Find out what’s working and what’s not when fishing in the Nanaimo area on Central Vancouver Island. From Thrasher Rock, Gabriola Island, Entrance Island, Five Finger Island, Snake Island and even Departure Bay and Neck Point, you’ll find everything you need for your time on the water around Nanaimo. Key tips, best practices, places and the go-to lures are just a sample of what you’ll find in our fishing report.
Nanaimo Fishing Report
Well, it’s a brand-new ball game, one of catch and release of Chinook in Area 17 until July 15th. The majority of the clients on my boat say they are there for the experience, and not necessarily the take-home catch. We’re going to find out how widespread this sentiment is very soon!
Hopefully by combining some catch and release, some ling and rockfish, some prawns, and some wildlife viewing we can provide a quality experience for anglers locally! Be sure to release the fish gently. A knotless net is a must, and it’s even better to simply flick the hook with a pair of needle nose pliers if the fish is small enough. The less contact, the better. May provides the best Chinook fishing of the year in Gabriola and Nanaimo waters. Fishing in water depths of 600 to 800 ft from outside the Fingers to outside Thrasher is literally the feeding and migration highway for many different runs of Chinook. Downrigger depths generally run 120 to 160 ft, but will, of course, correlate with bait concentrations and light conditions. Lures of choice include Rhys Davis teasers with whole or strip baits in clear green scale or green/chartreuse, spoons in Evil Eye, Killy Magee, Mongoose, Kitchen Sink, Pink Sink, Watermelon, Cop Car, or Lemon Lime, or hoochies in T-Rex or Blue Meany. In late May, there is some inshore structure fishing to be had at Thrasher, Grande, and Neck Point.
Ling and rockfish open May 1, with a one per-person, per-day limit of each. Try Gabriola or Entrance Reef, fishing humps and ledges, in the 35- to 85-ft zone. Large baits, plastics, or jigs will entice these species.
Commercial prawning starts around May 8, so get your “sea bugs” before then if you want to avoid gear entanglements with the commercial traps.
March and early April usually provide very erratic fishing for Chinook, since the herring spawn in March. The local herring mix with the west coast stocks and move into the kelp to spawn, then move into deep water after spawning. So, if you find large bait schools with the Chinook feeding, naturally the fishing is great! But you can go back to the same place the next day and find everything has moved. Generally, I use my winter method of trolling the 160- to 220-foot water depths from Grande to Waterfall, Thrasher to Green Can, outside Porlier, and off the Fingers and Neck Point. Good baits include Rhys Davis teasers in green/chartreuse or clear green scale, spoons in Evil Eye or Kitchen Sink, or hoochies in Blue Meany or T-Rex. Tomic plugs work well now, too, as long as the water remains clear. The herring are mature at this time of year, so sometimes larger spoons and bait will be more effective.
Mid-April is the start of the best fishing of the year! Try fishing 2 to 3 miles offshore from the Fingers to Thrasher, where water depths are 600 to 800 feet. Downrigger depths are generally 120 to 180 feet, and the lures remain the same. Easter has become a traditional fishing weekend, with limits being the rule and lots of action. Try getting the boat out early this year, and take advantage of this fantastic fishery!
It astounds to me that with all the supposed concern over Chinook populations, and the local Orcas that feed upon them, that DFO still allows the commercial harvest of 20% of the herring stocks. This should be an absolute no brainer to abolish this fishery. Everything in the whole Gulf—birds, mammals, and fish—depend on this food supply. The size of the Chinook salmon is in perpetual decline. Give them 20% more to eat, and see what effect it has on their survival and health!
Chinook fishing is good off Thrasher until mid-September, when the mature fish head towards the rivers. Try fishing the contour between Thrasher marker and the Green Can in water depths of 80 to 200 feet. Whole or strip baits in Clear Green Scale Rhys Davis teasers, Evil Eye or Pink Sink spoons, or the T-Rex hoochie are worthwhile baits. There is the occasional Tyee swimming around at this time, so I hope you get lucky! The marker off Departure Bay, Hudson Rock, and Neck Point holds Chinook until around October 1st. These can be trolled or jigged depending on wind and bait conditions.
The coho don’t normally stage until mid-October, so fishing Thrasher, the Flat Tops, Entrance, and the Fingers can be productive later into the fall. I’ve been catching lots of coho on 3-inch Tomic plugs, and they sure fight well on this tackle! Jigging small half jigs, Perkins, or Mac Deeps shows off their jumping qualities well, too! More typically, though, they are caught on Green Glow flashers and 3-inch Evil Eye spoons fished at 2.5 knots.
Hopefully there will be a sport sockeye fishery off the Fraser in September this year! It’s a bit of a run to the Sand Heads, but worth it if the socks are abundant. Ling and rockfish close October 1.
