Langara Fishing Adventures
201-4440 Cowley Crescent
Canada V7B 1B8
201-4440 Cowley Crescent
Canada V7B 1B8
Gem of the Queen Charlotte Islands
by Dave Schamp, Salmon and Steelhead Journal
With the richest salmon waters in the world along its shores, Langara Island, BC, offers a royal destination for anglers.
With all the vigor of a 6-inch trout the salmon gently tapped at the slowly mooched cut-plug herring. The wispy 4mm tip of the custom-built 13 1/2 foot graphite mooching rod telegraphed that the fish was there, but would it chew and stick, or just taste and spit?
With remarkable calmness the long limber rod was gently lifted from its perch in the front starboard holder and the tip again checked for the tell-tale pull of an interested salmon. Increasingly purposeful tugs from below indicated the fish still had a hold on the herring and a couple of cranks on the single action mooching reel resulted in pulsing tension. Like ringing the bell in a prize-fight, a quick non-apologetic hook-set sent the previously sedate salmon into high-gear.
It was hard to tell whether the pained look on the face of my long-time friend Lynn Bruno was from fear of losing the fish or determination, but it was clear he was focused on that salmon and its strong athletic runs. It stayed deep leaving little doubt this was a sizeable chinook. After 15 minutes of give and take, gain and lose, there was just the hint of a grin as he clenched his lips and ground hard with the small handle of the single action reel. It was a classic tug-of-war. Resolve against purpose, and there would only be one winner.
Wrapped in the security of the fine mesh landing net, the fresh 32-pound Tyee (Canadian label for chinook over 30-pounds) glistened in the afternoon sun and like Rocky Balboa at the end of hard-fought battle Bruno raised his arms in victory. His ear to ear smile said it all. No this wasn’t a first salmon, or the conquest of a trophy fish, it was instead the exhilaration of experiencing a dream of a life-time—fighting and catching salmon in one of the most beautiful and salmon rich areas in the world, legendary Langara Island, British Columbia.
Located at the far northwest corner of the Queen Charlotte Islands, Langara is the first land mass southerly migrating salmon encounter. Its steep rocky shoreline attracts huge concentrations of baitfish including herring, anchovies and needlefish, providing a smorgasbord for travel starved salmon.
Many of these fish have ventured as far north as the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea and are headed back to legendary B.C. rivers like the Kitimat and Skeena. But the majority of these salmon are actually on the first leg of a marathon journey back to their rivers of birth much farther south. In fact, almost 60 percent of the tagged fish retained by anglers fishing out of Langara Fishing Lodge during the 2004 season originated from U.S. waters. Fat and feisty chinook salmon bound for rivers like Oregon’s famous Trask and Salmon, and the Klickitat in Washington, are common at Langara.
During certain times of the year all five species of Pacific salmon can be found in large quantity near Langara. The primary targets for sport anglers, however, are the prized chinook salmon, or ‘Springs’ as they’re referred to in Canada. Lodges on Langara and in other parts of the Queen Charlotte Islands have recorded chinook exceeding 70 pounds; the current Langara Fishing Lodge record stands at an impressive 78 pounds. Most salmon will be in the 20 to 30 pound range, with fish tipping the scales between 40 and 50 pounds common. Chinook are abundant from May through September.
Second prize are the acrobatic coho salmon that average 10 to 12 pounds. These aggressive biters usually begin to make their cart-wheeling presence known in July with the larger 15 to 20 pound ‘northern’ coho showing during the later stages of the season in September. The record coho is an eye popping 31 pounds.
The time of year may affect species abundance, but in my opinion anytime is the right time to be at Langara. Last year Bruno and I visited Langara Fishing Lodge in mid-September enjoying excellent fishing and comfortable weather conditions. Langara Fishing Adventures were the pioneers in making this fantastic fishery available to sport anglers. A big part of their success, and without a doubt the primary reason Bruno and I came home with bulging fish boxes, is due to the knowledge and expertise of long time lodge manager Bill Gibson. He began fishing these waters commercially well before becoming an integral part of Langara Fishing Lodge over two decades ago. He has mastered and shared the many secrets and nuances of this world-class fishery.
It doesn’t take long to figure out that Gibson is a no nonsense kind of guy with a passion for salmon fishing and a strong dedication to making sure that Langara Fishing Lodge exceeds every guest’s expectations. His staff is remarkable and each detail is finely tuned and attended to. Outstanding service begins the minute you arrive and are greeted by Gibson’s right hand person, assistant manager Suzzanne Lopez. In the time it takes to turn around she will have you sized up and holding custom Mustang rain suits, then whisked-off to your room assignment in the self-contained 160-foot floating cedar lodge.
The lodge is moored in the shelter of Henslung Cove located on the southerly tip of the island. From this point you are literally within minutes of the best salmon fishing in the world, and that is not an exaggeration. During the peak of the season it’s not uncommon to see multiple hook-ups of Tyee-class chinook and anglers faced with releasing 30 to 40 pound fish.
The island itself acts as a buffer to deflect the often sizeable swell of the north Pacific. Typically, no matter what the weather condition, it’s possible to find a sheltered and productive fishing area along Langara or nearby Graham Island (this is often a consideration when deciding where to fish). During our stay the swell was out of the west so we did all of our salmon fishing on the east side of Langara, and it was like canoeing on a beaver pond.
