Welcome to Hakai Pass. You have come to a spectacular place and are about to embark on an unforgettable adventure. Getting started can be a little overwhelming. Here are a few ideas we've learned that will help you increase your effectiveness and enjoyment while fishing at Hakai Pass. This is written with the neophyte in mind; however, there may be some helpful reminders for others as well.
TWO KEY PRINCIPLES
In our opinion there are two important principles that successful fishermen must keep in mind:
1. Attention to Detail
Little things make a big difference at Hakai Pass! Knots must be tied correctly and tested, bait must be properly cut and baited, hook ups with nicks after playing a large fish replaced, rod tips must be watched faithfully. Usually halfway through the trip we take 40 feet of line off a reel and discard it to eliminate the chance of breakage. These are but a few examples that can make a big difference to your adventure. Keep your eyes open to see little things that others are doing, especially if they are experienced and successful. If you see bait moving, go there. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the staff or other guests. We know that you have come to relax, but do not relax on important small details.
2. Time on the Water
You can’t catch fish when your line is not in the water! There are peak times for fishing such as tide changes, however there are other times when the bite comes on for no apparent reason. It is a bad feeling to hear about these times if you were on shore. Even if you are out on the water and not catching fish, you are learning more. There is a reason they call it the “Pass”. Fish are moving through on their way to their native streams. Hakai is one of their last stops. For this reason fish are unpredictable. You have to pace yourself and stay within your capabilities, but the more time spent on the water is usually better.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE DOCK
The staff is very attentive to details, however it takes only a few minutes to check the following:
1. Check safety equipment
Includes whistle, flares, life jackets, radio, compass.
2. Personal Gear
Remember important personal gear including sunscreen, hat, warm clothing, sunglasses, rain gear, camera etc.
The Ironwood boats have a built-in fuel tank and a fuel gauge. Check the fuel gauge before you leave the dock.
Cut some on dock. (see tips below) Take enough brined and fresh bait to cover your trip. Depending on where you are going we suggest at least 2-3 packs. One of these can be a frozen pack to keep the bait cool.
You must have a valid Tidal Waters Sports Fishing Licence with a Salmon Conservation Stamp with you on the water. These can be purchased online from the DFO. You will also need a pen to record any legal chinook, lingcod, or halibut that you keep.
6. Snacks and Drinks
Your preference here. One does tend to get hungry out fishing. Water is very helpful especially during hot weather. Other drinks may not hydrate properly and result in headaches or heat stroke.
There are weights and fishing leader hook ups on board. Check that there are enough. We usually fish with 4 or 6 ounce weights. You may need more in stronger tides. Ask for help if you are unfamiliar with knots. Below is the Improved Clinch Knot commonly used to attach weights or hook ups. A little saliva helps the knot slip rather than pinching the line. Test your knot by pulling with full force. Trim ends with scissors or clippers (knives tend to nick line). Rods should be about 10-12 feet with lots of 20- 25 pound test line.
8. Game Plan
Let the Staff and others know where you are going. We usually like to fish in small groups of two or three boats. We get more information about an area and you have a back-up if you have problems. It is also more fun. For any longer trips such as the Gap, Wedgborough Point, or Bayly Point, two boats are mandatory. Trips farther afield to Spyder Island and Cultus Passage must be accompanied by the Staff crew boat. Offshore halibut fishing must be conducted in groups of at least three boats and only in calm weather, and with advance input from Staff.
Check with the Staff for any other information or current regulations that you need to know about. Currently you are allowed to keep two chinook daily with a two-day possession limit (this means you can keep four chinook on your trip). You are allowed to keep four coho daily per angler with a two-day possession limit of eight. However, you are only allowed a one-day possession limit of four salmon, and an aggregate possession limit of eight salmon (chinook, coho, pink, chum, sockeye) total at the end of the trip. So the important thing here is practice conservation. Don’t keep small fish especially small chinook. It is appropriate to pass the rod to someone else if you have caught your limit. Your hooks must be barbless. Staff can arrange a great outing or provide advice if you want to fish for halibut, rockfish or lingcod, but please not there are size and possession limits for these species.
10. Species Identification
You will need to identify your catch. At first glance all species of salmon look the same. It is vital that you learn to identify salmon and other fish species. The DFO patrol these waters and may check your boat. It is embarrassing and expensive to have the wrong species on board (talk to Rob Dawson a.k.a. “The Fox” about this!).
