Grandpa Roger Higdem watches son Dane school grandson Finn on landing a Hippa Island flat-water slab.
By Terry W. Sheely
On the first morning we mooch herring along the inside rocks then tight to Ship Wreck, Red Rock, and Flat Top.
Jim and I are boating close enough to the pounding surf to hear it boom against massive rocks on the island and blow up into turquoise towers. We stay here and fish not because this water is packed with salmon and halibut but because beyond here the Pacific is dark with 8-foot seas, snotty and tough. An unseasonal summer blow has left it that way for a week, we’re told. Our group scratches hard for few opening morning hookups and no one boats a salmon worth putting on the catch board. Not the opener I was expecting, certainly not what I’m used to here on the wild west side of Haida Gwaii.
By the second morning the front has blown out and the white-capped towers of yesterday’s waves have settled into rhythmic swells, high but rounded. The ocean is fishable again and if we want we can run and gun. But we don’t. We hang here in yesterday’s water, because the salmon have moved in and it’s just too productive to leave.
Eight keeper slabs--two kings, five silvers and one big chum--are sliding around in our fish box, along with a tasty mix of black rockfish, yelloweyes and ling cod. Herring balls are dimpling the kelp line, sea birds are working, puffins pop to the surface with fish tails sticking out of their parrot beaks, all day the boat radios crackle with upbeat fish news and the air just smells fishy.
Yesterday’s frustrations are forgotten—today is why we came
Bob Winters has 24 and 17 pound kings in the box, along with three ling cod up to 21 pounds and tomorrow the Seattle angler will bang a 63-pound halibut, add two more kings to 19 pounds with a fine yelloweye and then laugh out loud while nailing big black rockfish—on the fly rod. His fishing partner Darrel Hanberg, Olympia, matches Bob’s 24-pound chinook and adds a 36-pound ling, and 88-year-old Myron Rill of Othello, fishing with son Rodney comes in with chrome beauties: 23 and 20 pound kings.
If every day could be like Day 2 I’d never quit smiling
John Ignac and daughter Christy Cheever discover a foam line off Flattop Rock, dial it in and when they finish back-trolling their fish box is wedged with 6 silvers to 12 pounds, Christy’s 18-pound king, John’s 18-pound ling and three super-sized black rockfish. The next day they hit the same mooch line again and add a 19-pound king, three more-silvers to 13 pounds and Christy loads up on white meat with a 46-pound halibut.
This is the way it’s supposed to be!
It’s late August and true to form, Hippa Island has overcome the storm-punched first day and by Day Three our fish boxes are heavy with fillets, the photo wall packed with pictures of big fish and a dozen smiling anglers each with stories and memories
This northern BC adventure was the 2016 annual Hippa Island Salmon Slam sponsored by The Reel News. Publisher/Editor Jim Goerg and I, are joined by 11 Northwest anglers including father-daughter John Ignac and Christy Cheever, father-son Myron and Rodney Rill and three generations of Twin Falls, Idaho Higdems’: grandfather Roger, 82, his son Dane and his son Finn. Rounding out the group are Puget Sound Angler-South Sound Chapter partners Ron Gschwend and Clint Sullivan, and long-time fishing buddies Bob Winters and Darrell Hanberg.
Our 2016 group ranges in age from 15-year-old Finn to 88-year-old Myron (on his third TRN northern adventure) and includes saltwater expertise that arcs from zero to expert. It’s a typical mix for TRN trips, and the maximum number of guests for our host lodge
We’re based on the Charlotte Queen, a 100-foot floating lodge of renovated, updated and polished brass and wood, with a crew of 8, a chef that blows my socks off with surf and turf dinners, excellent red and white table wines, hot tub, private rooms with showers, and self-guided 18-foot twin consoles that are specifically designed for this fishery. Float coats and rain gear hang in the drying room, boots on the dryers, a nest of hand warmers, the coffee pot never goes empty and lunch soups are worth coming in for. We’re assigned kicker boats, two fishermen to a boat (unless you want to add a buddy) that are ours for the trip. Leave your gear in the boat from start to finish. The crew re-rigs rods, adds fuel and fresh herring, checks the terminal tackle box, and removes fish every time your boat comes back to the mothership. The 4-cycle outboard is already purring when you leave breakfast and head to the boat.
On the water, a fish master rides herd on the fleet of self-guideds, radioing hot bite locations and depths, providing extra tackle, snacks, and information. It’s a system that works for even the most inexperienced boater/angler. Beginners are invited to fish with the fish master and receive an on-the-water tutorial of the basics.
Owned by Bruce Plankinton’s Charlotte Queen Adventures, the stately ship is tucked into a pocket of glassy water protected by steep walls of spruce, cedar and hemlock, overlooked by eagles and sometimes eyed by a black bear. The Queen is tethered to a barge that houses generators, freezer, storage, commercial vacuum packer, kicker boat moorage and the white board where daily catches are posted
The anchorage is perfect for a lifetime trip.
