Have you ever been up to Nootka Sound? It must have been 10 years since I was there last, and then only for a day trip out of Campbell River. When I mentioned that to James Fisher, marketing manager of Nootka Marine Adventures, in our discussion about the 5th Annual Salmon Enhancement Derby, he invited me to see it firsthand, from Moutcha Bay Resort. Kicking and screaming, I begrudgingly accepted. I forgot just how accessible this fishery is for Islanders such as myself. When you look at its remote location on a map and hear rave reviews about “world-class fishing,” “float-plane in,” and “five-star meals,” you might think this place is reserved only for the rich and famous. It’s not. Here’s how it went for me. Boat in tow, it took us about 80 minutes from Lantzville to make it to my usual gas-up in Campbell River, the Shell station off Willis Rd. OK, the fact that Lee’s Famous Recipes Chicken is there doesn’t hurt the cause, especially ahead of the 2-hour drive west across the island to the Gold River boat launch. Talk about a gorgeous drive, and the road is in pretty good shape. Just come prepared—there’s no cell service. At the boat launch, there’s gated and ungated parking (cash only) and excellent new docks. Just do yourself a favour and launch at high tide. I didn’t. I got really lucky and found the deeper trough to the starboard side, but be mindful of the shallow bump near the end just before the docks. It was stressful in three feet of water with my 26-footer; most people recommend at least five feet. After a gorgeous 40-minute weave through the inlets, we were rewarded with the stunning, protected Moutcha Bay, fed by the Conuma River. Yurts line the shore behind a well-planned network of docks, loaded with a fleet of resort and visiting boats.
While carting our gear to the private chalet, my excitement grew as we passed the seemingly never-ending cleaning stations. I pictured myself diligently cleaning the day’s catch with the other happy “sporties” all modestly joking about their slow day and full buckets of fish. After some long-overdue handshakes and a quick pint of Electric Unicorn IPA (on draft, no less) at the main lodge, I went in search of Mike Beausoleil, head guide and our chaperone for the next day’s adventure.
I found him updating a newcomer’s boat’s chart-plotter with the RCA (Rockfish Conservation Areas) boundary lines and coaching him on the latest locations of the best fishing grounds. I quickly learned that whether you fish with a guide or bring your own boat, the guides at Nootka Marine Adventures are going to show you where to fish. It’s no wonder why they have more than 5,500 guests come through their resorts every year. The next day we enjoyed fishing the Red Can and landed a great coho for dinner and a feisty 15-lb Chinook keeper, while Mike educated us about the derby, the fishery, and the Conuma River hatchery. James was right; I really did have to see it firsthand to understand it. You see, the Conuma River Hatchery is mostly a volunteer effort. And according to James, “as a result of the funds generated by our four derbies, an additional 180,000 coho and 1,800,000 Chinook are released into the system.” Take a minute and let that sink in. While you are fishing a derby in paradise, you are giving back. “More of this,” I thought, over and over. Now, on to bragging about our day two. Where’s the “fish tale,” right? We powered up my boat at a leisurely 7:30 a.m. (don’t judge me) with an ebb tide still a few hours ahead of us. We decided to try another round at the Red Can, and what can I say, the fish gods were smiling on us. I took a shot at an interesting contour bump that no one seemed to be fishing at about 1.5 miles northwest of the pack, and I got lucky. We fished our lines at 110 to 125 ft over 130-ft bottom, trolling at 2.5 mph with a Blue Meanie hoochie (Yamashita 3.5″ OA84R) trailing 32 inches behind a Gibbs Highliner Green Striper flasher on one side, and a Luhr Jensen 3.5″ Coyote Spoon Sardine Glow Back about 6 feet behind a Big Shooter Purple Gold Embossed flasher. Both are deadly combos, but my friend Craig Lehtovaara just couldn’t keep them off his Blue Meanie. “Fish on starboard line! Starboard line! Port side! Fish on! Off the clip! Off the clip!” It went on like that right through the ebb. Sure enough, other boats spotted the netting, and our secret was out. The first boat within earshot hollered, “How you boys doing?” We barely got out the words, “Oh, not ba…” when a double-header pulled both lines right off the clips. Reels screaming, we both started laughing, knowing that the jig was up! We left the grounds limited out on Chinook and with several coho in the box. Back at the dock, we didn’t win the derby, but a smiling Barney Edgar, a true Island Fisherman, took this year’s trophy at 22.4 lbs.
Way to go Barney, just save a few for the rest of us next year, OK? Sixty-one people participated in this year’s derby and generated $8,700 for the hatchery. More. Of. This. June is a fun time to fish Nootka Sound. It’s a bit early for the returns and white-hot inside fishing, but there are still plenty of salmon around. Troll the bottom on the outside and you’ll likely bring in a few nice ling, vermillion, or other rock cod as a bonus. You’ll also find migratory fish heading to southern BC and the U.S. (see those clipped Chinooks?), as well as early returns heading for the Conuma, Canton, Gold, Burhman, and Liener Rivers. Moutcha Bay Resort is easy to get to and worth the trek—fish with a guide or bring your own boat and stay at one of the lodges. I highly recommend the fish processing. After getting a taste of what Nootka Sound has to offer, you can bet I’ll be back. I hope to see you there, too.