Find out what’s working and what’s not when fishing in the Campbell River area on North Central Vancouver Island. Tips, best practices, places and the go-to lures are just a sample of what you’ll find in our fishing report.
Campbell River Tides
Campbell River Weather
Campbell River Fishing Report
Spring is a season of transition for the Area 13 saltwater fisherman, from potential winter conditions in early March to the cusp of the summer fishery by late April. Given the geographic scope of Area 13, weather conditions can vary radically depending on location.
Fishing is largely focused on Chinook, with prawning a second choice for some anglers or over towards the mainland shore, often in combination. A few anglers targed halibut in Area 13, usually out of Kelsey Bay on the slower tides of the cycle.
As always, success with Chinook largely depends on where the bait is. Early in March most bigger herring are concentrated to the south along the east coast Vancouver Island shoreline in the big spawnathon, but by later April are starting to scatter around the north Strait of Georgia, hopefully sticking around for the summer. Regardless of whether there actually are large herring around, Chinook seem to expect to find them and so I always fish with at least one good-sized plug (5 inches or bigger). One day last March on the southeast side of Campbell River all three fish we caught hit a 6-inch plug, so don’t be shy about going big.
If adult herring aren’t around then often the bait present yearling herring, lanternfish, and small hake is considerably smaller, so fishing with appropriately sized spoons or hootchies is the way to go. And given the usual absence of dogfish at this time of year, bait like anchovies in a teaserhead can be fished with confidence.
All the usual locations on the southeast side of Campbell River (Willow to Shelter Points, the Hump, and Cape Mudge lighthouse area) can produce in the springtime, but given the right weather conditions, travelling out to Sentry Shoal (A-14) or over towards the mainland shore on the border of Areas 13 & 15 (Lewis Channel, Elizabeth Island, Francis Bay) can all be productive.
September in Area 13 is a month of change. The first half is a continuation of the August fishery focused on large Chinook, while the second half will finish up with the fall fishery targeting chum and coho salmon.
Early September is prime time to go after Chinook returning to the Campbell River itself, and the entire town waterfront area from the rivermouth down to Big Rock will see lots of fishing activity, especially early and late in the day. The Tyee Club (www.tyeeclub.org) season closes on September 15th and tradition-minded participants will be out in full force during the final two weeks of the season, especially in the Tyee Pool area. Nearby powerboats will also be slow trolling large plugs and spoons hoping for the fish of a lifetime, with lots of fish weighing less than 30 pounds being caught.
Prospects are positive for the 2018 season, and you don’t even need a boat to get in on the action—the sportfishing-dedicated Discovery Pier is ideally situated, with good numbers of large Chinook being encountered by anglers casting from it. Those fishing in the lower straits above Seymour Narrows will be targeting the same migrating Chinook headed to their home rivers, while south of town around the bottom end of Quadra Island there are usually good numbers of immature feeder Chinook. Sometimes these fish can be on the small size in the early fall, with a high percentage of sub-legal fish encountered, though there are usually some keepers in the mix.
2018 might offer a fall to remember because of the coho that have been present in the Strait of Georgia all summer, so the prospects for traditional late season coho fishing in the shallows are good. If there’s at least a moderate chop on the water, old-style skip fly fishing—with unweighted flies trolled fast just behind the propwash—is an exciting way to go. The visuals as coho surge and boil around the flies before one hits are unmatched, and the use of a single hook makes releasing wild coho an easy task. In calmer conditions, with the coho reluctant to come right to the surface, I use small Rapala plugs that dive down a few feet. They are a perfect match for the small herring the coho are feeding on, and I replace the little treble hooks with a single siwash hook attached to the rear of the plug.
In later September, the chum fishery gets going in upper Discovery Passage. Something of a Campbell River area specialty, this fishery will go right into early November in a dry fall when the chums are migrating less quickly. Think sockeye fishing on steroids, as schools of bright silver chums move through the fishing grounds. The 17th annual Brown’s Bay Chum Derby will be held October 12-14, so get your tickets early. This popular event always sells out—helping raise money for local salmon enhancement was never so much fun! And mixed in with the chums are returning coho from outside waters. They’re often the biggest of the year and will readily bite the same “pink gear” used for chums.
September is the final month of the inside lingcod season, a last chance to get some of these tasty fish for winter dinners. Come fall, there’s a lot going on in Area 13. Sometimes it’s a challenge just deciding what to fish for!