We’re in the heart of a remote, world-class fishery, on the edge of the Continental Shelf on the unpopulated and scarcely fished west side of Haida Gwaii, aka Queen Charlotte Islands. Mainland BC is 50 miles east. The centerpiece of this area is the rugged mountain of Hippa Island. The 2-mile long island screens the bay from the fickle ocean, providing sheltered fishing when needed. Protected fishing is a rarity on the storm-pounded open west side. The reefs, kelp lines, ledges and flats along the edge of the island create structure on the ocean floor that support bait swarms that attracts waves of migrating salmon and feeds tons of white-meat fish.
This is the first land structure that migrating salmon schools run into on their epic return and they are bright as minted dimes, feeding aggressively and unbelievably hotttt! After years of tackling these fish—especially the chinook—I’ll put a 20-pound Hippa king up against any 40-pound inland chinook and give odds on the fight.
The fishing area is vast, varied, and productive for salmon, halibut and bottomfish. There is open water contour line fishing, reefs and kelp beds to finesse, peninsula points and rock walls to probe, and subsurface humps to pound. Fishing can be five minutes away from the lodge, or an hour run south to Freeman Rocks—your pick. The known hot spots are marked on a map book in your boat and identified and located on the GPS/Depth Sounder.
Only two lodges tap the area and the Charlotte Queen is the one that originated the fishery
Just getting here is an adventure. Jim and I and most of our Hippa guests arrive in Vancouver a day early and overnight at the Pacific Gateway Hotel (www. pacificgatewayhotel.com) near the airport in Richmond. The four-star hotel provides a discounted ‘fisherman’s package’, get-acquainted reception, fish freezer, parking for the duration of the trip and free airport shuttles.
The trip starts from Vancouver International Airport/South Terminal on a chartered Pacific Coastal Airlines SAAB 340 turbo prop flight that follows north up the spectacular coastal ice fields and glaciated peaks along the BC mainland, then crosses Hecate Strait to the Haida community of Sandspit airport on the east side of Haida Gwaii’s Graham Island. A quick lunch and we transfer to a Sikorsky S-76A helicopter. Depending on weather, the ‘copter flies either through and over island mountains or follows Skidegate Channel between Graham and Moseby islands. Both routes end in landings on the deck of the Charlotte Queen where we’re greeted by the crew.
August is my favorite month to fish Hippa. The island is a steep upheaval, a mountain shield between the lodge and the open ocean. It protects the anchorage water from ocean weather and creates a large protected bay where I’ve caught 60-pound halibut, silver and king salmon (including a 44-pound chinook), lings, and varieties of rockfish. The bay is a welcome and promising hedge if the infamously tempestuous North Pacific blows up outside providing productive water to fish no matter how bad the weather, and eliminating lost fishing time
August also brings the best weather of the year and mixed catches of migrating spawner chinook, resident winter-springs (blackmouth), big migrating silvers (10 to 20 pounders not uncommon) , chums and pinks, and is the peak of halibut action. Ling cod, yelloweye, and a variety of black, blue, gray, copper and other rockfish are year-round residents. I bring a fly rod and/or light spinning rod and a box of streamers, lead head/plastic worms and Point Wilson Darts for light-tackle fights with the abundant rockfish and lings
Some years we’re surrounded by breaching humpback whales, spot black bears and blacktail deer on the beaches, otters, seals and sea lions in the surf and are rarely out of sight of bald eagles.
Fishing is self-guided in sturdy 18-foot aluminum boats fully equipped, including radios and fish finder/GPS tracking units, multiple rods, backup terminal tackle, sliding weights, gaff, harpoon, net, knives, pliers and more than enough fresh bait. We fish BC style with 10-foot slow-action mooching rods with single-action reels (no downriggers), 20-pound monofilament and herring baits. Stout halibut gear is also available and if you clamor for a conventional setup you’ll get it – but I can assure you that once you fight a good salmon on a single-action reel with soft-mooching rod you’ll never go back. It’s that much more fun
Our first day is rugged.
Bob Winters and Darrell Hanberg took big king and big halibut honors for the trip.
TERRY W. SHEELY PHOTO
Usually we fish five or six hours on the afternoon of the arrival day, but this year the weather keeps us pinned down in Sandspit for too many hours. My first flight to the boat was on the luggage ‘copter, just the pilot and I. We bumped and skated as far west as Rennel Sound south of Hippa then banked and turned back when the wind plowed into a wall of fog and the coastline disappeared. Two hours later we tried again, found a hole in the wall, made it in and called for the guests ‘copter
Lodge Manager Laura Rossy tells me that the unseasonable storm has thrown an unusual curve into the action, but yes, kings are still around and there’s an increasing number of big silvers—some in the 16 to 18-pound range. “We’ll see what the weather does,” she says, “supposed to clear up.”
And on the second day it does
Most of the boats go out South Pass into the edge of the ocean to hot spots where the fishing is almost predictably good. I point our center console at a gateway between the broken reefs in North Pass, surge out into the rolling ocean, check the GPS map, locate Montana Rock and head for my first king and keeper ling of the trip. The action starts fast and dies fast. Jim and I drift and mooch looking for fish, give it up and head over to “The Hump” one of my favorite stops to see what’s going on there. We’re the only boat in miles of water.
