Traditionally, mid-October is the start of a major slowdown for British Columbia’s saltwater angling until spring. But if the Chinook non-retention regulation continues in the future, it could begin to change not only when and where anglers fish, but also what they fish for. Regardless of what’s to come, there is great angling available (scroll down for the video). One option is to take advantage of the winter fishery, which offers some of the best fishing to be had anywhere at any time. This opportunity has existed for decades, yet it is under-appreciated and lightly fished. Terrific winter fishing exists in Georgia Strait waters adjacent to Nanaimo, Campbell River, the Sunshine Coast, and Vancouver, as well as in Barkley Sound on the west coast. But one of the best winter fisheries—if not the very best—takes place right in front of the province’s capital city of Victoria.
Here’s the good news. The Victoria fishery is easily accessible. The area’s fishing infrastructure is large and comprehensive, and there’s a full range of complementary services. Furthermore, eastern Juan de Fuca Strait is remarkably calm in winter, resulting in pleasant fishing conditions as long as anglers dress appropriately. The big attraction is the feeder Chinook, and the Victoria waterfront holds lots from legal size to over 20 lbs. There is even better news—up to 80% come from U.S. hatchery production, which reduces impacts on Canadian stocks.
Victoria is uniquely positioned to take full advantage of Puget Sound’s hatchery Chinook production. Other regions of the south coast also enjoy these benefits, but the percentage of fin-clipped U.S. Chinook decreases the further north you go. The principle reason there are so many American salmon is the difference in hatchery philosophy between the U.S. and Canada. Currently Canadian officials appear stuck in neutral regarding the value of hatchery salmon, specifically whether they should be used to rebuild stocks and sustain fisheries. The U.S. has already made the decision that hatcheries and fisheries are valuable. Consequently, the Americans are marking almost 100% of hatchery Chinook and coho, compared to around 25% in Canada. Puget Sound’s hatchery programs are a collaborative venture between the state of Washington’s Department of Fisheries, 22 local First Nations, and non-government organizations like Long Live the Kings. Canadian anglers shouldn’t feel guilty about keeping these fish, as they are part of the Canada –U.S. Salmon Treaty sharing arrangements.
Victoria Halibut Fishing
Arm-busting halibut are also plentiful, and the season can open as early as February 1. The length of the halibut season depends on the recreational share of the total allowable catch (TAC), which at the time of writing this article had not been set for the coming year. A bigger TAC results in an early opening, later closure, and more generous size, daily, and possession limits. This benefits Victoria anglers, because halibut appear in local waters early in the year and are bigger on average.
Both species can be caught close to Victoria’s Inner Harbour, where many of the city’s charter boat operators tie up.
Video: Chartered Fishing Trip—Oak Bay Flats with No Bananas Fishing Charters
Trailer boat anglers can access Victoria waters from ramps located at the Esquimalt Anglers Association, Cattle Point, James Bay Anglers Association, or Pedder Bay Marina.
Tackle and bait can be purchased at marinas, some boat ramps, gas stations, and chain stores like Walmart and Canadian Tire. However, you’ll find a wider range of tackle along with reliable fishing updates, at shops like Island Outfitters and Trotac Marine, Victoria’s main independent tackle outlets.
Victoria Fishing Hot Spots
The Victoria fishery consists of inshore and offshore zones. Pedder Bay (1) is the inshore fishery’s western boundary continuing towards Albert Head (2), and then across the front of the old gravel pit site (3). From here anglers tack tight to shore across the Esquimalt and Victoria waterfronts (4 and 5) before ending at Oak Bay (6). Trolling is the best tactic since the fishery is primarily for Chinook, with some halibut available off Albert Head. Constance Bank (7) is the main offshore salmon and halibut destination, while secondary locations near the Canada-US border offer up halibut and bottom fish.
Fishing Tackle for Victoria Area
The best Chinook gear includes small- to medium-sized hoochies, spoons, and baits trolled on short to medium leaders with full-sized flashers. Fishing deep a few hours on each side of the current change is the most productive strategy. Proven halibut gear includes spreader bars with herring, octopus, and squid, or big jigs tipped with natural baits. Work long slack water for the best halibut results. Anchoring is the dominant method, but drifting over good ground is also productive.
Fishing Victoria Benefits
Victoria’s side benefits include world-famous tourist attractions, excellent restaurants, and quality accommodations featuring off-season rates. The scenery is stunning, and on a clear winter day the view from the water is unbeatable. Mount Baker’s volcanic snow cone dominates the eastern skyline, while the equally impressive Olympic Mountains tower over Juan de Fuca Strait. Encounters with whales, seals, sea lions, and eagles regularly top off a great day’s fishing. So if you are looking for something different include a guided fishing adventure on your next trip to Victoria. Or, if you need to shake off a case of the winter blues, trailer your boat to one of the city’s boat launch facilities. There’s first-class fishing action waiting for you.
This article appeared in the January 2020 issue. Don’t miss another issue, subscribe today!