Salmon Fishing on Vancouver Island: A Dream Fishing Trip For Fishers of All Types

It’s a dream trip for almost anyone who knows and loves fishing – a few days of salmon fishing on Canada’s Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It’s a good bet it’s on many dedicated fishers’ bucket-lists, no matter where on this globe they happen to find themselves. Ron Pradinuk tells us how to make the most of a trip like this!

Salmon Fishing on Vancover Island
The rod cast. The mist rising off the lake. Photo Credit: Ron Pradinuk

I have been an avid fisherman for decades, but most of my fishing has been in the freshwater lakes of Manitoba, and in the Lake of the Woods in Northwest Ontario

But fishing for Chinook, Sockeye and Coho salmon on “the Island” is different—and now that dream others may still have, is about to be mine–as well as that of my two best fishing buddies, Randy Williams and Louis Rodriguez.

We have fished together regularly for many years—celebrating our limits of walleye and lake trout—getting to know every nook and cranny where the best catches wait for us on Lake of the Woods. We know our business there—but fishing for salmon, we are novices.

Salmon fishing is a big industry in British Columbia—and there are dozens of experienced guides ready to take guests out to the areas fish are likely to be biting during their visits.

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Getting Started in Sooke, BC

Spenser's Sport Fishing
Getting ready for take-off. Photo Credit: Ron Pradinuk

The night before our first scheduled fishing excursion, I am so excited, I don’t get a perfect sleep thinking about the day that awaits us. At five AM, the aroma of coffee and the piercing calls from Randy–forcing me awake–gets my heart beating faster again in anticipation of what awaits us. 

We will be fishing out of the town of Sooke. While it is only a forty-minute drive from Victoria, we found some exceptional accommodation closer at hand at the SookePointe Resort.

It would be hard to find a more friendly, dedicated and fun fueled guide than Cal Young of Spenser’s Sport Fishing. His boat is a 24-foot Seawest, powered by a 300 HP Yamaha. The boat is fully appointed with toilet, stove, bench seats–and even an on-board shower.

With over 35 years of guiding, it becomes clear quickly he knows what he is doing. He is patient in explaining some of the differences in fishing salmon from the species we know so well.

Learning How to Fish in Deeper Waters

Sea Lions resting on a buoy.
Sea Lions resting on a buoy. Photo Credit: Ron Pradinuk

Firstly, we will be fishing mostly in much deeper waters, so the use of a downrigger is important. The downrigger is an automatic pulley system with weights which take the lines down to the depth where fish have been spotted on the depth fish finders. The line and trailing hook are attached to a clip–and when the fish grasps the bait, the tug releases the line from the downrigger and the fish is caught.

Well almost. As I learned, this is another difference in fresh water fishing. When I am fishing at home– as I feel a Walleye pulling the line—I let it feed on the bait for a second or three before setting the hook.

Not here. It is important to set the hook immediately or, as I learned on more than one occasion, the fish will spit out the hook and wish you a fond farewell.

As I bring the salmon in close, Young quickly shouts, “We have to throw it back. It’s a wild”. 

What? Throw it back! Does he realize what I have gone through to prove my mettle. “I ain’t throwing nothing back.” To no avail. Wild salmon are protected by the BC fisheries people through a hatching and seeding process of thousands and thousands of raised fish.

I am perplexed at how Young is able to recognize the difference immediately—even before the fish is landed.

To save the species and be able to easily identify the difference, in hatchery fish the adipose fin–near the rear of the fish–is removed in the juvenile stage, before release into the fishing areas. On wild salmon the fin is still intact, so experienced guides spot each quickly.

Through it all, we caught lots of fish. More than enough to have processed and frozen for transport back to our homes.

Fishing in Sooke Harbour
All in a day’s work. Photo Credit: Ron Pradinuk

Off to Campbell River

Our next adventure is further up the island in Campbell River—often described as the Salmon Capital of the World.

