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Return to Canada 2017 - 26/09/17

Canadian Return


I first went to Canada two years ago and pondered if I should make another trip. The second one was with Hugh Miles as my fishing buddy plus friends including Sandy, (my wife).and it included a stay on Vancouver Island. I really enjoyed the variety that this offered so decided to go yet again this year.  The group this time was Hugh and myself, the fishermen together with Sandy and our daughter Jenny who came on the promise that she would see the real Canada complete with raccoons and bears.


After a nine hour flight from Heathrow, followed by a two hour drive from Vancouver
, we eventually arrived at around midnight in Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia, Canada, about two hours late due to problems with Europcar Car Hire. Even though we had pre-booked the car we needed, Europcar didn’t have anything and said we would have to stop the night and get a car in the morning, even though we were booked for a fishing trip at 8am from Harrison, a two hour drive away. Take my advice… NEVER EVER USE THEM!!!!!  I was helped out by West Coast Car Rental who was just the opposite, couldn’t be more helpful, collecting us from Europcar and taking us to their offices where they had the car we needed including an inbuilt Sat Nav.


The following morning Hugh and I were up for breakfast for 7am and across the road and into the boat by 8. We had hoped that Jeff, our guide for last year would be with us again but sadly he had other commitments so we went with Morgan, another experienced guide. Sandy and daughter Jenny had a lazy day having a late breakfast and swims in the spa pools


We started fishing just along the Harrison River in an area where there were a shoal of pink salmon splashing. We had planned to salmon initially and end the day sturgeon fishing so the plan looked good, except we just couldn’t catch a salmon. They were all around us, and we tried shallow flies, deep flies, fast retrieve, slow retrieve and we just couldn’t get a take. We switched to lures with exactly the same result; how could we not catch a fish in this area?


After a while we decided to give up and go sturgeon fishing in the Fraser River.  There had only been one shower of rain since 2nd June, and this was 26th September so the rivers were the lowest in living memory. There was a big gravel bank at the Fraser/Harrison junction pool as we pushed through towards the “chicken farm” area which had proved so successful last year. Again, we had no takes in the first spot, nor the second, so we went down the Fraser past the Harrison and tried to catch chinook salmon near a gravel bar with legered minnow style lure that were photographed in the trip report from two years ago. At last Hugh broke the jinx unusually catching a pink salmon before we moved further down the Fraser to Island 22 where we finished with an hour of sturgeon fishing. I finally caught a fish of around 5’ before heading back for a little libation. The temperature was cool at night but still got into the 20 degrees during the afternoon and a couple of beers at the end of the day became a ritual we thoroughly enjoyed.


Then we headed back to the room to clean up before heading for the pub for dinner. We all looked for raccoons with eyes wide open, but to no avail.


The next day we were up again at 7, in the boat by 8 but this time we had a new guide, a young lad of 19 called Matt who was in the Canadian junior fly fishing team. Although he had been guiding for just a month, he was brilliant. We initially followed the same pattern as the day before, returning to where the pink salmon were – and failed again.

We christened this spot the “no take zone” for obvious reasons and after just over an hour we went across the river to the shallows on the far side and then, in the warming sun, we started to catch pinks, several of them plus an odd pike minnow. We were also delighted to see an Osprey dive into the pool trying to take the salmon not many yards away, and as we looked around Hugh spotted a Merlin sitting in the tree beside us. I have to say that having Hugh as a fishing buddy is a delight, not because we have a similar love of the sport, enjoying catching small fish as much as big ones, but also the fauna and I would not have known what much of the wildlife, especially the birdlife, was without his knowledge. He was a joy to share a boat with.


After sating our appetite for the salmon, we returned to the Fraser again after sturgeon.  Hugh told Matt not to put us on any sturgeon over 5’ as we had both had big fish last year and wanted a good fight, but not a painful one. During the week we caught several fish and they were all between 4’ and 5’ 6”. We did see one huge fish in the fish finder which Matt reckoned could be nearly 12’ but we left that to grow bigger.


After a fish or two each we returned to the Harrison. I had told Matt that I wanted to catch a Sockeye as I had never caught one before, so he took us to another pool where he felt there may be a few about – which we christened Matt’s Secret spot – and lo and behold, I had a male first cast. Superb guiding


The evening drinking ritual was the same, but this time we went to the German restaurant. We were told the raccoons were out every night, but again, not this one.


The next day differed somewhat.  As we boarded the boat, a raccoon was walking around so I ran into the hotel to fetch Jenny and Sandy and they both ran down in any item of clothing that came to hand with the pyjamas, and managed to see it just before it darted into the shrubbery. Jenny’s was delighted – one promise fulfilled.


Hugh and I initially fished in Matt’s spot, but in the cool shade of the morning, there weren’t many fish so we crossed the river again into the sunshine.  Hugh was in his element catching pink salmon on the fly. However, the previous day I had been watching smaller fish below the boat.  There were two species; whitefish which were about the size of dace but with a grayling shaped body minus the fin, and another which just seemed to eat the algae off the stones we nicknamed stone suckers. 

