Destination: Haida Gwaii Islands Leave a reply
Fishing at West Coast Resort’s Englefield Bay
by Jason Brooks
For the angler that has ever dreamed of a place where you can catch big Chinook surrounded by towering mountains and abundant wildlife the Haida Gwaii islands are for you. This group of atolls forms an archipelago north of Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia. Native people have lived here for nearly 13,000 years and the bounty of the land and sea is the focus of their culture. Known as “Haida” the First Nation’s people govern the islands and have created a welcome atmosphere. Owned by the Haida, West Coast Resorts Englefield Bay is located in a protected fjord along the western edge that leads to the open Pacific.
Chinook fishing is the dominate quarry but most anglers soon find that Englefield Bay offers excellent halibut and lingcod fishing. Most lingcod fishing is done out on the shoals in the open ocean just off of the coast.
Halibut are caught along the shoals as well but also can be targeted in the protected waters of the fords that create waterways which are protected from winds and ocean swells. It is also not uncommon to hook into a halibut while salmon fishing in the inlets.
It is not just the fishing here that will have you wanting more but the adventure of it all makes this trip truly a magical journey. Starting with a charted jet from Vancouver, B.C. with a one-hour flight to the town of Sandspit which lies on the eastern side of the island.
From there you board a Heli-Jet helicopter for a fifteen-minute flight across the islands and amongst the many snow covered peaks. Landing right at the lodge where the WestCoast Resorts crew meet you on the dock.
A mid-day snack of catered food and a information briefing starts minutes after you arrive. Then it’s down to the boats, which are eighteen feet open skiffs, well-built and stable, outfitted with electric downriggers and GPS chart plotters. A fishing “instructor” takes you out each day and shows you the best fishing grounds.
The first afternoon of fishing starts minutes after you arrive at the lodge. Depending on what you want to target and where the fish are being found the cruise to the fishing grounds can be as little as five minutes or up to a half an hour. Gear and bait is provided but it is always a good idea to bring a few of your favorite lures and spoons as tackle is limited and there is no store, or even another lodge nearby.
This is truly a wilderness experience with eagles found perched on spruce trees along the shoreline. Crashing waves and rocky shores, seals and otters, and an occasional whale breaching on the horizon. Because of the deep cuts into the steep mountains most of the salmon fishing is done in protected waters.
If it is the ground fish, such as lingcod, rockfish, sea bass, and other white fleshed fish you are hoping for then most of this is done by heading out to the open waters and fishing some shoals along the west coastline. The boats might look small for ocean conditions but they are very well built with a deep draft and wide beam. They are stable and can handle the sea’s. Our first day we headed to the shoals with the ocean predicted to heave six to nine foot rollers and twenty to thirty mile-per-hour winds. The boats handled the conditions without concerns, however, I made the mistake of looking at the calm waters at the lodge and not taking any anti-nausea medicine. Several rockfish, halibut, and lingcod where caught and I learned a valuable lesson.
The next morning found us back at the shoals but with conditions similar to the first day we decided to head for the protected inlets. It didn’t take long before one of the guest hooked into a big fish but it didn’t have the tell-tale deep diving and head thrashing of a Chinook. Instead it was a halibut, a bonus white flesh fish for the calm waters. Then Tom Nelson’s rod exploded off of the downrigger clip and this time it was obvious that a Chinook grabbed his spoon.
Most of the day went like this, trolling the inside passages and then a break for lunch. A quick afternoon rest and back on the water. The staff at Englefield remind you that this is your vacation and you can do as little or as much fishing as you want, as long as you are back for dinner around 7:00 pm.
The food is incredible and prepared fresh for each meal. And if for some reason you like to have a mid-day, or late afternoon snack they always have pastries and coffee ready.
After a day of fishing you can take in the lodge’s other activities such as a full size billiards table, hot tub, spa and massage or hang out at “Liars Cove” a bar with appetizers and drinks. All food is included in your stay at Englefield and complimentary wine is offered at dinner. The bartender is known to make a few serious house drinks that create a very festive atmosphere.
We were doing the “short trip” which meant we had one more full day of fishing. Nelly and I decided to fish alone this last morning and headed out at the pre-dawn to a known salmon producing point. It didn’t take long before my fishing rod arched downward with a Chinook tugging hard. I was using a flasher and spoon and the fish decided to head for the surface. When using a flasher, I always get worried about the fishing breaking the water surface and that large flat piece of plastic pulling the hook out, which is exactly what happened.
Before I could get too upset at losing a big fish I was soon back on the single action reel and long mooching style rod fighting another Chinook. This one found its way to the boat and Tom scooped it into the net. We found the fish by trolling along a rocky shoreline and when the sonar showed a bait ball we circled around and found the feeding Chinook. The rest of the morning was much the same with releasing smaller “feeder” Chinook. We then took a lunchbreak back at the lodge and picked up Matt for the afternoon fishing.
It was Father’s Day weekend, one of the first trips of the year for Englefield, which will offer trips until the end of August. Joining Tom and Matt Nelson, father and son, fishing in the Haida Gwaii Island’s was one of the greatest fishing day’s I’ve had. They have a bond like most parent-child but when the fish hits the rod it’s more like a team than a dad and son duo. That afternoon, in less than one hour they caught and landed several decent Chinook, until they found the two they were looking for and it was time to head back to the dock and a prime rib dinner.
Haida Gwaii literally means “Islands of the Haida People”, who are the most generous and welcoming culture I have ever encountered. West Coast Resorts makes sure that you feel welcomed as well as provides comfortable lodging, fantastic food, and a fishing experience you will never forget. You can find more information and start planning your trip to the Haida Gwaii by visiting West Coast Resorts.
The Outdoor Line Blogger