Home phone: 425-407-1013
Cell Phone: 425-330-0684
5821 11th Ave. W
Everett, WA. 98203
Each January as new calendars begin to adorn office and kitchen walls, one begins to let the mind wander from the frigid grind of winter. Enjoyable thoughts of summer and line-peeling runs of big Chinook salmon make their way into your daydreams on a fairly frequent basis. This is the time to plan your summer adventures and make your travel arrangements, before all the good available dates get booked up by other winter wary anglers.
Such was the case in early 2008 as I started to wander endlessly through the myriad of web sites catering to sports fishing enthusiasts. Alaska, BC, Montana, Washington, Oregon, so much opportunity it can boggle the mind. After what seemed like weeks of Internet surfing, I decided another trip to the BC salt-chuck would be tough to beat in terms of sheer beauty and excitement.
Anyone who has had the pleasure to fish coastal British Columbia, Canada in mid summer will quickly attest there is no grander venue to be found anywhere. There are countless fishing destinations up and down the BC coast that have become famous for their great fishing and breathtaking scenery. Their reputations are well deserved and steeped in tradition.
There is one place on the northeastern tip of Vancouver Island that to a large degree has remained a bit under the salmon fishing radar. After a long phone conversation with Chad Calder, owner/operator of Coastwide Sports Fishing, he convinced me that summer salmon fishing in Port Hardy, BC is as good as and sometimes better, than anywhere on the BC coast.
Port Hardy is ideally situated to target salmon of all species heading south on their summer migration to their home rivers all down the west coast. For years, the Port Hardy salmon fishery went largely unnoticed by sport fishermen compared to the attention places such as the Queen Charlotte Islands commands.
Chad’s enthusiasm and the fact he has been fishing the area for 25 years was enough to convince me that a visit to this small island town would be well worth the effort. He assured me that the first week of August was prime time for big “Springs” as they are called in BC, not to mention the astounding halibut and bottom fishing to be had as well.
Chad’s Coastwide Sports Fishing packages are all-inclusive and run from mid June to late August. This means that lodging, meals, guided fishing, fish processing, etc, are all included in the rates. Tons of information can be found on his website at www.coastwidesportsfishing.com. After looking over his schedule, he suggested a package that would have us fishing August 6-8, 2008. The dates were set and all that was left to do was count the days and hope the fish gods would be kind to us.
There are numerous ways to get to Port Hardy. Taking a ferry to Victoria or Nanaimo and driving the length of Vancouver Island on the beautiful Island Highway is a relaxing way to go. Pacific Coastal Airlines has regularly scheduled flights from Vancouver at a reasonable rate. You might even cruise into port on your own yacht. However you choose to travel, the beauty of Vancouver Island will most certainly indulge your senses.
Named after Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, former captain of H.M.S. Victory, this small hamlet of around 5000 people has a rich history of Native culture, logging and fishing. Its recreational opportunities are endless, but center around fishing, scuba diving and wilderness hiking.
I had the rare pleasure of my wife Tricia joining me on this exciting fishing adventure. Chad and his wife Angela met us at the Port Hardy airport and quickly had us checked into the Quarterdeck Hotel and Marina. Chad’s beautiful 25’ Grady White, aptly named Tenacious, is moored just a couple minutes walk from the hotel, very handy indeed.
After a brief freshening up, we all got together in the hotel pub for a couple drinks and a chance to get to know each other a bit better. I found Chad to be a very upbeat and personable fellow, whose passion for saltwater fishing was evident in his every sentence. His father Larry was one of the first charter guides in Port Hardy, so Chad is a second generation charter skipper who guided his first charter trip at the age of 16!
His experiences up and down the BC coast have made him very appreciative of the resources available in the Port Hardy fishery. He says without question the area provides the most consistent fishery anywhere on the coast and our next few days would bear that out!
Chad also explained that the Port Hardy charter fleet only consists of about ten boats. Six of those are associated with one outfitter and the others, including Chad’s Coastwide Sports Fishing, are independent operators. These are not big party boats like you would find at Westport or Ilwaco, but rather more intimate boats that cater to groups of two to four people. When comparing this small number of charter operations with most other places, it’s no wonder these guys spend so much time high-fiving each other!
