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.
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By process of elimination, springtime in Area 13 means Chinook fishing, with some prawn fishing in the right locations where the currents aren’t too strong. The good news is that Chinooks this time of year are all feeders—bright immature fish looking to grow. The bad news is they can be anywhere, much depending on where the feed is.
There’s productive fishing along the Vancouver Island shore between Willow Point and the top end of the Oyster Bay RCA, or across Discovery Passage around the bottom end of Quadra Island at places like the Red Can and the Hump. Further afield, you’ll find feeder Chinook at places like the Penn Islands, Viner Point, the south end of Cortes Island Reef, down at Sentry Shoal in Area 14, or over in Lewis Channel or the approach waters to Toba Inlet in Area 15. Then there’s fishing in mainland inlets themselves. It’s spectacular scenery but realistically more than a day trip from Campbell River.
You’ll want to troll at a pretty good clip to cover territory, as feeder Chinook are aggressive and not easily deterred. Use lures to match the size of the bait you know, or think, is around. If in doubt, try lures with a real contrast in size, such as a flasher and smaller spoon or hoochie on one line and medium or large plug on the other.
Bait could be yearling herring or lantern- fish (3″, give or take) or adult herring (5″ to 8″); needlefish or squid are less common. Anyway, it pays to experiment. Don’t use the same old, same old lures, just because something worked several years ago.
Once again Chinook non-retention is likely to come into effect around much of the south coast on April 1, although the SFAB has crafted a number of limited Chinook retention opportunities in areas away from the main migration routes of the Fraser Chinook stocks of concern. No decision has been made on these at the time of writing, but pay attention to fishing news sources or the DFO fishery notice website. Good luck!
The first half of September will see a continuation of the summer Chinook fisheries, both for feeder Chinook and maturing fish as they migrate through the lower straits or when fishing along the Campbell River waterfront.
All the usual locations along the drop offs at the south end of Quadra Island from the Cape Mudge lighthouse around to Fransisco Point will hold feeder fish. Just find the bait, usually larger herring, and success will follow. Coho are often found in the same areas, albeit usually in shallower water, gorging on the young- of-the-year herring. Scale your lure to the bait size for the species you are after.
The waterfront Chinook fishery, especially in the Tyee Pool and the adjacent shoreline, will be in full swing until September 15. Fish early and
late in the day for the best success; the change of light seems to reliably provoke the best bites of the day by these large non-feeding fish.
After mid-September the focus will shift into the lower straits as anglers and guides start to target chum salmon, quite often with large coho mixed in the catch. Even well into October, most chum salmon caught above Seymour Narrows are silver bright. These fish are great scrappers when caught on rod and reel, with peak season generally around Thanksgiving.
Basic pink gear will catch chums, but generally locals in the know will use longer leaders than for sockeye and often rig a small Spin-n-Glo in front of the hoochie. As with sockeye, the more gear you can fish, the better, with teaser flashers added to cannonballs for added attraction.
Lingcod will be open until the end of September and there will be local “niche” fisheries for coho near river mouths, with anglers often casting from the adjacent beaches. There also could be productive coho fishing in any shallows with kelp beds where young- of-the-year herring congregate. Before you know it, November arrives, and in between the southeast gales, anglers can get out for early winter Chinook, with the fishery near Campbell River usually cranking up in December.
All along the southern BC coast, August is the peak of Tyee season. Nowhere is this more true than in Campbell River, home of the Tyee Club (www.tyeeclub.org), which is about
to start its 96th season. This year will be very different, however, as DFO has implemented an 80-cm maximum size limit for Chinook throughout the Salish Sea until the end of the month. At that length, a Chinook usually weighs 20 lbs or less, so for many anglers the fish of the year, possibly a lifetime, will have to be released.
Discussing the rationale for this regulation is outside the scope of this column, but I’m confident that anglers and guides will be pursuing large Chinook in their familiar ways and places. Along the Campbell River waterfront, from the river mouth at Tyee Pool and past downtown, anglers in both power- and rowboats will be trolling slowly in the traditional fashion with large plugs and spoons in the Special Management Zone; visitors, please note the special tackle restrictions in effect there, detailed on every fishing license.
Elsewhere in Area 13, the larger fish normally arrive from up-coast feeding grounds, so the lower straits, from Seymour Narrows on up, is the area to target these larger-than-average Chinook. There are many locations throughout upper Discovery Passage, lower Johnstone Strait, and in Nodales Channel heading over to the mainland shore near Stuart Island. If unsure about where to go, consult with the staff at either of the excellent tackle stores in town.
