Port Hardy is a drive-to destination on the northeast end of beautiful Vancouver Island. Getting there is both fun and educational.
The happy family’s first day catch. A full limit of kings and a bunch of bonus fish.
I was having coffee with a friend in Vernon, BC when he pulled out his phone to show me photos of the excellent salmon fishing trip he and his family had had the summer before. I had experienced slim pickings that previous year boating only six salmon for three anglers while he and his two sons had limited out on kings retaining 12 salmon over twenty pounds on their trip to Port Hardy BC. He graciously supplied me with the name and email address of his guide, Ryan Conway owner of Fish Harder Charters and I arranged a July trip to include my son and his stepson as well as my son-in-law. I had taken Kalan on several trout fishing trips however, this would be his first salt-water trip. We would all be fishing from Ryan’s 25-foot Campion Hardtop cruiser.
Ryan had told me his slip number so we met him on the dock at 5:45 on a beautiful July morning. After introductions he explained that we’d be running westward just over an hour to put us into a different catchment area that would allow us to retain our largest kings. Just off Port Hardy all kings over about 12-pounds had to be released due to a government order to save the larger salmon for the orcas (killer whales.)
My grandson, Kalan, was first up and, thanks to some careful coaching by Ryan, boated his first ever salmon, a beautiful 20-pound king. Within the first hour all four of us had boated our first king of the day. All four of us lost a few and caught a few so by one p.m., Ryan informed us that we’d caught our daily limits of eight king salmon plus a large, beautiful coho salmon caught by my son-in-law, Marc Chalut. The daily limit for kings is two plus, you could keep two other species of salmon if they were there and biting. Your trip limit is twice your daily limit. That’s a maximum of eight salmon per trip per person, but only four of them can be kings. I, grumpy grandpa, caught the largest king that turned out to be my first ever fin-clipped Tyee (salmon over 30-pounds.) The clipped fin told us that the king had been born and raised in a government hatchery.
We pulled in the salmon gear and motored out to Ryan’s special secret spot for catching halibut. Ryan rigged us all up with heavy halibut rods with large jigs baited with salmon belly that he had kept from a previous trip. After catching a few small scrap fish Marc let out a loud grunt as he set the hook into a very large halibut. We were all afraid that it would be over the maximum size limit of 70-pounds for halibut however, it turned out to be a perfect 65-pounds rounding out a fantastic first day.
All halibut and salmon that look to be close to a minimum or maximum size limit are measured with a soft metric tape before being boated. Fish are usually weighed back at the dock in either kilograms or pounds. Once the boat was secured back at Ryan’s mooring slip Ryan placed our day’s catch on the dock and took several photos with my camera. Then he loaded up the fish and delivered them to the Hardy Buoys Processing plant which filleted them, bagged them in air-tight bags and flash froze them. This was done at the end of each day so that at seven in the morning on our departure day we just had to pack the neatly portioned frozen fillets into our coolers for the trip home. Hardy Buoys also gave us a written confirmation of proof that we had not caught more than our trip limits to show DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) officers if we got searched at a ferry despot on our trip home.
The author displaying his first ever adipose-clipped Tyee (Chinook over 30-pounds).
As we boarded the boat on our second morning my grandson asked if we’d be fishing for lingcod today? Ryan answered that “we could but—that was a great run of big king salmon that we hit yesterday and, runs of salmon sometimes move on.” He’d prefer to see if they were still there and save bottom fishing for our last day. We all agreed and settled down for our long ride out to near Cape Scott. The day started slowly with no hits for us or anybody else fishing near us. It was 9:30 before Marc yelled “that’s a fish” pointing to the slightly bobbing starboard rod. Kalan, now an expert, got the rod out of the holder and quickly reeled the line tight and jerked the line out of the downrigger clip. He quickly reeled in until he felt the salmon and set the hook. His rod doubled over and he got his fingers out of the way of the rapidly spinning reel handles. By the time we’d cleared the other line and both downriggers were in and out of the way, Ryan was ready with the net and coached Kalan into keeping the rod tip high and to back up until Ryan could slip the net over the head of the very nice king. When it was safely aboard we all cheered—the day’s skunk was over. It was a much slower day however, in the end, patience paid off and we all finished our daily possession limits of eight more beautiful king salmon weighing between 15 and 26 pounds.