FISHING the PASS
Every summer all five species of Pacific Salmon migrate through Hakai Pass on their way to natal streams. Trophy chinook (spring) salmon from 15 to 60 pounds (7 to 27 kg) are the primary target, and there is always the chance of hooking an even larger chinook. Hearing your reel screaming with one of these “monsters” on is sure to get your adrenaline going! Incidentally, a world record for chinook salmon was set at Hakai Pass in 1987 at 85.5 pounds (39 kg.). This beauty was caught on 20 pound test line. Just in case you are thinking that these kinds of trophies are a thing of the past, think again. Our top fish each year are always in the 40 to 60 pound range.
Our camp typically opens in mid-July and operates until the beginning of September. This schedule takes advantage of the peak fishing in Hakai Pass. All species are caught throughout the season, but the later part of the summer is best known for scrappy northern coho salmon. These fish are fresh from the cold, nutrient-rich northern seas and are typically 10 to 20 pounds (4.5-9 kg) of pure muscle. Coho (silver) salmon are renowned for their spectacular acrobatics that will leave you breathless. Other species of salmon such as pink (humpback), chum and sockeye add interesting diversity to your catch.
Many guests enjoy fishing for Halibut. These stubborn dwellers from the deep will test your stamina for sure. Halibut are plentiful and range from 15 to 200 pounds
(7-90 kg). The best sized halibut for eating are 15-20 pounds (7-9 kg) and are called “chickens”. Our camp is equipped with all the right heavy duty gear for success with this type of fishing.
Lingcod, yelloweye rockfish (red snapper), and other rockfish species abound and are available to round out your angling experience.
We replaced our fibreglass boat fleet with new aluminum boats for the 2016 fishing season. Our new boats are specifically designed for fishing the Pass by Ironwood Boats in New Westminster, BC. The Ironwoods are 20’ long by 7.5’ wide welded aluminum hulls with centre console controls and powered by 75 HP four stroke Yamaha engines. The electronics include Garmin GPS sonar/chart plotters and Icom VHF radios. Our boats are very clean and equipped with all the fishing and safety gear you'll need for a great day on the water, although some members and guests bring their own rods and reels. All our boats are unguided. We do not offer any guided packages. A 30-foot crew boat is also stationed at the camp every year for safety and skippered by the Camp Manager on group runs, including offshore halibut and coastal sightseeing adventures.
Experienced camp staff will help you get started by giving you some basic instructions about how to cut and hook up your herring and how to handle a strike. Once you are ready, the staff will point you to one of the many popular fishing “holes” close at hand. They have enticing names like Bald Rock, Odlum Point, Foster Rock, Barney Point, Bayley Point, The Gap, Cultus Passage and Spider Island. Experienced members and staff are always ready to share their knowledge with newcomers. If you ask them, they may even share some of their well-guarded secret holding waters that they have discovered over decades of fishing experience. Your catch is kept cool on board in specially designed fish storage tanks until you return to the dock. Staff will take your catch from there and clean it, filet it, mark it with your name and promptly blast freeze it for your trip home. Every time you enjoy a tasty salmon barbecue with friends, you'll relive your experience of fishing at Hakai Pass.
A QUICK GUIDE TO SALMON
Chinook: black gum line, black mouth, heavily spotted tail and dorsal fin, many spots on back.
Coho: white gum line, black tongue, few or no spots on upper tail lobe, no spots on dorsal fin or lower tail lobe, wide at base of tail, fewer spots on back than chinook.
These are our main quarry. However, you might also catch a few of these:
Pink (humpback): small scales, white mouth with black gums, large oval spots on “V” shaped tail.
Sockeye: almost toothless, numerous long gill rakers, no spots.
Chum: no spots, similar to sockeye but larger, narrow at base of tail, anal fin tip is often white, well developed teeth. Often mistaken for large coho.
DICKINSON’S TOP 10 TIPS
Here are a few more specific tips that have worked for us.
1. Cut several herring before you leave the dock. Three or four is a good number. Ten to fifteen is a good number. (use the largest herring you can find). Let these soak in brine and milk powder in your bait box while you are fishing or better still, overnight. This brine firms the mitre cut on the herring so that they will roll better and last longer. The tougher skin resulting from the brine helps the hooks hold. Having a number of herring ready also helps you quickly bait up when the mysterious “bite” is on. This can be a small window of time. You don’t want to wasting time in the middle of the action!
2. Take the guesswork out of cut plugging by using the mitre for all your bait. We will leave a few of these at the camp. Your goal is to have a “chinook roll”. This is what a wounded bait fish does. This action provokes the salmon to strike The double mitre cut has a side angle of ~32° and face angle of ~21°. Make sure that the longest part of the bait is the dorsal (top) side. Sometimes left handed fishermen or neophytes have cut the bait backwards. This will not work very well.
