Joe's Salmon Lodge For Real

"ME & JOE" STORIES Salmon Lodge 
by John L. Beath, British Columbia Editor

Dunking and dragging whole and cut-plug herring throughout beautiful British Columbia in search of fish has become a religious experience for me. No matter where my travels take me, I selfishly pray for success to stretch my line and bend my rod with the area's wealth of fish.

Sometimes my prayers go unanswered, but most often, they don't. Last summer I discovered that it's not necessary to pray for fish if you go to the right place - where Nature's splendor continues to provide more fish than I thought possible - at Joe's Salmon Lodge!

When first planning my trip to Joe's, Clay Nygard, lodge owner/manager, boasted about the area's multitude of opportunities, ranging from salmon to hard-fighting halibut. No matter what an angler's preference, Clay said with confidence, be it types of fish or styles of fishing, Joe's Salmon Lodge has something for everyone! And, if an angler doesn't want to spend any time in transit from the lodge to any number of HOT fishing locales, anglers need only travel two minutes from the dock, he boasted. No, that can't be possible, can it?

A quick glance of the Hakai Pass marine chart easily explained Clay's claims. Joe's Salmon Lodge, a completely self-contained floating resort, anchors at the head of a totally protected inlet on the southern shores of Nalau Island. Not too tiny Nalau Island provides both opportunity and protection for anglers and fish alike because of the island's strategic position on the chart. Each new tide brings opportunity and hope from the Pacific Ocean, Hakai Pass or Fitz Hugh Sound. This great location provides guests with enough fish fighting fun to keep the lodge's 12 double rooms filled mostly with return guests.

Having heard about Hakai Pass for years, and how the area earned a world-class status among trophy coho fans, I planned my trip in late July. That's when multitudes of coho instinctively fin their way past the area in ranks of thousands. Finding these aerial speedsters jumping into our above water reality adds obvious angler appeal and likely many meals to come. Timing a Hakai Pass trip in late July also invited the possibility of warm, sunny skies. Ahhh...soaking herring in the nutrient rich waters and soaking my extremities in an area where it's hard not to catch fish. What a life!

Clay also claimed his clients almost always take home halibut, if they choose to. Unlike most lodges, Joe's takes hopeful halibut anglers off shore aboard their radar and GPS equipped, custom 32-foot bowpicker, The Butt Kicker. The ride to and from the lodge can now be made in comfort, safety and with the precise science of electronics to ensure anglers get to the proven halibut grounds.

On calm days some anglers explore the offshore grounds in groups aboard two or more 17 foot, fully equipped Boston Whalers powered by Mercury outboard motors. The addition of these 17 foot Boston Whalers brings unprecedented comfort and range for guests who want stability and room to fight fish. In 1997 all of Joe's fleet will be 17 foot Boston Whalers, a change from the lodge's original fleet of 13 foot Whalers. Each boat has captain's chairs and steering wheel for added comfort. They also come equipped with VHF radios, compass, Lowrance fish finders, bilge pump, plenty of tackle and the knowledge that no Boston Whaler has ever sank!

Upon arriving at the lodge via float plane from Port Hardy, the crew fed us hot lunch, gave us a complete how-to seminar and assigned rooms and boats. Each of us also selected a dry set of rain gear, floater coat and rubber boots from the lodge's "dry room." If you get wet while fishing at Joe's Lodge, it's your own fault. If you don't get tanned in the summer it's probably because you were to busy fighting fish to take off the rain gear when the sun burned off the liquid sunshine.

Once everyone had their gear stored and plenty of bait ready for the evening bite, a steady line of boats jumped up on plane, putting the lodge behind and the bow headed on a 240 degree compass heading - toward The Gap. Every current crease and prominent point I passed looked "fishy." Forests of kelp identified underwater seamounts and reefs, places which assuredly held bait fish along with every kind of central coast sport fish. Following the snake-like winding maneuvers of the lead boats between tiny islands rewarded us all when we emerged on the eastern side of The Gap.

