My First Time Ocean Fishing. Top 6 Tips For Booking A Fishing Charter!
Updated: Sep 5
I grew up inland… well kind of.
On the Island of Montreal. But to us in that part of the world, your best options to catch fish are in rivers, lakes and streams. These were always cute little fish.
Perch, trout, bass, sunfish, white fish. And that was about it. Reasonably small fish that you catch with a worm on a hook. I always looked on in wonderment at a tackle box full of flashy lures, tools, and things that I had no idea what they did… and still don’t if I’m honest with myself.
When I was a little older and my grandparents moved to Northern British Columbia, I finally got to experience what catching a fish bigger than a pound or .45 of a kg was like. These were lake trout, decent sized eating fish for one person. We used to catch loads of them on this one particular lake near Cassiar, the asbestos mining town that my grandparents live in, in the 80’s. The fish were plentiful, and the place was picturesque, set in mountains, with no one around for miles. We would drop in our lure with bait, when the time was right… somewhere when it got darker, past midnight, and when they bit, we would just pull them in, one after another. I have to this day never experienced that kind of fishy abundance before. But we were always into harvesting food to eat, not for trophies. My grandfather smoked lots of trout and grayling to make sure we had plenty to last the winter.
Fast forward several decades, and I found myself living in New Zealand, surrounded by water… but I’d never fished in the ocean before and had no idea what I was doing. Boatless, I got some advice, bought some rods, and went surf casting. I had no idea what I was doing, and it showed. After 11 years on the North Island, my grand total fishing success amounted to 0. It wasn’t for lack of trying but my son and my fishing expeditions became kind of a running joke between us.
Fast Forward again to last year at my workplace in Northern BC. An incredibly remote place that looked like Jurassic Park. Mist, mountains, ocean, rivers, but instead of dinosaurs there was an extremely large population of Grizzly Bears. Working there was an absolutely incredibly
experience. On any given day I’d see Moose outside my office window, deer, bears, and the occasional wolf. Across the street from my office was a river, that would fill up with Salmon in the summer. So we were able to grab a spot along the bank, hopefully away from bears and catch some wild salmon. As I mentioned, I had only ever caught the cute little fishies in Ontario and Quebec’s rivers, streams and lakes, so this was totally new to me. Luckily one of the head chefs that worked for me was an avid fisherman, and so I asked him to show me the ropes. And show me the ropes he did! Soon I was catching 12-16 pound Coho salmon, and a lot of pink salmon, which were spawning, and of course thrown back. It was an incredible experience, but I now knew how to fish for salmon in the mighty rivers of British Columbia. I made a video of my experiences here. Have a watch, then have a watch of what I did with my bounty in part 2 of the series.
But the mighty ocean fishing has always eluded me. So this year I decided that I was going to finally do it and catch a fish in the ocean! I didn’t really know where to begin, except to make some enquiries with some local fishing charter companies on Vancouver Island. This was January, and my naïve self had no clue that. Yeah probably the dead of winter isn’t the best time to go out into miserable weather in the middle of the ocean and try and catch something. The season was closed. So, I parked that idea… and it eventually faded from the washing machine of my mind.
Now I’m a member of several local Facebook fishing pages and what I discovered is that a lot of the local fishing crowd are a bunch of dickheads, who don’t particularly enjoy sharing information and are really fast to dish out harsh criticism about anything that crosses their path. I learnt this the hard way, when I proudly posted a photo of my first Coho that I caught. There was a few thumbs up and well wishers, but there was probably a few more comments on how I held the fish wrong, or that’s not a Coho, and a few “you don’t know what you’re doing!” comments… Which was fair in ways because I didn’t know what I was doing. It boggles my mind when people are critical of others who are learning new things or are sticking their neck out and put themselves out there! It really is a toxic trait in people, and I’ll say it, mostly men, in the fishing world.
But there are some nice people too. And one of them happened to post on one of these pages
that he was keen to share a charter with someone. So I dusted off the idea and snapped at the chance to go. There was one spot left, so I invited a friend to come too. She grew up on the ocean and knew what she was doing. I kept getting asked questions about the charter, and pretty much every single answer was… “Oh, I don’t know.” Because, well I didn’t. I didn’t know really what I was getting myself in to, or what we were fishing for, or the significance of the geography of where we were going, or the size of the boat even! I just wanted to catch some bloody big fish on the ocean!
