By Mike Carey
The miles melted away as my phone played music fit for a road trip – Wilco, Lucinda Williams, Chuck Prophet and The Jayhawks were among a seemingly never-ending sound track that was perfect for our destination. How did my phone know just the right music to play? Ah, the age we live in!
To either side Northwest Fishing Report’s Rob Holman and I soaked in tree-covered hills and glimpses of snowy mountain peaks. The miles (I should say kilometers) melted by as we got ever closer to our yearly destination, Zeballos, on the beautiful island of Vancouver, British Columbia. It was our third trip back to this wonderful sleepy town. We would be joining Adrian and Angie O’Connor of Reel Obsession Sport Fishing. Meeting us at the lodge would be a group of anglers taking advantage of our “Member’s Adventure” to this great fishing destination.
As we drove ever closer I had time to reflect on a life of fishing adventures, friends made and places revisited. Truly a blessed life, I thought to myself at my good fortune of being able to come once again to experience Zeballos. So many amazing places to fish and so little time! Perhaps turning sixty a week earlier had put me in this reflective mood…
Mid-way on our drive we pulled into a sporting goods store at Campbell River. A three day fishing license in Canada is actually pretty inexpensive - $27, which translates to around $22 with the exchange rate. And the license is good for fresh and saltwater fishing, a real deal. After getting our licenses we grabbed a bite to eat and were back on the road. But first, time to top off the tank. The gas stations are spread out on this part of the island so better to be safe than sorry. Hmmm, $1.45 per liter… four liters to the gallon… exchange rate of 20%... carry the one… $4.64 a gallon?!?! Ouch! It's easy to know that Zeballos is only a tank of gas from Nanaimo so it wasn’t too painful.
Back on the road, we grabbed a couple Monster Energy Drinks at the lonely crossroads Quick Stop and then one more segment – the prettiest and most jarring – a left turn off the paved highway and on to a thirty mile lumbering road to reach Zeballos. The road twists and turns, slowly dropping down ever closer to our destination. Crossing several one lane bridges over beautiful crystal clear rivers we occasional pulled over to let oncoming traffic by. No rush, but the anticipation was building ever greater. Finally – the road smoothed out and the sign welcoming us to the town of Zeballos appeared. We had arrived!
We unpacked our gear and settled in for a quick rest, then out to the dining room to meet our NWFR members. Several repeat guests from last year had arrived, and some new faces as well, all connected by the common tie of experiencing the beauty of the area and hospitality of the Reel Obsession Sport Fishing lodge staff. We chatted over a three course dinner fit for a king, starting with seared tuna, then proceeding to a main course of perfectly backed halibut and concluding with a delicious cream cheese desert.
The lodge has a new chef this year, and the food is as good as it ever was, if not better! Pleasant conversation and anticipation of the next day’s fishing adventure had everyone in a good mood. With a 5am wake-up call we all retired after dinner satiated and content.
Although I had set my alarm clock, it really wasn’t needed. The sound of excited anglers in the dining room awakened us and we quickly got ready and joined in a tasty, light breakfast. Pre-packed lunches in tow, we took the short walk over to the marina and found our boats and captains who would take us on a pleasant run through Esperanza Inlet and out to the fishing grounds. Clouds hung low over the surrounding hills like soft pillows, creating an eerie landscape that our boats navigated through as we made the smooth ride out to offshore fishing holes.
Zeballos in early June is just starting to kick into gear for Chinook salmon. Meaning it’s important to go with a charter like Reel Obsession Sport Fishing that knows what they are doing. Adrian O’Connor sets a high standard for his boat captains and they all know the waters and techniques to get their customers on the fish. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the fishing waters are among some of the most productive in the Pacific Northwest.
In addition to great Chinook fishing these waters are home to some of the best halibut, ling cod, and bottom fishing to be had. Anglers coming to fish with Reel Obsession will get a chance to target all these species and come home with plenty of tasty fish for friends and family.
At this point I want to be clear – I love eating fish and being able to fill my freezer for the coming year, but for me Zeballos has become one of my “must return” places. It’s more than the fishing; it’s the scenery, the seclusion, the peaceful quiet. It’s my chance to recharge my batteries. I hold on tight to the precious memories and good times I enjoy so when I return to the hectic day to day of the Greater Puget Sound I have my Inner Peace to keep my sanity.
I am often puzzled and saddened by an internet attitude I see that measures the success of a trip by the quantity or size of the fish and not the quality of the experience. Of course, it is nice to combine both!
And combine them we did, catching a healthy variety of salmon, halibut, ling cod, and bottom fish to hold me over. One of the highlights of the trip I won’t forget was a particularly hungry halibut that decided one meal wasn’t enough and after getting hooked on one NWFR announcer Dave Mason’s bait decided to eat my bait. Dave and I battled the fish to the surface from opposite sides of the boat. It was a beauty of a halibut, measuring 113cm, right at the maximum size limit of 115cm. Since Dave set the first hook, and it was his first ever halibut, I had no trouble letting him mark this fish, knowing my next drop down would probably get me another butt, which it did, a perfect 115cm beast. That translates into about 45-50 pounds of good eating!
Our final day Rob and I were fishing with Adrian on his boat, and after getting some nice lings and bottom fish Adrian decided we should hit the Ferrer Point area for an afternoon shot at some Chinook. Without a doubt this has to be my favorite location to fish. Waves crashed on rocky shoreline and kelp beds swayed in the tide. Adrian kept us in close to the kelp, at times lifting the downrigger extension as we passed inches from the kelp. Pretty impressive but more impressive was what I witnessed twenty minutes into trolling. Noting a nice ball of bait, Adrian warned us “get ready guys, there’s some nice bait around here”. Just then the port rod exploded off the release with a powerful Chinook jumping behind the boat (how often do you see a Chinook come jumping out of the water?). Rob skillfully played the fish into the awaiting net and Adrian promptly spun the boat around and repeated the feat two more times as we filled out our limit within twenty minutes of arriving. To say I was impressed with Adrian’s fishing and boat-handling skills was an understatement. But that’s what you get when you go out with a quality charter business.
We returned at the end of our day to tales of similar success from other anglers. Although the Chinook run was not yet under full steam everyone had smiles on their faces as they rehashed the day’s adventure over yet another delicious dinner. Then it was back to bed for a good night’s sleep and the prospect of another day full of good fishing and lifetime memories.
If you have not had the good fortune of fishing off this part of Vancouver Island I highly recommend you give it a try. You can contact Adrian and Angie at Reel Obsession Sport Fishing or call 1-888-855-7335