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
It’s been another fabulous season in Winter Harbour. We had one of the longest stretches of warm and almost eerily calm weather that any of us can remember, all with excellent fishing! Across the board, salmon and bottom fish action was above average, with the exception of a short lull in August where the Chinooks were scarce. That said, the coho arrived in large numbers and the warm water moved in offshore at least two weeks earlier than normal, giving anglers some phenomenal albacore tuna opportunities.
If our typical season profiles hold, we should see a good run of northern coho show up in late August and into September, along with the larger bronze Chinook that seem to fill into Brooks Bay and the approaches to Quatsino Sound.
The smaller needlefish patterns have been the best producers; as we move into fall, we typically migrate to larger bait profiles, with 6″ to 8″ chrome or glow/chrome/nickel (“Nik”)/blue being the best regular producers for the big Chinook. Patience seems to pay off every year for those committed to Cliff Point and the stretch from Gooding to Harvey Coves in the mouth of Quatsino Sound.
Every season the amount of interest in the albacore fishery seems to increase exponentially, and with this year’s early arrival of the warm water, this season seems to be another level! As outlined in the fantastic albacore articles in Island Fisherman, preparation for offshore tuna trips is paramount. That said, on any given day in late August or the first couple weeks in September, if conditions are right, there are multiple boats heading out of Winter Harbour working together to find the tuna.
If you haven’t been to Winter Harbour, please come and see what all the fuss is about! There are a bunch of great operators ready to serve you, whether you are bringing your own boat and camper or want a full accommodation/charter experience.
Winter Harbour hasn’t disappointed at all this summer. We had a couple of long stretches in July where the water was as calm and flat as one could hope for on the west coast. One of our top harbour guides actually said to me, “It’s too calm! We are spooking the fish!”
Despite that, fishing in July remained excellent across the board. Chinook and coho filled in very nicely in the inshore waters and continued to target small juvenile herring bait (2″ to 3″) as well as smaller needlefish. As with last year, the bait have stacked up into the shallows, so the best fishing has been near shore in shallow water; most anglers say their fish are being caught less than 50′ down. By far the most popular lures continue to be various Skinny Gs and Wee Gs, as well as AP and Westcoast Fishing Tackle’s smaller spoons.
Based on early returns, everyone has preferred burning less fuel and catching plenty inshore! You can’t beat using a big spoon for big springs, and the northern coho fishing in mid- to late August up our way is outstanding.
This is probably the best lingcod year that any of us can remember in some time! Many guys have been drift-jigging swim tails over nearshore rock pinnacles. The bucketheads seem to be abundant enough that even a slow troll of large spoons or plugs are effective. Any of the Glo or similar Gibbs, Lighthouse, or Westcoast stuff is working really well.
Halibut have been equally plentiful. I think it’s fair to say average size has come down a little, particularly on a drift jig. If you anchor up and are patient through a tide, you can get them as big as you want.
If you haven’t come and seen what all the fuss is about, there are plenty of local operators to serve you in the Winter Harbour/Quatsino area. Whether you want to bring your own boat and RV or do a full accommodation and charter package, it’s an incredible jewel on the coast!
Let’s get the broken record part out of the way first: Lingcod and halibut fishing has been absolutely spectacular in the Winter Harbour area so far this season. While the average halibut size seems to be down marginally, they are abundant and accessible. The lingcod fishing has been absolutely world-class. As we have reported extensively, swim tail jigs are hard to beat. The most productive structure seems consistently to be the 175′ to 225′ rocks closest to deeper water. Virtually all the nearshore structure around Lawn Point, Kwakiutl, Kains, Lippy, and Top Knot is producing.
Chinook are a little harder to predict this summer, as we did see quite a dramatic timing shift last season, as has been well-documented in this area report.
Despite a very strong herring spawn, early indications suggest the bulk of both the local and migratory Chinook runs are arriving on a schedule similar to last season, which would mean we should be in for a very good July. Marble River returns are expected to be strong, and we will likely see a considerable amount of Columbia and outer island fish as well.