Prawning is great off the Flat Tops. Try tuna cat food fished on the 350-ft contour, and expect 100 per trap.
August provides good opportunity for Chinook at Thrasher, Grande through Whalebone, Entrance Island and Reef, and the Fingers and Neck Point. Most fishing is done on the structure in water depths of 80 to 200 feet. Lures of choice include whole anchovy or herring in Clear Green Scale or Green/Chartreuse Rhys Davis teasers, spoons in Evil Eye, Killy Magee, Pink Sink, Kitchen Sink, or Cop Car, or hoochies in T-Rex or Blue Meanie. There are some nice mature fish around this month, and if you are lucky, they can weigh 25 to 30 pounds.
The Coho are abundant this year, which is a lovely thing! They can be found on the structure, or be out in water depths of 300 to 400 feet off Entrance Reef, The Fingers, and Thrasher. I like the Evil Eye or Killy Magee 3-inch spoons on 4-foot leaders, fished at 2.5 knots. Downrigger depths are generally 65 to 85 feet, but they sometimes locate Chinook in depths of 140 to 180 feet. There is no retention of wild coho this year, but you may retain two hatchery coho (adipose fin removed) per person per day. Jigging with Mac Deeps, Perkins, and L’il Nibs off Hudson Rock or Thrasher is an excellent way to catch both coho and Chinook. Find the bait schools, and fish beside and below them.
It will be an off year for the pinks locally. There may be, however, a chance for Fraser sockeye if the run size shows good abundance. Fishing off the Sand Heads for sockeye is a laugh riot. When you go through a school and get 3 or 4 fish on simultaneously, it’s a pretty good time. Small pink hoochies fished on 24-inch leaders behind Hot Spot Red or Green flashers at slow speed turn on the socks. Put lots of gear in the water, including dummy flashers to keep them interested. Downrigger depths generally range 45 to 85 feet. Be sure to check for the DFO opening for this species before fishing for them, as the past two years there have not been enough sockeye to support a sport fishery off the Fraser.
Ling and rockfish are available at Entrance and Gabriola Reefs. Try large bait, plastics, or jigs in 35 to 85 feet of water for these species.
Prawning has recovered from the commercial fishery at the Flat Tops by August. Try tuna cat food fished on the 350- to 400-foot contour for best results.
July is great for structure fishing for Chinook, generally in water depths of 100 to 250 feet. Last July, the fishing was concentrated around Entrance Reef and Thrasher Rock. There are two spots to concentrate your effort at Entrance Reef. One can be found by following the north contour in water depths of 180 to 220 feet, with downrigger depths at 180 to 250 feet. The other is fishing the ‘Money Hole’, which is a deep contour in the actual reef structure, and bottom bouncing it at 200 to 220 feet. The edges come up quickly here, and in tide and wind it’s a tough place to fish. Thrasher holds fish coming down the eastern edge to ‘the Hook’, then turning towards the green can and following the 120- to 160-foot contour. Grande to Waterfall and Neck Point to Icarus also fish well on occasion in July. Generally, the fish holding there are in the 120- to 160-foot depths this time of year. Try Rhys Davis teasers in clear green scale or green/chartreuse, spoons in Evil Eye, Killy MaGee, Pink Sink, Kitchen Sink, or Cop Car, or hoochies in T-Rex or Blue Meany. Also, jigging season begins in earnest around Clarke Rock in July.
We have been catching and releasing lots of coho in May, so let’s hope they hold here for the summer! Try 3-inch spoons on 4-foot leaders, juice up the speed, and fish 60 to 120 feet on the downriggers. One bonus two years ago was that when you turned into deeper water after fishing the edge at Entrance Reef, there were lots of coho in the 350- to 400-foot water depths. Catch your Chinook on the way down, fish out in the deep, catch your coho on the way back. Perfect! Remember to consult your local tidal regulations concerning Coho retention before keeping this species.
Ling and rockfish are available at Entrance and Gabriola Reefs. Try bottom bouncing in 35 to 70 feet of water with large plastics, bait, or jigs. Remember to release any ling over 15 pounds, as they are the large egg-bearing females.
Prawning should start to recover at the end of July. It takes a while to come back after the commercial onslaught in May and June.
The fabulous Silva Bay Salmon Derby will be held Father’s Day weekend, June 16th and 17th, at Silva Bay Marina, Gabriola Island. It runs dawn until 9 p.m. on Saturday, dawn until noon Sunday. The prize ceremony will commence at 1 p.m. on Sunday, and everyone gets a free burger. Tickets are $30, and can be purchased at Silva Bay Marina, Page’s Marina, North Road Sports, Harbour Chandler, and Gone Fishin’. There are approximately $18,000 in prizes to be distributed including a 9.9 Yamaha outboard donated by Parker Marine for largest Chinook, and a Lowrance structure finder donated by Harbour Chandler as a draw prize. This is our 30th year of the derby, the special ‘Tyee Edition’, and will include some cool, additional prizes! All proceeds from the derby go to the Nanaimo River Enhancement Program and other fishing related projects. Give me a call at 250-247-8807 if you have any questions concerning the derby.
