Photo by Paul Morrison
From the air, the rugged north coast of Graham Island in Haida Gwaii is everything you'd expect. Traced by a thin line of foaming white on an infinite indigo canvas, the land dishes up secrets like a promotional video. Forest. Bog. Inlet. Bears scavenging a rocky shore. The fractal geometry of kelp beds fluttering like golden sheaves in blue-green shallows.
After a two-hour charter from Vancouver to the village of Masset revealed little more than a scalloped sea of cloud, this 20-minute hop to the remote island of Langara serves up all the scenery we can digest. Better still, any fishing trip that begins in a helicopter is bound to deliver serious adventure.
It doesn't take long. After a five-star lunch in the airy wood and stone Langara Island Lodge, to which you ascend from water level in a unique, open funicular, we head out with guide Kyle - a tall, sandy-bearded, easygoing type who takes us to a favorite spot only 10 minutes away.
Chanal Reef is western gateway between Graham and Langara, which, given nothing between there and Japan, means the full force of the North Pacific gets its foot in the door. It's also incredibly scenic: rock formations resemble Thailand - towering humps with vegetated crowns, a keyhole through one in which you can catch a perfect sunset.
We have some heavy bites and lose a few fish while learning to set humane, barbless hooks (Coho grab fast, Chinook play a bit), then divert to populous Cohoe Point. Bobbing amidst a veritable fleet we wrestle in a few Coho up to nine pounds, when, quite suddenly, the real bite is on and big Chinooks are hitting everywhere. Not wanting to be greedy or exceed our limit too early, we catch and release several over 20lbs. Over the radio we hear that Chanal Reef is hitting, too.
That's the way it goes out here. The fish come in pulses; nothing for hours, 15 to 30 minutes of frenzy, then nothing again. The big fish follow the baitfish schools and so do we.
Fortunately, when the bite wanes, another phenomenon kicks in: Humpback Whales "bubble feeding." Beyond the spectacle of the act it's an amazing demonstration of animal communication. Whales work together setting a circular net of bubbles and sound that drives herring together in a panic; then three or four whales surface vertically through the corralled baitfish with mouths agape, baleen glistening, half a body length out of the water. This stunning sight happens again and again, less than 50 metres from our boat.
You don't have to worry about Humpbacks, but you do need to keep an eye on sea lions and seals. Sea lions, which can eat 300lbs of fish per day, rip hooked salmon from the line and getting a hook through the lip doesn't bother them. Orcas also occasionally poach salmon but are a lot smarter about it: they bite the body off and leave the head attached to the hook.