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YOU GOTTA LOVE LANGARA!

By Terry Rudnick

 

We’ve all had those days on the water when things started out great and ended up going right down the toilet, right? Every now and then, though, it works the other way, and Terry Wiest and I had the great fortune to experience a couple of those things-just-get-better days back-to-back on July 22 and July 23 during the annual Salmon University group trip to Langara Island with the Oak Bay Marine Group.

The first of our bad-to-good days actually started out on a decent note, as we dropped a couple of plug-cut herring over the side near Andrews Point on Langara’s east side and immediately doubled up on chrome-sided Coho. Life was good, but only for a few seconds. My fish shook the hooks while doing a mid-air 360 a few feet from the boat, but as it was I got off easy. I turned to check on Terry’s progress just in time to see a three-quarter-ton sea lion appear from the depths and chomp down on his fish like a hungry teenager with a big slice of pizza. A short run, quick head-shake and well-directed expletive later, it was over.

Fifteen minutes later and 200 yards away the whole episode was re-enacted, only this time it was my turn to lose a unanimous decision to a sea lion that appeared to be about the same length, width and weight of our 17-foot fiberglass boat and 50-horse Yamaha outboard.

Having kept several salmon the day before, including a couple of Chinooks in the mid-teens, and not really wanting to take another marine mammal butt-kicking, we decided it was time to check out the island’s bottom-fishing possibilities, and headed north toward the famous Langara Island Lighthouse.  Ten minutes later we were jigging the edge of a kelp bed, in search of greenling we hoped to use as live bait for lingcod, but we couldn’t get through the clouds of hungry black, copper and China rockfish. We tossed three of the Chinas a few feet from the boat and each was quickly picked off the water by a mature bald eagle, another Langara experience not to be soon forgotten.

 

Our next attempt to catch some bait turned up even more and bigger black rockfish, so we kept six or eight of the largest and made another move. This time we hit pay dirt and quickly collected six kelp greenling, the best lingcod bait that money can’t buy.

As we headed toward an underwater plateau where other boats were starting to congregate, we happened over a small pinnacle that rose quickly from 190 feet of water, and turned to investigate. Both of us hooked up almost immediately as our sinkers hit bottom, and it was game-on. Terry’s first ling, a 20-plus, turned out to be our biggest, but we lost several larger fish and were more than happy to have five keepers in the boat within an hour or so. By then the tide had started to run and we drifted faster and farther each time we set-up atop a rocky reef.  Our last greenling bait was well beyond dead as we neared the end of a long, rocky ridge when Terry’s rod tip took a sharp and sudden dip, he reared back mightily, and something bigger and tougher than any ling we’d hooked began chugging away at a steady pace. There was little doubt that we had encountered our first halibut of the trip, and I pulled our harpoon from its hiding place behind the port-side passenger seat. There was no buoy for the end of the harpoon line, so I tied a quick loop, stuck my left hand through it, and dug in against the starboard gunwale. Within 10 minutes or so a large, brown form appeared beneath the boat, and as it neared the surface I let fly, only to have the harpoon head hit the bony collar behind the fish’s gill cover and bounce straight back.

I got a “What the hell was that?” look from Terry as his halibut raced toward the bottom, but he didn’t say anything as he once again started cranking his prize back to the surface. My aim was much better the second time, and the fish went berserk as the harpoon head penetrated its body, nearly yanking all 230 pounds of me over the side and temporarily making my left arm about six inches longer than my right. When the big flatty settled down I made a long cut under the dorsal gill cover and within seconds it started running out of steam. It took two tries, but we finally slid it over the railing and onto the deck, where several raps behind the eyes with the fish club settled the score for good.

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon salmon fishing, putting a 16-pound Chinook and two or three fat Coho in the boat, then raced off to Pillar Rock for a chicken halibut that rounded out our limit. Back at the Charlotte Princess, Terry’s big hali pulled the scales to 91 pounds, three pounds heavier than the day’s runner-up halibut. As he finished another fantastic dinner in the ship’s dining room that night, he concluded that it had been a mighty fine day for one that started out with sea lions eating our first two fish.

Our plans for catching more and bigger fish the next morning seemed doomed even before we got out of bed, as we awoke to the sound of 25-knot winds howling across the water and our fishing boats banging against each other outside our stateroom. A heavy rain, coming down sideways, didn’t make us any more optimistic. Our fish master Ken soon returned from his pre-dawn scouting trip and confirmed our fears; there would be no fishing on the east or west side of the island unless or until the wind died down substantially. We would be limited to fishing the relatively tight confines of the island’s south end, and none of the places where any of the ship’s 30 guests had been catching fish for the past two days. Things looked pretty grim.

Some boats headed southeast, toward Guinia Point, some southwest, toward Cape Knox, a few around the corner into Cloak Bay, and some opted to fish directly south, within sight of the floating lodge.

My boat partner and I tried salmon fishing at Guinia for a while, but there was nothing happening except five-foot wind waves, so we headed west, fishing a couple of small points along the way. Still nothing, so after about an hour we decided it was time to try for lings and rockfish along the rocky points near the west end of Parry Passage.

But as we passed Meares Point, almost within sight of the Charlotte Princess, there were five or six boats trolling along the current line, so we decided to give the salmon one more try before continuing on toward the bottomfish grounds. Following the lead of other boats, we turned back into the current and dropped our plug-cut herring over the side.  As we approached the point, Terry hit a fish and soon had a sleek 10-pound Coho in the boat. We were fishing similar rigs with six-ounce sliding sinkers and 25-pound mono, so when he told me he’d been trolling 32 feet of line; I adjusted to get my bait into the same zone.

