The fishing grounds on Vancouver Island are plenty. This can make fishing tough because, as all anglers know, catching the big one is all about location! Once you’re there you need to make sure it’s the right time, as well as the right place. Then you need to know how to fish and what they like. Sound complicated? It’s easier than you think. Here’s a guide to fishing on Vancouver Island that answers all the important questions: where, why, when and how.
West Coast: Port Alberni, Bamfield, Tofino and Ucluelet
The west coast of Vancouver Island is the top spot to go if you’re looking to catch big Chinook (king) salmon, and have your shot at the fast biting Coho and low-lying halibut as well. Uclueuet, Tofino and Bamfield are the top three destinations for those fish, plus ling cod, and Port Alberni ties it in for anglers that seek the tastiest of the salmon, sockeye. Fishing runs deep in the veins of all of the towns, with the industry going back as far as the First Nations groups that reside in the area. On top of that, there are plenty of other desirable activities to keep the non-fishing folk happy and excited about their vacation. Read on for when to come for each of the fish and how to catch ‘em.
Chinook: As early as March for springs, Chinook are available on the west coast straight through the season to September. The large ones arrive in July, which keeps the season interesting and fishermen jumping for those late summer charter dates. They’re mostly caught trolling offshore, although nearing the end of the summer, they’re closer inside, making it more ideal for even those that are seasick prone to land the big one.
Coho: Starting in mid-June, you can see Coho finning all over the place. Sometimes, they make it tough to get Chinook thanks to their fast fight not letting the lines get down to where they need to go. They’re definitely a fun fight, but only those with trimmed adipose fins can be kept as dinner. The Coho stick around until the end of summer after they arrive.
Sockeye: June and July in the Port Alberni Inlet are when the sockeye come out to play
Halibut: May to about mid-August is halibut time and those that want to keep both chinook and halibut should aim to fish around June. Anchoring is the name of the game, although you’ll hear plenty of lucky stories of anglers trolling for chinook and pulling up a halibut instead. On the large end of the spectrum, the halibut reach about 70lbs out here!
Lingcod: Mean-mugs aside, lingcod make for some great eating and they’re available on the coast year-round. Whether jigging, trolling or shore casting off the rocks, they’re fun to drop a line for. They give those fishermen that are out of salmon luck a fighting chance of coming home with something to show for their day on the water.
Central Island: Cowichan Valley, Qualicum, Deep Bay, Courtenay/Comox and Campbell River
Central Vancouver Island offers a ton of variety when it comes to fishing. It’s a great place to practice your fly fishing, especially during a Pink season, and it offers its fair share of open ocean saltwater angling too. Campbell River is the self-proclaimed Salmon Capital of the World, and its rivers and ocean fishing areas often deliver. Another nice aspect of the central/east side of Vancouver Island is that the waters are typically more sheltered. Plus, there’s the option of all five of the Pacific salmon types: chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum, just maybe not in the same size range, or number as the west coast for the first three. You also don’t have much options when it comes to halibut.
Chinook: These guys arrive in early June and end usually around mid-August. Mostly kept for their trophy size, Chinook are strong fighters and are reeled in after a good fight.
Coho: Coho arrive around the same time as the Chinook in June and disperse around the same time. Coho have a strong bite and are known for their acrobatics in the water. Catch them with flies in the river, or trolling in the ocean and prepare for a fast fight.
Sockeye: The sockeye run occurs later in the season compared to Chinook and Coho, typically arriving in July and dispersing by August. These fish are notoriously the tastiest, with bright red meat that is rich in fatty-acids and Omega 3s. They’re fun to catch in both the ocean by trolling and by casting/fly fishing in the rivers when they run.
Pink: Pinks follow the same timeframe as Sockeye arriving a bit later in July and disappearing before the end of the summer. Pink are a favourite of beginner fly fishermen, and they’re a great intro fish for young anglers.
Chum: The chum salmon are the last to arrive starting in August and kicking around until October. While not as desirable as the prior four salmon, chum are still great for angling and put up a fun fight. They’re typically caught trolling.
South Vancouver Island: Victoria, Sidney, Sooke and Port Renfrew
South Island fishing is do-able year-round, but the real treat is that it is still a great place to go even in the dead of winter. Not only are there all five types of Pacific salmon in the area, there’s also halibut, lingcod and a steady parade of orcas that you may have the chance to spot. The Pacific salmon tend to come south to spawn, which is why there’s such a steady supply. It’s also nice that bigger cities are available so that even you least-fishing inclined friends will want to come.
Chinook: The chinook run once a month, so you’ll be able to angle for them all year. The peak time though is in the summer, and the largest are around in July/August.
Coho: Coho overlap with the Chinook, running from about mid-June to August.
Sockeye: Sockeye run a bit later, usually around July until September.
Pink: The pink salmon run with the sockeye a bit later in the summer from July to September.
Chum: As always, chum salmon are the last to the party, arriving in August and departing later in October.
North Vancouver Island: Telegraph Cove, Port Hardy, Port Alice, Port McNeill and Winter Harbour
For a remote and rugged fishing experience, the North Island is the place to go. The quaint towns are all but dedicated to fishing, with the exception of Telegraph Cove, which is most famous for its whale watching. The scenery is stunning and the mindset is on landing any of those five types of Pacific salmon. The north pulls out all the stoppers on that fishing-town vibe and if seclusion is what you’re looking for, the north is where to go.
Chinook: Like the rest of Vancouver Island, the Chinook stick around from the beginning, to basically the end. Head up north in June if you want to catch the start of the run, and later in the season for the larger fish.
Pink: Just after the chinook come the pink salmon. While smaller, they still put up a good fight and bite quite a bit, making them a good target for those beginner anglers. Come for those guys starting in July.
Coho: Shortly after the pink in later summer come the Coho. If you’re wanting the largest of these fast-biting fish, come in September, as it’s the smaller ones that arrive first. You’ll recognize them by their acrobatics.
Sockeye: Alongside the Coho come the sockeye. From late-July/August to September, the most kitchen-desired fish are up for grabs.
Chum: Late to the show as always, the Chum arrive around August and stick around through October. The north also sees a good number of halibut and lingcod, similar to the west coast.
There you have it, the where, when, why and how of fishing on Vancouver Island. Once you’ve looked into the areas a bit more and know exactly what you want out of a fishing trip, this should help you finalize your destination! To learn more about fishing on Vancouver Island, check out www.discovervancouverisland.com/things-to-do/fishing. It’s a great resource for all of Vancouver Island and the various things to do and will give you a good idea about each of the areas mentioned in this article. You can also check out www.canadasalmonfishing.ca to learn more about Canadian fishing.