Find out what’s working and what’s not when fishing in the Winter Harbour area on Northern Vancouver Island. Tips, best practices, places and the go-to lures are just a sample of what you’ll find in our fishing report.
Winter Harbour Marine Map
Winter Harbour Marine Weather Forecast
Winter Harbour Fishing Report
As is the case for much of our beautiful BC coast, spring is an exciting and vibrant time in Winter Harbour and Quatsino Sound as we welcome back the huge schools of spawning herring and the incredible variety of wildlife pursuing them!
It’s been at least 5 years since the demise of the roe-on-kelp fishery in our area, and we’ve seen progressively larger and larger herring returns each year. It is quite the sight to behold as thousands of seabirds, hundreds of seals and sea lions and eagles, and even the occasional grey, humpback, or killer whale make their way into Winter Harbour to feast on the herring bonanza.
The usually beautiful clear green water is turned cloudy as the millions of herring spawn on anything and everything.
Of particular interest to anglers is the fact that a whole variety of larger fish follow the herring biomass up into the near shore shallows of the sound. Feeder/winter springs congregate in large numbers along with lingcod, halibut, and rockfish, all in pursuit of the massive schools of herring.
Each spring the whole inner mouth of Quatsino Sound from Cliff Point to Gooding and Harvey Coves, as well as the whole area around Cains Island, is teaming with fish chasing the herring biomass.
We generally have very good luck in March and April simply trolling the flats in and around Pinnacle and Cains Islands in as little as 60 ft of water. We will typically troll a large Tomic or Gibbs spoon a few feet off the bottom behind a bright flasher, and frankly never really know what we’re going to come up with! It could be a 15-lb spring, or it could be a 35-lb hali or a decent lingcod.
After an incredible 2019 season we are all very excited to get 2020 going again in Winter Harbour. If you have never been, we cordially invite you to come and see what all the fuss is about. Whether you want to bring your own boat and camp or rent accommodation, or charter with one of the great guiding outfits in the area, the opportunities are almost endless.
In Winter Harbour, we have had red-hot Chinook fishing since the first week of June. Despite not being able to fish the offshore Area 127, anglers have enjoyed very consistent action in relatively shallow nearshore and inshore waters. Interestingly, baitfish have held here in huge numbers, with the preponderance of bait being very small (3-in to 4-in) juvenile herring and anchovy. Small needlefish, anchovy teaser heads, and small spoon patterns have been the go-to. Gibbs Herring Aide, and No Bananas Skinny Gs have been hard to keep in stock, as have AP Needlefish Lemon Lime spoons!
I think it’s fair to say that the bulk of Chinooks have passed through, but the fishing has remained very decent by almost any measure both in and offshore, with many beautiful large fish coming in daily.
As has been the pattern for the last number of years, we have seen a blob of warm blue water move into offshore areas. This year we have seen unprecedented warm water temperatures. Normal water has typically ranged in the 60- to 62-degree F range. This year, we are recording temperatures approaching 70 degrees F within fewer than 5 miles offshore!
The bad news is that higher temperatures typically make salmon move to deeper water or move on; the good news is, we have albacore tuna showing up 15 to 40 miles offshore. As of mid-August, sport boats were running out 30 to 40 miles off Kains Island Lightstation into Quatsino Canyon, doing extremely well. We fully expect this will continue well into September. The tuna fishery out of this area is growing substantially with every passing year.
It’s hard to predict exactly what effect this warm water will have on our normal patterns into September. We typically see large local Chinook show up in the nearshore waters, along with aggressive large northern coho.
I think it’s fair to say that the new halibut regulations have been fairly well received in our area. The abundance of bait has led to extremely good bottom fishing this year. We are seeing many “over” halibut daily, and large lingcod are seemingly the norm.
If you haven’t been to Winter Harbour, you truly should come and see what all the fuss is about—prolific salmon and halibut/lingcod fishing, all within a few miles of shore.
Despite the DFO’s continued attempts to make all of us anglers and businesses in the recreational fishery miserable this season with their politically motivated Fraser Chinook closures, the fishing all around the mouth of Quatsino Sound and in the ‘surfline in’ waters of Area 27 has simply been incredible through July. As with much of the coast, the abundance of both wild and hatchery Chinook and coho so far has surpassed almost everyone’s expectations since early June.
As we pointed out in both our June and July reports, this March the Winter Harbour/Quatsino area experienced one of the largest herring spawns in recent memory. What’s really interesting, however, is how many of those shoals of herring have stayed in the nearshore waters. There has been more bait in the mouth of Quatsino Sound than in any recent years, and that has made for truly spectacular Chinook and coho action without having to go offshore. The fish have not only been abundant, but their average size is up considerably from recent years, as many fish in the mid to high twenties are coming in daily.
Most on the outer west coast will remember the very odd and rather inexplicable two week ‘fish drought’ we had last year in the latter half of July and into early August. This was in sharp contrast to the trend of the previous five or so years, where mid- to late July was the best fishing of the season. Fortunately, last year the drought was followed by one of the best mid late August fisheries in recent memory, and we are hoping for a repeat this year!
As always, water temperature and plankton blooms will play a big role in terms of how August and September play out. The last few years we have seen very warm blue water come close to shore, where we experienced water temperatures in the 15.5° to 17° C vs. normal range of 11° to 14° C. With the warm water comes myriad strange warm water creatures like sunfish, blue shark, jellyfish, albatross, and albacore tuna, but it tends to push the salmon farther offshore and deeper.