In the absence of dogfish in this broad area, bait can be used for salmon with confidence, usually anchovies or herring in a teaser head. Hoochies also work well, popular patterns being the Blue Meanie, Speedo Jack Smith, and Disco. One local trick is to “stuff” a thin strip of anchovy inside the hoochie to add extra inducement for these non-feeding fish to bite. Try fishing in shallower water than usual, early and late in the day, and in general troll slower than usual.
Closer to Campbell River in the opposite direction, along the drop-off, near the south end of Quadra Island, the highly productive fishery for feeder Chinook will be in full swing. These fish require a different approach, trolling fast with lures, as dogfish can be a real nuisance. Use shorter leaders on your hoochies, or better yet, don’t use them at all and fish with plugs. 5″ to 7″ Tomics are the local favourites to match the large herring that school out wide of Wilby Shoal, and don’t be surprised if a humpback whale or three show up nearby—they’re around for the same reason the Chinooks are, to eat the herring. This is typically a deep troll fishery, 250′ down and deeper. It takes a bit of getting used to, as there are often times when one downrigger line is pulling hard under the stern. A cable in a prop is a sure way to spoil your day, so remember, it’s better to fish one line well than two lines badly.
At some point in August, coho will start to show up, usually larger but overwhelmingly wild fish in the lower straits that have to be released. South of town there can be a fair number of identifiable hatchery coho around lower Quadra Island; just fish shallower in the same area near the Green Can (P-61) identified above.
If you do catch a large Chinook that has to be released, please don’t take it out of the water. Its chances of survival will increase significantly if you don’t.
July is always something of a transition month in Area 13 as the focus on Chinook changes from the pursuit of smaller feeder fish to the sometimes larger, in-migrating, maturing fish—or a mix of the two, depending on location and the time of month you are fishing. Coho can become more of a fixture as well, especially since they typically are growing fast by July.
The usual haunts around the south end of Quadra Island and over in the islands closer to the mainland will produce plenty of Chinook. As the month progresses, fishing in the lower straits to the northwest of Campbell River will become increasingly productive, as fish increasingly migrate through from the north coast. Last year saw some terrific fishing in the Ripple Point, Chatham Point, and the Greensea Bay area, as well as up Nodales Channel and into the waters approaching Stuart Island.
Along the Campbell River waterfront, powerboat anglers will be joined by those diehards fishing for large Chinook from rowboats as the Tyee Club (www.tyeeclub.org) kicks off its 96th season on July 15th. It’s rare to land a registered fish—which is to say 30 lbs or more, caught under club rules—in July, but it has been known to happen. With curtailments to northern Chinook fisheries once again this year, hopes will be higher for a good start to the club season.
It seems like each passing year has presented new challenges for the keen saltwater angler but 2020 tops the list. About the only positive thing this year is the significantly lower price of gas making excursions on the water much more affordable.
At the time of writing, non-retention for Chinook is in effect in Area 13 and the rest of the inner south coast. The Sport Fishing Advisory Board has submitted proposals for limited retention away from the main transit routes for maturing Fraser stream-type Chinook, those offshore migrating fish headed home. In Area 13 and adjacent parts
of Area 15, that area covers portions of Bute and Toba inlets, and limited means one Chinook per angler per day, with a maximum size of 80 cm on unmarked (non-adipose fin-clipped) fish. Although the proposals started April 1, in reality a decision on the regional salmon plan won’t be made by the minister until sometime in June, although the annual plan will be in effect until May 31 of 2021, with the same proposals put forward.
Angler effort in 2020 is likely to be significantly reduced as long as Chinook non-retention is in effect (currently until July 15), and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will only decrease fishing further. Hopefully local anglers will be getting out and experiencing some productive catch-and-release Chinook fishing while soaking crab or prawn traps. In the meantime, lingcod opened May 1 and coho will be open June 1, with retention of hatchery-origin fish only).
The forecast for southern BC coho has just been released, and survivals are expected to be similar to recent past years. Importantly for Strait of Georgia anglers, researchers are predicting a strong outside diversion based on the salinity index at the Chrome Island lighthouse, which is to say we likely won’t see many coho around inside waters until late summer.
Halibut can be caught in the western section of Area 13 near Kelsey Bay. The size, daily, annual and possession limits are the same as the 2019 season—check Fishery Notice #0156 for full details.
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Area 13 offers lots of good fishing opportunities in May, from the open top end of the Strait of Georgia near Campbell River, over to the mainland shore, and up the inlets and into lower Johnstone Strait. It’s a sprawling and varied geography, and the big challenge will be finding the motivation to head out in the absence of Chinook retention.
