Haida Gwaii; Fishing Lodge

My next trip was actually with my hubby!   The planning began 5 months previously, when hubby sprang the idea on me. We were invited to join our good friends from San Antonio on their semi annual fishing trip.  He knows I love new experiences, but I think hubby was surprised when I said yes to fishing!

You have heard of glamping – glamorous camping?  (Although I call it glorified camping)…  Well this is Pampfishering; fishing while being pampered.  I went fishing, but I don’t really feel like I did my fair share of the work.  I never put line on a rod and reel, never baited the hook or cast a line out.  I did have to catch the fish and reel them in (most of the time), but I didn’t have to use the net, touch the fish, bonk him on the head, or use a knife.  I did get to feel what it is like to reel in a fish, claim the catch as mine and I also was able to  take a lot of great pics and enjoy the views…but I am getting ahead of myself.

Our destination is the Langara Fishing Camp on Langara Island in British Columbia, Canada.  It is the northern most island off the West Coast of Canada, just north of Graham Island.  But to accurately describe the remoteness, you need to understand how we arrived.  We flew (or we had the option to drive) into Vancouver BC, arriving in the evening.   We overnighted at the Fairmont Hotel at the Vancouver airport, and on Day 1 at 6 am we took a 15 minute shuttle ride to the charter side of the airport.  We checked in, were issued our fishing license, ate a little breakfast in the terminal and then at 7:30 am boarded a large charter plane for the hour + flight to Masset on Graham Island.  At the very small airport in Masset we all deplaned and waited in the terminal to board Sikorsky Helicopters (each holds 16 passengers) for a 30 minute flight to the fish camp.

 

The helicopter lands on a dock, drops us off (we are the incoming group) and then reloads passengers (the outgoing group) and the helicopter departs.  The fish camp operates this way all summer – a group (about 80 people) arrive, have lunch and orientation, and are sent out fishing.  They fish every day, including departure day.  And it all starts over again. As we are arriving, we are passing the departing group.  We arrive at about 10:30 am and are shown to our rooms.  They are not luxurious.  The “Lodge” is made up of 2 barges on which 2 lodges have been constructed.  The rooms are small and have two beds, one twin size and one double.  There is a small shelf and light above each bed, a small closet, and a tiny bathroom with very little shelf space.  But the beds have comfy sheets with down duvet covers.  Outside our room is a small lounge where we have access to  drinks and snacks anytime.

 

After dropping off our luggage, we all head to lunch.  Meals and drinks (including most alcohol) are included in the price.  And you usually have a pretty good choice of food (even meats for those who don’t eat fish, and some vegetarian choices).  For the first lunch there is a choice of Halibut Fish and Chips or Grilled Halibut.

Meals here are first rate.  Everything we ate was fabulous.  And if you can’t decide between the Salmon or the steak, ask for both!   You have a lot of food options.  The Coho Cafe – bakery and coffee shop – has coffee and tea available 24 hours a day, and offers an array of sweet and savory baked goods (all included).  I sampled about 10 different pastries and cookies…

 

The main dining room offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The lounge has appetizers and drinks.  There is also the lunch fridge:  filled with about 10 different kinds of sandwiches, all wrapped in 1/2 servings, you can grab food to load onto your boat – or eat anytime of the day.

After lunch we have a short orientation and then we are sent to suit up and fish.  Suiting up is not easy.  Every day you will be donning a big warm insulated waterproof 2-piece Mustang Cruiser suit and rubber boots.  What is this cruiser suit?  It’s a pair of padded overalls with a heavy Jacket that has a sewn in life vest.  Can you say BULKY.  All the gear is kept in the “drying” room where the temperature must be 100˚F.  You emerge from this room hot from the temperature, hot from the clothes and hot from the effort of putting it all on your body!  Once we are suited up, we find our boat and meet our guide.  Guides are optional, however we are in full pampering mode…  You can have 1-4 people on your boat, but 2 is preferable.  We stuck with 2’s and I fished with hubby for the entire trip.

As we are getting on the boats we notice a big white board with all our names recorded. Next to our names there are 4 boxes to record our catch for each of our 4 days we go out. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon on Day 1 and we are headed out to fish.   First day out and I stopped counting the number of humpback whales around us, the number of bald eagles, auklets and sea lions.  Oh, and fish.   My first fish catch was a bust – I lost the salmon on the way to the boat.   My second was even more disastrous;  I could see my beautiful silver catch closing in on the boat and I am happily reeling him in, and out of nowhere a giant sea lion surfaces with my fish in his mouth.  And he steals it.  The big lout made me do all the hard work and just nabbed my catch for his lunch.  It is the closest I ever want to be to a sea lion, but it won’t be the last time.   Everyone at the camp seems to have a close encounter with a sea lion.

 

We could have stayed out until 9 pm, but by 6 pm we are tired.  It rained for most of Day 1 and despite our “waterproof” suits, we are wet and cold.  We have not hit our limit for the day, but we have caught about 4 fish (1 for me and 3 for hubby).  We head back into the lodge, shower and climb the stairs to the lounge for drinks and to swap stories with our friends.  Then onto dinner and finally I can no longer stay awake and head to the room and pass out!