Early indications again suggest the fish are assembling and feeding in shallow nearshore shoals. Like last year, some of the most productive fishing has been in as little as 100′ of water in the nearshore structures of our main points of land. The smaller bait patterns are most effective, so AP Anchovy, Gibbs Skinny Gs, and any good glow/green needlefish like Sound Wave J32 are particularly effective.
All the operators in Winter Harbour report being well-booked and busy for this coming year. If you would like to see what all the fuss is about, please reach out to one of the many great businesses in our area. Whether you want to book a fully guided accommodation package, or bring your own boat and RV, there are options for you.
Ten years ago, the bulk of the salmon would arrive in late July and be most abundant through mid-August. Fast-forward 8 years, and the largest body of fish were quite reliably arriving in early to mid-June and hanging around through the middle or end of July. The last 2 years have seen a reversal in the trend, and the main body of fish have arrived in early to mid-July. The first question we guides get asked is, “When’s the best fishing”? The fact is, it changes season to season, and for the most part, salmon movement is predictable.
June typically brings abundance to Winter Harbour. On the back of a very successful herring spawn this spring, the nearshore humps and bumps are already very productive. Our favourite structure is the 150′ – 200′ nearshore sandflat structure from Lippy Point to Kwakiutl Point and Lawn Point. Anglers routinely troll needlefish or larger spoon patterns near bottom and will catch both salmon and a variety of bottomfish.
We will almost surely see packs of hungry coho feeding aggressively on rafts of bait, and the waves of Chinook are close behind. If you are being mauled by coho and looking for Chinook, simply head north.
Early salmon follow the bait into the reef structures around the Kains Island lighthouse, Gooding and Harvey Coves, McAllister Island, and Cliff Point. It’s all fairly easy and safe fishing nearshore in relatively shallow water—recommended for anglers new to the area.
There’s nothing disappointing about this spring’s activity in Quatsino Sound and Winter Harbour. The annual herring spawn was massive; in fact, very few of us locals can recall seeing such biodiversity and so much activity in the harbour and adjoining inlets as we witnessed this year. We had thousands of gulls, dozens and dozens of Steller sea lions, and multiple visits from both orcas and humpbacks right into Winter Harbour proper. The spawn and milt turned the harbour an azure green for days on end, and the surface activity near shore was incredibly entertaining.
Our experience suggests that a good healthy spawn almost always seems to lead into good spring fishing. This year has been no exception, as the favourite pelagics follow the spawning herring into the shallows. The nearshore fishing for winter springs has been excellent, and as we begin to see the waves of migrating Chinook arrive, they should hold near shore to feed.
To many people’s surprise, the “early” fishing in Winter Harbour near shore is often fantastic. The nearshore waters south of Topknot and through to Lippy and Lawn Points are typically very productive in May. Trolling near bottom with a blue/green/glow spoon or hoochie combos or using large pattern glow cuttlefish or squid can also be very rewarding, particularly if the squid are spawning in the shallows.
The best part of early season bottom trolling with so much bait around is the fact that you can and will almost certainly be catching ling, hali, and rockfish as well. The key to early season success is making sure you get a good read on the weather.
If you haven’t seen what all the fuss is about, you really do need to come and check out the waters around Winter Harbour. There are plenty of great operators in the community offering virtually anything you need.
The dawn of spring brings bright sunshine and green shoots to the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, and it marks the impressive annual invasion of herring into our inshore waters. It’s incredible to see the huge biomass of herring arrive to spawn, it may even be more impressive to see the host of predators who come along for the feast. By early March, the herring move into the mouth of Quatsino sound and up into Winter Harbour proper and similar inlets. Rafts of Steller sea lions flock into the harbour from their local colonies to gorge on the herring, as do a whole array of sea birds.
