I recently met with Italo, Barb and the Canadian Sportfishing film crew to embark on a journey to Sund’s Lodge on Malcolm Island along the Pacific Coast of Canada. Although it would be a short trip, I was super excited, as this was my first time traveling to British Columbia and fishing the Pacific Ocean.
Malcolm Island is located in the Queen Charlotte Straight, between North East Vancouver Island and the mainland. Malcolm Island has a rich history with the Namgis First Nations, and the ocean surrounding the area is abundant with marine life. We were fortunate enough over our 3 day trip to see Orca Whales, Hump Back Whales, Sea Lions, countless birds, star fish, crabs and fish.
The fishing is unique on the Pacific Ocean in the respect that it offers a unique blend with salmon trolling, and deep water fishing for halibut, snapper and ling cod to name a few. Fishing shoreline, kelp beds and shallow rocky areas with lighter gear can offer another element to enjoy for smaller fish like sea bass, kelp greenling and rock cod. The main baitfish is needlefish, herring and anchovies.
We traveled to Vancouver from Toronto, and then took a smaller flight to Port Hardy on Northern Vancouver Island. At the Pacific Coastal Airline area, there sits a very impressive set of mounted fish; a 53lb Chinook salmon and a nice coho salmon. If that doesn’t get your blood pumping, nothing will! From Port Hardy, we took a taxi to Port McNeil where the Sund’s Lodge guides picked us up in their boats. It was a short boat ride to get to the lodge, and the amazing staff greeted us with drinks and a warm welcome upon arrival. I was like a kid in a candy store as I glanced into the water around the dock. I instantly saw schools of needlefish and a small salmon swim by around kelp. Now I was more excited than ever. I couldn’t wait to hit the water. After brief introductions, we settled into our luxurious log cabins. I was happy to get to stay at the Tyee cabin.
Our guide Jim took us out for an afternoon bite trolling for salmon after we were settled in. We began trolling with a simple set-up consisting of two mooching outfits with downriggers. Jim also put out a third stacker line off one rigger a bit higher for coho and pink salmon. The guides have the option to troll at the back of the boat with a second steering wheel. I can see this becoming very handy with guests that do not fish often, as the guide can quickly get on a rod and hand it to a guest that may not be paying close attention. The kings eluded us that afternoon as it did most boats, but we got into some nice coho and pink salmon. The beauty of the Pacific Coast is difficult to describe to those that haven’t been. The air is fresh and crisp. The countless majestic mountains, islands and cliffs in conjunction with whales breaching the surface around the abundant marine life was surreal for me. I had dreamt of fishing this area for many years, and I finally had the chance to do it. While fishing, I often caught myself just gazing into the British Columbia backdrop with the layered depths of mountains that seemed to have their very own clouds and ecosystem.
On our first full day, we began trolling for salmon first thing in the morning, and the coho and pink salmon hit aggressively. The Chinook salmon eluded us again, as it was slow fishing all around for kings, but the coho and pink salmon kept us busy.
The Sund’s Lodge ‘Burger Boat’ met us out on the water with fresh hamburgers and hot dogs right off the BBQ with sides. This was a really nice treat while out on the water fishing. They didn’t even pull out rods; they kept trolling while the burger boat tied up to the side of our boat. That was a very unique and interesting thing to witness. The staff pulled it off perfectly, and we ate a hot meal without having to stop fishing.
As most good guides would, Jim recognized the slow Chinook fishing, and offered to take us bottom fishing for the afternoon. I had not done anything like this before, and I was stoked. We had beefy rods with Benthos two-speed reels spooled up with 80lb braided line. On the business end, Jim had on heavy duty spreaders with clips and heavy monofilament dropper lines. One dropper line had a one to two-pound weight, and the other dropper line had a big set of hooks and a piece of octopus or whole herring. We fished depths ranging from 100-feet to 500-feet deep on the bottom during slow tidal currents. The two-pound weight was used for 300 plus feet of water, and the one-pound weight was used for depths up to 200-feet.
As we drifted into 450-feet of water I got a big hit that didn’t budge. My rod was buckled right over with a firm drag and a heavy fish that pulled drag. The fight was exhausting and my arms cramped up several times during a tug of war battle. I was persistent and reeled in the big fish from the depths. I wondered what the heck I had just caught when the tank of a fish was gaffed and brought into the boat. I had never seen a fish like it, and it turned out to be a big ling cod. Apparently ling cod is one of the best eating fish on the Pacific Coast. It was put into the box to be taken home after a few photos with an ecstatic angler.
