Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim region has a long history of fabulous fishing, along with a bright future that holds much optimism and thorough diversity in the growing recreation and tourism industries.
For the small coastal communities of Tofino and Ucluelet, and Bamfield further to the south, fishing has always been a major attraction, with fish and seafood stocks creating the backbone of their economy and growth for many years.
Open-ocean fishing occurs far offshore from Ucluelet and Tofino. The continental shelf runs west of the two ports for almost 20 miles (30 km) to La Perouse Bank, an undersea plateau that forms the leading edge of British Columbia’s coastline. This is where the action happens, where the currents, swells, and weather combine. It will take you almost two hours of bucking the swells to reach the nutrient-rich waters, so prepare yourself with warm clothing and antinausea protection.
These rich aquatic resources can change, as many things do over time. Fortunately, the waters of Clayoquot Sound and Barkley Sound still host a strong marine ecosystem, with most local salmon stocks, halibut, bottom fish, steelhead and sea-run cutthroat trout numbers staying very stable. The changes of time have shown some very positive effects on these communities, as the facilities and recreational opportunities continue to advance with both diversity and professionalism, attracting and successfully catering to a worldwide clientele.
Click for a Map of the Pacific Rim (West Coast Vancouver Island).
Although the recreational opportunities are seemingly endless, there are very focused individuals that are lured by Vancouver Island’s REEL Pacific Rim TREASURES. They come from far and wide in search of the SILVER bright Chinook Salmon, the DIAMOND shaped Pacific Halibut, the YELLOW-GOLD bellies of the Sea-Run Cutthroat and the absolute PRICELESS exhilaration of releasing a native steelhead, all in some of nature’s most pristine surroundings.
These exciting fisheries are available all along our beautiful western coastline, from the more rugged and remote northern areas of Quatsino Sound, Kyuquot Sound and Nootka Sound, to the more accessible but equally pristine and abundant Clayoquot Sound and Barkley Sound to the south.
Early season fishing on the west coast of Vancouver Island starts off with great opportunities for aggressive feeder Chinook Salmon in the 6-15 lb range. This early fishery starts soon after the New Year, with the size and strength of these juvenile fish increasing through the spring. Most of the early saltwater fishing is limited to the inshore islands and inlets, while the offshore fishing opportunities increase as the weather starts to stabilize in March.
The offshore areas from Tofino, Raphael Point and Portland Point, as well as Ucluelet’s main offshore areas, South Bank and La Perouse or ‘Big Bank’ start to consistently produce larger salmon and halibut by early April. The preferred methods are trolling for salmon with spoons, hoochies or bait, and still fishing spreader bars with bait for halibut.
By mid June the first runs of Coho Salmon start to show up, both offshore and in the more shallow protected waters of Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds. These feisty 4-8 lb fish are a welcome sight for the light tackle enthusiasts, especially for the growing ranks of saltwater fly-fishermen. Along with the ever-acrobatic coho, numerous Sea-Run Cutthroat help create the bounty of the early season fly-fisherman, with numerous species of cod and a variety of salmon to mix up the catch later in the season. This booming new fly fishery has labelled the Tofino/Clayoquot Sound area as British Columbia’s premier sport fishing destination.
July through August sees salmon fishing increase along the near-shore areas of Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds. The maturing Chinook Salmon at this time of the year reach weights of over 30 lbs, with many over 40 lbs, and some trophy-class fish breaking the 50 lb mark. Abundant numbers of coho feed hard in these same areas, often providing non-stop action.
As the season progresses into early fall, fishing for local maturing Chinook Salmon tapers off after the second week of September. During this same period, strong runs of maturing Coho Salmon in the 8-14 lb range return through Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds en route to their home streams to spawn. This is a fantastic time of the year for fly fishing, light tackle and bucktailing.
By late October, the tail end of the saltwater season sees strong returns of Chum Salmon mixed in with the late coho runs. There is little fishing pressure at this time of the year, but opportunities to catch these powerful fish are excellent.