Another thing became immediately obvious once we began actually fishing. The guides and charter operators are much more familiar with the vast area surrounding Port Hardy and have boats big and safe enough to get you places most fishermen can’t go. They know all the little sweet spots that produce for them regularly and are a tight knit group willing to help each other. If one charter skipper finds a hot spot, chances are good he will share the wealth.
Morning finally arrived and we met Chad at the boat at 5:30am. Tricia had never been saltwater salmon fishing before so I was hoping she would have an enjoyable time. We made sure of that by getting her “The Patch” the night before, hoping to ward off any potential nausea associated with the motion of the ocean. That is a great precaution for anyone who might be prone to such discomfort.
Turns out we had little to worry about as the weather and water conditions were fabulous for our entire stay. The one thing we did have to deal with was thick fog in the morning. Chad has an extraordinary Garmin GPS and Radar unit located right in the middle of his panel. That thing is the size of a small TV and makes getting around super simple, fog or no.
Once outside the small marina in Hardy Bay, Chad put her up on plane and we proceeded to make our way to one of his honey holes. Chad quickly had two 12’ Rogue Rods with those good old-fashioned knuckle-buster reels rigged up using large flashers and brined Anchovies on the business end. Two electric downriggers and the fun was about to get started.
Throughout our entire trip Chad fished in 50-70’ of water and ran the gear around 35’ on the riggers. I found this curious as I was used to fishing much deeper, especially after the sun came up, but I was not about to question his methods. Chad told us he buried the line deep in the release clips and most Coho could not pull hard enough to release the line without help, but large Chinook would rip it out with a vengeance!
We began a methodical circular tack that took us along a short rock wall. We had not gone far when one of the rods took a deep dip and ripped the line out of the release! I had been coaching Tricia for days on how to use these single action reels, so I crossed my fingers that she was up to the task.
After getting a good hook set, Tricia handled her business well, letting the big behemoth rip line out. I need not have worried as she did a great job palming the reel and taking in line when able. Chad was wheeling the boat about keeping us in a good position to do battle. After a long tussle the line just went slack and the party was over just as quickly as it began.
No time to cry as we re-rigged and set about our next tack. After a short time we had a nice double-header of Coho’s that got tossed into the fish box. Another tack along the wall and ka-boom, another big Chinook popped the release following a vicious strike! I took a turn at the reel and Chad did his thing with the boat. I had almost forgotten how powerful ocean Chinook are, but it came back to me quickly before winning the battle and slipping a nice 32 lb. Spring into the box.
Things slowed a bit before a second double-header of Coho’s demanded our attention. Chad then decided to move to another location about ten minutes away. The fog was beginning to lift and reveal some of that gorgeous BC coastline that is so magical in its ability to mesmerize you. It always feels deep down as though some of it hasn’t even been discovered yet.
When Chad stopped, we almost instantly hooked another large Chinook. This was a chance for Tricia to put on her rally cap so I motioned for her to come take the rod. She did another great job, culminating with a nice Spring of about 30 lbs. hitting the deck! Two smaller Chinook came aboard shortly thereafter and we called it a day.
The next morning we again woke to thick fog, but alas, no worries as we cruised to our fishing grounds. Chad decided he wanted to start where we had finished the day prior. On our way out, I told Chad and Tricia I had a feeling we were going to have an epic day. That sixth sense that just tickles your thoughts and says “be ready Freddy”. I was apprehensive to say anything for fear of jinxing it, but I could not help myself.
The fog was lifting sooner this second day, so we could already see the shoreline and some distance in either direction as the sun worked hard to break through. I was not sure who was more excited as Chad worked feverishly to get the lines baited and on the riggers. After getting them set and starting his first tack along the kelp, I took up a position near the rear of the boat with a rod at arms length from me. “Be ready Freddy” I kept thinking.
I don’t think we had trolled more then 50 yards when the rod in front of me took a ferocious dip. I could see the line had released from the clip, but the rod tip did not begin to rise in the usual fashion before you get a chance to reel in the slack. Instead, it took a determined dive towards the water. I set the hook and held on for dear life!