The good news for anglers is that the herring are also followed into the inshore waters by a host of pelagic fish, resulting in unusually good opportunities for winter springs, halibut, and lingcod just a few minutes from Winter Harbour. We recommend trolling the shallow sand flats inside Kains Island, Pinnacle, and McAllister Rocks into Forward Inlet with a standard salmon troll setup and a larger spoon or magnum hoochie presented near bottom, and you will be surprised at the quality and the variety of fish you can get.
Later into April, our focus will turn to the humps and bumps on the outside of Kains Island, Kwakiutl, and Lippy Point as we typically see the beginnings of the migrating Columbia Chinook.
If you have never been up to our area in spring, we highly recommend seeing the herring spawn spectacle and the related National Geographic scene that unfolds annually with a ridiculous variety of wildlife.
Sometimes it just feels good to be somewhat back to normal. Obviously, that refers to the loosening of pandemic restrictions and all that’s associated with it. But as we have documented for a few years now in these reports, the major body of salmon migrating through the Winter Harbour area has been arriving progressively earlier and earlier each year.
Ten years ago, by far the best fishing was the from the latter half of July until early or mid-September. For at least the last 5 years, the cycle shifted and wobbled to be a week or so earlier each year. This all culminated in 2020, when the bulk of the coho and Chinook came through our area from late May through early to mid-July. This was by far the earliest cycle any of us could remember, and it was followed by an extremely quiet gap from late July into mid-August except for a few rogue groups! The only solace was the fact that we had exceptional lingcod and halibut fishing all season long.
Enter 2021. This season, the cycle abruptly shifted forward by almost a month and a half. We had a relatively quiet spring, followed by a massive influx of coho in late June, with a very large body of good-sized Chinook following close behind in July. We have since had absolutely fabulous fishing both inshore and offshore through late July and well into August. Baitfish were prolific, and overall conditions have been close to ideal.
One interesting side note: The majority of the fish being caught seemingly are still being triggered by smaller bait patterns. This is a phenomenon of the last few years whereby the most productive lures are 3″-4″ spoons or relatively small anchovy. By far, our best sellers have been the smaller AP needlefish, 4.0- 5.0 Coyotes, and Gibbs Skinny Gs and/or needlefish hoochies. The average fish size is up considerably with plenty in the 15- to 30-lb+ range, particularly from the shallows inside the mouth of Quatsino Sound.
This has without a doubt been the best year we have seen for lingcod. They have been prolific in all the nearshore waters. We don’t know if it’s a result of nature/ bait-related phenomena or a lack of commercial pressure, but everyone has noted how incredible the ling fishing has been.
We are excited about our tuna season. The warm water showed up earlier than normal, which seems odd given the seasonal shift outlined above. But we started seeing the water break 25 nm off Quatsino in the first week of August, with measured temps as high as 68°F and quite the National Geographic nature show with sunfish, blue shark, porpoises, and even the odd albatross around. This bodes very well for late August and most of September, assuming those patterns hold.
We are excited to be involved in hosting the Annual Bounty in the Blue Tuna derby in early September organized by OIi’s Fishing Charters in Winter Harbour. If you haven’t fished tuna out of Winter Harbour, you might want to give it a try. The fish are routinely anywhere from 20-30 nm from shore because of the structure of the continental shelf off the northern tip of the island.
If you haven’t been to Winter Harbour, please come and see what all the fuss is about. Whether you want to bring your own boat and camp or do a full accommodations and charter package, there are plenty of local businesses set up to help.
Sometimes normal just feels right. Despite the fact that our American friends are still largely locked out of the fun, things have felt almost strangely normal, and that’s a good thing. As noted in our July report, we didn’t really see the “early” salmon action that we have come to expect from the patterns of the last few years. June was OK, early July was OK … and then a whole wave of coho showed up—which is inevitably a precursor to the large body of Chinook moving in. Voila! It was game on. Beautiful fish filled into all
the popular nearshore waters off Lippy, Kwakiutl, and Cliff Points, as well as in and around Kains Island.