Port Hardy is a drive-to destination on the northeast end of beautiful Vancouver Island. Getting there is both fun and educational. Many families join groups of seasoned anglers by taking one of the huge B.C. ferries from either Vancouver or Port Angeles to either Victoria or Nanaimo. When they tire of the man-made beauty, it’s time to take the newer Island Highway northward. It will take about seven hours to drive from Victoria up to Port Hardy although many travelers deliberately take several days just to take in all the incredible scenery. There are plenty of campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, hotels, motels and sea-side resorts along the route.
Port Hardy is a beautiful little city with just over 6000 people. It is an angler’s paradise, offering help and facilities for those who bring their own boats or for those anglers who will be fishing in saltwater for the first time and wisely hire a guide or arrange to fish with a guided charter. Visitors often see black bears roaming the beaches and sometimes going through garbage cans right in the middle of the city. There are always murders of crows and ravens competing with seagulls as well as very numerous bald eagles. Anyone venturing out on the saltwater will likely see grey and/or humpback whales as well as pods of orcas and the occasional minky whale. Port Hardy is the farthest destination on Vancouver Island that anglers can get to safely on paved roads. Wash-boarded gravel logging roads leading into other destinations are often very hard on both vehicles and towed boats. If your fishing charter does not include accommodations—book a hotel or motel early. The ferry terminal is just outside the city and travelers to all ports north often spend the night in Port Hardy the night before their departure.
Salmon fishing is often so spectacular in Port Hardy waters that visitors forget how much fun bottom-fishing in this area is. When the price of halibut skyrocketed in grocery stores many anglers fished just for the halibut (pun intended.) Seriously, the value of the fish fillets you return home with can definitely take the edge off the sticker price of any angler’s trip.
Our third and last day of this trip found us relaxed and happy as we boarded Ryan’s cruiser. I noticed that he had already changed out the salmon gear for bottom fishing outfits. We were all in rain gear after listening to the local weather report that called for cloudy with intermittent showers. There wasn’t a breath of wind showing on the mirror-like surface. We cleared Hardy Bay and went through two wide channels as we motored northward. We slowed way down as we went close to one island that was covered with a colony of sea lions just as a thunder shower opened up right over our heads. The female sea-lions roared a cacophony of sound as we slowly motored past and I wasn’t sure whether that was caused by our sudden presence or by the hard pounding of the rain. It was definitely a scene that my grandson Kalan would never forget.
Marc Chalut and his 65-pound halibut.
We motored northwest for a couple of more miles where Ryan stopped to drift about 60—yards off a large bird-covered rock pile. Two of our lines were baited with herring and the other two had jigs. Kalan set the hook on a large Vermillion rockfish before the rest of us even got our lines to the bottom. Very quickly the rest of us also hooked nice-sized rockfish and I got surprised by hooking and retaining a 35-pound halibut. When we had six rockfish in the boat Ryan suggested we try a different spot. After all, we were searching for lingcod. The next spot was similar with a couple more rockfish so Ryan told us that he thought that trolling would be the best way to get lingcod. He rigged a couple of flashers followed by white six-inch Mister Twister “Sassy Shad” swim baits. He started slow trolling these rigs about five and ten feet up from the bottom using downriggers and about ten minutes later both lines came off the downrigger clips and we reeled in our first two lings. Those swim baits really did the trick as we quickly filled our limits of lings, mostly twelve to eighteen pounds over the next few hours.
We motored back to Duval Point where we trolled for coho salmon in a steady rain but we knew that the main coho run wouldn’t happen until later in the summer. We were very happy with our limits of beautiful kings and great fillets of halibut and lings.
Fish Harder Charters offers two boats and the gentlemen in his second boat had already booked Ryan’s accommodation. I booked us into the Quarterdeck Inn (1-250-902-0455) because they are right at the dock and include a continental breakfast starting at five each morning. Other accommodations include the Glen Lyon Inn (1-250-949-7115) or the North Coast cottages (1-250-902 0484.) If you’ve brought your own boat and wish to have your fish smoked or processed call Hardy Buoys at (1-250-949-8781).
We were totally thrilled with Ryan Conway and his Fish Harder Charters. He has excellent equipment and he really loaded our boat with limits of large-sized fish. Call him at 604-907-1613 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his web site at www.fishhardercharters.com.