This Chinook made four long consecutive runs with brief stops in-between before I could get a single turn on the reel. It darn near spooled us and we figured it had about 300 yards of line off the reel, way deep into the backing. Chad worked to get the other line up as I worked to keep that bruiser in the Province!
I had just begun to get a bit of line back when the line went slack. Upon retrieval of the gear, the giant salmon had slipped the hooks, how I don’t know as I set the hooks good on him. I didn’t even want to guess how big that bad boy was, but you can bet it was a wall-hanger. As we were to soon learn, the gods of salmon fishing were just getting started exacting a cruel toll on us.
Everyone was quiet as Chad set up for another tack and we had really just started fishing, so we had lots of time for good things to happen. They did too, when on one of the following tacks, both lines got ripped off the riggers at once! This was indeed going to be an epic day, as Tricia and I suddenly both had huge Chinooks peeling line at the same time!
Chad was scurrying like a madman and got one of the riggers up. Suddenly Tricia’s fish did the unthinkable. It ran right back at the boat and in the blink of an eye flew past the starboard side, passing her line across the other downrigger cable that we had not yet had a chance to raise. She broke off in an instant and I was left to tangle with my hawg, who in very short order found his way into a huge floating pile of kelp. Need I say more?
After losing three of the largest Chinook salmon you can imagine right in a row, we were all left searching within ourselves to find the true meaning of life. I was thoroughly regretting mentioning any thoughts of an epic day and felt sick at the lost opportunity.
An hour later however, we lucked into a second double-header of big pigs. While I battled one, Chad was helping get the other under control for Tricia when it broke off the bottom hook. Now 0 for 4, we finally had a spot of good luck, putting one in the boat that went right around 40 lbs. An hour later Tricia rallied for a 30 lb. Spring.
Big Chinook fishing epitomizes “the thrill of victory and agony of defeat”. During our three day adventure, we experienced generous portions of both. Opportunities abounded and that is all you can ask of any fishing guide. The mere chance to do battle with those chrome behemoths is an adrenaline rush unequalled in northwest sports fishing.
Without question, I have never experienced such an impressive morning of saltwater Chinook fishing anywhere. Within five hours, we hooked six jumbo Chinooks, pigs with fins, call them what you want, but worthy of every penny one might spend in search of such worthy adversaries. Not every day is like that and nobody appreciates those precious opportunities more than me, win or lose.
As fishing goes, the last morning found our school of gigantic Chinooks had moved on, yet I still managed to land a beauty of 35 lbs., along with some fat Coho. We had to share our fishing area with two Humpback whales however, who moved right into our tack at one point. It was awesome seeing them blow their spouts so close to us! Orcas, Humpbacks, and Grey Whales are everywhere in the Port Hardy area, so keep an eye open and a camera ready!
Our last two days we finished our outings by loading up on Halibut, Lingcod and Rockfish, something there is no lack of around Port Hardy. You can have your limit in about an hour or two in most cases and along with the great salmon fishing it is this aspect that truly makes Port Hardy such a special place. If the salmon bite happens to be off, you can count on finding some great table fare regardless!
Looking south from Chad’s bottom-fishing grounds is awe-inspiring. With Vancouver Island to the right, the BC mainland to the left and countless small islands in between, you enjoy a picturesque setting on a truly immense canvas. You realize how great it is to be alive, even if some monster Chinook did give you a schooling!
Chad can fish three separate regulation areas from Port Hardy, all with different limits, so your options are many. His passion, skill, knowledge and quality equipment will impress you as much as it did me. Filling the fish box will bring a twinkle to your eye as well. The next time you plan a summer fishing trip, consider Chad Calder and Coastwide Sports Fishing in Port Hardy, BC. You will find your trip to be a quality experience and operation. Thanks Chad and Angela for an unforgettable visit to your island paradise!
Lastly, Chad asked to dedicate this article to his late father Larry Calder, whose passion for the outdoors, love and guidance will be forever cherished and deeply missed by all those who knew and loved him.