August in Area 13 means big fish season, and prospects look good this year for a higher than usual number of large Chinook being present. The reductions and delay in northern Chinook fisheries, including in SE Alaska where many Canadian origin Chinook stocks are caught, will have benefited passing stocks. And there has been a noticeable improvement in marine survival of Campbell/Quinsam Chinook in recent years, the positive effects of which should continue this year.
There’s a lot of territory in the lower straits between Seymour Narrows and the border with Area 12 west of Kelsey Bay, and then northeastward through Nodales Channel towards Stuart Island, with choice of location limited only by available time and gas budget. Unlike fishing for feeder Chinooks in the open Strait of Georgia southeast of Campbell River, Chinook fishing in the lower straits is very much a shoreline-hugging effort as the migrating and maturing fish work their way home.
Most guides here will be fishing slowly with a flasher and either an anchovy or a hoochie behind, or sometimes a spoon. Jack Smith, Speedo, Blue Meanie, Disco, and Green Hornet are some of the proven hoochie patterns, almost always in the cuttlefish size. A local trick known as ‘stuffing’ is to secure a half a fillet of anchovy inside the hoochie; many guides swear this increases the number of strikes.
Along the Campbell River waterfront, from the rivermouth past downtown to Big Rock, fishing for large Chinook should improve steadily through the month as returning fish begin to hold throughout this area. Visiting anglers should be aware of the boundary and tackle regulations in effect in the Special Management Zone, printed on every tidal waters license. For those anglers without a boat, casting from the Discovery Pier offers a really good chance of hooking large Chinook.
2018 is the 94th season of the Tyee Club (www.tyeeclub.org) fishery, and after a productive 2017 (44 registered fish) hopes are high this will be bettered this year. Keep in mind that for every Chinook over 30 pounds landed, there’s at least 10 less than the magic weight brought to the boat. Visiting anglers should also be aware of the no-power zone in Tyee Pool itself.
One big hope for August is that there will be a strong run of Fraser sockeye, allowing for a fishery. Much depends on ocean survival, which has been poor in recent years, but the last two returns on this cycle line (2010 and 2014) have seen productive fishing, so be alert to news that the fishery has opened.
Coho showed up in the north Strait of Georgia in mid-June, so hopefully they will settle in for the rest of the summer. The shallows off the bottom end of Quadra Island attract herring-of-the year, and these schools in turn are a magnet for coho. This light-tackle fishery is terrific fun, often using weights of one ounce or less, sometimes none at all, as when trolling flies fast across the surface. If sunny conditions make the coho reluctant to come right to the surface, I troll small Rapala plugs. I take the nasty little treble hooks off and replace them with a single fine-wire Siwash hook.
Lingcod fishing remains productive, and there will be some pinks caught in the ocean as well, as the always-popular fishery for them in the Campbell River itself. Tons of good options in August in Area 13–the first challenge is deciding where to start!
To use a DFO acronym, PFMA13 (Pacific Fishery Management Area 13) is a large area covering a lot of diverse geography, from the fairly small open Strait of Georgia portion southeast of Campbell River to a complex of straits in the middle and western parts and on over to the mainland inlets on the northern side. And in July the switch from the first and to a lesser extent the last of these over to predominantly the first and second of these sections becomes apparent.
The fishery around the south end of Quadra Island on the edge of the open Strait of Georgia is almost always productive, and all the more so if the adult herring have settled in off the dropoff from Wilby Shoals, as they have done in recent years. Very large schools of big herring anchor a food chain that Chinook and coho–and, increasingly, humpback whales–can’t resist. Other than early and late in the day, this is a deep water fishery, and locals have become proficient at trolling 300 feet or more down–visitors, come prepared!
Large Tomic plugs are the lure of choice for local guides in this fishery, especially the new Uvbii models–they simply work better than anything else and make playing fish more fun than anything with a flasher on the line. Another attribute of these lures is that they fish well at speed–dogfish can be around at something beyond nuisance levels, so motoring around at a brisk clip with an artificial lure is one way of dealing with this challenge.
Another approach is to simply fish elsewhere, up in the lower straits above Seymour Narrows and over towards Stuart Island. Dogfish are much less frequently encountered in this portion of PFMA13, and this is where anglers encounter migrating Chinook salmon heading for home after several years up on the north coast. These are different critters than the feeder Chinook encountered in the Strait of Georgia–not really feeding, but inclined to bite a properly presented bait or lure, usually fished at a considerably slower speed than the fishery described previously.
