My trip to Quatsino Sound with Laurie McBride, who is known to many of you, almost didn’t get off the ground last week. I had never towed a boat before, but it made a lot of noise and two wheels were pretty hot. On his advice, we ended up in Sherwood Marine where they were kind enough to turn directly to it and solve its problems: the two wheels had been over-tightened – the washers were concave – and would have seized en route; there was no tongue weight, hence the noise, and that also could have led to the trailer coming off the ball and disaster; and, the bow-eye and mast were in the wrong positions. In other words the trailer and boat needed, and still need, some changes. Swell.
In launching in Coal Harbour near Port Hardy (550 kms from Victoria), we had to take the mast assembly right off to unwinch the boat. But once on the water, with trim tabs and leg tilt properly adjusted, we made the 25 mile trip to Winter Harbour on the coast in little more than an hour.
Winter Harbour is a tiny town in the protected Forward Inlet, with a fuel dock, small store, several accommodation set-ups and ten minutes from the first fishing, inside of Kains Island. We stayed in the Chinook cabin of the Winter Harbour Cottages: http://www.winterharbourcottages.com/Winter.Harbour.Cottages.Rates.Policy.html.
This is the harbour and sound Google image: http://www.maplandia.com/canada/british-columbia/mount-waddington-regional-district/winter-harbour/. Do note there is often wind in the inlet so dock on the up-wind side, not where it blows you off the dock, like I mistakenly did.
After Labour Day, seasonal rates apply, and there were deals in the tackle shop, too. Only a dozen or so boats remained fishing – the west coast really does shut down after that day. During our trip, the offshore waters were a bit rough for my 21’ boat most of the time, and even boats to 28.5’ came inside on some days. This is a pity as the apron, at the 300’ line is where most of the halibut fishing takes place, about three miles off shore. It is rated as the best place on the Island, which is saying something as there are lots of good places on Van Isle.
These offshore waters contained feeder springs when we were there, and earlier in the season, the 2.4 million chinook bound for US waters. I was expecting ‘silly’ coho fishing, but, as stated, the offshore was rough, and the fly rods did not come out. Lack of rain may have been a factor.
At its opening, Quatsino Sound is about ten miles across from Kains Island Lighthouse south to Kuakuitl Point. On the ebb you can fish the rockpiles on the outside of Kains for springs, and on the flood, the more protected inside down to Pinnacle Island – a classic piece of water for power mooching. We were looking to do the cutplug thing, but this late in the season the migrating chinook were past.
On the north, the area is fished to Grant and Lippy Point regularly, with Cape Scott close enough to access. There are lots of rockpiles along the outside shore, and many rocks on the inside from the Gillam Islands, through Rowley reefs to Kuakuitl, with Brooks Peninsula in the distance.
There were lots of coho on the inside once you got dialled in to depth and gear, but we were one of only a few boats that landed a spring. Twenty pounds is not big, but respectable – off McCallister Point, and we broke off another. This spot, I was told by the laconic Phil Wainright, our host, you fish 110’ to 120’ in 110’ to 150’. This did not reveal itself until one day I decided to grind the gear in this spot back and forth until I understood it, and discovered, that, yes, there was a wide shelf at the depth mentioned and then it dropped to 300 feet and more. If you want to cutplug, it is the usual: learn the rockpiles, the walls and kelp beds until you aren’t losing gear to inanimate objects or the almost too abundant bottom fish. We let lingcod and black rock fish go, though they were retainable.
From July through September there are various closed sections in the Sound, the purpose: to let local chinook pass through to rivers like the Marble, which has a hatchery on Alice Lake, and perhaps the Mahatta. From Cliffe Point west is classic rock face, to the east, also a cutplug spot, but non-retention for springs when we were there.
The slow talking Phil had suggested blue and green and hootchies as our best bet. Though this seemed rather simple, we found it to be true. While we started with bait and an Irish Mist squirt from 51’ to 111’, we soon made the switch to an Oki Super Betsy gold metallic and their UV Jelly Fish in yellow-green, a similar pattern. Note that the Super Betsy has the feature that it emits an electric charge from galvanic cell action – the blade may tarnish, but that means it is working. And it did.
Our best pattern by far was an Angel Wing hootchy from Radiant on a 34 inch leader. It was the pattern in the 1990s on the Victoria Waterfront, before the Army Truck, and then Purple Haze came along. We broke off the Irish Mist squirt (an Oak Bay pattern – blue and UV) at the Siwash hook, a very unusual break, after a 100 yard run from a spring. An Angel Wing look alike from the Stars and Stripes Radiant collection was second best. Our best teaserhead was the Pearl 602, with Purple Haze receiving a few whacks.
On the Cliffe Point to Koskimo Islands run, we were told the coho were 25- to 35-feet, much shallower than we had been fishing. With this adjustment and trolling up-tempo in mid channel water up to 700 feet deep, avoiding the much-too-common, spent, tide line weeds, we began catching coho to round out our combined limit of 16 salmon. We took one small halibut, too.
The coho were large, with the smallest retained fish of 10 lbs, and up to 16. We guessed they were all inside fish because it is doubtful passersby would come as far as ten miles into the sound. We had much spirited debate over using a higher GPS knot speed or using the engine’s rpm gauge to match coho speed. The first gives speed over ground, the second speed over water. Much different things. And I championed the latter.
My first rule of fishing is: never leave the docks without full tanks. And the trip back to Coal Harbour took, surprisingly, 60% more gas, 16 gallons versus 10 on the way out. Perhaps the tide, wind, weight, and full fish cooler over the transom made the difference. All in all a good trip. And I towed for more than 1100 kms, Laurie launching and retrieving the boat. I can tell you that my new Jeep Grand Cherokee with its turbo diesel engine – a car about a third the size of the boat on its trailer – towed so well I would not have known I had a boat behind me except for double the fuel consumption. Still, at 18.6 mpg, I was happy. And love that 420 foot pounds of torque.
One last thing: I released an undersized chinook off the Mahatta, in sight of two fish farms. It was a cross breed with a farmed Atlantic – black spots on its gill plate giving this away. While the science says no Atlantics escape and interbreed with wild salmon, the proof was in my hand. Give Quatsino a try next year – not the fish farms, though you would probably catch a whole bunch.