So I just got back from a charter with Serengeti out of Port Hardy at the north tip of Vancouver Island. It was a great trip, but I am waiting for my buddies to send me some photos and I will put up a report. In the meantime, here is one from another halibut trip.
Monday, 22 August 2016
JUST FOR THE HALIBUT
One of my principal aims in undertaking this trip was to fish for halibut. I have now fished for halibut a number of times, off Alaska and BC, and my previous efforts have always been in vain. In fact, there have been only two main items on my “Bucket List” – those being to catch a halibut and to shoot an elk. Thus two of the planned activities for this Great Western Road Trip were a halibut trip off the west coast of Vancouver Island, and an elk hunt in southeastern BC.
As noted in my last entry, I arrived in Campbell River on Vancouver Island a number of days ago, in fact two days earlier than planned after some long days in the saddle. I was, to say the least, GREATLY looking forward to some time with dear friends and NOT behind the wheel of my truck. I had a couple days upon arrival here to unwind and de-stress (is that a word?) from the road, and to prepare for an epic adventure to the “Outside,” that being the west coast of the island, next stop Japan. My buddy Marcel has been reading up on halibut and buying every gadget, rod, reel, you-name-it that people suggest is needed to do battle with these fish, which can weigh hundreds of pounds. The SMALL ones, known colloquially as “chickens,” are twenty to thirty pounds, and the tackle is also quite stout: the rods are like pool cues, the reels much like the cable drums on a telephone truck, the lures heavier than the fish I normally catch back home, and so on. It’s kind of like big game hunting, but the quarry is finned and lives many leagues under the sea. One needs to gird one’s self for battle out on the open ocean where conditions are often frightful, and small mistakes can prove fatal.
So the last time I had ventured forth in search of halibut, in 2012, we were in Marcel’s boat, which is a very sea-worthy eighteen footer. We were in Winter Harbour, on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, but the SMALLEST seas we experienced were eight foot swells and indeed spent one day bottled up in port, where even the large commercial fishing vessels had come inside the sheltered waters to tie up alongside and wait out the typhoon. So this time we were heading out in Marcel’s buddy’s boat. Jamie has a lovely twenty-four foot boat with a high bow and wide beam, a cuddy cabin, onboard galley, and other luxurious touches including an onboard head. Now Jamie is a plumber by trade, in fact he owns his own plumbing business, and the cobblers kids go bare-foot. (If you are not familiar with that aphorism, please Google it.) So of course the aforementioned onboard head is out of service, and a sturdy five gallon Home Depot bucket serves the same purpose, but somewhat less pleasantly so. BUT! A bucket beats out a gunwale, hands down, in rolling seas, and both are better than jumping buck naked into the briny to pump bilges. But that is quite another story which, it must be said, has passed into the realm of legend. And the statute of limitations on that kind of thing is “forever.”
But I am getting ahead of myself, which is not uncommon these years in my re-telling of a story. Back in Campbell River (“CR”) before our departure, we made ready the boat, loaded up a goodly pile of fishing gear, and provisioned the craft with a month’s supply of victuals for a three-day trip. Along with a small quantity of alcoholic beverages, so that in the evening hours onshore we might have some refreshment after a long hard day hauling monstrous fish from the deep fathoms. Boy Scouts we are, as in Be Prepared! All was in readiness on Friday morning when we departed CR in Jamie’s pickemup truck, hauling the boat across the island to the coastal village of Gold River.
At the launch ramp in Gold River, which is under First Nations management, we managed to avoid breaking any limbs on the rotted dock (watch your footing!) and also had the opportunity, it being low tide, to wait for people to launch and recover their boats in sub-optimal depth conditions. (To wit: If your boat has a two foot draft, and the depth of water in the launch ramp is less than that, it can be excruciatingly interesting to put in or take out.) And so we had a chinwag with a group of anglers who were waiting to recover their boat and who had been staying at the same resort where we were headed. They had quite a bit bigger boat than Jamie’s boat. And for four days they had been unable to go to the Outside, because winds and waves had defeated them. And the salmon fishing was extremely poor. And so was the fishing for ling cod and other bottom fish. NOT a propitious start for our grand adventure, but then of course these fellows were probably not made of the same sturdy stuff as we three.
We eventually got launched and away we went. It was somewhat breezy, but we were in water that is fairly protected, and off we went towards Moutcha Bay and its eponymous resort. We made a valiant attempt to go to the Outside, but perhaps one quarter the way to our destination it was evident that the waves would make fishing impossible. In fact the waves, which were building steadily, made headway pretty much impossible, and we were getting a salty shower with every other crest or so. And therefore we headed back into the shelter of the headlands, where we set up the downriggers to troll for salmon.
I am pleased to report that fairly soon we had a salmon on one of the lines, and my buddies graciously allowed me to bring it in. We had been told a couple days before that the ONLY lure catching Chinook salmon in this area was a Gold Coast Kingfisher spoon in watermelon colour, so of course we went to a local tackle shop in CR and bought the last two they had. Maybe the secret was out........... Anyways, this lure was indeed the downfall of our first fish of the trip, and it was a nice “spring” as they call them out here, probably about eight pounds. It was dispatched with the fish bonker, and placed in the hold along with the fourteen buckets of ice we had bought at the bulk ice store in CR. Here is that fish:
And so we trolled for many an hour under the scorching sun, changing lures and trying out some of the known hot spots, but by the time we went ashore to register at the Moutcha Bay Resort we were pretty much sun stroke victims and very pleased to stand on dry land. And we still had one salmon in the hold, with no company. So Jamie has a nephew who works as a guide at the resort, and he had arranged for us to have a suite and a slip at a preferential rate. It was a VERY nice suite indeed, with a full kitchen, so our plan to cook meals onboard the boat went out the window. Marcel had brought lots of food including venison steaks, chicken wings, prawns, burgers, and some leftover hot dogs for our dining pleasure. So I had a couple re-heated hot dogs, yum yum while Jamie and Marcel opted for Bacon Cheesburgers, fries, calamari and Caesar Salad from the restaurant. I had supper at 7:30 or so and I am fairly certain that they ate around 10 pm by the time their orders were cooked. We turned in, tired and sated, with visions of halibuts dancing in our heads.