Matt had brought some check nymph tackle so I could fish for the whitefish which had aroused my curiosity. Never having tried this method before, Matt gave me a quick demonstration before I tried my hand. I really enjoyed it, I could watch the fish approach the nymph and I even managed to catch a few.
  At one point we had a greatly mismatched double hook up; Hugh with a big pink and me with a little whitefish that wouldn’t keep still for the photograph.


I had no tackle or bait for the other species and told Matt when I return I’ll show him how to use bread flake legered on the bottom which I think will (possibly) catch the stone sucker.


Once again we ended the day going downstream to the Fraser to catch a sturgeon or two in “the deep hole”


On the final day, Hugh and I decided to stay and fish the Harrison
as the water was clear and the fishing was just much more fun, which is our priority.  We tried the “no take zone” one last time with the usual result but Hugh was watching fish on the far side.  Matt didn’t want to cross initially as two harbour seals were there and he thought they could be a problem, but frustration got the better of us and we crossed the river to see a huge shoal of sockeye. We anchored just a fly cast from the shore over the stones and started fishing. Hugh caught a succession of sockeye with quite a few pike minnows between and even a bullhead.

We christened him the pike minnow master. I decided to use lures and had fish after fish with over half throwing the hook as many were foul hooked because of the density of the shoal which was unbelievable.
  On one cast I foul hooked three sockeye in succession, each shedding the hook after the initial run.


The downside of all this activity was the other anglers who watched us and anchored right along the shore and started encroaching in our spot. I had to tell one to move as he came so close I would have cast over his line. After a grumble and an accurately placed cast adjacent to him he moved away.  Then two canoes came along with an angler and his wife in each. They had watched us and decided to paddle right over the fish between the shore and our boat right where Hugh was fishing. This was a huge river, full of fish and we couldn’t believe that they do that, no manners whatsoever. Then they even got out and fished where we were.


At that moment, the heavens then opened and I hit into a much bigger chum salmon which just took off on the light tackle I was using and went right through where they were fishing. I yelled “fish coming through, do not cast” and it took me an age before I got it to the boat, expecting them to cast and tangle my line at any moment.


We decided that was the time to move and try for sturgeon in the clear water where the river runs out of Harrison Lake for the last hour of fishing.  Just as with Jeff last year, we both ended up with a 5’ sturgeon each, but the bonus here was watching the fish as they rose out of the depths in the clear water. What a way to finish the first part of our holiday and a great thank you must go to Matt for his guiding, his sense of fun and sharing in our enjoyment – some would say stupidity - at travelling to Canada and trying to catch little fish. We felt like a team getting equal enjoyment all around. 


If there is one overseas fishing trip you should do, it is to Harrison Hot Springs with BC Sportfishing. The hotel is good, even good enough for your wife to enjoy too, and the guiding is excellent, really professional. They will even pick you up from the airport and return you there too if you so require. I can’t speak too highly of them.  The website information is

Then we moved on to phase two.


We visited Bridal Falls just outside Harrison on the way to catch the ferry which was to take us to Vancouver Island landing at Nanaimo.

As we had an hour or two after landing before needing to check in, we visited
Stamp Falls to watch the salmon running up the river, hoping for Jenny to see her bear.  It is also tinged with sadness at the shear effort of these fish to rise the falls knowing that they will all die in the next few weeks. This really is one of nature’s wonders to behold. We didn’t see any bears there but we did spot three black tailed deer on the return drive.


The following day we headed to Comox on the east coast of the island. This looked a much more affluent area than our base at Port Alberni. We looked around at all the yachts in the marina and found a nice restaurant for lunch before Hugh and I headed out for half a days fishing for chinook at sea using down riggers.  We knew it was a week or two past the high season but though that five hours would be time to catch a few fish.


We headed out past the seals for a few miles, before dropping the lures. These are fished behind a flashy board to attract the attention of the fish, and set at a depth using a lead weight (with a clip to hold the fishing line) roughly the size of a cannonball which was set at the desired depth by an electronically controlled downrigger reel. When a fish takes the line comes free of the clip that is mounted on the weighted ball and allows the bent over rod to flick up indicating a bite.


The skipper, Steve, then used his knowledge, GPS and fish finder to travel alongside the contours in the sea bed where we could see the bait fish were gathered, and where  we expected the salmon to be feeding. That’s the theory. We travelled along seeing masses of fish but just couldn’t get a take. Eventually I had a chinook jack which didn’t have the strength to free the lure from the line clip, the tip merely bounced a bit. We tried varying the depth and the colour of the lure and during one such change Steve reeled up a rock cod.


We tried again and it looked like that was going to be our solitary catch when suddenly both rods went. I had another jack chinook and Hugh had a rock cod, shortly followed by a jack of his own.  Then it was time to return, have dinner in Comox before returning to our hotel in Port Alberni ready for an early start the next day.