Minutes after arriving, an angler's reel signaled success loud enough to hear over my boat's outboard. Another angler fishing tight to the wall soon yelled, "I got one." And finally, a third angler's silent stare toward a leaping coho announced to all that he too had a fish on. A quick angle cut on two herring, followed by 10 and 12 short "pulls" from the knuckle busters made me one of the hopeful Hakai Pass Gap Gang. With any luck I too would join the ranks of many anglers before me, who have proven this location time and time again.

Gentle rollers combined with a fresh breeze and sunny skies gave my cut-plug herring a sexy rise and fall punctuated by an extremely flashy spin. While watching several guests from Joe's Lodge hook fish, the sun's mass slowly sank from sight, leaving behind crimson shadows and savored silhouettes. The most rewarding sight came from Clay and his top guide, Doug Stuffco, as they fought an acrobatic coho into a classic Central Coast sunset. My camera and memory created unforgettable images during their battle. At the end of my first roll of film, while drifting out of gear, an 11 pound northern erupted beside my boat. I could easily see my hooks firmly embedded in his hyped jaw which allowed me to "focus" my efforts between two fish - literally!

What a first night. Every boat from Joe's Salmon Lodge took salmon from The Gap. That night, after dinner and snacks, I listened to everyone's stories from this night and previous trips to Joe's. The biggest debate of the evening came not from which smoked salmon was best, but rather, which great locale should be fished in the morning?

Many guests, including me, opted to try Bayley Point, just around the corner from the lodge. Bayley Point had been providing limits for previous guests and Clay reasoned this day shouldn't be any different. Finding Bayley Point was easy as heading towards the flock of gulls working over a huge school of bait. Within ten minutes of leaving the dock I'd seen at least a dozen "jumpers," and cast a lime green Buzz Bomb to the closest high flying fish. My line went slack too fast to realize a fish had grabbed it and swam towards me. A few seconds of memory lapse followed by an abrupt mid-air salute and spitting of the hook reminded me to always set the hook when the jig doesn't flutter or sink!

The action at Bayley Point provided memories from a dozen coho of which I landed six and lost as many. Of the six landed I kept two double digit examples of Hakai's finest northern coho salmon. No matter where you go in the world, a dozen coho for one lone angler on one tide spells SUCCESS in a big way.

Anglers don't have to limit themselves to the standard places and methods while fishing at Joe's. Instead of joining the other anglers in search of salmon, I choose to break out my 7 weight fly rod and reel loaded with a 600 grain sinking line. The area's wealth of underwater reefs provided all of the small to mid-sized black rockfish I could possibly want to fight.

Clay's claim of easy halibut limits made me raise my eyebrows a bit on the third day of my stay. Claims like this seldom come true, especially with a lodge full of guests. Calm seas and clear skies allowed easy passage for guests aboard three 17 foot whalers and the lodge's fully equipped, halibut catching machine, The Butt Kicker. Clay lead the way to his hole he calls the Chicken Coop. The name of this expansive locale, located just two miles offshore explains how it got it's name. For several seasons Clay's guests have taken their two fish limit of halibut ranging in size from 12 to 160 pounds. While there I proved how productive the Chicken Coop can be by landing seven halibut to 25 pounds. It's always nice to find a location where you can release a lot of fish while still providing enough fish to allow your family to appreciate your rewards.

My success at the Chicken Coop was not alone. Every guest caught their limit of halibut and one of Clay's part time guides, fishing from his own boat, landed a whopper that weighed 92 pounds. The occasional big yelloweye rockfish and lingcod also provide entertainment and fish 'n chips.

During each day of my stay I tried a new location along with new strategies. One evening I joined Tim Lloyd, one of the lodge's guides. Tim enjoyed putting me near bait balls where I could throw Buzz Bombs to hungry coho. Finding bait balls proved as easy as finding coho salmon. The bait schooled tight enough on two occasions to allow me to dip several pounds of fresh herring with a salmon net. What a mess!

