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
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.