Langara Fishing Adventures

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Queen Charlotte Islands Salmon Fishing

Look To Langara

by Ken Schultz, Field & Stream Magazine

 
It's promising to be a good season for salmon fishing in British Columbia, and the beginning of the run is not that far off. For big salmon, the place to be in all of British Columbia is off the Queen Charlotte Islands. I visited last year for the first time and would be ready to go back at a moment's notice, such was the fishing and the scenery. 
 
Langara Island is the place to be in the Queen Charlottes, which are known to natives as Haida Gwaii. Langara Island is reached via a two-hour plane ride from Vancouver to Masset, and then a 25-minute helicopter or floatplane flight. 
 
At the head of the archipelago, which sits out in the northern Pacific west of mainland British Columbia, the tip of Langara is just 50 miles from Alaska. Chinook salmon from 20 to over 70 pounds, plus hordes of coho and pink salmon, first meet land at Langara on their southerly migration from the northern Pacific. Here, especially off McPherson, Andrews, and Coho Points, the salmon feed on massive bait balls of herring, which find the deep nearshore waters, swift tidal flows, and abundance of nutrients to their liking. 
 
The salmon compete with others for their meals, including killer whales, seals, and sea lions, and it is not unknown for a seal or sea lion to rob an angler of a prize catch played too close to the kelp. This happened to at least two anglers while I was there. 
 
Nor is it unknown for a monster salmon to frustrate an angler by wrapping the line in thick kelp during its fight. That doesn't happen when boaters can maneuver away from the kelp once a fish is hooked, but such maneuvering isn't possible when two or three salmon are on at once. Often the salmon come in waves, and multiple hookups in a boat, whether of coho or chinook, are a regular occurrence. 
 
It is quite likely that Langara will maintain its position as the prime place for big chinooks because of a reduction in commercial fishing in recent years, and the numbers and size of fish throughout British Columbia have been improving lately. The 2001 season at Langara produced more monster chinooks--at least a dozen from 60 to 70 pounds--than any year in the previous decade. 
 
What especially distinguishes Langara, and the Queen Charlotte Islands in general, from other coastal salmon destinations is that there's a strong chinook fishery from May through September, which means you stand a chance of catching a monster on any visit.
 
Most other destinations have a prime chinook period that lasts four to six weeks and a modest "shoulder" season the rest of the time. 
 
The predominant method of catching these salmon is by mooching with long, limber rods, using 4- to 8-ounce weights to get cut herring baits down in the swiftly moving current. With frozen bait supplies low in recent years, Langara guides have taken to using Sabiki rigs (multihook bait rigs) to catch their own when they locate tight schools of herring on sonar. This results in larger, fresher, and more effective baits. 
 
It is possible to fish with lighter tackle here when the salmon are very thick. Some people tie up to the nearshore kelp and cast outward with spoons and flies, although this is unlikely to produce the bigger specimens of either coho or chinook. Some lodges can arrange for a fly-in by helicopter to fish streams on other islands in the archipelago. 
 
The waters around Langara also provide good bottom fishing for those willing to take time off from salmon when sea conditions are favorable. Halibut are the main deep interest, and some monsters exist within a mile of Langara Point Lighthouse, albeit in 250 to 300 feet of water. The Langara Fishing Lodge halibut record is 273 pounds. Plenty of rockfish and lingcod are also available. 
The conditions are as captivating as the fishing. Rugged rocky cliff shorelines, tall cedar trees, and tidal fluctuations up to 13 feet provide exceptional scenery.
 
The fishing is close to much of it because the water is deep nearshore--in some places 90 or more feet deep within casting distance of the rocks and 200 feet deep a few hundred yards away. Currents and tidal flow make it productive to fish near the shore--from 50 to 300 feet--for salmon. Often you're fishing under the watchful eyes of bald eagles, which populate every point. There's also a year-round manned lighthouse at Langara Point, and a native Haida village inland. 
 
There are several lodges, some fixed, and some either mobile or anchored around the island, so fishing is not done in a vacuum or in solitude. Sometimes the lodge boats get a little cluttered on certain points when the fishing is hot, or in the same protected areas when the wind is bad. Early-in-the-day efforts are often productive, as is fishing before and after high tide, yet new arrivals come at any time, often in waves, and fishing action sometimes runs in streaks. When this happens you can look around and see people hooked up in the majority of boats. 
 
Being on the water when one of these blitzes occurs, and when two or three of the rods on your boat suddenly begin bowing down into the water, is the best of fun. 

Ken Schultz is Fishing Editor of Field & Stream. This article is reprinted with permission and originally appeared on www.fieldandstream.com. Text copyright Ken Schultz. 

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