So is this a return to more “normal” patterns? We really won’t know until August and September are in the books, but based on what we have seen so far, most of us agree this body of salmon is closer to the historical average, where the fishing really heats up into mid-July and really extends into late August and early September, assuming there are sufficient schools of bait to keep the fish around and feeding.
I expect we are in for a fantastic August. Offshore area 127 didn’t open until July 15, so it’s hard to say how many transiting fish will be out there, but if the return prognostications are close to being right, there should be some great action both in and offshore.
The bottom fishing has been red hot, particularly the lingcod. Speak to any of the longstanding local guides and they will tell you they haven’t seen lingcod so prolific in more than 10 years. Not only are there a lot of fish, but they are good-sized, too. I have pointed out previously that swimtail baits seem to be all the rage the last couple of years. Whether it’s a Lighthouse Lure or a Gibbs Delta Power Paddle, they work.
So far this season, the water temperature has remained close to normal. We have yet to see the extreme warm water which showed up late July last year, but we still fully expect to be game on for tuna come mid-July. If you haven’t heard, the continental shelf is very close to shore north of Brooks Peninsula and the mouth of Quatsino Sound, and north to the Scott Islands. The commercial albacore fleet can often be found between 25 and 50 miles offshore of Kains Island Lightstation, which is making Winter Harbour an increasingly popular destination for anglers seeking the thrill of albacore encounters.
There are many campground and accommodation options available in Winter Harbour. If you haven’t experienced what all the fuss is about, come and check it out. It’s like taking a step back in time!
I must admit, despite the fact that we often feel remote and isolated from the effects of the pandemic, the big lockdown definitely made this spring very odd. We anticipated the border being closed, and all our American friends having to postpone their plans, but the fact that the mainland and island locals stayed away as well has caused things to be eerily quiet. We
are definitely looking forward to a summer that feels a little more normal!
That said, the ground fishing has been absolutely spectacular so far. Everyone has been raving about the size and quantity of both lingcod and halibut in the nearshore structure from Top Knot Point south to Cape Cook. As I mentioned in our previous report, swimtail jigs are all the rage and they really work! Not sure what exactly it is about the hali/lingcod cycle, or perhaps it’s a function of less recreational and commercial pressure, but it’s absolutely “game on” in Winter Harbour right now.
Salmon, on the other hand, has been somewhat on the slow side so far in
late spring. The clear trend the last few years has been the body of fish arriving progressively earlier. It’s still a little early to say, but perhaps this is a turn in the cycle? We have had some decent fish in the nearshore off Lippy Point, at Kains Island, and more recently at Cliffe Point, but not the kind of action that we are usually spoiled with.
Given the Columbia River Chinook returns are forecast to be decent, and coho supposedly near record levels, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that mid-July and most of August will be very good. We did see a fairly big squid spawn in the nearshore shallows, but not the normal associated Chinook frenzy!
The offshore waters of Area 127 officially reopen for Chinook July 15, so I fully expect there to be some great opportunities. One of the things that makes Winter Harbour/Quatsino Sound so special is the fact that the continental shelf is so close to shore. We need only travel 2 to 3 miles offshore to get into 250′ to 300′ of water, and the classic “highway” (of 50-fathom edge) is anywhere from 3 to 5 miles off Kains Island Lightstation. Most old timers will tell you to go straight seaward from Kains Island, put the gear down 125′ to 175′ and head southeast until you get a fish. Note the sea temperature, then turn and follow the contours at that water depth and temperature and you have likely found the bait and the fish!
Most of the Winter Harbour businesses still have decent availability for this season. Whether you are looking to bring an RV and camp or book some accommodation and a charter, someone will be happy to help!
