8 AM - 4:30 PM (PST) Mon-Fri
8 AM - 3 PM (PST) Mon-Fri
By Jason Brooks
Looking at a map of the far western edge of Vancouver Island reveals a jagged coastline – much like a serrated knife – with inlets, bays, and islands. One of those islands is Nootka, large by itself at 206 square miles, but dwarfed by the 12,407 square mile Vancouver Island. Located about two-thirds of the way up along the west side of Vancouver Island, Nootka offers an angler many opportunities to catch salmon, as well as bottom fish. The waters surrounding the island are known as Nootka Sound with an extending arm known as Esperanza Inlet.
With many destination fishing resorts in Nootka Sound, anglers often fly to the lodges via float plane or helicopter. For those that have dreamed of fishing such a place but would rather do the adventure on their own, the surrounding area has many “bring your own boat” resorts and campgrounds. There is a trip for every angler from the do-it-yourselfer who wants to pitch a tent to the luxury lodges and twin engine off-shore boats. Any budget and style of fishing can be done at Nootka Sound.
Fishing here can be simple if you choose to soak in the beauty of the surrounding mountains and target the inside passages. Finding salmon from late July through September is as simple as fishing along kelp lines and anticipating a Tyee, which is what a large chinook is termed by Canadians. But there are a few little things that increase your odds. The first is to look for other boats. With the high-end lodges and the do-it-yourself resorts, a “good bite” is often marked with flying nets from Grady Whites, Boston Whalers, Arimas, Stripers, Trophys, Parkers and a myriad of other boats. You can find solitude here, but known fish-catching points and bays are popular so don’t expect complete isolation.
Large boat owners who prefer to fish the “highway” in the open ocean find migrating salmon making their way from Alaska to their natal rivers such as the mighty Columbia or famed Frasier. From 10 to 17 miles out, the highway is found when the fish finder starts marking Chinook. Thick schools often from 100 feet to the bottom of the ocean (at 300 feet) are not uncommon. As soon as gear hits the column of fish, the fight is on.
Regardless of where you are fishing the gear remains the same as salmon here are gorging before completing their migration. It is all about creating a feeding frenzy with good scents and lots of flash to attract feeding salmon. Then use lures to mimic the baitfish. When fishing along shorelines in the protected bays and inlets that make up Nootka Sound keep in mind most of the baitfish is small. Downsize lures and dodgers, such as the Sling Blade, and tune them a bit by creating a bend that makes them wobble more than usual. Shorten the leaders to get the UV Wiggle Hoochies moving erratically.
The weather at Nootka can be clear and blue skies or dark and rainy as it is the northern Pacific Ocean after all. Winds are common so when it is time to head back to the safety of the inlets be sure to keep an eye on waves and tides. The tides are severe with a 10- to 15-foot variance common and expect even larger tides when the moon phases are at their height. Fuel is a premium as there are few amenities and marinas so be sure to start each day with a full tank and, when the weather and seas allow, be sure to head towards the Pacific even if you only plan on fishing the edges and breakwaters.
Popular baits are plug-cutting herring and anchovies with hoods. But due to limited facilities, electricity for freezers, and space counted in inches of coolers bait can become scarce by the end of the trip. Hardware, such as the Hum Dinger 1/2 oz. spoon in Silver Sand/Nickle or Fish Scale UV are good spoons to fish as they imitate the baitfish salmon are feeding on. The Wiggle Hoochie in Green Spatter Glow, Blue Spatter Glow or Nuclear Glow are also a good choice and often accompany at least one rod to keep the need for bait use at a minimum. Wiggle Hoochies and Hum Dingers with a Sling Blade Dodger or ScentFlash UV Paddle Flasher can save a trip when bait runs out or you just don’t want to mess with bait, in general. Good scents can also bring on a bite with Pro-Cure Super Sauce and Gels in Anchovy, Herring, and Sardine smeared on Hum Dinger spoons and hoochie skirts. Be sure to fill your ScentFlash UV Paddle Flashers with canned tuna mixed with Pro-Cure’s water-soluble oil in anchovy or herring.
We spend most of our days splitting the early morning bite and the evening solitude. We’re typically getting up an hour before the sun and preparing the boat. Once the sky starts to light up it is time to head to the fishing grounds. Much like other fisheries, as you come near the points, rocks, and kelp lines other boats came into view. Red and green marker lights revealed which resort the boats were coming from. Guides trying to get their clients the day’s limit before lunchtime means that the early morning is the most popular.
During the calm seas in the early morning before the afternoon thermals create wind-waves is a good time to venture out to some rock piles. When taking a break from the salmon action, the bottom fishing is easy and quick. Lingcod are the targeted species with their white flesh, but rockfish with varieties such as vermillion, canary, and copper make up most of the catch, which means fish tacos for dinner and some great fillets to take home for a fish fry. Yelloweye have been off limits since 2017, but seem to be doing well and hopefully someday a fishery will happen once again. Halibut are found here, too. When it comes to bottom fish, it is best to break out the heavy jig rods, but plenty of fish are also caught trolling and even fishing in shallow water near the kelp. Using a Sonic Baitfish 1 oz. in Fire Tiger or Glow Chartreuse will get just about every kind of rockfish and lingcod to bite. Bright colors with a glow to them work great. If you find yourself fishing along the kelp line then twitching a Rock Dancers 3/8 oz. or ½ oz. in Black/Cerise or Chartreuse is a top lure to use and a fun way to catch some great eating fish. If you happen to catch a kelp greenling then rig it up on a mooching set-up and find a rocky ledge to entice big lingcod.
Nootka Sound is a destination fishery that every angler should visit and fish at least once. Getting there is part of the adventure so be sure to check the regulations on crossing the border. Also, learn the seasons, limits, and how to process the fish if you have never fished Canadian waters. A British Columbia Tidal Waters License with a salmon stamp is needed and there is a catch record card for chinook, halibut and lingcod. Limits are set for transport, which will determine how many fish you can keep on your trip. There are also regulations on how to package each species of fish so be sure to look over the regulations thoroughly and check them for closures and changes. Once you make a trip up to Nootka and learn the “how to” the trip becomes easier to plan for future fishing adventures and it is well worth it.