two-year fish have carved a special niche in the hearts of beach anglers - whether you fish flies or lures. Returns on the Campbell/Quinsam system in 2009 have reached a generation high.

Chum salmon are the new salmon on the block for recreational anglers. In the space of the past generation they have taken a significant place in the minds of late fall salmon anglers. They are big tough fish that challenge the best of gear. The Johnstone Strait chum fishery has become a must for many. The chum fishery on the Puntledge in the Comox Valley has become a destination for anglers across Vancouver Island and beyond.

The ocean provides a rich and diversified fishery for many other species that never enter freshwater. Halibut fishing is now an important saltwater target of particular importance to our charter fishing industry. They are deepwater fish that offer challenges to those who try their luck at catching one. An ever-present aspect of halibut fishing is the fact that you might catch a fish that is significantly bigger than you are. Other deepwater species that we pursue are the many species of rockfish and lingcod. Bag limits in recent years have been greatly reduced, but you can still enjoy these intriguing fish that are always a gourmet treat. The many types of flounder found in the shallow marine water off the Island coast are a much sought after seafood treat and are a joy to catch on light tackle.

Over the past generation prawn fishing has become a major recreational activity with special gear and bait designed for this seasonal pastime. Crabbing is an older tradition, but an important element in our saltwater recreation. Shellfish gathering, such as digging clams and harvesting oysters, is another saltwater venture. These activities continue to be popular and special places have been set aside for seafood gathering.

Over the past generation steelhead have not fared well in many Island rivers. They are still present in hatchery stocked rivers and continue to provide great fun to anglers who go after these silver powerhouses. Wild steelhead have declined in many Island rivers. If you wish to keep a steelhead it must be a hatchery marked fish. These legendary sea-going trout deserve a better break from government enhancement program than they currently have.

Our Island contains within its mountains, plateaus and plains, hundreds of lakes, streams and rivers teaming with trout, bass, and other species which add immeasurable pleasure to those anglers that fish the freshwater. This entire article could be devoted to the magnificent trout that are currently nurtured, stocked and enhanced by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. (FFA-BC). Our lakes abound with native cutthroat trout, triploid rainbow trout and bass that reach trophy sizes in many lakes. Over the period covered by this celebration issue, lake fishing on Vancouver Island has seen steady growth. Much credit for this is due to the current programs of the FFS-BC.

Coming generations of Vancouver Island anglers can look forward with confidence to the next 20 years of story telling by the Island Angler. For the past two generations my fishing partner Smitty and I have fished the marine waters off our Island paradise and it is always a pleasure to write of our adventures on Vancouver Island waters.

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