If you were to speak to any of the true old salt west coast commercial fisherman, who arguably know the north island waters better than anyone, they would tell you that for decades the overall best fishing in the broader Winter Harbour area has always been mid-July through late August. For whatever reason, for the better part of the last decade, we have seen the main body of Chinook arrive progressively earlier and earlier each season. Last year, some of the best fishing of the year was mid-June through the first couple weeks of July, with some surprisingly great days in the latter half of May! While no one can say exactly why this is occurring, we can say with reasonable confidence that this season should be no different. Add the fact that the expected return of Columbia River hatchery fish is on the high side of average, along with apparently improving ocean survival rates, we should get off to a very good start.
Given the quite prolific local herring spawn this March/April, and the resulting great early season action, the nearshore structures from Kains Island up to Top Knot to the north and Kwakiutl to Lawn Points and Brooks Bay to the south should all produce very well. Anglers should focus on water depths between 160′ and 220′ in the sand/gravel flats where you will typically find large schools of baitfish (usually either sandlance or herring). Trolling green/blue/glow needlefish or octopus hoochie patterns, or something like an AP Lemon-Lime needlefish or Gibbs Herring Aid Skinny G should serve you well.
If you are able to keep one lure close to bottom over the shoal structures, you can often pickup decent-sized lingcod, rockfish, and the occasional halibut.
In a typical year, the favourite inshore waters of Quatsino sound don’t turn on until a little later in the season, but certainly fishing the area immediately around Kains Island at first light or high slack can be very productive
and produce some beautiful fish. Bait patterns have been smaller than usual, so anchovy or 3″ to 4″ spoons have been most reliable.
If you haven’t picked any up yet, you should make a point of taking a good look at a bunch of the new jig “swimtails” that are all the rage from last season. Gibbs, Lighthouse and Berkley now all seem to have popular options. You can buy a separate fish shaped lead head/hook combos in different weights and combine them with a variety of swimtails in different colours and lengths. These things are absolutely irresistible to lingcod and rockfish, seemingly outfishing bait and other options by a considerable margin.
If early season lingcod and halibut action is any indication, the popular humps and bumps in all the nearshore structure will be producing well in June.
Come and see what all the fuss is about in Winter Harbour. There are plenty of great accommodations and charter options in the community, and we are certainly all trying to do our best to manage health and safety concerns responsibly. It’s a trip you won’t forget!
The irony of being in such a beautiful, remote location like Winter Harbour during a global pandemic is just how “normal” most things feel. The disparity between what we see on the national news feels so surreal and sad relative to our remote reality. Yes, we are practicing social distancing, wearing masks, and respecting protocols, but somehow the natural rhythm of nature and the spring cycle brings a feeling of hope and normalcy.
We roll into this coming season feeling the same sense of uncertainty that’s gripping our sportfishing community, hoping DFO can recognize the need for support, and science-based decisions. The annual prolific herring spawn in Quatsino sound didn’t disappoint.
We had the usual hordes of predators following the massive schools of herring up into to shallows, and right on cue the fishing has turned on in the nearshore waters, boding well for this coming season.
May can often be a real sweet spot in the Winter Harbour area. The winter swell generally dissipates, and most of the nearshore sand flats and structure hold herring and needlefish. That, in turn, attracts and holds the pelagics that we all know and love. Most of these areas get little to no pressure in the offseason, so the ardent angler can be very well-rewarded with Chinook, lingcod, halibut, and rockfish.
While there are some winter springs hanging around, the majority of the salmon we see in early season are transiting Columbia River hatchery fish or from the local Marble River. The Columbia fish are generally long and lean, averaging in the 18-lb range. Their flesh quality is sublime. The Marble fish can be monsters if you’re lucky enough to have an interaction!
We would recommend trolling dark green/blue/glow hoochies or needlefish close to bottom in the structure off Kains Island and Lippy Point in 160′ to 220′ of water. You will generally get respectable size lings or hali while targeting Chinook. If you are lucky, you can run into a squid spawn, in which case a large glow squid (like Yamashita OGG55 or Yozuri LXSB-101) can be a lot of fun.