Cohoe Point is the most predominant feature of the east side of the island and it can often be the go-to spot. The flood tide flows from the southwest and according to Gibson converges around the island at Cohoe Point drawing huge schools of baitfish and hunger crazed salmon. He paid particular attention to the area around Little Cohoe Point and up into adjacent Egeria Bay always keeping a watchful eye for baitfish, both on the water’s surface and depth sounder.
Along with Cohoe, Andrews and McPherson Points are excellent spots to intercept waves of hungry salmon gorging on concentrations of baitfish. No Name Point is located on the northeast corner of the island and Gibson pointed to its north side as a notoriously productive spot for big fish. In hopes of hooking-up with a 50-pound Langara King, we spent some time there but didn’t find the bruiser we were looking for.
We did hook and land plenty of 20 to 25 pound chinook, with a new nickel bright 36-pound Tyee the largest to find the bottom of our net. Bruno managed two Tyee, while the closest I could get was 29.5 pounds. Like many who fish here, our focus was chinook, but because we were there in September, a lot of attention was being paid to the nearby schools of lunker coho. Though we caught a fair number close to Langara, the major concentrations were located 2 to 3 miles offshore to the east. Again, because of the incredibly calm water, running out to find these schools even in a 16-foot boat was a breeze.
While the east side of the island offered glass-like water conditions, the west of the island was basically off-limits for salmon anglers because of heavy swells throughout the five days we were there. Don’t, however, count the west side out for outstanding salmon action when conditions permit. Lacy Island is a known hot-spot and Lighthouse Point can be productive when conditions permit.
Also keep in mind that, south from Henslung Cove across Perry Passage, the north side of Graham Island offers some very productive salmon water. Bruin Bay is legendary among Langara regulars and provides the added attraction of frequent bear sightings. Though we didn¹t fish there during our short stay we did hear reports of success from others who made the trip. Marchand Reef is located west of Bruin Bay and directly south of Iphigenia Point, which protects the west flank of Henslung Cove, making it an attractive starting or ending point for those venturing across Perry Passage. Two other Graham Island areas worthy of note are Gunia and Boulder Points, which are both known for reliable early season shallow water Chinook action.
Regardless of where you fish, slow mooching or trolling cut-plug herring is the most consistent method of catching both chinook and coho. Gibson emphasized a slow presentation and kept our lines at about 10 to 20 degrees from vertical by constantly kicking the motor in and out of gear. The boat slowly moved forward or backward depending on the strength of the tide, but at all times the bait was kept barely rolling. As is the case with most expert salmon anglers, Gibson is also particular about the roll of the herring. His hook placement provided a flat ‘drill-bit’ roll. He wanted both ends to rotate on the same plane, instead of the tail flopping around the head end.
While some rely on downriggers to fish specific depths Gibson prefers to keep it simple. Depth was achieved by using an 8 ounce kidney or cannon ball shaped weight threaded onto the mainline with a piece of rubber tubing or 6mm bead below it to protect the knot at the swivel. By using ‘pulls’ (the distance between the reel and first rod guide) as a gauge we kept our baits in the proper fish catching zone. During our stay feeding fish seemed to range between 11 and 35 pulls with chinook showing a preference for the deeper baits. To ensure coverage we staggered depths with the front rods shallower than the rear. As an example we would set the front rods at 11 and 17, and the rear at 21 and 27 pulls.
Two solid tie 5/0 barbless hooks were on the business end and leaders varied between 8- and 11-feet long. For obvious reasons we used rods of similar length. Langara Fishing Lodge provides guests with quality 10 1/2 graphite mooching rods, but we enjoyed using Gibson’s custom-built 13 1/2 and 15 1/2 foot rods. He matches those up with Billy Pate and TFC Pacific single action reels loaded with premium 25-pound clear monofilament line and plenty of backing. These combinations proved extremely effective and managed the strong runs of heavy chinook with ease.
Considering their size I was amazed at how soft these big chinook picked up a trolled bait. Hard head-shaking takes were not the rule; instead they would just tap at the herring, resembling a panfish rather than a 30-pound king salmon. Gibson coached a deliberate hook-set, but only after the fish made a solid connection with the bait. Most of the time these salmon would just nudge the herring and then let go, only to return a second later and inhale it. By gently lifting the rod from the holder and smoothly reeling down to the fish, connection was made without yanking the bait away from or spooking the fish. I seldom got it right, but when done properly his technique resulted in a solid hook-up every time.
Although I went to Langara to fish for salmon I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent halibut and bottomfish opportunities within a short run of Langara. With Gibson calling the shots, in just four days of fishing Bruno and I both caught and released dozens of salmon and retained our limits of 8 (4 chinook and 4 coho), 2 halibut, and assorted bottomfish that included yellow-eye rockfish up to 16 pounds, and lingcod that weighed 27 pounds. We also saw humpback whales at close range, island deer, and eagles were plentiful. Comical sea otters provided laughs as they made their nightly raids on the fish cleaning station, and we were blessed with several absolutely breathtaking sunrises, sunsets, and an incredible moonrise over Perry Passage.
Like most precious jewels, Langara Island is always beautiful and very much worth finding. Happy landing!
Story and photos by Dave Schamp. This article is reprinted with permission and originally appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of Salmon & Steelhead Journal, based on their trip to Langara in September, 2005.
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I've been a whale watch guide in Victoria, BC, for over 8 years. I've travelled, fished and photographed most of the BC coast, but never had I witnessed a spectacle of wildlife like what greeted us on our trip to Langara. It is an experience we will never forget.
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