By Mike Carey
“Fish Fish Fish!!!” That port rod had been getting hit the whole trip and it was once again bouncing. Pop, the line released from the clip and line went peeling off with the scream of the reel clicker. “Whose turn is it?” We’d had enough bites and fish that it was getting hard to know whose turn it was rotating through the four anglers. Rob Frawley of TofinoFishing.com had his fish detecting skills working, moving us to various locations in search of traveling Chinook salmon. We were back at Tofino on Vancouver Island, Canada, and the Chinook action was going good.
My wife JoAnn and I arrived with our dogs Diesel and Rudy after an early morning drive from Port Alberni, a midway point that we stopped at the prior evening rather than drive all night to Tofino. Leaving Seattle on a Wednesday at 4pm we had managed to make the 8:30pm crossing from Tsawwassen, Vancouver over to Naniamo by 11:30pm. Traveling in the evening afforded us a beautiful sunset cruise across the Strait of Georgia. A one hour drive to Port Alberni, three and a half hours of a quick sleep we were back on the road at 3am to make a 6AM dock time. Rob Frawley, guide and Manager of Tofino Fishing had told me it would be fine to leave the dock at 8am but I was not going to be the cause of my fellow anglers missing two hours of fishing time! Along for the trip we were meeting NWFR’s Rob and Hillary Holman and also NWFR member Noah Bettin. Three days of salmon and bottom fishing were in store for us and I for one did not want to miss one moment. There would be time enough to sleep later…
Noah battled the fish with the ten foot “knuckle buster” rod and reel set up that we learned to love so much on this trip. The fish made several strong runs, drag screaming as Noah kept his right hand free of the dangerously spinning reel. As soon as the run stopped Noah frantically reeled keeping slack out of the line so the barbless hook would not fall out. As the fish approached the side of the boat it gave several more runs, each one shorter and less intense than the previous one. Noah angled the fish to the net and Rob skillfully slid the net under the fish and then into the boat. It was another beauty, twenty pounds of ocean chrome salmon that we would soon be taking back state-side.
In between the periods of hot bites there were of course quiet moments that we filled with Canada-United States banter and comparisons of our cultures. We generally avoided all things political wishing instead to learn what made us more alike than apart, being “Two Children from the Same Mother”, Canada and the U.S. One thing I found interesting as we talked was the differences of words surrounding the sport of fishing, hence the title of this story, A Tyee By Any Other Name.
We started off with the object of our affection, the noble Chinook salmon. In Canada these fish are often called “springers” or “falls”, or, if over thirty pounds, “Tyee”. The bar for Tyee used to be forty pounds Rob informed us, but those fish were becoming rarer so now they consider thirty pounds a Tyee. We U.S. anglers went by the names “Chinook”, or “Chinookie”, or “Nookie”. “King” was common to everyone. Blackmouth seemed to be a U.S. term. Hatchery fish are the same, but Rob and other anglers call native fish “wilds” pretty much all the time. Even though we all agreed they were most likely unclipped hatchery fish – which we agreed on.
What was universal was our saying throughout the trip, “that’s a nice one eh?”
The rods and reels used in Canada are quite different from the U.S. and defiantly take some getting used to. Rob noted that he has repeat customers that bring their own shorter rods with level wind reels specifically because they had a harder time landing fish with the single action knuckle busters. Single action reels mean when you turn the handle once you reel in one rotation of the spool. Level winds, found in U.S. waters almost exclusively, will reel in 4-6 rotations of the spool for every full handle turn, allowing an angler to “power in” a fish easier. For our part, we thoroughly enjoyed the added sport and challenge of catching these powerful fish with the single action reels. Rob says Canadians call the level wind reels “cheater rods” and I have to agree having used both types of set ups. It’s just plain more fun with a single action reel on these amazing fish.
Another interesting twist of the English language came as we talked about the lures on the working end of the flashers. In Canada, they call a hoochie squid a “turd” if it’s a fat hoochie, or a “cuttle fish” if it’s the typical hoochie we in the U.S. use. Another interesting variation comes on how the rigs are tied up. In Canada, these turds or cuttle fish are often filled with 4-5 oversized beads, two of which would be a bright red color. Rob explained the two red beads were to imitate the beating heart of the squid. I’ve never seen a squid head or tinsel insert used in Canada. I’ve also never seen a herring strip added to these rigs. Meanwhile, when using spoons I’ve noticed Rob and other Canadian guides use much longer leaders going to the flashers, often up to six feet. At that leader length it makes the flasher a separate attractor rather than actually imparting action on the spoon. All I know is it works very well!
