By Michael Deming
In the late 1700s, Captain Cook landed on the western side of Vancouver Island in what is known today as the Nootka Sound. It is located approximately 170 miles north of Victoria, British Columbia and is steeped in history. There is a lighthouse on Bligh Island with documentation about this landing and what it did to put British Columbia on the map.
All of this history of Nootka Sound wasn’t our primary purpose of this trip, but a byproduct of something the Nootka Sound is much more well known about today, which is the world class king salmon (springs) and Coho salmon (silvers) fishing that takes place in these waters. Not only do the rivers, which originate in the area, have monster runs of fish; but the abundance of bait fish in the area makes for a major feeding ground for fish from the north in Alaska, all the way down south to the rivers of Oregon. From mid-June through September, this is one of the best places in the world to visit if you want to experience sheer numbers of fish. Brian and Kelly Gage are owners/operators of the Nootka Wilderness Lodge, which provides a five-star experience in the Nootka Sound.
I’ve had the experience of visiting this lodge on four different occasions and whenever I need my fix of great fishing, good food, waterfront lodging and Ritz Carlton quality of service, I book a trip with Nootka Wilderness Lodge. I had taken my wife, Lisa, on my first visit to NWL due to her love of fine food and lodging, as well as the calm waters of the sound. However, Lisa didn’t get the nod for this trip since we would be taking a Sportsman’s News Pro Member Sweepstakes winners and a guest. Lucky winner Tom Taylor from Great Falls, Montana, was coming along and planning on bringing his daughter, Trinity, so I took my youngest daughter, Annika, to share the experience.
Brian and Kelly only operate the lodge during the peak of the run, so we had reserved our spot for the first week of August. We arrived in Campbell River the night before the trip was to start, giving us time to enjoy this quaint fishing town as well as being ready to fly from the east side of Vancouver Island over to the west side the following morning. Although there is a road which goes almost to the lodge from Campbell River, NWL chooses to include a short 30-minute scenic float plane ride that drops you at the dock right at the lodge. Brian, Kelly and the entire crew are always there to introduce themselves and welcome you to the lodge as well as load the prior week’s guests onto the now vacant planes. After a gourmet lunch and settling into the rooms, you are paired with a guide who is chomping at the bit to get you out on the water for 5-6 hours of fishing.
Most of the guests at the lodge will fish with 2-3 people per boat. These are only people from your group. Since we had four in our group, we had the opportunity to fish on the large Boston Whaler, which is their luxury boat and is captained by either Brian or Skip. Skip is a salty dog, with years of experience in these waters and lucky for us, he was our captain for the week. My focus was to run the camera and capture the experience for Tom and Trinity as well as my daughter and if we got limited out, I would try to land a fish or two myself.
It didn’t take Skip long to get us on the fish, but the Islander rods and reels proved to provide a serious learning curve for our guests. An Islander rod and reel setup is a lot like a flyrod and reel. The reel is a one-to-one ratio and the rods have a lot of bend and since the law doesn’t allow for barbs on your hooks, you can’t make many mistakes before those silver bullets will throw your hook. Fortunately for us, this is the Nootka Sound which is loaded with fish and each new tide brings giant schools of hungry springs and silvers in to battle with the fishermen.
We seemed to constantly be hooked up on fish on this our first day and we even managed to put some in the box. Being the professional fisherman that I am – I hooked and long-distance released (sigh) eight good fish during our afternoon experience and never put one in the box. My daughter Annika is still wondering how I do this for a living, after witnessing my horrible display of fishing technique.
Once you arrive back at the dock, the guides get to work taking photos, weighing fish, as well as gutting all the fish and getting them prepared for their final destination of heading home with the clients for future meals. Guests then head to the lodge to get cleaned up, enjoy happy hour and have another five-start dining experience.
Each morning, as if I was experiencing a flashback to my military days, the staff bangs on the door at 5am to give you time for breakfast, a cup of coffee and a short boat ride to catch all the hot fish on the morning tide. Fortunately for me on Day 2, Skip let me back on the boat. I’m sure it was more to let me film than to lose more fish. Annika opted to let the fish wake up a little before she disturbed them for the day and chose to stay in bed. With Tom and Trinity manning the rods and a day’s worth of experience under their belts, they wasted no time boating fish. We started releasing the smaller fish in hopes of landing the infamous Tyee, which is a 30-plus pound spring, but that trophy eluded us on this outing. Annika showed up with Brian later in the morning and got some good experience at landing a few fish. The calm water of the sound, warm weather, cool breeze and lots of cold beers makes the days go by too fast.
Every day, many of the boats can be seen heading back to the lodge when they are limited out, while others make a run to the deeper water and open ocean to try for halibut, ling cod and rock fish. Some just practice catch-and-release on kings and Coho’s. Regardless of what you do, these 4-nights/3-day fishing excursions are jam packed with excitement and lots of great times.
Although every meal at the lodge is exceptional, the final evening is one of the best and most remembered by all. It is a seafood extravaganza suited for a king or queen. Not only are you treated to the local favorites, but Brian and Kelly fly in some of the best seafood available. By the time the dining room is clear, it looks like a bunch of overstuffed seals lounging on the deck and enjoying their last evening. The camaraderie that is shared during these four days creates memories that will last a lifetime and have you looking forward to your next visit to Nootka Wilderness Lodge. Both Tom and Trinity had the time of their lives and my daughter is sure that I should figure out a new line of work or at least stick to hunting! Everyone out fished me by numbers I don’t even want to discuss. I’m pretty sure that Skip would agree that I should stick to hunting and filming, but his professionalism kept him from telling me the truth. However, I had a great time and a wonderful experience with everyone and that’s what Nootka Wilderness Lodge is all about. I even had to borrow a fish my daughter caught to take a photo for this article, since I could only hook and not land them.
We give this great trip away every other year with the Sportsman’s News Pro Membership Sweepstakes and you can get your chance to go, like Tom and Trinity Taylor, by signing up at www.promembershipsweepstakes.com. You can also book your trip directly with Brian and Kelly at 250-850-1500 or by logging onto their website at www.nootkawildernesslodge.com.
We will be visiting the lodge once again the first week of August and with another lucky winner. The last time I talked to Brian, there were still a couple of openings left during our week. We would love to meet some new friends and have you become part of the Sportsman’s News Team trip. If you can’t go then, any opening NWL has available is a good one, since they are all in prime time and in Captain Hooks’ honey hole.