Flasher and anchovy is a standard set-up, as are the right flasher and hootchie combos. The closer you get to the mainland the more the fish seem to like a greeenish/yellow colour, so hootchies like the Speedo and Green Hornet are local favourites. Stuffing half a lengthwise cut fillet of anchovy inside a hootchy is a local trick worth mastering. Another contrast with the open water fishery south of Campbell River is that the lower straits fishery is all about working slowly along the shoreline, fishing your outside line as deep as you dare. Coho are uncommon until late in July, after which their numbers steadily increase.
July 15 will see the usual start of the special management zone embracing quite an area either side of the Campbell River estuary. This zone is described on every tidal waters license and is designed to keep the powerboat fleet fishing there somewhat in balance with the traditional Tyee Club rowboat fishery, with the club kicking off its 94th season the same day. Tyees are rare before the end of July, but catching one before months’ end has been known to happen.
Being an even year, 2018 shouldn’t see big numbers of pink salmon around. Still, there definitely will be some, and hopefully there will be a productive fishery for them in the Campbell River itself. Call either of the two main tackle stores in town (Riversportsman and Tyee Marine) for the latest news.
Lingcod feature regularly in the catch, and enough halibut to keep things interesting. Area 13 is a fine place to fish in July!
June is an excellent month to be fishing in Area 13, with lots of widespread opportunity to chase Chinook salmon. The entire bottom end of Quadra Island is worth fishing depending on the tide, from the Cape Mudge lighthouse right around Wilby Shoals and up to Francisco Point. The Vancouver Island shoreline can be very productive as well, between Willow and Shelter Points, at the border with Area 14.
Further afield, Campbell River anglers will make the run down to Grants Reef or over to Lewis Channel towards the mainland (both in Area 15) or, if time and gas budget allows, over to the mainland shore itself in Ramsay Arm or up Bute Inlet. Later in the month the first Chinook migrating from up north will start pushing down the straits above town, with anglers fishing from Ripple Point down to Seymour Narrows or over to Stuart Island via Nodales Channel–many places to choose from!
More than ever, Campbell River is a plug town when it comes to fishing for feeder Chinook. Just match the size of the bait to what you expect the fish to see. Local favourites are the Tomic uvbii series (UV body with iridescent insert). They frequently out-fish just about anything else, and playing a salmon without a flasher on the line really adds to the experience.
If smaller bait is around, small spoons work well, fished either on their own, close behind a dummy flasher attached to the cannonball, or behind a mini-flasher on a three-foot leader. Of course, if dogfish aren’t around, then bait can be used with confidence, trolled fast in a teaser head or less quickly with cut-plugged herring.
June 9 will see the third annual Royal LePage Advance Realty Chinook salmon derby being held in Campbell River. See picatic.com/royallepagederby for more complete information. The first two events have been very successful, with many fish caught, plenty of great prizes won, and most importantly, significant funds raised for two important local charities.
Anglers should be aware of the change in the maximum size for halibut in the 2018/19 season; reduced to 115 cm in length, typically in the low 40-lb range. Other changes include the mandatory non-retention of berried prawns in the recreational fishery, and DFO is reminding anglers it is also mandatory to have a printed copy of your license, in order to be able to record fish. Whatever the advances in technology for acquiring a license, there is no substitute yet for a paper copy according to DFO!
May in Area 13 and the adjacent portions of Areas 14 and 15 is a wonderful time and place to fish, on the switchover from spring into summer. The fishing at this time is largely focused on Chinook salmon, feeders looking to bite something, unlike the fussier maturing fish of later summer. As a rule, the best fishing is found south of Campbell River across the top of the open Strait of Georgia or over in the islands adjacent to the mainland shore and nearby inlets.
Along the Vancouver Island shore between Willow and Shelter Points, or around the bottom end of Quadra Island from the Cape Mudge lighthouse area and nearby Hump, the Green Can drop-off on up to Fransisco Point and the reef off the bottom end of Cortes Island are all consistently productive places to fish.
Further away, good late spring Chinook fishing can be had around Sentry Shoal and Grants Reef, in Lewis Channel, lower Ramsay Arm, and numerous places all the way up Bute Inlet. Wonderful places to explore only limited by time and gas budgets.
The Tomic “uvbiirt” style plugs continue to be excellent producers, and my new favorite is the #645 a.k.a. “Herring Aid”. I’ve used 4” Tubbies, and 4”, 5” and 6” Classics and they all work when size matched to the bait around or that which you expect the Chinooks to encounter. I like to troll fairly fast and cover ground, actively searching for fish.
If the bait is on the small size, then a smaller spoon would be a good choice, either fished behind a flasher or on its own just behind a dummy flasher clipped to the cannonball. If dogfish aren’t around, then the use of bait is possible. Anchovies in a teaser head are always popular and can be fished at speed in combination with lures on other lines.