The next morning dawned sunny and cool with a light breeze. We did not, however, quite greet the dawn and by the time we were back out in the boat it was perhaps 8 am and the breeze had increased a bit. Nevertheless, the plan was to try to make the halibut hot spot some distance offshore. Once on the Outside, we worked into steadily building waves and decided when the swells hit about twelve feet that discretion was the better part of valour, so back into the protected waters of Nootka Sound we went and once again broke out the salmon trolling gear. Bacon and eggs cooked on the onboard BBQ and served up on toasted cheese buns were pretty much the highlight of the day, as we trolled endlessly and caught three small (under-size) salmon, a hake, a copper rockfish and a sea bass. Plus an underwater hump, which inhaled one cannonball, one snubber, and one downrigger release, total gone in a second about a hundred bucks worth of gear. Seems the water in that location goes from a hundred feet to thirty feet deep in no time flat.............Downrigging:
We were ready to head for shore when Jamie noticed a large whale blowing and swimming around perhaps a kilometre away. We went to investigate and were treated to quite a show of humpback whales blowing, sounding, and coming up with their monstrous mouths agape to take in a bellyful of krill or whatever it is that humpbacks eat. There were at least two whales, probably three, and possibly more, and they seemed not at all disturbed by our boat being in the area. It was only when another boat approached at high speed, and stopped pretty much directly over the whales, that the whales stopped their surface activity. It is against the law to approach closer than one hundred metres to a whale, but that did not seem to bother the would-be whale watchers in the other boat. We left the area, very pleased to have been treated to a show by Mother Nature but ready nonetheless to get off the boat.
We were toasted like our cheese buns had been by the time we went back ashore, and the lonely salmon in the hold was still without company. We spent the evening planning our assault for the next day, helped in part by the appearance of Curtis, the nephew of Jamie who works there as a guide. Curtis had some timely advice for us and said we had a good chance to get into the halibut if we could get out to such and such a spot, not too awfully far off-shore. I do not recall my head hitting the pillow, nor do I remember any visions of halibuts dancing in my head, but quite soon after I went to bed it seemed we were getting up for Round Three. Fortified by a bit of coffee, off we went again.
The wind was fairly steady, but we made decent progress and at last we were at the GPS waypoint suggested as a good bet. We rigged the very elaborate “halibut anchor”, felt it catch and then hold, and set up our halibut rigs. Marcel and I had “spreader bars” consisting of about a pound of lead weight and a circle hook with the diameter of a hockey puck, baited with a goodly chunk of salmon belly. Jamie opted for a jig roughly the size of a tow truck hook, also baited with salmon belly. And attached to the anchor, hopefully up current from us, was a mesh bag full of salmon heads, herring, and other halicacies, the idea being that any halibut in the area would pick up the scent from all of these goodies and come to investigate, finding our baits in the process.
Below the boat, down a couple hundred feet, swam a Brobdignagian Behemoth named Bertha. Bertha BUTT, one of the Butt sisters. Bertha’s family the Hailbutts came from the wrong side of the current and Bertha looked every one of her twenty-three years. The family had changed their name when they moved into the Gold River area, but everybody knew very well that the BUTTs were furriners and not to be trifled with. Bertha was in a foul mood: her husband Bob Butt, the wastrel, had blown the family’s grocery money on cod cheeks at the Newfie Plaice, that new joint near the island that had servers with fin clips and pouty lips. “What do those Atlantic floozies have that I don’t?” thought Bertha. The kids would be whining about Tuna Helper AGAIN, and it had been ages since they had eaten a nice meal of squid or octopus. Suddenly Bertha detected a delicious aroma: could that actually be salmon heads? Yes, for certain! And also salmon belly and maybe a bit of rotted herring!!! Bertha quivered with delight and started to follow that delectable trail of scent, salivating at the thought of it all. Suddenly she saw not one but THREE lovely servings of salmon belly, waving seducingly on the bottom. She approached the first salmon belly, gave it a loving sniff, opened her mouth and BANG!
Where the hell did that salmon belly go? Was she just imagining it? NO! It was fleeing away at high speed, far too quickly for her to catch it.
Topside all was pandemonium as we watched our anchor buoy bob past us and we realized we were now unmoored, buffeted by wind and waves and sideways to most of them. Up came the lines as fast as we could crank them, then raced back to our (floating, thank goodness) anchor rope which was well and truly anchored to the bottom with a thirty pound anchor and twenty feet of logging chain. Eventually we were able to wrestle the anchor back into the boat and set off in search of our buoy, which we did sight after some sweeping of the area, and got into the net on only the second attempt. Bertha alas went home hungry and I wrote off the chance to catch a halibut this trip.
“Close, but no cigar.” Curtis had also remarked that sometimes when the Outisde is too sloppy, people could catch halibut and other bottom fish by running their lures close to bottom. This we did, and were rewarded with several vermilion rockfish, which are apparently delicious, and which we kept. They look like this:
By now the wind was getting downright ignorant and we called it a day, as we still had to return to Gold River, recover the boat, and drive back to CR. Many hours later that was where we were, tired but happy. Oh yes, while we were away, the salmon fishing in CR had been excellent, with lots of twenty plus pound springs being caught. “You should have been here yesterday!”