We are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. Should the restrictions permit, there’s no question that the setup in Winter Harbour can be conducive to safe, socially-distanced visits, whether you camp or stay in one of the town’s private rentals. If you are considering a trip, please reach out to the businesses in our community sooner than later, as it’s looking like we are going to be very busy again.
One of the truly odd things about being in a very remote and largely isolated community like Winter Harbour during a worldwide pandemic is how strangely normal everything feels. Yes, we are wearing masks in our store, and we still look a little sideways at the odd stranger. But somehow, waking up to the extreme solitude, the incredibly fresh air, and the stunning natural beauty every day, it’s truly hard not to be somewhat optimistic as spring approaches.
Don’t get me wrong—our little community is anxious about the ongoing travel restrictions and border closures. We are reminded of the stark reality that approximately 40% of our clientele are from the U.S. We are very aware of Dr. Bonnie’s ongoing warnings about travel and all the related uncertainty that still exists for this coming season, yet we remain optimistic. There is plenty of space for appropriate social distancing, and we hope people have a pent-up demand for adventure as restrictions lift.
DFO’s late February announcement to open halibut early has certainly been well received, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The annual herring spawn in Winter Harbour proper brings a host of predators into the inshore shallows through March and April, and it’s all quite a spectacle. Anglers need not go beyond the outer reaches of Forward Inlet or the waters inside Kains Island Lighthouse in the mouth of Quatsino Sound to have great opportunities for winter springs, halibut, and lingcod.
We recommend trolling the relatively sandy, flat shallows with relatively large pattern spoons, hoochies, or herring. Present very close to bottom, and you never know what you are going to come up with!
Aside from the arrival of the herring, winter spring fishing has been absolutely excellent this year, as is the case for much of the south coast. We are very encouraged by the early prognostications for Columbia River coho returns, which look to be the best in a very long time.
Let’s hope that DFO “sees the light” and recognizes the rationale behind a select marked Chinook fishery rather than the ridiculous outright closures which have been so damaging to so many in our industry.
If you haven’t been to Winter Harbour, we encourage you to come and see what all the fuss is about. We have some great charter operators, lodgings, and camping opportunities around the harbour, and it’s an experience you won’t soon forget!
What a surreal season! Fortunately, the fish appeared largely oblivious to COVID-19.
Most locals will tell you that the first two or three weeks of September are their absolute favourite times of year up our way. There are great salmon opportu- nities nearshore in the entire mouth of Quatsino sound including Kains Island, Cliffe Point, and Gooding and Harvey Coves as the large, mature Chinooks fill in along with large, aggressive northern coho.
For those more apt to travel, the offshore structure in Brooks Bay usually attracts a large number of Chinook in the 250′ to 350′ range made popular by the commercial guys. “The Wrench” and the area in the middle of Brooks Bay are prolific in early fall. The go-to lures are large 6″ to 7″ patterns, glow plugs, and large chrome spoons. With the large numbers of 4- and 5-year-old Chinook returning this season, we expect the early September Chinook fishery to produce some hogs!
The lingcod, halibut, and rockfish fishing has been spectacular all season, and there’s no reason to think that September will be any different. Virtually all the nearshore structure from Top Knot down to Cape Cook has been producing.
The warm blue water and all the related alien tropical fish have moved in again! Blue shark, sunfish, albatross, and of course the coveted albacore tuna. Every year we seem to have more and more sport boats coming up in late August and well into September to run offshore. If patterns of the last few years hold up, the main body of fish tends to aggregate
off Kwakiutl Canyon and north to Triangle Island, anywhere from 30 to 40 miles offshore. This is the first year of a new tuna derby in Winter Harbour—we are excited to see how many boats show up!
If you haven’t been to Winter Harbour, you really should come and see what all the fuss is about!
