Breathing coastal air by a deep cold lake put us at east almost instantly.
Next we ferried to Vancouver Island and began the moutinous drive to Tofino. Along the way we made a pit stop at Cathedral Grove -- an ancient stretch of old growth forest. Big trees, big trees everywhere.
Situated on the western shore of the Island, Tofino is a community of ~2000 people, famous for it's surfing, food, and warm climate. Pretty amazing to see coconut and banana trees growing year-round in Canada. If I wasn't a winter lover, I could easily see myself living here. Spending the days hiking and island hopping via water taxi while observing various marine life, then beachcombing for sand dollars at low tide in the evening was something I could easily get used to.
But make no mistake. This isn't just some sort of hippie paradise (which it is); angling opportunities abound. Coho salmon were crashing right in the surf and a few brave souls filled their limits by wading chest deep and chucking spoons.
Hanging out at the local harbour, we saw locals bringing in their catches -- mostly salmon, lingcod, and halibut. Most cleaned their fish on the spot, and that is where I tried my luck.
Casting a piece of herring a little further out I was rewarded with numerous pacific staghorn sculpin and copper rockfish. Most of these were coughing up salmon roe which they picked out of the recently discarded entrails. None of the sculpins vibrated, unfortunately.
There were also needlefish here, but they wanted nothing to do with me.
We headed for the east shore of Vancouver Island to Campbell River. Locally, this town is known as the 'salmon capital of the world'. I'm not sure how this slogan would hold up if anywhere north of Campbell River was compared to Campbell River, but I do know that the Campbell River was absolutely chocking with pink salmon. The local tackle dealer told me that pinks will hit anything pink and so following his advice I purchased a few pink rooster tails and buzz bombs. Two hours later, after not so much as a sniff on these fruity lures I tried various non-pink spinners and spoons I had brought with me. I was running out of things to try so I tied on a 1/2oz red and white shad dart -- a little souvenir from my June shad/broken car window excursion. On the second cast, the hit was brutal. Pinks are strong fish and this one took me for a good ride before being banked.
Lifer pink salmon.
The morning following we took a flying coffin to Knight Inlet Lodge. This is a former "men only" fishing lodge that the owner turned into a wildlife viewing headquarters. Luckily, they were more than willing to let guests fish from their docks. Luckier still, the Chef turned out to be an avid angler and was kind enough to give me the low down on water depths at different areas around the floating lodge.
First light pinks were everywhere and hit anything on almost every cast. It was silly. A staff member who had the day off and was heading out on his boat asked me for this fish to use the belly meat as bait.
A few hours later he brought this back with him.
First night I jigged up a pile of tomcod that were schooled up under the dock lamps. A few shiner perch made it into the mix as well.
Skipping lunch the next day, I visited another dock that gave me access to ~100 feet of water at high tide. First fish was a whitespotted greenling.
Then came a few dover sole and a rocksole.
On the last drop before I was due on a boat, I brought up a snake prickleback. Ok, who among you bear and cat experts has a decent marine fish field guide on hand? No one? Damn. I had to wait to get back to Ottawa to figure out what this fish was.
After dinner I was back on that dock like flies on poop. A few more rock sole came up and mixed in among them was a surprise english sole.
As the sun went down, the eelpout appeared. These things are worst than burbot when it comes to wrapping themselves around anything. I had to unwrarp most of them from around the line before I could unhook them. Cool fish nonetheless.
The next day the scenario repeated itself with me catching five more prickleback infront of our room.
Picking the Chef's brain a little more revealed the presence of cutthroat trout and a dolly varden. I thought for sure I had missed my chance at a cutty, but here they were. A small syclops at dawn proved to be the key and a few of these beauties came to hand.
The sculpins didn't mind chasing down a spoon either.
I pilfered some salmon scraps from the kitched and cut them into strips. At dusk we parked ourselves on tip of the furthest dock and I patiently waited as the jig made the all too slow descent to the bottom. Salmon were topping everywhere. The air felt a little electric. 'Shit is going to happen, I just know it', I said to Alisha as the jig finally made contact. After several lifts, there was a good knock and the rod doubled. A few minutes and a lot of 'please don't be a sole' later, I was holding my first ever shark. A spiny dogfish!
Such beauties they are. Venemous spines and white dots and all. Two more followed as well as a breakoff and a biteoff. I had no wire leader so the hookset needed to be instantaneous to avoid the shark taking the jig past the teeth.
I giggled to myself at the idea of using something as revered as salmon for bait to catch something as locally despised as dogfish.
Of course the fishing wasn't the real reason for us being there...
Getting to watch bears being bears was amazing.
Huge thanks to Ken for helping out with the IDs.