 

When we reached the point, birds suddenly converged on a small patch of bait a few yards in front of us, so I steered directly into them to see what was going on. As we passed over the ball of inch-long baitfish, my rod suddenly dipped into the water and the reel began making that wonderful sound that almost always signals a good fish.

I was relieved when the powerful fish turned away from the shoreline—where two or three sea lions were on the prowl—but a new dilemma unfolded as it headed straight for a boat from another fishing camp that had two downrigger lines in the water. Within seconds our fish was under their boat and chugging past it toward open water. The guide shut his boat down and started retrieving his downrigger lines, but it looked like it was going to be too late, as my line entered the water just inches in front of his gear. I had Terry kick our boat into forward and try to get us ahead of the other boat, and my line began slicing slowly toward his bow and away from his downrigger wire. A few seconds later we cleared the other boat and started chasing the big fish in an effort to put a little line back on the reel. It took another 10 minutes, but Terry eventually slid the net under my prize, a thick-bodied Chinook that weighed in at 31 pounds when we returned to the Charlotte Princess an hour later to warm up and dry out a little.

 

After our break we headed west again, this time to Cloak Bay to try for lings and maybe get another crack at a halibut. Just before 1 o’clock, as we put a second 12-pound lingcod in the boat, Ken the fishmaster arrived with a dozen other boats close behind, and they all settled in near us to fish the slack tide for halibut. There was no hali bite at all, and by 2:15 all the other boats had disappeared.  We continued to bob around near the edge of a small reef for another half-hour when something inhaled my whole herring with a nine-inch Yamashita squid skirt draped over it. I set the hook and then just hung on as a strong fish made a 60-yard run along the rocky bottom, followed by another and then a third.

It was obviously a halibut, and one of the most energetic I’ve ever hooked. Those long runs, though, sapped a lot of its strength, and we soon coaxed it to the surface. Terry was a little hesitant to do the honors with the harpoon for fear of knocking my fish off the hook like I had nearly done with his the day before, so he took the rod and I stuck the big fish. When harpooning a halibut I always try to miss the spine, because it may stop the harpoon head from going completely through the body, but this time I dead-centered it, completely severing the spinal column, and the fish barely quivered at the end of the harpoon line. We quickly sliced behind the gills to bleed it out and had it in the boat a minute later. At 82 pounds it was a little smaller than the fish Terry had boated the day before, but coming four hours after my biggest Chinook of the trip, on a day when I had climbed out of bed wondering if I would get to fish at all, I wasn’t complaining.

 

As we cleaned up the mess and re-stored some of the gear, our radio clattered with the news that the wind had settled down enough to allow fishing on the east side of the island, and an hour later we were fishing aptly named Cohoe Point and catching silvers just about as fast as we could get our lines in the water. We ended the day with a 16-pound Chinook that had peeled more line off my Shimano 2000 GT mooching reel than any salmon I’ve ever hooked.  What a day!

Despite our remarkable results on those two memorable days, the fishing during our stay was perhaps a little below average by Langara standards. The Chinook were somewhat scarce, and several members of our group didn’t catch any. Coho, though, were available in abundance, and they ran a fat and healthy 7 to 10 pounds. There were also some large (5-7 pounds) pinks around, and a couple of folks boated large, chrome-bright chums. The bottomfish action was phenomenal when we could get to the open-water rock piles, especially for lingcod and several species of rockfish. Stormy weather, though, limited access to those places during much of our stay.

Halibut fishing runs a distant second in popularity to the salmon fishery around Langara, but serious hali fans certainly can find fish if they want to work at it a little. The “Chicken Ranch” off Pillar Rock is a bit of run from base camp, but it’s close to a sure thing for halibut of 8 to 12 pounds. Several reefs and underwater plateaus along the east, west and north sides of the island offer decent opportunities for bigger halibut. Despite the rough weather that kept us from getting to most of the better halibut spots, our group caught four fish of 60 pounds or better, along with a few more in the 20- to 30-pound range.

While it’s the fishing that brings most folks to Langara Island the first time, there’s no doubt that the service provided by the Oak Bay Marine Group staff and the amenities aboard the Charlotte Princess keep many coming back again and again.

 

Boats, motors, tackle and equipment are high-quality and well-suited to the fishing conditions, accommodations are clean and comfortable, and the food is absolutely first-class. Each night when we returned from fishing our boat was a mess, with rods and tackle laying everywhere, blood and bait all over, and a fish box full of salmon and bottomfish that needed processing. At daylight the next morning, our boat was clean, organized and ready for another day of hard fishing. Both gas tanks were full, we had a fresh supply of brined herring in one cooler and several back-up packages of bait in another, our tackle box was re-supplied and lunches and coffee were waiting for us. If ever we needed anything, someone came running. When we first arrived, I discovered that I had a broken guide on one of my personal rods, so I left it with the ship’s chief engineer. When I came in from fishing that evening, the rod was lying on my bunk, re-soldered so professionally that I couldn’t tell the broken guide from the rest. Talk about full-service!

Now that I’ve visited the Charlotte Princess and fished Langara for the first time, I can’t wait to go back, and I encourage anyone who really enjoys fishing to give it serious consideration. It’s well worth the published package rate of $4,409, but the Salmon University group rate of $2,871 makes it one of the best fishing bargains around. Maybe I’ll see you up there next summer.