A lot has been made of the composition of this year’s Chinook salmon returns, specifically the relatively high number of 4- and 5-year-old fish returning, and how that was going to translate into larger fish on the coast. Well, it’s true! We have seen a much higher average size this season than we have over the last few, and the fish are beautiful, healthy, bronze, and fat. We have yet to see too many signs of the warm water “blob,” which makes us wonder if perhaps ocean survival conditions have improved broadly in these Chinook’s wintering grounds. But we do expect that towards the end of August we will continue to see a high percentage of large fish.
There was a very large and seemingly long-lasting squid spawn in the nearshore shoals around Lippy/Kwakiutul and Lawn Points which has made the inshore waters particularly productive for Chinook and coho.
As we cited in our previous report, there has been an unusual amount of lingcod and halibut in the midwater in these areas where the baitfish tend to congregate, so a typical morning or afternoon of trolling for salmon will almost always yield some healthy-sized ling or hali, particularly if you can target some of the large needlefish shoals.
Large glow 5.5″ squid patterns like the Yo-Zuri LXS103 have been extremely productive and thereby very popular, to the degree that they have sold out everywhere at press time! Interestingly, the salmon still seem to be targeting what appear to be very small pattern juvenile herring. So the AP 3″ Sandlance in blu/glo or lemon/lime has been working very well, as have a couple of the popular Gibbs Skinny Gs like Irish Cream, No Bananas, or Herring Aide.
One of the most common questions we get is, “What’s the best time to come up to Winter Harbour?” The old timers will tell you that the last week of July and the first couple weeks of August are the absolute best for all species. Over the last 5 years or so, however, the fishing has been better earlier and later, and I would argue that the best time to be up here is either the last week of June, the first couple weeks of July, or the latter half of August. If recent patterns hold, and given the aforementioned preponderance of older fish returning, we expect the latter half of August to offer some fabulous opportunities in this area, particularly if we get the usual contribution from the large and aggressive northern cohos.
It’s been a very odd year, to say the least, dealing with U.S. client cancellations and all the COVID provisions and restrictions. But with the Fraser River preventative measures over, Area 27 and 127 are open to coho and Chinook, with two of each per day limit and four of each in possession, along with an assortment of lingcod, halibut, and rockfish.
We have seen consistently good action so far this season in the Winter Harbour Area. Needlefish, herring, and squid have continued to fill into the nearshore shoals from Top Knot down to Lawn Point, making for excellent fishing. Like last season, the inshore waters in the entire mouth of Quatsino Sound, Kains Island Light Station, Gooding, Harvey Coves, and Cliffe Point have consistently produced above-average-sized fish. These areas
all fall into Area 27, where anglers are allowed to retain two Chinook and two coho per day, for a total travel possession of four of each.
Interestingly, in the inshore waters the fish have been targeting very small bait. Smaller 3″ to 4″ AP blue/glow, as well as Gibbs Skinny G Herring Aides and No Bananas, have been very productive.
While the Chinook return forecasts continue to look very good, with a high percentage of 4- and 5-year-old fish returning this season, many locals have commented how many decent-sized lingcod and halibut are being caught in midwater while trolling for salmon in relatively shallow waters of less than 200′! Traditional glow and blue/green hoochies have been productive.
As always seems to be the case, most of the nearshore structure humps and pinnacles have been producing well for lingcod, halibut, and rockfish.
Water temperatures to date have been relatively normal in the 53°F to 55°F range. There is speculation that the warm water offshore bulge has dissipated (or is doing so), so it will be interesting to see how that plays out later in the season. With the renewal of the U.S./Canada Albacore Tuna treaty, we fully expect to see a lot of commercial tuna boats off Quatsino Canyon, giving recreational tuna enthusiasts plenty of target to find the blue water and the tuna schools.
It’s been a rather surreal season so far, with the pandemic situation unfolding. As of late February, most of Winter Harbour was virtually sold out. As of writing this, about 75% of our U.S. customers have now been forced to cancel as a result of the border closures. The good news in that is the fact that many BC locals now have an opportunity to book and see what all the fuss is about! Whether you want to bring your own boat and camp or book a room, or if you want a full guided charter package, Winter Harbour/Quatsino Sound has something for you!