So the day finally came and I’ll admit I was nervous. I knew I’d be faced with being on a boat with people who probably knew what they were doing and what was going on, and here I was, the total noob, with no clue, who was bound to probably do things wrong. This is precisely why I do things like this. If I feel apprehensive or nervous about something new, then I know it is pushing my comfort zones, and I know it is something I need to do. Face your fears and grow!
Well, the day started early out of Port Alberni. We had a full day charter to go salmon fishing as it happens. To be honest I thought we would be out there catching stuff like halibut, which is on my bucket list, so I was a little bummed at first finding out that fishing for halibut wasn’t on the cards. It was possible but for an extra $250 dollars, which seemed like a lot, on top of the $1000 that we had already paid. So we stuck to the salmon. I later learned, once on the water, that to get to halibut would be right out on the open ocean, in rougher seas, and considerably further. This all made sense, so in the end I was happy with my salmon fishing! We each took turns landing our salmon, the first lines we dropped, was a hectic 10 minutes where 2 rods had big salmon on the line at the same time. Then it was my turn. Yep, I made a rookie mistake and snapped off a big fish and lost the whole rig. Unlike small fish, you really need to work the tension in the rod, to prevent the line snapping with big fish. The pressure was palpable, and I had snippets of anxiety, biting at my ankles. But I learned my lesson, took it on the chin, and I was determined to land a big salmon! So, when the next one hit, I took a deep breath, followed instructions, and instinct, and we landed a 20-25 pound beauty on the boat! It was exhilarating!
So how was fishing on the ocean? Well, it was incredible. We caught some massive Spring Salmon or Chinook. One of these was around the 30 pound mark, or a Tyee. Can't confirm for sure as we didn't weigh it, but it sure looked it! After 30 pounds they are called Tyees. But this was unlike any other fishing I’d done. Let me explain.
Well I’d never really used a fish finder before, and this is standard. Also I had no idea what a downrigger is. If you don’t know, because well, why would you unless you used one, downriggers are an efficient way to put live bait and lures in precise zones of the water column. It basically means that your line is placed at the depth that the fish are at by the machine. When you are in 80 feet of water and the fish are at 45 feet, you want to make sure you are in the right place. This was new to me.
Also new was using a massive flasher, and even how to set up the line to go trawling for salmon. Luckily that’s what you are paying the guide for. They set up your line, they put it out there for you to make sure it’s got the best chance and they are there to help you when the fish takes the bait and do their best to make sure you land it on the boat! What this means is that you have the best chance to catch fish! Was it awesome? Absolutely. I caught my limit of salmon, as did everyone else, and on the way out we dropped a crab trap and I came home with a huge bounty of wild salmon and Dungeness crabs. The experience was totally worth the money. I made a video of my experience, linked here. (if it isn’t here yet, it will be shortly!)
If you don’t have experience fishing on an ocean, or access to friends and family with local experience and the equipment, a charter is absolutely the way to go. And I highly recommend it. Catching salmon in a river and catching salmon on a boat in the ocean are very different experiences, and while I loved both for different things, there is something to be said for fishing in a river, where you bait your own line, do your own casting, and bring in your own fish by yourself. Go do both!
If you are going to get a charter, here are my top 6 tips for you!
1. Figure out what kind of fish you want to fish for, this will help determine, where you should get your charter from. You want to save as much time getting to your destination as you can so you can spend your time catching fish. Find out how far out you are going. You don’t want to spend half your day going back and forth if someone in your party becomes ill and needs to get off the boat.
2. Pick a reputable charter company. Do some research, ask around or ask on Facebook forums.
3. Find out what kind of boat they have, and what kind of facilities are available. There was no head on our boat, so it was going off the side of the boat and praying for no number 2’s.
4. Come prepared, with food, drinks, clothing for all weather conditions, and anti nausea medicine just in case.
5. Be clear on what is included in the fee? What are you fishing for? How long will you be out? Does the fee come with processing and packing your fish? Ours didn’t but the guide offered to fillet and pack our fish, for which we compensated him with a tip.
6. Make sure you are rested, fit and ready for the day. It’s a long day out on the ocean if you choose a full day’s fishing. I got up around 3:30 AM, left the marina around 6am and got back around 5:30pm.
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