Promises of Dolly Varden and hordes of pink salmon across Fitz Hugh Sound at the Koeye River ended the question of where to spend my fourth morning at Joe's Salmon Lodge. Pat Radford, another one of the guides at Joe's knows the area well and agreed to introduce me to its rewards. Pink salmon by the thousands jumped and rolled throughout the area where the Koeye River blends tea-colored water with the dark Fitz Hugh Sound saltwater. Whomever said pink salmon like pink better than any other color never tried using chartreuse or lime green! Every time either of us cast a small Zzinger or Buzz Bomb with one of those colors, a pink salmon immediately attacked the lure.

During our jig and catch-a-thon, Pat stripped 20 feet of line out with two ounces of lead and a cut-plug. A fat-bodied coho proved that you we could catch more than just pinks, if we could keep pink salmon off our hooks. Unfortunately, we didn't catch any Dolly Varden, as they had already moved into the river following rip pink salmon like blood hounds on a scent trail. Fishing proved too good to continue, it was simply to easy which prompted Pat to move to Bayley Point for the mid morning tide change.

Bayley Point again couldn't be beat. It seemed everyone had fish on upon our arrival. With a fresh plug-cut herring in hand, I eased it over the side to check its action. Before I could say perfect spin, a green-tinted lighting bolt burst from the prop wash, sending an electrifying sensation through my rod, into my arm and out my mouth in the form of words. "Did you see that!"

During my five day stay I fished many locations, but none produced as well as Bayley Point or the Chicken Coop. In less than three hours time on my last morning, I hooked 14 salmon which included two doubles and a rare triple hookup - while fishing alone! I easily left Joe's with a limit of eight double digit coho, three halibut and the knowledge that Joe's Salmon Lodge sits in the heart of one of British Columbia's best fishing locales from July 24 through September.

Next season Joe's will begin their season in mid June at Laredo Sound. Their completely remote anchorage inside Thistle Pass near Aristazabal Island will surely provide unparalleled action on early coho heading to any one of 100 small streams as well as a multitude of heavy spring salmon, halibut, lingcod and rockfish. I can hardly wait to sample this pristine area with Joe's Salmon Lodge. Join me in late June and you too can find out why you no longer need to pray for fish - if you go where Joe's Salmon Lodge anchors.

About the Lodge

Home style meals at Joe's seldom go uneaten, but when they do, the staff will make sure you don't go hungry. Full serve hot breakfasts begin at 4:30 a.m. If you choose to saw a few extra logs before starting your day of fishing, Continental breakfasts are available until the early afternoon buffet style lunch served in the lounge. Dinners are served in the dining room and allow plenty of time for an full evening tide of fishing. Once the sun sinks out of sight, hors de erves and snacks are sure to keep guests full until the next meal. Complimentary drinks are available in the lounge 24 hours a day.

Joe's provides only top quality tackle including 10 1/2 foot Daiwa mooching rods with your choice of single action or star drags. Heavier halibut rods are also provided as well as all tackle, bait and fish packaging.

All full service four and five day trips include: roundtrip air transportation from Vancouver; meals; double rooms complete with private toilet and sink; lounge equipped with shuffleboard, foosball, card table, VCR/movies and Charlie White's Fishing Simulator; fish packaging; unlimited use of boat; Mustang survival rain gear and boots.

Joe's also offers do-it-yourself trips in September. Guests clean and fuel their own boats and fish for special reduced rates. Meals and rooms are provided during these trips but anglers need to bring their own beverages and look after their needs while on the dock.

Joe's offers the best 4 & 5 day packages, starting at just $1,000. U.S. funds. Trips include air transportation from Vancouver B.C., unlimited use of 17 foot, fully equipped Boston Whalers, gas, meals, beer & wine lodging and fish packaging. All you have to do is get to Vancouver B.C., purchase a fishing license and enjoy catching lots of fish.

Limits: In 1997 anglers will be able to retain four salmon daily, two of which may be chinook. They may also keep two halibut with a three possession limit; 3 lingcod per day, 6 in possession; 5 rockfish per day, 10 in possession.

For more information about booking a trip call Joe's Salmon Lodge office at {604} 823-6086 fax them at 823-6026 or write them at 41023 Yale Road, Sardis, B.C., Canada V2R 1A9