Rod and Tony take on the Pacific

July 3, 2011

Coming at the end of our most successful fishing day in memory, the run out of Naden Harbour into the Pacific was less scary than it would otherwise be.  We knew the boat, having fished about forty hours in it over the last four days with our ace guide, Brian.  But now we were in command.

Brian had moved the sturdy 22′ centre-console workboat around to the outside of the boathouse at the Queen Charlotte Lodge on the pretext of adding fuel.  I think he wanted to avoid complicated maneuvers among the other boats.  There’s no sense in embarrassing guests.

Tony backed it out smoothly, then jounced me around the swells until I came back to stand beside the console and hang on.  Railings on the boat are well-designed for this purpose, but if you think gloves for fishing in June is a dumb idea, take note:  the gloves are for hanging onto metal railings on the boats as they leap over swells.  The water’s 48 degrees and the wind chill is pretty cool, as you are moving about 25 mph, and it’s often 12 miles to a fishing spot.  That’s the role of the gloves.

We had our usual arguments about where to fish – a process which amazes observers in that the only place we can agree upon at that time often produces good results.

We worked our way along the coast to the west of Naden Harbour, until the spot known as Bird Rock II looked about right.  An afternoon swell had come up, so the boat took some controlling.  Tony set the downriggers.  He must have watched Brian more carefully than I had, as he operated them smoothly at first try, remembering that the left one had to be handled differently than the right, something about the automatic switch.

He also cut the herring bait with confidence, even mimicking Brian’s characteristic flick of the egg sac behind the boat with the tip of the knife.  The 10’ mooching rods with their long leaders were a real handful for an inexperienced crew.  Nevertheless, Tony got the baited line onto the clip next to the cannon ball and let the port line down, then started in on the identical process with the starboard rod while I tended the helm.

Fortunately we have combined many hours of practice with downriggers, so nothing tangled, broke, or fell overboard.  Then we found ourselves trolling into the breeze, with no idea if this would work.  Was the bait cut correctly?  How quickly must I troll?

As we watched, our travelling companions, professional river guides Dean and Chris, hit onto a massive Chinook.  For the next while it was chaos on their boat, but Dean managed at length to boat, photograph and release the fish while Chris kept the vessel out of trouble in the rip tide.  They had their four Chinook each already.

No strikes so far.  Salmon don’t seem to volunteer.  I failed to avoid tangling with a chunk of kelp, so up came one line.  Tony handled it like an out-of-practice veteran, not a newbie.  Several more repetitions of the kelp removal process and we decided to fish a little further from the weeds.

Then Tony suddenly whipped the starboard rod off the holder and set the hook on a decent Chinook.  The thing took off like a tugboat, leaving Tony a bit shaken by its power.  It turned downwind of the boat.  I got the downriggers up and the other line in.  There would be no trying for a double on this initial fight.  The fish sounded, then tried to pass under the boat.  This made Tony a little frantic.  To say the shift lever on the 115 Mercury outboard was a little balky would be an understatement.  The boat’s lurches while moving out of the fish’s way did nothing for Tony’s aplomb.  Eventually I figured out that if the boat were sitting downwind of the fish it would drift away from trouble and Tony could then play it at his leisure, rather than engaging in a pitched battle on the last thirty feet of line over access to the boat prop.

The fish was still pulling like a freighter.  I glanced down through the clear water and found the reason:  it was lightly hooked on a belly fin.  Imagine if you were going to mount a trailer hitch on a salmon to give it the ability to exert maximum pull.  That’s where Tony had set the hook.   There would be no leading this fish to the boat:  it would have to dragged in by main force.

By this point Tony was whining about sore arms and he was staggering around the boat a bit, but he persevered.

The fish wasn’t enjoying the battle either, so it came to me to boat the thing with this ten-foot landing net which had been lying around underfoot.  As usual I had been preoccupied with reeling when Brian landed my fish and running a camera when Tony had the occasional salmon on.  So I didn’t know how to use the big net.  Fortunately Tony was forthcoming with instructions:  “Don’t stab it!  Get the net into the water.  Now reverse it:  the net has turned inside out.  Hold the end out of the water.  Don’t stab it!  Now put it in front of his head and I’ll pull it in.”  The fish had other ideas, but the line held.  Next time the chinook had run out of luck and I captured it in the net, then we lifted it into the boat.  Tony took a little break to get his breath back and I dug out the camera.

The fish went back into the Pacific in fine condition.  I must say that this was the prettiest salmon we landed on this trip, and certainly the most memorable.  We were happy enough to head back to dinner at the lodge after this single fish.  We had proven our point.

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