As June rounds the corner into July and August, peak salmon season is in full swing. Visitors to the coast often spend their time taking in the surf, the sights, the beaches and the forests, but overlook (and miss out on) a favourite West Coast pastime. While the fishing season started out strong to begin with, it’s only recently that charters have been bringing in the coast’s notorious Tyees (Chinook salmon larger than 30lbs). That’s a lot of edible souvenir to take home! Besides the fresh fish, there’s nothing quite like a true, West Coast fishing experience.
Last summer, I groaned as my 4:30am alarm blared into my ears. I stumbled to my pile of laid out layers, pulled on shoes and traded in the warmth of my house for the still brisk early morning air thinking, This’d better be worth it. Armed with a thermos of coffee, the stillness of Ucluelet first thing in the morning had my eyes widening with wonder rather than wakefulness. Because I’d moved to Ucluelet during high tourist season, I’d never seen the place so perfectly peaceful. Rounding the turn into the marina, the first signs of life greeted my eyes. Guides paced the docks making ticks on memorized checklists and sleepy guests climbed unsteadily into boats. Eventually, a motor came to life and killed the silence, and then another. They politely took turns to take to the seas. My own boat was a 29’ Baha via Salmon Eye Charters and I sat with my seat facing backwards as the sun began to rise. It slowly lit the gray morning into a warm series of orange, to yellow, to clear blue skies. Out into the Sound the boat roared. A charming view of Ucluelet retreated into the coastline of trees and rocks.
Perhaps it was the coffee, or just the thrill of moving with the rise and fall of the waves as the fishing boat cut out into the open ocean that finally had me feeling awake. As the engine was cut and the rods were prepared, I took the time to admire the coastline. Its beauty is somehow more evident when you see it from the water. As the morning lapsed into afternoon, the rush of a hit on the line was balanced with kicking back with my feet on the cooler in the sun – a perfect combination for a summer’s day. My own fair sized Chinook hit the line early on and as the rod popped, I made a leap for the reel. Keep the rod tip up, played in my head like a mantra as I battled it to the boat, my hip braced against the side. There is no more satisfying feeling than the weight of a salmon on the line. For the other part of the day I watched other fishing boats bringing up salmon from afar, jigged for rockfish and lingcod and fought to make my legs serve properly as sea legs. I thought I’d grown accustomed to the typical sounds of a fishing boat and the ocean, when suddenly a sound like a massive exhalation of air reached my ears.
“Was that a whale?” And then I saw its back. Breaking the surface in a massive gray and barnacled island, the gentle giant gracefully passed us by. Once, twice, three times? I forgot to count as the Gray Whale marked its path with puffs of mist into the blue sky. When it was finally time to head back to the harbour, I figured I’d seen the most I could of coastal life in one day. As if to prove me wrong, a single sea lion chased our wake in hopes of a snack as we bobbed back in to shore. I didn’t catch a tyee that season, but the feeling is addicting. Maybe this summer will be the one.
Contributed by: Laurissa Cebryk