On the positive side, gas is much cheaper than usual, and the lingcod season opens May 1. Additionally, there are persistent rumours that the commercial prawn season, which normally commences in early May, will be postponed because prices are expected to be low due to depressed demand for fresh seafood in key markets because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If this occurs, recreational prawning should be more productive than usual for the time of year. Remember: The daily limit is now 125 prawns.
Along with a number of other areas around the inner south coast, the Sport Fishing Advisory Board has put forward a limited Chinook retention proposal in those parts of Area 13 where CWT and other stock composition data shows that the Fraser stream-type Chinook stocks of concern are not present, primarily along the mainland shore and parts of some inlets. It’s hard to estimate the likelihood of these proposals being implemented by the DFO, but it’s unlikely to happen by May because of how the planning and decision process in the department works. That process is even slower this year because of COVID-19 limitations on staff work capacity, but with non-retention scheduled to last until mid- July, anything is worth a try.
Inevitably, anglers will be out fishing for Chinook, even on a catch-and-release basis. Given the extremely depressed state of Fraser stream-type Chinook, exacerbated by the Big Bar Slide, some interests believe that the recreational fishery for them should be closed entirely, and the DFO has to take this perspective into consideration. It is in the best
interest of the recreational fishery for anglers to be extremely careful when releasing Chinook in order to ensure their best chance of survival. Don’t remove fish from the water, avoid “grab and grin” photo shots, and don’t brag on social media when you’ve had a productive outing. Failure to observe these guidelines may result in actions that will come to haunt our fishery for possibly years to come, so please use common sense!
From late winter into spring, the fishery in Area 13 is focused on Chinook salmon, with prawn fishing another option in those areas where lower currents allow. Just remember the daily limit for prawns will be reduced to 125 per angler on April 1, and that’s no April Fool’s joke!
The Chinook around at this time of year are all immature feeder fish, so one objective is to fish where the groceries are. Usually that means herring, and in some places needlefish or anchovies. But in the absence of these species, Chinook will often be found to contain a few lanternfish and small hake. Plugs and spoons are favourites in Campbell River, but the old coastal standby of a flasher and hoochie also works well. Like an increasing number of anglers and guides, I prefer not to use a flasher on the line if possible, instead using a teaser flasher connected to the downrigger cannonball with the lure set only a short distance behind the release clip. That makes it much more fun to play fish after hookup. Normally dogfish aren’t around in the spring, so bait can be fished with confidence, usually cut-plugged herring or anchovies rigged in a teaser head.
If an abundance of bait isn’t around, be prepared to fish structure that you know will attract Chinook. Unlike maturing and migrating fish in the later summer, feeder Chinook are always on the prowl for something to eat. Don’t troll slowly; get out and cover territory at a good clip in search of fish. In Campbell River, the drop-off between Willow and Shelter Points and beyond (mindful of the Oyster Bay RCA) is a good area this time of year because sooner or later some fish will be motoring around the very top end of the Strait of Georgia. Also try the Cape Mudge ebb tide drift from the Hump and Red Can area right down to the lighthouse.
Further afield, the Penn Islands, Twin Islands at Baker Passage, and Lewis Channel are well worth trying, and beyond them many places on the mainland shore from Ramsey Arm down towards Toba Inlet or up into Bute Inlet itself—the choice is limited only by a combination of time, gas money, and weather!
For those in search of halibut in Area 13, the best place to go is out of Kelsey Bay in central Johnstone Strait, choosing the slowest tides of the semi-monthly cycle. Start as close as the west end of Hardwicke Island.
For the angler in Area 13, September can be divided in two ways: opportunities during the first half of the month are similar to those in August, but come mid-month the fall fishery kicks in and the focus shifts from Chinook to chum, with coho mostly an incidental catch.
In the first half of the month Chinook fishing remains the focus everywhere, with good-sized maturing fish still being caught in the lower straits and the rivermouth/town waterfront fishery, exemplified by the Tyee Club and its rowboat focus, continuing until the 15th. There can be some good fishing for immature feeder Chinook in the deeper water off the south end of Quadra Island, although there’s often a considerable number of sub-legal fish in the catch at this time of year.
Once into later September and all through October, a main focus in Area 13 is for chum salmon in the lower straits above Seymour Narrows, with Plumper Bay, Deepwater Bay, and on up to Greensea and the Chatham Point area being consistently productive.