Lingcod open up on May 1, and there seems to be more of them every year. While not quite like the open coast there’s enough halibut showing up in Area 13 that some anglers fish for them specifically, and some are caught incidentally when trolling for salmon. At the time of writing, the maximum size regulations for the recreational halibut fishery from April onwards are unknown but will almost certainly have been lowered from past recent seasons, so make sure your fish is legal to retain before sticking a gaff or a harpoon into it.
At this time of year, saltwater fishing in the northern Strait of Georgia and nearby islands is primarily restricted to a pursuit of Chinooks and prawns, with the chance of crabs or a halibut less common choices. That said, fishing can be productive, especially for those willing to travel over to the mainland shore or close to it.
The factor dominating local Chinook abundance is to what degree they follow the herring to their mid-east coast Vancouver Island spawning grounds, and after which event how fast both the herring and Chinook disperse more widely around the inner coast. In some years springtime Chinook fishing can be really productive close to Campbell River, just southeast of town along the Vancouver Island shoreline. In other years local waters seem bereft of fish and, weather permitting, anglers have to travel some distance to find Chinook salmon.
Close to town, all the usual locations around the south end of Quadra Island and along the Vancouver Island shoreline from Willow Point down to the Oyster Bay RCA are always worth a try. There’s Chinook present somewhere in this area twelve months of the year, the only question is how many and where? Given these are feeder Chinook and may be widely scattered trolling at a reasonably fast clip to cover territory is a good approach. Plugs and spoons fish well at speed, enhanced by using dummy flashers attached to the downrigger cannonball. Of course, flasher and hootchy rigs can work well and, with the usual absence of dogfish at this time of year, bait in a teaser head can be used with confidence also.
If reports close to town are less positive then traveling over towards the mainland shore is a good idea. Intermediate spots like Viner Point at the bottom end of Read Island or around the dropoff adjacent to the Cortes Reef bell buoy or nearby Twin Islands are always worth a try. Further over, Lewis Channel on the east side of Cortes Island and Frances Bay at the entrance to Ramsay Arm produce fish every year. The bait here is frequently smaller herring or hake so size your lures or bait accordingly. One upside to traveling to these parts is the prawn fishing is generally more productive than closer to town, an added bonus to offset the higher gas costs!
The closest consistent halibut opportunity to Campbell River at this time of year occurs in lower Johnstone Strait near Kelsey Bay. It shouldn’t take more than an hour to trailer your boat to the ramp, and on the slower tides of the cycle, some productive halibut fishing is enjoyed there every year.
September in Area 13 is a month of change in salmon fishing opportunities. The first half is very much a continuation of the August fishery focused on Chinook, but by mid-month and on throughout the fall until the November southeasters bring an end to the extended summer season the target fish are chums and, to a lesser extent, coho.
The first two weeks of September will offer the best chance for large Chinook holding along the Campbell River waterfront, from the estuary through Tyee Pool and to the south side of downtown. Pick your style—trolling from a rowboat or powerboat or casting from Discovery Pier, which enjoyed a record season in 2016. Visiting anglers should become familiar with the seasonal special regulations that govern this fishery.
Participants in the Tyee Club rowboat fishery will be out in full force, trying to get one of these prized fish before the season closes on the 15th—last year the biggest fish for the club was taken on September 12th. Other than in the prescribed no power zone in the heart of Tyee Pool powerboat anglers will be trying their luck also, slow trolling large plugs and spoons. Based on the age breakdown from last year’s return, indications are that 2017 could be an especially good year for large Chinooks with a higher than usual return of age five fish.
Elsewhere Chinook fishing in the lower straits above Seymour Narrows and over to Stuart Island will offer good opportunities for large fish; some of the largest ever in recent decades have been caught in early September as they travel to their home rivers from outside waters.
Come mid-month the migratory Chinook numbers dwindle quickly and early runs of silver bright chum salmon start working their way through the straits. It would be hard to top the 2016 season but the outlook for 2017 is similar; much depends on the marine survival of these open ocean travelers. The chum run typically peaks around mid-October and the very popular Browns Bay Chum Derby will be hoping to take advantage of this, with the 2017 event scheduled for Oct. 14/15. Call the marina at (250) 286-3135 for full details.
For those who haven’t experienced it, chum fishing is like sockeye fishing on steroids, multiple hook-ups as the schools roll through. Just make sure your tackle is sound as chums are tough scrappers when hooked and any weakness will be quickly exposed. Although there’s the occasional highly coloured fish, most of the chums will be in prime condition.