With this being a La Nina year, we think we will continue to see typical water temps of 11° to 14° C, which bodes reasonably well for our main target species.
Of particular note, most salmon this season have continued to come on relatively small needlefish and herring pattern spoons. The Gibbs Skinny G Herring Aide, No Bananas, and AP Lemon Lime needlefish/anchovy spoons remain the most-often used. As the fishery tends to more highway /offshore in Area 127, we imagine the traditional Purple Haze, White Glo, and Yozuri LGG-11 hoochies and cuttlefish will be working, as well as anchovy and plugs.
Bottom fish rarely disappoint in the Winter Harbour waters. Virtually all of the structure and humps 1 to 3 mi offshore in anywhere from 150 to 300 ft of water are producing well.
This year’s halibut regulations allow for retention of one ‘over’ measuring 90 cm to 126 cm in length (head on), or two small ‘under’ 90 cm in length (head on). To be honest, we struggle to find the ‘unders’ up our way, but we continue to catch some beauty ‘overs’ on a regular basis.
Winter Harbour is a rare gem remaining on our coast with access to some of the most prolific fishing anywhere in BC. The continental shelf comes to within a few miles of shore, so there is no need to travel long distances to find the fish and burn a lot of expensive fuel. Come and see what all the fuss is about—there are plenty of great places to stay or camp.
Despite the DFO’s Chinook retention closure of the offshore waters along the whole west coast of the island, we have had an excellent start to the season. The “surfline-in” fishery off Quatsino allows us to fish as far as 2 to 3 miles offshore in some areas, and all of the nearshore waters off Lippy Point, Kwakiutl, and Kains Island have been holding a lot of bait and producing very well. Most of the fish have been holding in the relatively near-shore structure in 150 to 200 ft of water, and most people would say fishing has exceeded expectations so far, setting us up for a great July and August.
Anchovy has been particularly effective recently, as have AP Lemon-Lime needlefish pattern spoons, 6.0 Coyote Cop Car spoons, and Purple Haze hoochies behind any kind of gold or purple UV flasher.
The inshore areas around Kains Island lightstation, Gooding and Harvey Coves, and Cliffe Point areas have also been active giving smaller boats ample opportunity to cash in.
Ironically, we’ve recently had a number of commercial lingcod fishermen comment how many very large Chinooks they are pulling up on their offshore gear out at the 50-fathom edge. It’s a shame we can’t fish it now, but as of July 15, Area 127 will open for Chinook retention and we are all keen to see what’s out there!
Halibut and lingcod fishing continued to be excellent, with very healthy average sizes. Many 15- to 20-lb lings were caught this week, and halibut in the 35- to 50-lb range were also quite typical. Most of the nicest fish were coming from the 275-ft bumps in 300 to 325 ft of water straight off Kains Island. The nearshore waters off Lawn Point were also producing well. Most fish were coming off herring/spreader bar setups, and Blue-Glow Mudrakers were also effective.
This year’s halibut regulations allow for retention of one measuring 90 to 126 cm in length head-on, or two small 90 cm in length head-on (that’s one “over” or two “under”). To be honest, we struggle to find the “unders” up our way, but we continue to catch some beautiful “overs” on a regular basis.
Winter Harbour is a rare gem remaining on our coast, with access to some of the most prolific fishing anywhere in BC.
The continental shelf comes to within a few miles of shore, so there is no need to travel long distances to find the fish and burn a lot of expensive fuel. Come and see what all the fuss is about–there are plenty of great places to stay or camp.
Long-time residents agree that this year’s herring spawn in Winter Harbour was as big as anyone can remember, and it’s got the season off to a great start. As always, the lingcod, halibut, and early Chinooks get lured into the nearshore waters in the mouth of Quatsino Sound chasing the herring, but this year’s abundance has led to particularly good early-season fishing. Action inside Cains Island, around Pinnacle, and at McAllister Isles has been absolutely great.
Recently, there have been large schools of needlefish and squid in the nearshore sand flats between Kwakiutl and Lippy Point, which has also seemingly attracted and held a lot of transiting Chinooks. Anglers trolling the structure in 175 to 200 ft of water with lures in the 125- to 150-ft range have been catching beautiful springs in the 16- to 20-lb range, while also quite regularly catching halibut, lingcod, and rockfish prowling the midwater around the various bait stacks. Needlefish patterns have been particularly productive, as have large glow squid patterns.
If patterns of the last few years hold, we will see waves of Chinook and coho fill into the near- and midshore waters through June, feeding on the various bait congregations around structure. Small pattern spoons like the AP 4″ needlefish and anchovy patterns in greens and blues are very productive trolled near bottom, as are needlefish pattern hoochies.
Late May and early June present anglers with particularly good halibut, lingcod, and rockfish opportunities as all the favourite nearshore structure has largely been unfished since fall. Last season, halibut was very abundant in our area, and early season action suggests we will enjoy more of the same. The Winter Harbour/Quatsino Sound area truly is a special place. It’s one of the few remaining low-traffic but prolific areas on the coast, suitable for boats big and small.
We were lucky to have escaped some of the DFO Fraser Chinook closures, and many of our favourite nearshore and 1- to 2-mile offshore structure remains open for 2 a day and 4 in possession, with all areas opening July 14 to the same 2/4 split.