We have found that coho love this roll too. You can speed up a little when coho is your main quarry. Using the mitre helps you to consistently fish the same way with the same roll all the time. You may need to adjust speed to get the widest roll.
When cutting the bait do so in one smooth cut. Your knife must be very sharp. Sharpen it regularly. Make sure your hands are clean since salmon have an excellent sense of smell. Get someone to teach you how to put the hooks in the bait if you don’t already know. There are many methods. Make sure that one hook is on each side of the herring. We like to have the hooks alongside and close to the skin so that the bait is in the fish’s mouth before the hooks are felt. Practice this on the dock until you get the hang of it. This is an important detail! If your bait is not rolling correctly you will not get many strikes.
Test your bait beside the boat before letting it down. It should be rolling just slightly faster than once per second for chinook.
3. Keep your eyes open and learn. Make mental notes of the action of other boats. Look for bait fish in the water and fish near them. Watch your fish finder to see where concentrations of fish are. However, do not spend too much time studying your fish finder. All those images are not fish. It is only helpful for depths and general concentrations of fish and bait. Try to spend more time in holding places. Vary your depths. Each rod on board should be at a different depth. You can do this by using a different size weight or by varying the number of ‘pulls’ (pulling generously from reel to first eye on the rod. This is a measure of the line you are using). Generally 20 pulls is used throughout the Pass with four to six ounces of weight.
4. Not all water is equal when it comes to fish. We like to apply the 80-20 rule. Spend 80% of your time in known holding water (watch the experienced guys for this or where fish have been hooked) and leave 20 % for looking for new places. Talk to staff or more experienced fishermen for suggestions. In our opinion this is one of the biggest mistakes that neophytes make is to assume that all water is equal. In reality 90% of the fish are in a very small percentage of the water. Try to remember where fish have been caught in the past. Talk to the staff monitoring the radio and listen for information. Work as a team. If one of your boats is seeing several fish being caught, let others in your group know. They will do the same for you.
5. Generally stay closer to shore or kelp than you would think is right, but watch your depth sounder so you don’t hook up and waste fishing time. We rarely let out more than 20 pulls, and often start out with 10-15 in the low light times. Anything shallower than 50 feet has the potential problem of a hook up on bottom.
6. Watch your rod tip. Treat every twitch as if it were a large tyee chinook. Remember that chinook often bat at bait fish with their bodies before eating the bait. Don’t be in a hurry when you get a twitch to strike or wind in. There are a lot of ways to deal with a strike. Here is something we have learned: for most bites, strip out three pulls to give you a little slack to pick up the rod (if the fish is already running you don’t do this). Hold the rod tip down. If the fish is felt, strike very forcefully upward holding onto the line so it does not run out of your reel. If the fish is still on, have fun, sit down and point the rod towards the fish with the tip up. Keep tension on the fish at all times. Remember you have barbless hooks! Your partner will have to operate the boat to keep you close to the fish and therefore minimize loss due to weeds or other boats. Take your time playing the fish. Savor it. This is what you came for. If a fish is not felt, strip three more times and then wait. Check your bait after about one minute. Get your line back in quickly and cover the same area.
7. Do not rush the netting. A lot of fish are lost during netting. This is the stuff of “the one that got away” legends. Wait for the fish to be played out. Big fish begin to turn on their sides at this time. Have the net in the water. Keep the fish also in the water. Wind to a point with the weight less than a foot from the rod tip. Draw the fish to the net by raising the rod tip vertically. Go headfirst being careful not to catch the hooks. Do not touch the tail first. Be decisive, your partner is counting on you. Once the fish is in, close the net and lift with the handle vertical. This is the position of strength for the net. High fives, handshakes and hugs go over well at this time and remember to take some photographs to capture the moment!
8. Check your bait regularly (approx. every 10-15 minutes). You rarely hook fish with weeds on your weight or bait. Some of your best fishing is done while winding in and letting out your line so don’t think of it as lost fishing time. When winding in, pause from time to time especially when you can just see the weight behind the boat. When letting out line, keep your rod in your hand for a moment after you have reached your desired depth. We have had some tremendous strikes at these moments.
9. Try changing your speed and letting the lines drop while in neutral. We actually go very slowly most of the time especially when over known holding water. Your pathway should be curvy rather than straight.
10. Give a location a good try of at least an hour or two. If it is not happening (i.e. no fish being boated), move to another spot. Talk to others on the radio to see how they are doing. A change of scenery often stimulates and focuses your attention again.