Regrettably coho have become something of a by-catch in both the Chinook and chum directed fisheries, especially in this era of continued non-retention of wild fish. A few anglers work the shallows around the south end of Quadra, more for the fun than in the expectation of a big landed catch, as the rapidly maturing coho feed on small herring schooling along the kelp beds. Likewise, dedicated casters will be fishing from beaches adjacent to estuaries as coho school up prior to the fall rains arriving.
As always, August in Area 13 is big fish season and the hunt for large Chinook salmon will be the focus of most anglers. The fishery in the lower straits above Seymour Narrows and over towards the mainland near Stuart Island is well underway. August proved to be surprisingly productive in 2016 and with the 2017 forecast for South Thompson River Chinook one of the largest on record hopes are high that there will be a repeat.
Consistently productive places to fish are Ripple and Chatham Points in lower Johnstone Strait, across at Greensea Bay below Howe Island and the entire Sonora Island northwestern shoreline between Davis and Hall Points. Nearby on the mainland shore Denham Bay is a place to spend time. In the direction of Campbell River the shoreline above Browns Bay and across at Deepwater Bay both produce plenty of action each year.
Every guide and experienced angler has their favourite lures, but in the lower straits I tend to fish a flasher/anchovy set-up on one side and a hootchy on the other. My favourites for this fishery are the Speedo (SG177R), Jack Smith (SMW72R), and the original Blue Meany (B56W or SMW84R), but there are plenty of other hootchy patterns that work–a recent producer is the Disco (J55). A local trick is to secure a half fillet of anchovy inside the hootchy, adding a little extra taste to an artificial lure.
As the month progresses, the tyee fishery will get better and better all along the Campbell River waterfront from the mouth of the river right past downtown. 2017 will be the 93rd season for the Tyee Club, the unique institution for which membership is only obtained by following club rules: landing a chinook salmon over 30 pounds using an artificial lure with a single hook, club prescribed tackle restrictions and no power when fishing. Anglers in powerboats should be aware of special seasonal tackle restrictions, which are printed on every tidal waters license. 2016 saw a record season for large chinook caught off the Discovery Pier, close to a hundred including 15 tyees. Hopes are high for a repeat this year.
The fishery in the north Strait of Georgia for feeder Chinook will continue throughout August, especially if the herring stick around. Visiting anglers should be aware of the seasonal finfish closure at the Cape Mudge lighthouse area. Coho will likely be part of the mix throughout Area 13 but once again retention is restricted to hatchery origin fish identified by a missing adipose fin.
Being an odd numbered year, 2017 will see pink salmon returning to the Fraser River so these favourites should offer strong fishing in August. There will be good light tackle opportunities along the beaches and around estuaries and in the Campbell River itself for pinks. Once again the prospects for sockeye don’t look great but there could be a shortterm opportunity early in the month. Stay tuned for any opening announcements.
The lingcod fishing in Area 13 is productive so be prepared to catch these tasty fish.
In this time of high variability of salmon survival, any comments about future fishing success should be read with a fair degree of caution–even with the best of inputs the salmon forecasting track record in recent decades is less than ideal. That said, looking ahead is always a worthwhile exercise if only to get excited about the season to come!
As in the rest of the inner south coast the marine recreational fishery in Area 13 for the first half of the year depends largely on Chinook salmon. Many of the contributing stocks during this time are fairly local fish originating from rivers on the east coast of Vancouver Island, the lower Fraser and Puget Sound. One encouraging development is the continuous rebuilding of the Cowichan River stock and the large return of jacks (age 2 fish) in the fall of 2016, is a sign that there should be plenty of adult fish present in the fishery this coming summer.
Contributing hatchery programs from around the Georgia Basin continue at full production and in some cases have seen small increases based on information derived from the Avid Anglers Program that has been underway for five years now. Recreational fishery volunteers take tissue samples from caught fish to be DNA analyzed for stock origin and, based on the results showing some stocks (e.g., Puntledge River), are particularly consistent contributors to the Strait of Georgia recreational fishery. DFO has increased their production.
As always, success with Chinook will largely depend on where the adult herring settle in after spawning season, but if recent past years are anything to go by there should be plenty of good Chinook fishing in the north Strait of Georgia in the spring through mid-summer period. One event to look forward to this year is the second annual Royal LePage Salmon Derby, scheduled for June 10. The inaugural event in 2016 was a big success, both in terms of the fish caught–the top ten fish all weighed in excess of 20 pounds–and the $45,000 raised for two local charities.