Those two simple words conjure up emotion, passion and a sense of boating awareness and excitement like nothing else.
I’m kind of biased right now, spending the past three weeks making my way down the West Coast of Vancouver Island in our 3025 Kingfisher Offshore, fishing a smorgasbord of species and
experiencing a pile of coastal culture and stunning scenery
The latest Big Coast journey began with a run from Vancouver to Campbell River to participate in the first Reel Obsession Hardcore Salmon Derby in Zeballos, BC. It had been years since I’d fished early season West Coast Vancouver Island and the quick 4-hour run NorthWest across Georgia Strait was a great kickoff party. As opposed to boating all the way around Vancouver Island, we got a truck and trailer pickup for a tow across to Gold River and a chill start.
After an easy launch in Gold River, I rallied the boat NW to Zeballos, which is a pretty cool inside run unto itself. Now I’ve fished the Esperanza area before but had never been to Zeballos. My good buddy Gibran White, one of the finest fisherman BC has seen, now hangs his hat in Zeballos after years in Nootka Sound and extended me the invite. Gibran met me on the docks in Zeballos and I was immediately taken by the
quaint outlook and easy top-of-head location. Reel Obsession was quickly living up to advanced billing.
The one thing you notice right away with a trip to WCVI is swell. It’s a game changer for the boater who calls inside waters home and must be managed in weather and travel planning and queasy stomachs and crewmates. If you’re not used to swell, which will typically sit between 1-3 metres in summer, it takes a while to get your sea legs. There’s a number of anti-nausea medications out there but I’m only fleetingly familiar. And it’s not just the size of swell, but the amplitude (or distance between swells) and how it interacts with wind and tide.
To a certain extent it can make for some serious boating and angling but also a wild sense of adventure and awe as one stares West towards nothing but Japan!
Our first day fishing offshore Zeballos was a soupy affair and afforded us the opportunity to catch a few nice salmon and get our sea legs back on before derby started. One nice thing about Zeballos and WCVI is the strong inshore Chinook salmon fishery and two-a-day retention limit set by Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It’s comprised of healthy salmon stocks and it’s always added bonus to put a few in freezer.
Reel Obsession Sport Fishing is a unique family run operation and Adrian and Angela O’Connor do the mom and pop shop better than most. The derby was created to kick off the season and help raise funds for salmon conservation in the area and did not disappoint. We fished hard for a couple days and had a blast derbying. With Gibran’s head guide status we took ourselves out of the official running but enjoyed time on water and a great wrap-up party.
West Coast swell and big water is one thing when you’re day fishing but quite another when travelling. This is where things can get pretty advanced and you need your captain skills, route planning and watch on weather paramount. From Zeballos I bade my fishing partner Jes McFarlen of Parksville Boathouse farewell and headed Southbound solo for Ucluelet, the hum of Yamaha twin F200s reverberating.
It’s not that far from Zeballos to Ukee, but it’s 100% exposed and features a trip around Estevan Point, which juts out in the Pacific and provides some seriously sporty conditions. On this travel day I bucked two-metre swell and 15-20 knot NW winds around Estevan then tucked back into calm shoreline for the run Southbound past Tofino and Long Beach. I had perfect rolling West Coast water the rest of the way and cruised the Kingfisher with ease into Ucluelet.
For a number of years I’ve been fortunate to work as pro staff for Pure Fishing and brands such as Abu Garcia, Penn and Berkley. In Ucluelet, I hooked up with fellow pro and 25-year Ucluelet guide Bill Von Brendel and Pure Fishing’s Gord Hill. Now these two are old trade show buddies of mine and Bill, although retired, is the stuff of fishing legend in Ukee and area.
We were in town hoping the squid scene was on and we could jig live squid for Chinook salmon. If you haven’t pulled this angling maneuver before, it’s about as cool as fishing gets. Unfortunately for us the squid timing was off so we trolled and picked up a few nice Chinooks in local waters. Also unfortunate was the kickoff of Heat Wave 2021 and we fished Ucluelet in the craziest heat I’ve seen on a Kingfisher. I would have traded my Espar heater for an AC unit any day as we switched gears for a few days of jigging Ling Cod.
Boating out of Ucluelet is incredible and access to open West Coast right there. We had a little swell to deal with but really just some NorthWest wind and stifling heat. After a few great days fishing with Bill and Gord I again headed South, this time across Barkley Sound to Bamfield to stash the Kingfisher 3025 and fly home to Vancouver for 5-6 days to play hockey dad and see family. The flight from Bamfield to YVR South was absolutely stunning.
I again met up with Jes McFarlen for our final WCVI leg and trucked out to Bamfield from Nanaimo. We launched the boat and headed into the heart of Barkley Sound and Eagle Nook Resort. I’ve fished Barkley Sound a great deal over the years but
Eagle Nook was on a different level. The lodge has a stunning waterfront location, exceptional cuisine, top notch marina and docks and exceptional staff. Eagle Nook also encourages private boaters to visit, which is nice!
Now I’ll admit to some personal bias here: I’m a big fan of Broken Island Group, Barkley Sound and have a soft spot for Bamfield. This is a wonderful slice of Wild West Coast and the boating is among my personal favourite anywhere. The fishery is also incredibly diverse, from halibut and bottom fish to all salmon species and late summer tuna, Barkley Sound offers it all.
With this diversity in mind, Jes and I spent four days in Barkley on a really unique fishing adventure. Our first day found us jigging Chinook at 180-200 feet in a tiny bay. Fishing was lights out with a pile of fish between 12-18 pounds. Day two we headed offshore to La Perouse (Big Bank) for a day drifting Halibut and dealing with some serious sporty swell. On our third day we rallied an hour back into Alberni Inlet to hit BC’s only open sockeye run this summer. We hooked 8-10 fish but the wind was so extreme all other boats left and we landed only three sockeye. Our final day at Eagle Nook we focused on Ling Cod and had some great drifts just outside Broken Island Group. Even saw a squadron of Pelicans fly overhead.
Eagle Nook allowed us to write a final unique chapter to our West Coast fishing tale and punctuated what an awesome place West Coast Vancouver Island is. From the swell and steady NW winds to morning fog and running on radar, there was a little of everything to challenge the Kingfisher owner. This one anyway.
From Barkley Sound I had the enviable task of running the boat back around the horn to Vancouver. Big solo boat trips aren’t for everyone but I’ve developed an affinity and had absolutely mint conditions for the 7-hour run (with some Gulf Island cruising built in). Water was glass calm and my only hiccup was getting pulled over by RCMP off Victoria checking registrations and monitoring the border. After a rather thorough review of my paperwork and safety gear the police sent me on my merry way. I happily pointed the boat for Vancouver and a final easy cruise across Georgia Strait, with nothing but West Coast thoughts still fresh in my mind. From Zeballos to Ucluelet to Barkley Sound…
West Coast Best Coast!
Captain Tim Milne