For the freshwater enthusiasts, there are fantastic trout fishing opportunities year-round. Sea-Run Cutthroat can be found in any of the many river estuaries or nearby beaches at any time of the year, with the downstream migration of salmon fry in the spring creating a feeding frenzy that makes them especially susceptible to anglers. Any well presented minnow type fly, small spinner or spoon should entice one of these hungry ‘yellow-bellies’.
There are numerous mountain lakes that hold great populations of Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout, providing some fantastic action to those that venture into these pristine spots. Some of these lakes have vehicle access, with most requiring a short flight in a float plane. Small boats, float tubes or pontoon boats are perfect craft to help you fish the majority of lakes in our area. May through October provides the best fishing conditions and cooperative weather.
The west coast of Vancouver Island is undoubtedly one of the best places on earth to fish for steelhead. These elusive Sea-Run Rainbow Trout have an addictive quality that mystifies many and consumes even more in an ongoing quest of the almighty ‘chromer’. With world-famous rivers like the Gold River and the Stamp River, and the lesser known but no less productive remote river systems in the area, steelhead fishermen are situated in Angler’s Eden.
During the winter months of December through March, the Gold River provides chances to catch and release average sized ironheads, while the Stamp gives anglers the option to keep one of the hatchery supplemented steelhead. In March, April and early May, the smaller remote rivers scattered along the coast have an unbeatable combination of true native steelhead in some of nature’s most pristine surroundings. There are a number of these west-draining systems that hold Summer Steelhead between May and November, with these fish more likely than their winter cousins to take a well presented fly.
Come and see for yourself what many others have already experienced – just why the West Coast of Vancouver Island continues to prosper with sport fishing and tourism.
The Alberni Inlet on Vancouver Island is a long, narrow flute that leads 25 miles (40 km) inland from the open ocean of Barkley Sound and the Pacific Ocean. In general, the Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound offer year-round fishing. Salmon school in the inlet before ascending to the spawning grounds. Timing is crucial if you wish to take advantage of their presence. One day they’re here; the next they’re gone, so plan ahead.
At the head of Alberni Inlet is Port Alberni, where visitors on fishing vacations base themselves and take trips to a variety of surrounding locations. Port Alberni’s harbour district is thick with tackle shops, boat rentals, and fishing charters. This is definitely one of the major hubs for angling on Vancouver Island and is the best resource centre for information on fishing locally in both saltwater and freshwater.
Salmon is the prize catch in these waters but so too are halibut. Actively feeding spring salmon (also called blackmouths) begin appearing in March as they follow the bountiful herring and anchovy spawning runs. Springs linger into May, when they are replaced by early-run tyee (chinook) salmon migrating in the Alberni Inlet. Sockeye salmon succeed the early-run tyee in late June and are joined by late-run tyee, the largest of all salmon, in July and August.
One of the chief staging areas for fishing the Alberni Inlet is China Creek, 9 miles (14 km) south of Port Alberni on the road to Bamfield. Primary fish runs in China Creek include cutthroat trout from January to March, and steelhead from October to December. China Creek Marina and Campground has 88 slips for moorage, a boat launch ramp, and 250 campsites. Call 250-723-9812 for information moorage and campsites at China Creek.
Port Alberni has a freshwater side that would be the envy of any fishing town anywhere. The Somas River runs through the heart of town. Bank casting is possible from a number of locations beside Hwy 4 and along Hector Road off Hwy 4 west of Port Alberni, including the privately operated Arrowvale Campground at 5955 Hector Road. Just north of Port Alberni, the Stamp River would probably make every chinook and steelhead angler’s Top Ten.
Beginning in January and lasting through March, a winter run of steelhead occurs in the Stamp, while April and May are good months for steelhead in Sproat Lake. In late summer, upwards of half a million salmon make their way to the spawning grounds near the Stamp River Hatchery. Bank casting is permitted downstream from the hatchery. Follow Beaver Creek Road about 7.5 miles (12 km) north from Hwy 4 to Stamp River Provincial Park. Watch for pullouts beside the river along the way.
Sproat Lake also has a solid reputation for rainbow-trout angling, particularly June through September. Use the boat launch here to head out for some trolling or casting.
Fishing Report by Jason Mohl, Clayoquot Ventures Tofino Fishing, Tofino, British Columbia