Day 2 starts at 4 am with a loud knock on every door acting as a wake up call you cannot ignore.  We slept for about another hour before getting up.  Today we decide to leisurely catch breakfast in the dining room before heading out.  We will bring lunch with us instead of coming into the lodge.  I grab soda and water, sandwiches, a bag of veggies & dip, chips and cookies.  It is a beautiful morning, the sun just rising over pink and blue clouds on the horizon.  It’s great to be on the water, even though it is a cold morning.  I am cozy with all my gear on.  The whales are everywhere again,  you can hear them “blow” as they surface, and occasionally get treated to a tail or a breach.  I NEVER have my camera up in time to catch one.

After a full day of fishing on Day 2, we have more fish to record!  We each caught a halibut and I even have a lingcod.  We have drinks, dinner and hit the sack.  Day 3 is much the same, but we had an epic sea lion encounter.  My husband caught a chinook and it was a beauty.  As he is reeling in his fish I catch a coho and start to reel in my fish.  Just then we see him – the lurking sea lion just waiting for our fish.  So our guide comes up with a plan; I had to sacrifice my fish.  Hubby let his chinook dive under the boat while trying to keep the line taught.  Meanwhile I reel in my coho hoping the sea lion will take the bait.  And he does!  As soon as the thief swims away with my fish, hubby starts to reel in his fish.  It worked!  While we lost one fish, we kept the better fish for ourselves!

We caught fish that were mostly in the 12 – 15 lb range.  And while we thought we certainly caught enough fish, we did not hit all our limits.  One in our group did hit her limits; we call her the fish whisperer.  She ALWAYS hits her limits, and usually catches the biggest fish.  While she didn’t catch the biggest fish in the whole camp (a 40 lb coho), she did catch the largest and the most fish in our group of 8.

 

Day 4 was a very short day.  Hubby and I had not hit our limit and wanted to get at least 2 more Halibut.  We were up and out fishing by 6 am, headed to the Halibut sweet spot.  I pulled up a Pacific Cod first, then a halibut.  Then hubby caught a halibut.  We had some time to cruise around this beautiful place before heading back in around 9 am.  We got out of our cruiser suits, changed into clean clothes, finished packing and headed to the helicopter pad.

So, what did we do with our fish?  Well, the camp will clean, quarter, and box up your fish.  It is kept in their deep freeze.  Fish caught on Day 4 are cleaned quartered and boxed up – but don’t have time to freeze.  You take your boxes of fish home with you – they fly on the helicopter and charter flight and arrive with baggage at the Vancouver airport.  The airport and some hotels have refrigeration units to keep your fish cold.

You also have the option of sending your fish directly to a fish processor instead of carrying boxes home.  The processors can do much more to your fish.  They will seal and freeze your fish in pieces as small as 1/2 pound.  They also will smoke your salmon in 3 or 4 different styles, including cold smoked lox.  They make a candied style smoked salmon, and they also can fish – which is nice because you can keep it so much longer.  The processing takes 6-8 weeks.

I never expected to really enjoy fishing.  But this was such a beautiful place that I couldn’t help but have a great time.  I would go again!  If you decide to go, here are a few tips:

  • Even the most luxurious camps are pretty primitive when it comes to lodging.  You will not have a lot of space.  Do not over pack.  Pack like you would for an over-night hike; minimal clothing and toiletries.
  • Bring a small backpack instead of a purse.  ALL bags are put in the cargo hold on the helicopter ride – so make sure all your luggage is soft sided and zips completely closed.
  • Wear comfy shoes for walking on docks and uneven surfaces.  Athletic shoes are a good choice.  They provide rubber boots, so you don’t need waterproof shoes.
  • Bring and wear warm clothing for fishing.  I had 2 fishing outfits just in case one set got wet.  Your clothes are covered by a cruiser suit, so they don’t get fishy.   I wore a pair of thermal leggings and a wool mid-weight long sleeve shirt.  Wear something with zip pockets to carry lip balm and kleenex. (the lodge provides kleenex packets!)
  • Bring a warm hat, a polar buff or scarf, and wool socks to wear in your rubber boots (I would suggest a new pair of socks for each fishing day).
  • When we were not fishing I wore my normal hiking/running gear.  I never styled my hair or put on make-up.
  • Bring a “boat bag”.  I have a small tote that folds up nicely and is easy to pack.  It zips on the top, and is washable.  Every day I’d put our gloves, hats, extra clothes, sunglasses, water & food in my tote to carry onto to the boat.  I also carried my camera in that bag.  Stuff on the boat ends up smelling fishy.
  • Bring or buy fishing gloves – they are made of neoprene and will help you handle the fishing line, but don’t get mushy wet.
  • I never put on my jewelry, make up, or nice clothes – until I reached Vancouver.

It was a short, but full trip.  We waved good-bye to the fish camp as we lifted off in that big helicopter and agreed that we would do this again.

I am enjoying the summer – next up:  day trip to Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park.

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