Each day we focused on a different aspect of the Tofino fishing experience. Thursday we focused “nearshore”, an easy five mile run out to the ocean, fishing just off of the numerous rocky islands that line the coastline. The fishing was good but being that it was our first day out we lost more than our fair share of fish. Rob was patient with us and for our part we knew we had the luxury of two more days of fishing to catch up.
The big fish of the first day was caught by Hillary as she did a fantastic job battling a 24 pound king to the boat. What a prized specimen! Chrome bright, board, solid shoulders, it was definitely a “fish of the trip” on the first day. We ended the day with a half dozen beautiful kings and as many lost, not to mention a bunch of un-clipped coho that we had to release. Rob had a plan for the wild coho, however.
On Friday we again started in the same general area and trolled for a couple hours looking for Chinook. Curiously, I caught one right off the bat and then the bite just died, showing that even in salmon-rich waters it’s never a guarantee to catch fish. That’s when Rob brought out his backup plan, coho. He explained it would be about an hour run, but on the far side of Flores Island, off Hot Spring Cove the inner waters were open for coho, clipped and un-clipped. We all agreed that sounded fun and the scenic boat ride was smooth, including a stop for some orca whale watching. Whale watching is a very big deal out of Tofino and it’s not unusual to see any number of types of whales, including humpbacks.
When we arrived at the fishing grounds one look at the fish finder confirmed we were in the right place. Not to mention hooking up with a silver within minutes of lowering the first rod on the downrigger. These coho were following the incoming tide, dipping in from the ocean preparing for their spawning runs. And we had them right where we wanted them! The fishing was fast and steady and it wasn’t long before our fish box was filled with delicious 6-8 pound coho. Soon enough these fish will be pushing 10-14 pounds and better.
Our third day of fishing the offshore winds had calmed down and Rob wanted to see if we could find some halibut to take home. We ran farther offshore, around 10-15 miles out into the straight to a shelf that came up to 130 feet deep. Rob anchored us up and we began the waiting game, hoping to bring up some tasty halibut.
Hillary again was the first to hit pay dirt, jigging while the rest of us lazy guys sat watching our baited spreaders bars. She called out “fish on, I’ve got one” and proceeded to battle with what turned out to be the surprise catch of the trip, a 100 pound skate. “That’s one of the bigger ones I’ve seen out here”, Rob commented. We weren’t keeping skate this day, although the wings do have edible meat for those so inclined. Rob released the giant and we watched the fish recover and swim back to the bottom.
Soon after angler Rob hooked up and brought up a nice 35 pound halibut. After that, we struggled with dogfish until slack tide. At this point Rob presented our options – move to a new spot and see if we could find the halibut, or, pull gear and try some offshore trolling for kings. Rob had noticed a couple fellow Tofino guides trolling in the distance and had a hunch they may have known something. After a brief discussion we decided we would end the trip trying to fill out our traveling limit (four kings per angler). It was a good choice as within minutes of dropping the trolling gear we started hooking up, ending up catching another four nice kings.
“I guess we found where the kings went to”, Rob said. One thing we found very interesting was that even though there are several different charter companies out of Tofino, they are friendly with each other and share quite a bit of information. It makes for a nice collegial atmosphere, in sharp contrast to the competitive and secretive atmosphere I’ve seen stateside. It must be that famed Canadian hospitality.
To cap things off, on the return to the marina we stopped off the rocky shoreline and jigged up quick boat limits of big black sea bass perfect for fish and chips.
We ended our trip with four coolers full of processed and flash frozen fish, curtesy of Trilogy Fish Processing in Tofino. They do an amazing job of sealing up your catch and having it ready for the journey home. I had run out of my 2017 trip fish this spring and the vacuum seal were still solid, the fish as good as the day they were caught.
JoAnn and I had an amazing four day vacation at Tofino. She spent time exploring the many small shops that lined the streets of downtown Tofino, and enjoying the variety of local food choices. During the day while I was off fishing she spent time walking the beaches, the dogs off leash and prancing in the lapping surf. At night we walked the sandy beaches taking in the spectacular sunsets, and later enjoying the moonlight reflecting off the peaceful waves of the beach.
If you have the opportunity to visit and see all Tofino has to offer don’t pass it up! Be sure to get in touch with Rob Frawley at TofinoFishing.com. He’ll get you on the action and you’ll be bringing home the best tasting fish the Pacific Northwest has to offer!