The most northern of the five major sounds on the West Coast of Vancouver Island is Quatsino Sound. Usually this area is referred to by locals and visiting fishermen as Winter Harbour.
Winter Harbour is the small town located in Forward Inlet. At one time this was the center for the commercial troll fleet and at anytime in the summer as many as two to three hundred trollers would work this area off shore. The Canadian government has virtually eliminated the west coast fishery in order to rebuild their over-fished salmon stocks.
Because of that, Quatsino Sound is now rapidly gaining a reputation as the last great-uncrowded sports fishing sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Quatsino Sound is noted for its extremely large Chinook. Chinook in the 30 to 40 lb. range are not uncommon.
The fishing at Quatsino intercepts all the major salmon runs going south to British Columbia Rivers, and Washington and Oregon. As a result, fishing for species and stocks can change by the hour. Quatsino also has its own stocks returning to local rivers. The Marble River Hatchery has had Chinook over 70lbs. return.
Along with big Chinook, abundant Coho, Humpies, Sockeye and Chum are present during the summer months. Quatsino Sound and offshore consistently have some of the finest halibut, lingcod and bottom fish on Vancouver Island.
Where to Fish
Area 1: Fish this area on the incoming tide. The bottom drops off quite rapidly; so try to stay in the 50 to 75 ft. water depths. The Chinook will lay quite close to shore and usually in the top 45 ft. of water. This area usually closes August 1st to protect the Chinook returning to the local rivers, but remains open for Coho and Humpies. As you do when fishing anywhere, be sure to check the regulations.
Area 2: Troll from Cliffe Point north to the opposite shore on either flood or ebb tides. This area will produce numerous Coho and the occasional Chinook. One of the most consistent Coho and Humpie areas.
NOTE: The small cove on the north side (opposite Cliffe Point) is an excellent spot for big shrimp at 200 ft. plus depths.
Area 3: This is the premier spot to fish for Chinook in Quatsino Sound. This area can become crowded. A good plan is to be the first boat fishing this area in the morning. In the early morning set your gear up in about 250 ft. of water. On the incoming tide,
start about a mile down the beach. Once your gear is down, swing into 50 to 75 ft. of water and troll toward Cliffe Point. If fishing with two downriggers, set one at 25 and the other at 35 ft. deep. Since I have 4 Scotty Electric Downriggers on my boat, I usually set them at 15, 25, 35 and 45 ft. Any one of these could take a Chinook. Coho are also in this area, but usually in deeper water.
Beware – Cliffe Point itself comes up quite rapidly and hangs up downrigger balls on a regular basis.
Area 4: Cliffe Pt. To Harney Cove. If the area at Cliffe Point becomes crowded, troll south towards Harney Cove. This is almost a three mile troll and Chinook and Coho can be picked up anywhere along here. Troll in the 50 to 90 ft. depths but keep your gear in the top 50 ft. of water. Going deeper results in instant brown rockfish.
As you reach Harney Cove, turn out in a heading towards Gooding Cove. About a half-mile out, turn and come back towards shore. Chinook seem to hold in this area.
Area 5: Primarily a Coho area. Lots of Coho. Fish shallow, troll as fast as your gear will allow.
Area 6: Kains Island is the second best area for Chinook. This area is best trolled on the incoming tide for Chinook. Troll as close to the shore as regulations will allow. At the time of writing, Canada had not released their new regulations.
Begin your troll inside the rips coming off the rocks at Kains Island, back to Pinnacle Island, and then reverse your troll. It is not uncommon to have double and triple-headers on Coho in this area.
The nearby reefs, plainly marked with a red can buoy (Brown Rock) and Robson Rock (unmarked) hold Lingcod and the occasional small Halibut.
Area 7: The area off Rowley Reefs is excellent for Coho and Lingcod. This area is usually overlooked.
Area 8: Grants Bay and Lippy Point is a favorite spot for trollers and anglers seeking a mixed bag of Chinook, Coho, Halibut and bottomfish. Be forewarned that this is open ocean fishing, so watch the weather.
Chinook can be next to shore or five miles off shore. Coho will also be abundant. While we catch Chinook at depths from 30 to 175 ft. deep, usually the top 60 ft. of water is where you want to stay. Watch for diving birds feeding on bait and target that area. Every reef is alive with Lings and bottom fish. The shallows of Grant Bay itself hold Lingcod, Black Sea Bass and everything that swims or crawls.
The sand flats from 100 to 300 ft. deep are one of the greatest Halibut fisheries of British Columbia. Most of the Halibut in this area are in the 10 to 50 lb. range with many larger.
All these should be fished behind Pro Troll Flashers
Pro-Troll Holographic E-Lures fished by themselves in glo, green and purple colors.
Herring can be trolled and mooched here, but because of the numbers of bottom fish and mackerel (sometimes) expect to go through several each day.
How to get to Quatsino
Take the ferry from Tswassen, BC to Duke Point. For a slight charge you can make a reservation. You can either call BC Ferries from outside the province at 604-444-2890 or toll-free from anywhere in British Columbia at 888-724-5223. You can also make reservations on their website (www.bcferries.com). Driving time from Duke Point to Port Hardy is about 5 hours without rushing.
You have a choice of going out to Winter Harbour by road or by boat. The hard way is by road! However, if you want to take your time, it is 42 miles of twisting gravel road and many bears.
The boat launch in Winter Harbour is literally a hole bulldozed into the bank, and is suitable for use only at high tide.
The trip by boat is relatively easy. Go to Coal Harbor, a 12-mile trip over well-paved road. Launch at the World War II seaplane ramp. There will be a slight charge for launching. The slope of the ramp is very gentle, but not a place to launch on minus tides.
From Coal Harbor to Cliff Point is 21 miles of very sheltered water. Cliff Point to Winter Harbor is about another 4 miles. Because of the calm water, you would have an option of staying in Port Hardy. It is an easy run back and forth. However, you add about 3 hours of travel and launching that could be spent fishing. There are some distinct advantages to staying in Winter Harbour.
Services available in Winter Harbour
Winter Harbour is an extremely calm harbor with ample moorage at several docks. The General Store is small, but quite complete and includes the liquor store. It also has 4 apartments for rent. For reservations phone 250-969-4333. The General Store also runs the fuel dock. The fuel is well filtered and I have never had a problem with water in the gas which can be a problem in British Columbia.