It’s a darn good thing that the fish are oblivious to the madness we have seen on land for the last few months. The sad fact is, we have had relatively few people fishing our area this spring as a result of the pandemic, but those that did were rewarded handsomely. The early springs showed up in fairly large numbers in late March and April on the back of the herring and squid spawns, and they have hung around in good numbers, setting up for another great season.
Despite all the dire DFO warnings on Fraser Chinook, most of the coast enjoyed a phenomenal Salmon season in 2019, and given the recently released numbers, it’s looking like 2020 could be as good or better.
The estimated terminal return of WCVI Index stocks for 2019 was 189,000 adults, and the forecast number for 2020 is 160,000, with a range of 112,000 to 210,000—slightly above the long-term average of 155,000. Of particular note, the forecast age composition is 19% 3-year-old, 51% 4-year-old and 29% 5-year-old fish. That’s a lot of older—and presumably larger—fish!
Fraser Chinook concerns, most of the WCVI remains open from the surfline in. This leaves anglers plenty of opportunity to catch both spring and coho in the relatively nearshore waters. If last June/July is any indication, that’s where the best fishing will be anyway!
We expect to see the structure in and around Kains Island Light Station, Kwakiutl, and Lippy Points being productive in the 150′ to 200′ range over the sand flats. The section of coast in the mouth of Quatsino Sound from Harvey and Gooding Coves over to Cliffe Point should also be excellent, if patterns hold.
The last couple of years, the most effective bait has been relatively small and patterned, so the Skinny G Herring Aide and smaller AP Tackle needlefish and anchovy in green/blue/yellow patterns have been particularly effective. The early season bottom fishing has been really good. There seems to be an abundance of lingcod that have moved up into the relative shallows. Many anglers have been catching good size lings in midwater while trolling for salmon!
In any given year, the Winter Harbour area doesn’t see huge recreational pressure. Given the particularly strange circumstances this year, we presume the most obvious and popular humps and bumps should be very productive for halibut, well into the summer months.
Come and see what all the fuss is about—the fish are big here! Whether you want to bring your own boat, truck, or camper, or come and do a fully guided charter fishing adventure, Winter Harbour has you covered!
Winter Harbour Fishing Report Archives
This year’s herring spawn has been different than in other recent years. Usually the bulk of the herring spawn inside Winter Harbour proper, but this year the majority spawned in the approaches of Forward Inlet. We’re not sure what the relative size of the biomass was, or why this may have happened, but it “felt” like it was less than in previous years. As always, however, the bigger fish seem to have followed the herring in.
The inshore fishing for small halibut is as good as ever. The sand flats inside Kain’s Island are producing, as are the shallows of Lippy Point. The salmon fishing in the mouth of Quatsino Sound and off Kain’s Island has been surprisingly good in the early season, even by our standards. Anglers are doing well fishing off Kains Light Station in 150′ to 200′ depths, with most boat limiting on springs in the 12- to 15-lb range and a number of fish approaching 20 lbs. Anglers have been reporting significant quantities of good-sized lingcod in the midwater, biting fairly standard green glow hoochies or spoons on the troll.
In a pattern we have watched play out over the last 5 to 7 years, the salmon return cycle seems to be happening earlier and earlier every season. We have owned the Outpost General Store/ Marina and RV Campground for 16 years. When we first took things over, all of the old timers wanted to be there in the first two weeks of August. They would all tell you that time was by far the best all-around fishing. Since then, we have seen the bulk of the springs show up earlier and earlier. The spring Chinook commercial fishery is closed for the second year in a row, and it’s seemingly still a bonanza out there, being enjoyed by a handful of recreational fishers.
Like last year, Area 127 offshore is closed from April 1 to July 15. Fortunately, 2019’s best overall fishing was all relatively close to shore in Area 27, and if the early season action holds, we might see a repeat. Like many areas on the coast, last year was one of the best overall seasons we have seen in a few years.
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.