Most of the chums are still bright fish and pull hard on the line—think sockeye fishing on steroids! As with sockeye, use as much red gear as you can and get ready for multiple hookups as the schools move through—these are migrating fish, and it can be quiet one minute and pandemonium the next. Mixed in with the chums are coho, which readily bite the same gear; remember to only retain adipose fin-clipped coho. Leader length is typically longer than for sockeye (42 to 48 in) and a simple pink hoochie will work most days, however local anglers have found that a small spin n’ glo in front of the hoochie gives them extra appeal to chums.
August 2019 will be a productive month; Chinook retention will have begun, albeit at a reduced one per angler, per day. However, the fishing for feeder Chinook on the Strait of Georgia side of Campbell River should be excellent, with a higher-than-usual abundance resulting from the low fishing pressure and lack of harvest prior to mid-July.
All the usual places around the south end of Quadra Island will hold Chinook, in a rough U-shape beginning at Francisco Point down to the Green Can, across to the Red Can, and over to the Hump. Because of the strong recovery of the Cowichan River Chinook stock, there is hope that the annual finfish closure around the Cape Mudge lighthouse area will not be in effect this year, but there’s no news on this important development at the time of writing. Other than early and late in the day, most successful Chinook fishing in these locations is by deep trolling in the 200- to 300-ft range. Large Tomic plugs are local favourites; troll fast to keep the dogfish off. Flasher and hoochie or spoon setups also work; it’s nicer to play fish without a flasher on the line though. Early summer indications are of a reasonable abundance of coho, and all the same areas listed above will offer good fishing. Just fish shallower and with smaller lures.
Because of the delay in the north coast Chinook commercial fishery this summer, there could be better-than-average Chinook fishing in the lower straits above Campbell River for fish headed to south coast rivers. Chatham and Ripple Points in lower Johnstone Strait, the northwest shoreline of Sonora Island in Nodales Channel, and along the mainland shore at Denham Bay are Chinook producers every year. Closer to Campbell River, the Deepwater and Browns Bay area just above Seymour Narrows get lots of attention as well. Dogfish are largely absent from all these locations, allowing for the use of bait, usually anchovies in a teaser head. Favourite hoochies include the Blue Meany, Speedo, and Jack Smith.
The traditional rowboat fishery under Tyee Club rules will be underway in the waters adjacent to the estuary of the Campbell River itself, and the chance of catching large Chinook from both power and rowboats is good all along the downtown waterfront, especially early and late in the day. Starting at the Hidden Harbour breakwater, be aware this is part of the Campbell River Special Management Zone, with specific tackle regulations in effect, all of which are listed on every tidal water license.
Being an odd-numbered year, there will be pinks headed to the Fraser River, likely showing in the second half of August. There also will be the usual returns to east coast rivers, so pink salmon will be encountered all through the month—these are great fish to engage youngsters in this sport!
July is always a month of change in Area 13, and at mid-month anglers will be able to retain Chinook salmon again. The more usual seasonal change occurs because, as the month progresses, Chinook fishing becomes more productive in the straits above Campbell River, with stocks that have spent their ocean lives along the north coast beginning their migration to home rivers in the south.
One outcome of the extraordinary Chinook management measures is the delay of the northern BC troll fishery (Area F) for Chinook until late August, meaning all Chinook of mixed-stock origin normally caught in June and July will be headed to their home rivers in larger numbers than usual. Foremost amongst these different stocks will be South Thompson River summer-run fish, many of which migrate along the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.
All the hot spots from Seymour Narrows on up to Ripple Point, and east of Chatham Point over to the Stuart Island area, could see better-than-average Chinook fishing in mid-summer.
Elsewhere, south and east of Campbell River in the open north Strait of Georgia, Chinook fishing should be productive in all the usual hot spots around the bottom end of Quadra Island and further afield to places like Sentry Shoal. One big question will be whether or not the six-week-long finfish closure at Cape Mudge will come into effect July 15 just as Chinook retention resumes. Anglers should check for updates mid-month.
The last few summers have seen big schools of large herring take up residence along the Wilby Shoals dropoff between the Red and Green Can buoys, serving as the base for highly productive Chinook fishing. The ticket is to troll fast at depth with lures, usually large plugs, using 250 feet of cable at a minimum. It takes a bit of getting used to, and keep a sharp eye out for the angle of your downrigger cables around the back of the boat. One piece of advice I’d give is it’s better to fish one line well than two lines badly. Frequently that’s all that is needed, and many anglers and guides are now fishing with 7-in Tomic plugs, to best match the bait size.
It’s a guessing game whether coho will be around in any numbers in the north Strait of Georgia. Based on a salinity index this past winter, the forecast is for a moderate outside distribution of coho, but with a small snowpack and a dry summer keeping freshwater inflow into the strait on the low side, conditions might encourage coho to be around. In any event it will be hatchery origin-only for retention through summer.