Chinook fishing is good this month at Thrasher, Grande to Whalebone, Entrance Reef, The Fingers, Neck Point, and offshore in 600 to 800 feet of water. Most fishing is done in 130 to 200 feet of water depth on the structure, with downrigger depths running 120 to 200 feet. Rhys Davis teasers in clear green scale or green/chartreuse, spoons in Evil Eye, Killy MaGee, Kitchen Sink, Pink Sink, Silver/Blue, watermelon, or Irish Creme, or hoochies in T-Rex or Blue Meany are lures of choice. Most of the Chinook are in the 8- to 15-pound range, but it has taken a Tyee over 30 pounds to win the derby in four of the past nine years.
Coho should be available for retention on June 1st. Be sure to read the local regulations for this species before retaining them. Coho prefer the small 3 inch spoons, on 4 foot leaders, trolled at speeds 2.5 knots and above.
Ling and rockfish are available at Gabriola and Entrance Reefs. Bottom bounce the 35- to 70-foot depths with large bait, plastics, or jigs. Please remember to release any ling above 15 pounds, as they are the spawning females, sometimes capable of producing 600,000 eggs.
The commercial prawners are out this month, so I don’t fish prawn until their season has finished, and the stocks recover.
May is generally the best month for Chinook fishing in Gabriola/Nanaimo waters. Several runs of fish intersect here on their way to US and BC rivers. Most of the fishing is done two to three miles offshore in 600 to 800 feet of water depth. These fish are distributed from outside the Fingers to Thrasher Rock. Some of the Chinook do feed inshore on the 150- to 200-foot contour from Grande through Whalebone, at Thrasher, and Neck Point. Downrigger depths range 120 to 180 feet, depending on bait concentrations. Lures of choice include whole anchovy or herring in clear green scale or green/chartreuse Rhys Davis teasers; spoons in Evil Eye, Killy MaGee, Pink Sink, Kitchen Sink, Cop Car, or Silver/Blue; or hoochies in T-Rex or Blue Meany. Most of these fish are in the 8- to 15-pound range, but there is the occasional big fish in the mix. Because the stocks are so varied this time of year, flesh tones can range from red to orange to marbled to white.
My friends have been DNA testing coho, at the request of DFO. Apparently, the coho have over wintered in the Gulf, like they used to do in times of high abundance. This is great news if we actually have a strong coho fishery this year! Be sure to consult the local regulations concerning timing and retention of coho before fishing for them!
Ling and rockfish open May 1st. Try the structure at Gabriola Reef or Entrance Reef fishing on the bottom in 35 to 70 feet in depth. Large plastics, bait or jigs will entice these fish.
Commercial prawning season is going full bore in May at the Flat Tops. I do not compete with the commercial prawn fishermen during this time period.
2018 looks to hold good fishing opportunities for Chinook, coho, pink, and maybe even some Fraser River sockeye! Chinook stocks look to be stable, with the Cowichan River resurging to 15,000 Chinook in 2017! There were exceptional quantities of juvenile coho in the Gulf in 2017. And the Fraser River should be having an outstanding run of sockeye.
2017 produced the best winter fishing in Gabriola waters in at least a decade. Normal half-day catch rates consisted of four or five undersized released Chinook, and three to four legal Chinook weighing eight to 16 pounds. Thrasher Rock was the center of attention, with the reef structure running east being the hot spot. Depths ranged 220 to 250 feet on the downriggers, in 200 to 230 feet of water. Herring were thick in these waters, again pointing to the obvious fact that the fish hold in the food supply. Why not end the scourge of commercially fishing the herring on the east coast of Vancouver Island waters, and giving everything a huge boost in available food? Lures of interest during this time were whole herring or anchovy in clear green scale or green/chartreuse Rhys Davis teasers, spoons in Evil Eye, Killy MaGee, Silver/ Blue, Kitchen Sink, and Mongoose, or hoochies in Blue Meany or T-Rex. Tomic plugs work very well this time of year in the clear water conditions. November was showing an abundance of undersized Chinook in the Grande area, and hopefully this will translate into another great winter fishery!
