If you are new to the idea of fishing Vancouver Island and just beginning your research, you likely have not considered—or even heard of—the Nanaimo area as a fishing destination. For those traveling to and from “The Rock” for their bucket list adventure, or for a growing number of commuters to Vancouver, Nanaimo is by far the most popular landing point—the summertime ferry lineups will most certainly confirm that for you. And whether you sensibly come by ferry or splurge and take a float plane or heli-jet, you’ll pass right by one of the best, most accessible fishing grounds that Vancouver Island has to offer—Gabriola Island. Oh, before we get into it, let’s clear one thing up. It’s not pronounced “Gah-bri-ola;” it’s pronounced “Gay-bri-ola.” It drives the locals nuts. We good? Super. Gabriola Island was formed around 85 to 65 million years ago, mainly by sediment from the volcanic, intrusive, and metamorphic rock formation of the mainland. With all that sediment comes nutrients. It’s an ecological paradise—a tremendous example of a west coast forest, with the tall timbers of fir and cedar with ferns and mossy ground cover. As for a marine environment, it’s an underwater paradise, too. You scuba divers know what I’m talking about; the structures at Entrance Island, Snake Island, Dodd Narrows, and even Departure Bay are second to none and why Jacques Cousteau aptly named this part of the world the “Emerald Sea.” All this highly localized diversity makes for plenty of transient and resident fish, an abundance beyond compare. It’s no wonder Bob Meyer moved here in 1970.
Inspired on a belated honeymoon/fishing trip during college days, he fell in love, the kind of love that smells and sounds evoke and build bonds that the brain just can’t do without. He knew this was home. And for the past 30 years, he’s been professionally guiding and sharing that passion with guests as his sole purpose for being. Sounds like a good life to me, and here’s what I learned from him about fishing the area. Let’s talk when, where, how, and why. April and May are typically outstanding times to be fishing around Nanaimo. If you are planning an early season trip to Vancouver Island, you should be considering here. It’s interesting that with all the controversy and discussion about Chinook stocks and “sporties” like us, recent fishing in Nanaimo has been the best in more than 30 years. Annually, there are several runs destined for U.S. and Canadian rivers that travel what we call “the Highway” in the Georgia Strait at about 600-800 ft of water. Just like a fast-food billboard, Nanaimo advertises feeding grounds at Neck Point, the Fingers, Entrance Reef, and the entire west side of Gabriola, Thrasher, and Gabriola Reefs.
If you are new to fishing Vancouver Island, Gabriola is a great place to start. Heck, I know people who motor from Vancouver just to fish the area for the day (I’m looking at you, Jim Sweet). The bottom line, if you’ll excuse the pun, is to simply bottom bounce the entire east side between 140 and 200 ft. Just look for the bait. Once you find it, stay with it. It’s interesting that of all the places on Vancouver Island to fish, Gabriola has somehow acquired the most, and best nicknames, for its hot spots. Here’s the list:
Between Tinson Point and Orlebar, just outside of Pilot Bay, you’ll find an old, low, barn-like structure, which was actually used in the old days for commercial fishermen to mend their nets.
An old waterfront subdivision of houses running halfway down the shoreline from Lock Bay towards Silva Bay.
An upright log structure painted red on the cliffs approximately one mile west of Silva Bay.
Approximately one mile west of the Grande, and the waterfall is only active during wet months.
The area between Orlebar Point and Entrance Island.
The 600- to 800-foot contour running from the Fingers to Thrasher where the Chinook migrate every April and May.
The Money Hole
A 200-foot-deep trench in Entrance Reef, which requires great care in fishing due to the rapidly changing structure.
The North Eastern part of Gabriola Reef, south of Thrasher Reef.
I’ve fished them all and like most anglers, I’ve had varied results. That’s where a fish whisperer like Bob comes in. Fishing with Bob has most certainly been my best reminder of getting back to basics and the belief that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You won’t find the trending and fanciest gear on Bob’s boat. You won’t find sponsored products. You will find a clean, safe boat, with the best-natured, happy-go-lucky captain on Vancouver Island at its helm. And you will find fish—he knows them by name in the area and is happy to make introductions. If anyone will be catching around Gabriola, it will be Bob, who runs Silver Blue Charters (www.silverbluecharters.com). Anyone who’s been a reader of this magazine for the past 18 years will be nodding their head right now. So, here’s how we did with Bob and his business, Silver Blue Charters…
As the east coast Vancouver Island fishing maxim goes, “Use any colour you want, as long as it’s green!” We did just that—Green Glow Hot Spot flashers. As for bait, we used 3-inch Silver Horde spoons—Evil Eye & Pink Sink spoons with a spot of Pro-Cure Herring Super Gel for scent—the entire trip and caught the majority of our fish on the rising tide. Fishing through the low tide change at 10:04 a.m., we started our day at the Grande at 8 a.m., fishing 130 to 160 ft of water, at the bottom. With no baitfish showing up on the finder, we decided to try our luck at Thrasher—a much more advanced area with strong currents and often murky Fraser River-deposited waters.
We trolled between the Thrasher marker and Red Can (which is actually green; go figure) in 120 to 130 ft. We hit our fish on the eastern part of Gabriola Reef, fishing out from “the Hook” at 140 ft in 160 ft of water. And while fishing approximately one mile west of the Thrasher marker in 600 ft of water—wham, wham, wham! We landed our second Chinook that hit at 180 ft on the downrigger, and quickly had a doubleheader with one undersized released Chinook at 180 ft and one at 200 ft on the downriggers. Feeling satisfied and done with wonky current and chop, we moved back to the calm waters of the east side of Gabriola. It wasn’t long until we landed the largest Chinook of the day while bottom bouncing “the Waterfall” in 160 ft of water.
With such glass water conditions, we decided to pursue bottom fish around 2 p.m., since there was minimal current. Over the course of the day we saw a lot of boats fishing, but not much in the way of nets. While jigging Entrance Reef, we fished water depths from 60 to 120 ft with bait on slider outfits and jigs. Even though the drift was ideal, the pinnacles and shelf positions are difficult to maintain without using the outboard. Nevertheless, we picked up our limit of cod and one perfect table ling.
And after putting in countless hours of fishing this area for the better part of the past 8 years, it was amazing to catch and learn so much from a day on the water with Bob.
A gorgeous run back through the Flat Top Islands into Silva Bay ended with cleaning and packing our catch for the trip home. After a short drive back through the forest and past the turkey vultures parading on the turnoff from North Road and Horseshoe, we rewarded ourselves with a cold beer and fried pickles at the Skol Pub while waiting at the Gabriola-Nanaimo ferry.
After a day like this, and while having a lovely dinner with my family in Lantzville, I asked myself silently, “Why go anywhere else on Vancouver Island when there’s this at Nanaimo’s doorstep?” Well, I suppose we’ll have to answer that in the next edition of “On The Water,” won’t we?