With Chinook non-retention in effect until mid-July, lingcod have been receiving a greater than usual share of attention, but there should be enough to provide decent opportunities this summer to catch some of these favourite dinner fish in Area 13.
With non-retention of Chinook in effect throughout the month, the focus of activities in the Area 13 tidal waters recreational fishery will be somewhat different than the norm. There will be some anglers and guides who will be Chinook fishing on a strictly catch-and-release basis—this is a sport fishery after all—but at the current price of gas the amount of effort directed at Chinook will be small while non-retention is in effect. I very much hope that those who are Chinook fishing are doing so thoughtfully, ideally fishing with artificial lures and single hooks to facilitate easiest release. Don’t remove the fish from the water, and glory photo shots of anglers holding the fish inside a boat are very much discouraged.
Come June 1, hatchery origin coho become legal for retention, so we can only hope there’s some around the inside. If there are, coho will offer some more surface-oriented, light tackle opportunities. Small spoons, especially with a touch of red on them, work well but so do small plugs, as the coho will be big enough to eat small baitfish. This isn’t necessarily fishing structure, as is true for so much Chinook fishing. Look for flocks of gulls and terns working over tide lines in open water where hatches of crab spawn or euphausiid shrimp get concentrated.
Lingcod will be getting more attention, and there are certainly lots of those in Area 13. There are no special tricks to this game other than looking for rock piles using your chartplotter and sounder in combination—for these fish structure is all-important. Anglers are reminded that it is now a condition of licence that when doing focused bottomfishing for any species, you must have a descending device rigged and ready to go to release rockfish with the best chance of survival. Additionally, yelloweye rockfish, a.k.a. red snapper, are no longer legal for retention in inside waters.
Most anglers seeking halibut will travel elsewhere, but they are caught in Area 13, especially in Johnstone Strait west of Kelsey Bay. There will almost certainly be more effort directed at halibut this year, and there could be some positive surprises in store!
We all know about the new fishing regulations that just came into effect in April, but there’s lots of fun fishing and enjoyment and the beautiful ocean environment to be had. Don’t miss it! First off, it is mandatory to carry a descender device for rockfish, since we are not allowed to keep any yellow-eye rockfish. We can’t keep Chinook salmon for now, but catch and release is in full swing. Please handle the fish with care during catch and release. Use catch-and-release rubber mesh nets to reduce damaging the scales of the fish. Keep the fish in the water as long as possible before you take pictures. Wet your hands before touching the fish, so you do not accidently remove some fish scales. Do not pull the fish out of water by its tail, but lift the fish out of the water by supporting the belly and tail.
May can be spotty fishing time in Campbell River. If you want to fish near Campbell River for Chinook, you will find the ebb tide at the Hump to the Lighthouse will pick up some fish. Fish close to the bottom with spoons, hoochies, or plugs. Effective color schemes for spoons will be Cop Car, Irish Cream, Paddy Wagon, Outfitter, Gut Bomb, Leprechaun, The Janitor, and Homeland Security. Green Glow, Army Truck, and Blue Meanie hoochies will do fine too, as will 500, 602, 603, 604, 639, 649, 700, JM1, and 118 plugs. You might hook into a lingcod while trolling this tack. At Red Can, Green Can, and the area in between, you’ll find some fish hanging around depending on tide and bait. Try fishing between 120 and 250 ft contour at those areas, and you might hook into a lingcod. If you want to try for halibut, try between Red and Green Can, where you’ll typically find transient halibut. Willow Point to Shelter Point can have some productive days in May. If you find the hump action is slow try fishing there during ebb or flood tide.
Sentry Shoal, Grant Reefs, Cortes Bell Boy, Lewis Channel, West Hernando Island, and Rebecca Spit are solid May fishing spots if you want to venture out. Fishing with anchovies and cut plug herring works very well at these spots while there are no dogfish around. Venturing out to these spots, you might encounter a whale or two. In Campbell River, we normally see transient killer whales and humpbacks being playful between Rebecca Spit and Cortes Island. We also see the whales swim between Rebecca Spit and Mitlenatch Island. If you are around Mitlenatch Island, sometimes you will see seals and sea lions sun bathing. Lingcod fishing will be open in May. You can find these bucket heads anywhere there’s a rocky bottom with some kelp. Use big jigs or try mooching with herring with a heavy weight to get down to the bottom. You can also troll slow with the downrigger near the bottom. Tight lines, and enjoy the ocean.
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.
Good luck to everyone fishing in Area 13!
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.