Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stepping out of the Box.

Expanding your boundaries and stepping out of the box is considered by many as an excellent opportunity to grow and develop.  Such was the case for me recently when I spend four magnificent days on a filming assignment to for Sports Fishing Adventures at Good Hope Cannery located in Rivers Inlet along British Columbia’s rugged west coast.  River’s Inlet is world renowned for its fishing for trophy Chinook or Tyee salmon (a Chinook in excess of 30lbs) due to the long life span of this strain and to its proximity to the mouths of the Kilbella and Wannock Rivers.  These waters offer arguably the best chance of landing a monster Chinnok on the planet.  Good Hope Cannery also offers an excellent fishery for coho and bottom fish such as halibut and lingcod.

My Good Hope is only accessible via floatplane.  Roughly 90 minute s after leaving the floatplane terminal on the south side of Vancouver International I was on the dock at Good Hope Cannery.  We made our way along the boardwalk pier to the main lodge.  Once inside our room assignments were provided and our luggage was waiting in our room for us.  The level of organization and professionalism at Good Hope was immediately evident.  I was looking forward to my stay.

Good Hope Cannery Offers First Class Amenities and Service

After a hearty lunch and orientation it was time to the hit the water for the first time.  Weather was a bit on the ugly side as the tail end of a system was passing through.  Not a problem though as each guest is outfitted with rubber boots, rain paints, inflatable life vest and rain jacket.

I felt spoiled at the quality of the Good Hope fleet.  Depending on if one chooses a self or premium guided experience you find yourself in either a 20’ or 25’ Yamaha powered boat.  These boats provided wonderful fishing platforms.  I was fortunate to fish out of both boat sizes.  Good Hope boats are outfitted with the latest technology including sounders GPS and radar.  All fishing gear was also provided by the lodge.  Truthfully it felt a bit weird a first as I usually bring enough gear to outfit a small shop.

20 and 25 Foot Boats are a Good Hope Standard

The one thing that didn’t accompany me on this trip was my fly gear, rods, lines, reels and flies were all at home.  On this trip I would be power mooching.  A method I hadn’t used in years. 

Power mooching consists of slow trolling using a long mooching rod, single action reel, small 6-8 ounce weights and cut plug herring for bait.  If you aren’t familiar with cut plugging the head and entrails are removed from a large herring.  The angle of the cut to remove the head is critical to how the bait rolls.  Each guide had their own unique way of preparing their bait. It was fascinating to listen to their rationale.  Prior to disappearing into the depths each cut plug was checked for the proper roll and action.  The prepared bait is rigged onto a series of two or three barbless hooks.  One hook ‘tows’ the bait from the front, a second hook is mounted at the tail and some guides used a short ‘stinger’ hook that flowed with the tail of the bait. 

Mandy, One of Our Excellent Guides Shows How to Prepare Herring.

After spending most of my fishing life in world of single barbless hooks three hooks seemed a lot.  But in short order I saw how easily fish could take a bait and escape unscathed.  Large Rivers Inlet Chinook are maestros at bait removal, capable of stripping bait from a team of hooks in seconds leaving little or no remains of the cut plug.  I saw this first hand on a couple of occasions.  Talking to the dock staff who clean the customers fish they told me it was a common occurrence to find whole cut plug herring amongst the stomach contents.

Power mooching is done a slow troll, roughly 1mph at a shallow depth.  When chasing Chinook we had two stern rods, two rods out each side and one lone rod mounted on the bow.  Each rod was typically set at a different depth measured in pulls.  Our pulls were shallow, ranging from 5 to 10 pulls on average.  A pull is roughly 2-3 feet.

The bow rod fascinated me as it was set shallow, usually five pulls.  The bait was essentially tracking just below the boat’s hull about half way back from the bow.  The guides told me that takes to the bow rod are nothing short of heart stopping. 

When coho are the targeted species the bow rod isn’t used.  Coho hunt in packs and when you run into one the term ‘coho chaos’ becomes a reality.  Two, three even four rods all going off at once on rolling sea is something to behold.  It was something I experienced firsthand.

The sounder display showed large Chinook suspended near the bottom.  It didn’t seem to make sense working our baits so shallow.

Ted Walkus, the lodge manager has been living with Chinook his entire life.  When he is not working at the lodge he is helping manage ad preserve the Chinook salmon of Wannock River that are such an integral part of Ted’s life and legacy.  Ted explained to me the rationale behind the use of the shallow running baits.

The fresh water flowing into rivers inlet is warmer and less dense than the ocean water so it flows on top of the salt water.  The surface water in the inlet is murky, reminding me of glacial till.  The sounder often interpreted the interface between fresh and saltwater as bottom 9-10 feet down the density difference was so great.  Returning Chinook, after spending most of life, up to eight years for some specimens, prowling the open ocean had to adjust to fresh water once again.  Ted told me that their kidneys, after expelling salt for years, now had to adjust once again to retaining salt for their final journey to their birthplace.  As part of this adjustment process the Chinook rose up to take a ‘sniff’ of freshwater.  This practice provided the perfect intersection for our baits rolling below.

Our First Day Was a Wet One.

Our first afternoon was more of an exploratory trip and we tried our luck for a Tyee at a number of locations.  After about four fishing all we had to show for ourselves was one completely cleaned set of hooks.  Despite three of us on the boat no one saw the rod move.  Chinook can be sneaky and fast. 