The spring run of offshore Chinook came in early and hot last year! We fished 3 miles outside Silva Bay on Easter, and put 8 very nice Chinook onboard in three hours. This fishery continued through early June, with limits being the rule. This is traditionally our best time to fish here, with many runs intersecting in their migration to the various rivers in BC and the US. Typically, fishing is done in 600 to 800 feet of water depth, three to four miles offshore from the Fingers to Thrasher Rock. Downrigger depths run 120 to 180 feet, and the previously mentioned lures work well in the springtime, too. The fish generally run eight to 15 pounds, but the occasional Tyee is mixed in for the exceptionally lucky angler! Our Silva Bay Salmon Derby is in its 30th year! Come and join the fun on Father’s Day weekend, June 16th and 17th! Tickets are $30, and available at Silva Bay Marina, Pages, Harbour Chandler and Gone Fishin’. There are approximately $18,000 worth of prizes being distributed, and all proceeds are donated to the Nanaimo River Hatchery and other fishing projects.
September provides good opportunity for large Chinook salmon in the first two weeks of the month at Thrasher Rock. These are usually fished from the Thrasher marker down the 120- to 140-foot contour to the red can towards Valdez. Neck Point and the white marker off Departure Bay holds fish right through the month, and Entrance/Orlebar can produce some large fish this time of year, also. Lures of choice include bait fished in the clear green scale or green/chartreuse Rhys Davis teaser, spoons in Evil Eye, Pink Sink, Kitchen Sink, Cop Car or watermelon, or hoochies in T-Rex or Blue Meany.
The Coho are around in good numbers this year off the Fingers. They tend to get more widely distributed in September, and fishing off the Flat Tops and Thrasher can be good. Small Bob Marley or Evil Eye spoons fished on 3- to 4-foot leaders at 2.5 to 3 knots will stimulate the coho.
Pinks should be in great abundance this month. Traditional gear is small pink hoochies fished on 2-foot leaders, but we catch lots incidentally on traditional Chinook and coho gear.
Ling fishing is good this month, as the fish come up to feed in 30 to 50 feet of water. Try Entrance or Gabriola Reef with large bait, plastics or jigs for the ling.
Prawning has recovered by now, so you can expect 100 per trap off the Flat Tops. Inexpensive tuna cat food fished on the 350-foot contour is the best method.
Chinook fishing was at its finest in August last year off Thrasher Rock. Consistent catches of 15- to 25-pound fish were common to those who fished there, topped by some Tyee mid month. Fishing in 120 to 160 feet of water, downrigger depths ran 100 to 160 feet. Entrance Island showed some large fish also, in the “Money Hole”, and outside Entrance Reef. These fish were generally found near the bottom in 200 to 220 feet of water. Lures of note include: Rhys Davis teasers in green/chartreuse, spoons in Evil Eye, Killy MaGee, Watermelon, Cop Car, Kitchen Sink, or hoochies in T-Rex or Blue Meany. Grande to Whalebone, and the Fingers and Neck Point are also prime producers of fish in August.
The coho seem to be concentrating more off the Fingers than off the Grande and Thrasher again this year. They also seem to be running deeper, 120 to 180 feet. Three-inch versions of the Evil Eye or Killy MaGee are favourites for the coho, which should be fished on shorter leaders and at faster speeds than the Chinook. The coho in early July are weighing in around the five-pound mark.
It should be a big year for pink salmon locally. Try small pink hoochies fished on two foot leaders at 60 to 120 feet to target pinks. Generally, we catch lots incidentally while fishing for Chinook, as they are numerous and not picky feeders.
Ling fishing is worthwhile off Gabriola and Entrance Reef. Try large bait, plastics of jigs in 30 to 70 feet of water for the ling.
Prawning is back to normal in August, with good numbers being picked up off the Flat Tops. Tuna cat food fished on the 350-foot contour is the ticket.
2017 looks to provide good opportunity for chinook, coho, and pink in the Gulf. Chinook numbers should stay stable, with streams like the Cowichan improving in abundance. Coho numbers were way up in 2016, and hopefully will continue to increase. Fraser pinks are in a high-cycle year, and sockeye returns should improve this year to the Fraser.
There were some significant seasonal variations in the chinook fishery adjacent to Gabriola and Nanaimo waters in 2016. The winter chinook fishery never materialized, as there was a complete absence of fish and bait. My personal opinion is that the local herring stocks have been severely diminished by the intense mixed stock commercial fisheries, and that this fishery should be abolished. The winter fishing was very good around Hornby Island, and off the Vancouver waterfront. Vancouver guides were doing up to four trips a week, and compared it to the “good old days” of the 1980s. Anchovy even made a resurgence to Vancouver waters, and provided another food source for the chinook. Normal winter haunts locally include Grande to Whalebone, Thrasher, Porlier, and Neck Point/Fingers. Winter fishing is accomplished by bottom bouncing in 180 to 250 feet of water, with bait in clear green scale Rhys Davis teasers, Killy MaGee or Evil Eye spoons, or the T-Rex hoochie.