The ‘Hump’ is about three miles offshore where the bottom rises from 600 to 200 feet and it’s nearly always loaded with bait and predators. We make four drifts and catch a small king, couple of bottomfish. Two whales are roaming nearby, apparently looking for food too. No sign of a salmon school and the bait that shows up on the depth sounder is in small scattered patches. I’m guessing the northerly storm that squared up on this exposed honey hole blew the salmon and bait fish schools apart
While we sift the empty water, the rest of our group is nailing fish to the south, judging by the radio chatter and we head that way. Off Ship Wreck (the rusty remnant of a November 1947 grounding that killed 47 seamen) we spot herring blowing up on the surface, drop a plug cut and a whole-herring overboard, strip out 12 and 20 pulls, make a swing along the outside edge of the ball and hit a double
Double-digit size silvers are sizzling away, mine on the starboard side, Jim’s on port. Twice they swing wide, circle, cross lines and twice we miraculously separate them. Both fish make it to the net. It’s the start of a good day. The other boats have been into the bite since daylight and most head in for a lunch of the chef’s special mushroom soup, sandwiches and a nap. Jim and I fish to catch up and when we finally head to the lodge for a dinner of Cornish game hen and nicely-sauced salmon there’s a satisfying mix of lings, rockfish, yelloweye, silvers, chums and kings riding in the fish box
When we nose into the docking I can see the fish board is full of fish, including Bob and Darrel’s 24 pound kings, lots of silvers lead by John Ignac and Rodney Rills 12-pounders. Ron Gschwend and Curt Sullivan lit up the board with a pile of coho, four lings, rockfish, yelloweye and Curt added a chunky chicken halibut. Young Finn Higdem, on the third day of his first saltwater trip, nails a 23-pound king, 10-pound coho, 2 lings and a couple of six-pound black rockfish.
Several tell of catching and releasing barn door halibut too large for the slot limit, of being checked out by passing whales, and Bob enthusiastically details his afternoon casting the fly-rod and catching three to six pound black rockfish, plus a cavern-mouthed ling cod that came up to eat a popper gurgling on the surface. When the coho are in, a streamer fly or surface popper can be explosively deadly. We’re hoping.
Tonight the dinner tables rock with good fish stories and smiling fishermen.
Day four is our last and it leaves me begging for one more day
Low fog shades the morning and promises to clear before noon, but our fishing day will end at 10:30 when we have to return to the ship to pack and get ready for the helicopter out. The exit is made easier by the traditional brunch of Eggs Benedict and Steak, but I’d trade an entire steer to be able to fish the rest of the day.
The fog bite is up and down, mirroring the moving balls of bait and scattered schools of coho. It’s frustrating for Jim and I, moving with the bait, changing depths, varying mooching speeds. I catch and release a small king, then another. We have a couple of big league strikes that come up empty. Salmon are biting light this morning. Jim hits a good fish, a solid chinook big enough to make our box. My fish buddy has been uncharacteristically chinook-starved this trip and is smiling and reeling when the king rolls, thrashes and slips the barbless hook./p>
Bob Waters and Darrell Hanberg find a moving school and stay on top of it long enough to add three silvers and a king to their catch, Myron puts two more silvers in his box, and Dane nets his going-away gift—a 24 pound chinook. The best for last.
Ron puts another hallie in the Puget Sound Anglers box, and Christy upholds her reputation with two more silvers to 11 pounds and a downright ugly but delicious 19-pound ling cod
Not bad for a few hours of fishing before steak and eggs.
Trip Possession Limits
• Kings, silvers, chums, pinks: 8 salmon,
four a day, four chinook total.
• Lingcod: 6 (3 a day)
• Halibut: (slot limit set annually)
• Rockfish: 10, (5 a day)
• Yelloweye: 6 (3 a day)
Fish are filleted, vacuum packed, frozen and packed in insulated shipping boxes to airline maximum weights.
More About the
2017 TRN Trip
The Reel News Hippa Island Salmon Slam scheduled for August 19-22 on board Charlotte Queen Adventures’ deluxe floating lodge Charlotte Queen is sold out, but rooms are still available for other 2017 dates at the TRN discount rate.
The TRN discount rate can be applied, with authorization, to any open dates on the Charlotte Queen 2017 calendar. For available dates contact Charlotte Queen Adventures, 1-800-784-1718, and check out the facilities at: http://charlottequeenadventures.com. To receive the The Reel News rate you must specifically request it by calling: 253-268-2680.
The all-inclusive trip to Haida Gwaii’s remote west side includes charter-plane flight from Vancouver International Airport’s South Terminal in Richmond, and Sandspit helicopter shuttles. Guests are also entitled to a “Fisherman’s Package” discount rate, parking and airport shuttle at the four-star Pacific Gateway Hotel near the airport.