Although we didn’t latch into a Tyee father and son, Joe and Joey, from the eastern U.S. did.  Joe caught and released a magnificent 64 pound Tyee that took two people to hold.  It was a massive fish, the biggest Chinook I had ever seen.  Joe and his son were proud to release this fish. 

Joe and Head Guide Tyler Release a 64 Pound Tyee

The next day came early, 4:50am to be exact.  After a few welcome cups of coffee and a hardy breakfast we were on the water once again heading to Marker 16 and the Log Dump where numbers of large Chinook were reported to be stacked up.  The rain had stopped and we motored up Rivers Inlet amongst a dense blanket of fog.  Safely at our destination, we got our baits into the water and began meandering around with the other boats that had accumulated there. 

By mid-morning the fog began to lift and provided some great photo opportunities as the sun began to burst through and take hold.  The conga line of boats was now visible. Over 25 boats were weaving politely in and out of each other.  The morning became somewhat of a social event as we chatted with each passing boat.  The etiquette in respect for each other was impressive.

River's Inlet Offers Some Spectacular Scenery

A few fish had been caught but our boat was quiet.  Just after 10am one of our stern rods bounced to life then ceased.  Kevin our guide, was closest to the rod grabbed it and tried feeding at bit of line to entice the curious Chinook back for another nibble at the cherry.  It wasn’t to be.  A quick check of line revealed the bait had once again been vacuumed from the hooks, impressive. 

We re-rigged and had the bait rolling below once again.  The rod had barely been placed back in the rod holder when its left stern partner bent aggressively driving its tip into the water.  No nibbling this time we had a Chinook on.

With the rod in my hands, I began gathering line as fast as I could.  The single action Islander MR2 was identical to my own Islander fly reels.  For the first time I was on more familiar ground, almost.  The one difference, I reel left handed.  This reel was rigged for a right hand retrieve.  Nothing I could do about it. I thought it best not to tell anyone else for the moment.  At first the fish didn’t seem that big but as I gathered line and got tighter to the fish the sensation of weight increased until all of sudden I felt I was attached to a fleeing car.  It was solid, like nothing I had felt before.

The fish didn’t like the tension and began to peel line of at a scary pace.  At the end of each run I gathered as much line as I could only to watch it disappear as the fish sounded once again.  As the fish ran I took the opportunity to switch arms to remove the considerable forearm burn that was building.  I kept tight to the fish at all times and I even managed a little side pressure in once in a while to get as much of the rod into the fight as I could.  After 30 minutes of hard slogging I saw the salmon roll at the surface for the first time.  It looked large.  Now I became nervous.  Most fish are lost right at the boat and I didn’t want to be part of this fact now.  On at least two occasions we had the fish by the boat only to see it sound again.  Thanks to Kevin for his experienced boatman-ship as he was able to move away so I could gain the advantage once again.  Kevin’s boat skills were incredible and played a significant role in the fight.

Finally the fish lay in the net and I saw it for the first time.  It was my first Tyee and it was massive.  After the initial euphoria had passed we had to measure the length and girth of the fish to determine its weight.  Checking the Sturdies Formula based charts each boat carried my fish weighed an estimated 62 pounds!  It was the biggest fish I caught.  I couldn’t wrap my hand around the wrist of the tail. There was no way to lift it. The best I could do was hold across my lap for few pictures.
Looking at the Tyee in my lap there was only one option in my mind, let it go.  After all it had endured during its open ocean life and to be so close to its final destination it only seemed right to let it go so it could pass along its superior DNA to its prodigy.

My First Tyee, a 62 Pound Monster

After I few minutes reviving it we watched its powerful tail propel it into the depths.  It was the most incredible feeling.  We hoisted our Tyee flag and because we released it we proudly ran it inverted.
Good Hope Vice President George Cuthbert told me that use a minute a pound as a barometer of how long the fight should take.  According to the T.V. camera’s time codes I managed to subdue my Tyee in just over 35 minutes.  Not bad considering I don’t reel right handed.  I have since been told this might be the largest Chinook ever caught and released on film.  I have no proof of this so we shall see.

Inverted Tyee Flag Flies Proud

Good Hope Cannery actively promotes catch and release of all large Chinook.  At the end of each dinner Tyler, the lodge fish master, provides a daily fishing report, forecast for the following day and recognizes those who caught a Tyee and in particular those that released their catch.  As I caught and released a fish over 50lbs I was awarded with a diamond Tyee pin and a unique challenge coin.  The origins of the challenge coin trace back to World War I when a downed English pilot’s only way of proving his identity to British troops was a unique identifying coin.  At Good Hope Cannery the tradition is if you are asked in to show your challenge coin and you don’t have it on hand you owe your challenger a drink.  If you produce your coin your challenger has to buy you a drink.  Mine coin never left my pants pocket for the rest of my trip.

My Diamond Tyee Pin and Challenge Coin.

Those who chose to harvest a Chinook over 50lbs have the privilege of experiencing another Good Hope tradition, consuming an appetizer made from the heart of their quarry, with or without Tequila shots.  Two Ontario gentlemen experienced this privilege.  By the looks on their faces it only reinforced my decision to release my Tyee.

Every aspect of my Good Hope trip brings back fond memories.  From the boats and facilities, to the quality of the staff, their devotion to detail, their experience and willingness to help and teach, Good Hope Cannery offers a world class experience.  I can’t think of a better place to get out of the box and experience something new and different. 

Please check out my Facebook Page for additional images from my Good Hope trip.