It promises to be another exceptional day–but first, we must guide ourselves to the specific dock where we will find our captain—more difficult to find than the glorious fishing spots we imagine. We stayed in the Crown Isle Golf Resort and Community, which is a few kilometres from the Campbell River launch point, where our host was waiting to greet us.

Easy to find a second time, but give yourself extra time if it is your first visit. Our departure dock is conspicuously hidden behind a major hotel chain property. From there, finding our guy is easy–and he walks us to his nearby home base building, fully adorned with his logo–50 North Adventures.  

Dean Parsonage is friendly, but more businesslike than Cal.

“Do you have your fishing licenses?” are one of his first questions. These must be purchased online before you get to the dock. The Province of British Columbia has an excellent website which allows for a number of options from one day to seasonal licenses, with complete information on how many fish you can catch or keep by region.

As Parsonage introduces us to his boat—a Grady White 265 Express with twin 250 HP Evinrude motors—I am looking at a boat that is cleaner than any I have ever owned. It’s a total confidence builder, and keeping it immaculately clean is part of the rules.

Soaking It All In

It is mid-September—so the sun is just beginning to rise as we move out from our docking area into the Campbell River. At this point, I come to the realization that this is more than a fishing trip. It is a sightseeing adventure as well.

As we race through the waters, a cinematic travelog unfolds all around us—from the sunrise over the nearby islands to the reflection over the homes and buildings of the town of Campbell River. This alone might be enough for other tourists who aren’t quite as keen on the fishing aspect. It is part of the other package options many of the Campbell River guides offer—and it is easy to see why.

Only a few kilometres from home base, Parsonage slows the boat to an idle so we can take a few photos of a number of sea lions resting on a buoy (pictured above)–as others frolic nearby. Later, it would turn into a whale watching expedition as well.

A few minutes from the sea lions, it is time for the real thing. What we came for. It’s time to put the lines in the water to bring in the big ones.

As it turns out, we would only get one ‘keeper’ on this trip, but still, it truly was an exceptional morning of fishing. To ease the pain of having only one that we could keep—particularly since it was Randy and not I who caught it, the idea that we could fish in the morning and golf in the afternoon is something we looked forward to–not easy to find in other places–especially with the quality of both. 

But golf on the Vancouver Island Golf Trail is another story to come later. 

Fishing on Vancouver Island
Rise and shine. Photo Credit: Ron Pradinuk

Returning to Land – Accommodation and Dining Options

Returning to land, we are glad we had our booked online as we are greeted by a fisheries official who checks our salmon for disease–and affirms we have our licenses. It’s good that Parsonage asked.

I do recommend our accommodations near Campbell River. The Crown Isle Resort and Golf Community. is a luxurious property. Our two-bedroom suite with pull out couch in the living room, hot tube, appliances and well, just about everything you could ask for, was the perfect choice. 

If you go, both the Crown Clam Chowder and the planked salmon in their Timber Room Bar and Grill were excellent.

Crown Isle Resort food
A seafood feast at the Crown Isle Resort & Golf Community. Photo Credit: Ron Pradinuk

We also stayed a night in the Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort. The Salmon Wellington I had in their Cedars Restaurant was one of the best meals of the entire trip.

We were lucky to get a condo to stay in at the Sooke Pointe resort since we would only be staying a couple of nights. Sooke Point is a relatively new development, with many of the condos perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

We took a tour of the property and my thought process was machinating around if I should, or could buy one. Randy’s decision-making process was faster than mine, and he did make a purchase. Hopefully an invitation will magically appear in my mailbox for next year.

Come for the Fishing, Stay for the Memories

Salmon fishing on the island has a deserved reputation for being the best. It is only when it is actually experienced that you can truly appreciate the broader and amazing complexities that include fishing—but move much beyond that as well. 

And the continued bonding of three almost lifelong friends made this trip a fulfillment of a dream in every way.

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