Fish Ucluelet with the best - Big Bear Salmon Charters

by Andrew Kolasinski

Ucluelet, on Vancouver Island's west coast, is a true salmon hot spot. Millions of migrating chinook and coho salmon swim past Ucluelet heading towards their home rivers all along the west coast of North America. These salmon could be swimming towards rivers on Vancouver Island, on the BC mainland, to rivers in Washington State or as far away as California. Other Ucluelet fish originate from streams inside Barkley Sound. It all adds up to great salmon fishing and when Big Bear Salmon Charters in Ucluelet invited me to come out with their head guide and manager, Darren Dickenson during the peak of salmon season in August I jumped at the chance.

Accompanying me was my brother-in-law, Bob. In ten years since moving to Vancouver Island Bob has fished a lot of trout and bass and has done some bottom fishing but had never tussled with a chinook salmon on the open Pacific. This was a sure thing, we were going to catch big salmon, I told Bob, and he agreed to drop everything and come along.

Big Bear Salmon Charters began operations in Ucluelet three years ago. From the get-go the Big Bear set itself apart from other guide services. The company does things on a big scale. Beginning with the fleet of four top-of-the line 27-foot Grady White 282 Sailfish boats (the Mercedes Benz of fishing boats) known for their comfort, stability and seaworthiness. The boats are manned by the most seasoned guides in the industry; everything about Big Bear is done properly.

Darren Dickenson is the head guide and manager of Big Bear Salmon Charters. He has been a professional fishing guide for 25 years having worked in some of B.C.'s most challenging and illustrious fishing camps including five years at Peregrine Lodge in Haida Gwaii, and six years guiding for Oak Bay Marine Group. He started in the industry as a deck hand at River's Inlet at the age of 17.

Big Bear's vessels are equipped the latest fishing technology: electronics for mapping, fish finders, radar, sonar and GPS. Live wells on the boats are filled with sea ice, and professional fish handling ensures your catch will remain super-fresh. St. Jeans Cannery and Far West Foods provide shipping, canning, smoking, etc.

The tackle is Islander MR2 Reels on Shamano Technion Rods. Darren tested these rods for the manufacturer a few years ago. They provide all the backbone you need for big fish and sufficient flex against sudden runs, and they are limber enough to make landing fish, even smaller coho salmon, really fun.

The Big Bear Salmon experience starts with a gear briefing over coffee at the company's waterfront office and launch center in downtown Ucluelet. Next the guests are outfitted for the weather and the water. Big Bear Salmon Charters spares no expense to ensure everyone is safe and comfortable. Mustang floater suites and rubber boots in every possible size are matched to the guests before getting aboard the boats.

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Our objective was a clump of reefs near the shelf to the south at the mouth of Barkley Sound. This area had been productive the past week with a lot of spring salmon in the high 30s landed by Big Bear guests. Darren told us, "Offshore the bite can be tidally influenced but first light usually brings on the bite. There's lots of mackerel this year so we're using big whole herring and my old lucky spoon."

Just after reaching the outside of Ucluelet Inlet a pod of humpback whales showed up breaching off our starboard.

On the run out to the fishing ground Darren recounted some of his experiences along the BC coast, "I spent years as a moocher - it's all cut-plug in the Charlottes. You learn a lot of techniques when you fish with a lot of different guides. I was going to retire from guiding and try something different when this opportunity came along. Here in Ucluelet, on any given day in July and August, there'll be 150 sport-fishing boats out here because the fishing is that good. Right into late September last year we were getting 40 pounders," said Darren.

Darren hired his crew of guides from his past guiding experiences. Everyone on the Big Bear guiding team is tops in the field. The number two guide has been fishing beside Darren for 17 years.

By 11 a.m. we had caught and released a dozen wild coho, and boated three hatchery spring salmon, averaging 15 pounds but so far we had no really big chinook salmon.

Long experience has given Darren a network of friends and colleagues out on the water. He gleans "intelligence" from the marine radio, and he soon piloted a course to a reef formation called "cock and balls" 19 miles northwest from Ucluelet.

Against the predictions of fisheries experts last season off Long Beach turned out not to include many big chinooks. Fish in the 30s were common enough but the plethora of 40+ pounders that federal fisheries had forecast from the high numbers of returning five- and six-year-old fish did not materialized. Only a few fish in the 40s had been taken so far.

Other factors were working against us. The perfect tides to push the springs towards the beach were right on schedule, but weather had thrown a spanner into the works. A low pressure system brought rain, even thunder and lightening on the other side of the Island. This storm front was pushed aside by a rapidly moving high pressure system that cleared the clouds and rain, but such erratic yo-yo movements of barometric pressure are never conducive to reliable fish bites. Still we had Darren's vast experience on our side and shared his confidence that we would find the big fish.

Once we reached the new location and set our gear in the water Darren said, "Spoons are one side and a brown turd hootchie on the other. Out here the good depths are 80 to 100 feet. Purple flashers have proven to be winners lately so we'll stick with those."

Sure enough it wasn't long before we started to see some real action. Five minutes of trolling yielded a hit on the hootchie, the side that Bob was sitting on. From the way it ran deep and powerful we could see this was a big spring. It proved a bit too much for Bob and he was crushed after it shook the hook and escaped.

The next strike was mine. After a ten minute tussle it was beside the boat and Darren scooped it up in the net. It was a wild chinook weighing close to 24 pounds.

After that first big fish we hooked up with several more big springs. Bob redeemed his reputation as a fisherman and recovered his confidence when he brought our biggest fish, just over 25 pounds, to the boat. It was his first big chinook salmon. Unfortunately it signaled the end of the bite that afternoon. We did hook into a few more coho and filled the live well. We definitely landed our share of springs and coho, and when we got back to the dock the Big Bear Salmon Charters team went to work and had our catch cleaned, filleted and packed on ice in no time.

Give Ucluelet a try with one the finest fishing guide services on the BC coast. Big Bear Salmon Charters is now taking bookings for the best dates this season. (See their fishing report page 13.) Ask them what dates and tides will be most productive. Call toll-free 1-855-9-SALMON, (1-855-972-5666) or see their website:

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