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Exploring Port Alberni

Each year large numbers of Chinooks and coho salmon return to Alberni Inlet, a mile-long (48 km) channel averaging barely (1-2 km) wide. The size and relative dependability of those runs have made Port Alberni famous as a salmon fishing destination.

Port Alberni (pop. 18,000) offers a full range of accommodations and services. Finding accommodations is seldom a problem, but if planning to participate in the well-attended Port Alberni Salmon Festival over Labour Day weekend, book well in advance. Restaurants range from fast food to fine dining. Some are open 24 hours, providing anglers with early morning breakfasts and box lunches.

Clutesi Haven Marina has a four-lane, all-tides ramp suitable for boats of all sizes. The single lane ramp at Alberni Harbour Key is best suited for small or shallow-draft boats. Both usually have ample parking, however, overflow parking can usually be found close by. China Creek Park Marina and Campground, (14 km) southwest of town, has a four-lane, all-tides ramp that handles large boats, and plenty of parking. Both Clutesi Haven and China Creek marinas have boat rentals.

Port Alberni
Clutesi Haven Ramp

Port Alberni enjoys a moderate climate. Late fall and winter are wet, but spring and summer rains are infrequent and seldom long-lasting. Fog is more of a problem near Barkley Sound, especially during July and August. High mountains on each side of Alberni Inlet offer summer-long protection from winds until weather patterns change in mid- to late September. During July, August and early September, water conditions are fairly stable, but thermal drafts toward midday can create extremely lumpy, uncomfortable conditions until late afternoon.

With no reefs, back eddies, tide rips or whirlpools to create hazardous conditions, Alberni Inlet is classic small boat water. Expect to see everything from kayaks, tiny dinghies and inflatables, to houseboats, yachts and ocean-going cruisers.

2016 Salmon Festival Winner Dan Weatherby
2016 Salmon Festival Winner Dan Weatherby

Migratory Chinooks and coho begin arriving along the outskirts of Barkley Sound during June, moving inland as the season progresses. By mid-July, vanguards have entered Alberni Inlet as far as Lone Tree Point, starting a summer-long fishery that continues until mid-September. Coho hold back in the inlet, but Chinooks eventually move into Alberni Harbour where it shallows to about 80 feet. Active feeding ceases at this stage, but occasional fish—often of trophy proportions—can be antagonized into striking. They continue massing until the first fall rains raise the river level and cool its temperature.

Many anglers fish Chinooks in the morning, then sockeye in the afternoon.

August is usually best for combined Chinook and coho fishing, but some dedicated Chinook enthusiasts wait until September before hitting the inlet. Crowds have thinned and the Chinooks are fully matured, some to over 50 pounds. Fishing generally remains good during the first two weeks of September, after which the coho action picks up, lasting well into October for fish to 20-plus pounds.

Crowded fishing conditions are an accepted fact of life. Whether targeting Chinooks or coho, downrigging is the preferred tactic. Use 15-pound cannonballs and adjust your boat speed until the downrigger cable is angled to about 30 to 35 degrees. It provides precise depth control and allows several lines to be “stacked” at various levels on the cable. When everyone uses downriggers, a common trolling pattern evolves. By following the established pattern, there is room to manoeuvre one’s boat and avoid collisions. Inconsiderate anglers who ignore this basic rule usually end up in shouting matches over fish lost because of tangled or cut lines.

Medium to heavy action rods ranging from nine to 10.5 feet are favored, with single-action reels loaded with 25- to 35-pound test monofilament.

Popular Chinook setups include Krippled Minnow and Anchovy Specials with either green or clear heads, trolled behind a Hot Spot flasher. Also used are whole herring or anchovy with a glow Teaser Head.

Try trolling Tomic plugs at depths of 15 to 20 feet during early mornings, then lower down to 65 feet as the day progresses. Plugs are considered best for fishing in the harbor, but some anglers use large spoons, or a No. 4 or 5 Gibbs Tee Spoon trailed six to eight feet behind a flasher. Hoochies also account for a large number of Chinooks. Popular colors include white, white glow, white/green, lime green, and Army Truck squid. Leader lengths for Chinooks are critical. Start at 42 inches, then keep increasing the length until the fish turn on. At times, this means going as long as can be managed while permitting fish to be netted—up to nine feet or so, depending on rod length.

For Chinooks and coho, start out near the mouth of Alberni Inlet, then follow the action inward toward Alberni Harbour throughout the season. Anglers with large, fast boats can start between San Mateo Bay and Star Point, but most wait until fish move in closer, usually between Coleman Creek and Sproat Narrows. Except for the Nahmint Bay area, Chinooks favor the inlet’s right side until Cous Creek, just below Stamp Narrows.

Good bets are the “Franklin River Wall” from Ten Mile Point to River Point, right on through Sproat Narrows. As they move farther inland, try Underwood Cove and the “China Creek Wall” between China Creek and Lone Tree Point at Stamp Narrows. From Cous Creek on, Chinooks may be found anywhere throughout the inlet. A popular spot on the upper eastern side is the “Boy Scout Camp” south of Polly Point. Along the western shore try Stamp Point, and in mid-channel around Hohm, Hoik and Johnson islands.

Check out the 46th Annual Salmon Festival & Derby
Labour Day Weekend – Sept 1-4, 2017


2533 Port Alberni Highway
Port Alberni, BC, V9Y 8P2
(250) 724-6535


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