We bottom fished the rest of the day and caught snapper, rockfish, a ratfish, and Italo and Barb got a double header of big ling cod. I also caught my first halibut which was a blast, and another great eating fish. All in all, it was an amazing day fishing the Pacific Ocean with our great guide Jim from Sund’s Lodge.
Back at the lodge for dinner was always special with gourmet chefs preparing mouth-watering appetizers and main course dishes while the friendly staff catered to our every need. The Sund’s Lodge staff also include a ceremony every dinner that involves seating the person with the biggest Chinook salmon caught that day in a beautiful hand-carved wood fish chair. They drape them with a king’s crown or tiara complete with cheerleaders. Additionally, anyone that caught a Chinook salmon over 30-pounds receives a special gift for catching a “Tyee” salmon. Jeff got the only Chinook the first half day, and Leena got the only Chinook the second day.
The following day we started trolling for salmon and we missed the first two kings, although we did catch a bunch of pink and coho salmon. A couple hours later, I finally had a good Chinook salmon on that put on a spectacular aerial show numerous times. After an intense tussle, my first British Columbia Pacific Coast Chinook salmon hit the floor of the boat. That really made my day as I am a hard-core Great Lakes salmon angler and always wanted to catch Chinook on the Pacific Coast where they are native. Italo got a similar sized Chinook salmon a short time later that was equally impressive. The Chinook salmon fishing is typically much better, but we happened to hit a slow period during our stay. It was good to have cooperative pink and coho salmon as well as bottom fish which are excellent table fare.
We stopped for an early lunch on the beach with the crew. This was a special lunch where the guides and crew beached the boats on a private beach and we had live Dungeness crab and other seafood dishes prepared by the gourmet chefs. We ate like kings on the beach overlooking beautiful mountains and islands along the Pacific Coast. This type of thing is what makes Sund’s lodge an incredible place to visit, not to mention the great staff that pays close attention to even the smallest details.
The afternoon was dedicated to bottom fishing again. I put down a piece of octopus hoping for a big halibut, and it wasn’t down long before I had on a large fish. Unfortunately it got free, but Barb and Italo caught a couple of “chickens” which is a nickname for a small halibut. We caught a bunch of smaller fish including a unique–looking fish called a kelp greenling. The entire time we were fishing, we could see birds congregating over a big bait ball that a hump back whale was pushing toward the surface. We could see the whale breach the water’s surface and hear the loud exhaust from the blow hole which sent a huge mist of water up far into the air. What an amazing experience to say the least.
Italo was jigging a 10oz Luhr Jensen jig that was on fire for all types of smaller fish when all of a sudden he set the hook into what looked like bottom. Hs rod was bent over hard with a large fish on the other end. The anticipation of what type of fish it could be and the size was overwhelming. The fight lasted a long time as Italo struggled to try and get the big fish to the surface. The sensational battle was lengthy and a tiring Italo finally became victorious as a large halibut was pulled from the depths to the surface. It was unclear whether it was of legal size to keep, so Jim quickly scrambled for his measuring stick and tried to get a measurement on a highly uncooperative halibut. It was almost comical to watch Jim try and get a measurement as the big halibut had other ideas as it took off for the bottom every time he got close with his measuring stick. When Jim was finally able to get a measurement with my help, it was of legal size to keep so Jim got his harpoon out. A big halibut can be very dangerous in a boat green, and it needs to be harpooned to settle it down. It was almost like watching the movie Jaws as Jim put a harpoon tip tied to a rope through the middle of the big halibut. Italo kept battling the big halibut with his rod and reel while Jim pulled the rope. Italo successfully pulled in the biggest fish of the trip that was over 60lbs. That was a great way to end the fishing on our awesome trip to Sund’s Lodge!
Back at the lodge, we found out that Jeff once again got the biggest Chinook salmon at an impressive 33-pounds. It was a true Tyee that crowned him the King of Kings for the day. We all gathered around for dinner and shared fish stories over a delicious meal with lamb as the main course.
The next morning while we waited for our shuttle back to the airport, I walked along the beach turning over rocks and found all kinds of fascinating crabs and critters. The land around Sund’s Lodge also had lots of life with deer grazing out front and tame alpacas. I was sad to see us all packed up so soon, but happy to have a box of fresh Pacific Coast fish and the experience of a lifetime. I could have stayed much longer, but it would also be much harder to leave such a paradise.