That morning we were out sharply ay 6.15 to meet Josh by the local marina. He was towing an alloy hulled rowing boat. He explained that the River Stamp was so low that this would get into places the others couldn’t. After a short drive, we reached the pool where we were going to start fishing and there was a bear, swimming right through.  It quickly disappeared seeing us, then another juvenile came trundling along the bank. These black bears eat berries and dead fish and will leave you alone if you treat them with respect, so we felt no fear.  Josh launched the boat and we tried float fishing with salmon eggs as bait in the circling waters. I was into a fish very quickly, a jack chinook salmon. These are fish that return after one winter in the sea and are only the size of a nice trout. They will try and spawn but are too small to be of significance with much bigger fish in the water, and they will still perish like the older fish. The sport here was slow and it was very cold with frost on the ground.


Josh rowed up to the rapids above us where Hugh caught another jack. I was getting loads of bites but kept missing then so Josh switched tackle to smaller hooks. This resulted in my catching a rainbow trout, but the bait was being demolished by smaller fish so we changed back to salmon fishing.


We worked down the river into the sunshine, much to our relief as the temperature rose, catching a fish here and there until we came to the “rock pool” where we disembarked to fish from the rock.  Another bear was searching the shore line for salmon as we trotted here using salmon roe for bait on a trotting rig with a foam pencil style float.  I had a couple of large but coloured chinook pushing 20 lbs, but Hugh had one of those spells when he just wasn’t getting the bites and couldn’t hook anything.  It reached a point where he said I should have one last cast and we would move, and I had another fish.  It seems as though Isaac was smiling on me.


We ended up at the ramp pool where the boats are extracted and this time the luck was the other way with Hugh catching the fish and me struggling. We tried different depths, shotting patterns etc. Then Hugh noticed that the floats were different colours and the one really seemed to spook the fish. Every time it was cast it caused a much bigger clearing of the fish shoal that the other, and as we tried other things, the luck stayed with the one float.


When we got back to the hotel, Jenny and Sandy had been swimming and sun bathing as the temperature reached the mid twenties every day. We had time to clean up before heading for dinner and an early night.


The next day we started later. I said we would meet Nick, the boss of West Coast River Charters (who was taking us out on the next two days) at 7.30. This was more sociable, giving us all time to have breakfast. We didn’t feel we missed much sport as this year, (and last year) the fish didn’t seem interested until the water warms up a little.


We started at the ramp pool again, this time trying a lure. After a few casts I struck into a beautiful coho salmon that shot all over the river jumping several times. It was a chrome fish fresh from the sea, and even better, Hugh had managed to take an extraordinary photograph of it leaping from the water where you can see the line from the rod to the fish.  We both had another fish or two on the lures before we switched to salmon eggs trotted under a float again. I was lucky enough to have another chrome chinook, a superb looking fish.


We moved up a couple of hundred yards just above the junction pool and continued to catch salmon and see the odd bear, 5 on the day.  Nick suggested we took Jenny and Sandy out the following afternoon to do a bit of fishing and some bear watching. We returned to the hotel a little earlier to collect Sandy and Jenny,  Hugh decided to watch the wildfowl at the wharf whilst we went to a local park to see the First Nation artwork on the rock faces before meeting up again at the wharf for dinner at an excellent restaurant.


The following day, Hugh said he would be happy if Sandy, Jenny and I used the trip as a family outing whilst he read and wrote up notes, a very generous gesture.


We met Nick at the ramp pool and started fishing. Almost immediately we saw two bears up the river, one was working his way down the far bank, even wading into the river adjacent to the boat. Jenny was over the moon; she had not only seen a bear but had photographed it too, although she was getting nervous about how close it was getting never having seen them before. Nick said he didn’t need to move unless it put its paws in the boat.  I had a salmon or two and had several more throw the hook before we moved up to near the junction pool again.


As the sun fell I caught a succession of fish before deciding I had caught enough and put the rod away. We looked for more bears and went higher up by the rock pool, waiting for half an hour without any success before heading downstream - and there was a mother and two cubs.  We tried to get closer but the water was so shallow that we clipped a rock. The bear heard this and quickly moved away. This made eight in all we had seen during the day.


Once again, due to great guiding I finished with a bagful of fish, all returned unharmed, and seen plenty of wildlife including herons, kingfishers, bald eagles, mergansers (UK name); a perfect way to end a holiday. The website to plan your trip is


We had a final meal together that evening to celebrate a great trip.


The next morning we rose promptly and headed to the airport via Stanley Park, a great open space that you have to drive through to get around, just on the edge of Vancouver itself, before heading home on the painful overnight flight that you simply can’t avoid.


This was another great trip which we all enjoyed and I can’t thank Hugh enough for being such good company; he is so well informed about wildlife as you would suspect educating me all the time, and being generous to let Sandy and Jenny have his boat space on the last day. Here’s hoping it won’t be our last trip together as it is good company that really makes the trips so enjoyable, and also we must say a big thank you to the guides Matt at Harrison and Nick at Vancouver Island for bringing us, and sharing in our pleasure.