While on assignment for Salmon Trout Steelheader magazine over Labor Day weekend, I had the great fortune of visiting one of the most spectacular fishing destinations I’ve ever been to: Milbanke Sound on British Columbia’s northern coast.
Located approximately 360 miles north of Vancouver, Milbanke Sound is incredible – not only from a fishing standpoint, but also in terms of scenery. Hordes of migrating king and coho salmon annually pass through the area and the sound is also home to incomprehensible numbers of rockfish and some extremely large Pacific halibut.
And from a natural beauty perspective, the area is without peer. Dense emerald forests cling to the shoreline hills and give way only to the sea right at the water’s edge, where the foaming breakers crash over craggy outcroppings. Think Big Sur meets Lake Tahoe and you get the general idea. Paradise!
While writing my magazine article, I stayed at St. John’s Fishing Lodge, which is a 236-foot floating hotel anchored up in a protected bay, located about five minutes from some of the best salmon fishing grounds in B.C.
In a previous life, the vessel was a Vancouver ferryboat, but it has been transformed into a moveable lodge. What’s really unique about the whole deal is the St. John’s crew moves the boat during the summer so they can stay as close to the best fishing as possible. Their motto is, “The fish move, we move,” which is pretty slick.
One of the aspects I enjoyed most about the St. John’s deal is you can go the self-guided route. You get assigned a fully equipped 18-foot boat, the crew points you in the right direction and off you go. You can fish from dawn to dusk, during which the B.C. coast is your own personal playground.
We typically trolled for salmon in the early morning and then switched to rockcod or halibut later… always rounding the day out with a little more salmon fishing. I have to admit it was kinda hard to choose what to do next since we had so many enticing options.
Of course, the lodge also has a staff of expert guides on hand to take you out if you’d rather leave all the details to a pro, but we figured it would be fun to have no itinerary and do whatever the heck we wanted.
Our main target species was coho (silver) salmon and we caught a boatload of them on trolled herring. Unlike the Chinook we’re used to down here, coho spend most of their time out of the water when hooked and are an absolute blast to catch. On several occasions, hooked coho narrowly missed jumping into our boat. The silvers ranged in size from about 9 to 16 pounds and we also landed some bonus king salmon (the Canadians call them “springs,” eh!) that went 18 to 25 pounds on the average – there were larger fish than that out there, however. On Friday, one of the lodge’s guests boated a giant 48-pound king that smacked a trolled spoon.
We missed out on getting any halibut this trip, but the rockfishing was nothing short of phenomenal. Anywhere we dropped 1- to 3-ounce spoons, we got bit. ‘m not kidding, every rockpile, kelp bed and drop-off we sampled was absolutely loaded with bottomfish and we could have probably caught and released 300 a day if we had the ambition. The fish were a colorful assortment of species, ranging from small black and yellow china rockfish to 10-pound bocaccio, yelloweye and vermillion rockfish and lingcod to 25 pounds. We also caught several bonus coho salmon on the jigs when we least expected it.
Back at the dock each evening, the crew would carefully weigh, fillet, vacuum pack and freeze our fish, while others washed, gassed and restocked our boat with gear and bait. I have to say that it was pretty easy to get used to the royal treatment. When we weren’t fishing (which was rare), we enjoyed bountiful meals in the lodge’s dining area, from which we were treated to panoramic views of the coast and fishing grounds. I was always too tired each evening to try out the hot tub, driving range, putting greens or skeet shooting, but all those activities were there for anybody who felt the urge.
Anyway, the Milbanke Sound experience was one of the best lodge fishing adventures I’ve ever had – and you know me – I’ve been to most of the best spots from Alaska to Costa Rica. Now, it’s back to the real world. Darn.
Check out the St. John’s Web page at www.stjohnsfishinglodge.com or call Hondo at (800) 665- 6020.