Fishing Guides: Northern Vancouver Island

The paved road to the north of Vancouver Island travels through some stunning scenery en route to Port McNeill and Port Hardy, the best launch points for anglers fishing the northern half of Vancouver Island.

The abundance of remote rivers, tidal inlets, the Pacific Ocean on the west coast, and the productive waters of the sounds and islands around Johnstone Strait on the east coast, provide for fabulous fresh and saltwater fishing.

Launch or charter out of Port Hardy for fishing trips in Queen Charlotte Sound, Gordon Channel and the headlands and islands off Goletas Channel. Head out of Port McNeill for fishing in Broughton Strait, Cormorant Channel and Weynton Passage.

Port Hardy is the first major North Island town to receive the summer salmon runs as the salmon head from the Pacific Ocean north of the island and head down Georgia Strait to their coastal spawning rivers.

Blackfish Sound is productive for salmon fishing, offering feeder chinooks throughout the year. The first migratory chinooks appear in late May through to August, followed by the sockeye (June to August), pinks (July to August), coho in mid July, northern coho in September, and chum salmon from late August through to October. Winter chinook end off the year by passing through toward the end of December.

Click for a Map of North Vancouver Island.

The range of Salmon fishing in Blackfish Sound extends from the eastern tip of Malcolm Island (Donegal Head), north of Plumper Islands and Hanson Island through Blackney Passage and into Baronet Passage. In Johnstone Strait, salmon run from Cracroft Point on the western tip of West Cracroft Island to the Sophia Islands.

Halibut fishing commences in April to June, and continues through the summer to September. Open water depths of 200 to 400 feet are most productive. Concentrate on Richards Channel, Ripple Passage and Bolivar Passage. Halibut around the 100 lb mark are brought in regularly, with monsters of over 200 lbs caught occasionally. As all large halibut are females, potentially bearing millions of eggs, they should be considered for release.

The saltwater fishing in Discovery Passage off Campbell River is legendary. In addition, dozens of small, freshwater lakes are scattered throughout the north island. Many lakes can be reached only by the logging or gravel roads that lead off east and west from Hwy 19. Stop at one of the many tackle shops and marinas in Campbell River for advice on where the fish are biting. For more information, contact the Campbell River Visitor Centre, 250-830-0411, or stop by their office in the Tyee Plaza Shopping Centre at 1235 Island Highway.

Fresh water fishing on north Vancouver Island remains one of the best-kept secrets around. The majority of the lakes and rivers experience very light fishing pressure due to the isolated nature of the region. Logging roads provide the primary access to the northern lakes and rivers.

Steelhead rivers in this area include the largest river on Vancouver Island, the Nimpkish River, supported by good steelheading on the Cluxewe, Keogh, Quatse and Nahwitti Rivers, plus numerous other smaller streams.

North of Campbell River, you’ll find good trout and char fishing at Morton Lake Provincial Park. To reach the park, turn west off Hwy 19 17 miles (27 km) north of Campbell River, then journey 12 miles (20 km) on good gravel road to Morton and Mohun Lakes. Roberts Lake, 20 miles (32 km) north of Campbell River, also has good fishing close to Hwy 19. Car-top boats can be launched from its sandy beach, a short walk from the road on a Forest Service trail. Many small fishing lakes such as McCreight Lake feature rustic BC Recreation campsites and the occasional boat launch.

Near Sayward, the Salmon River is one of the better-known destinations for steelhead fishing on Vancouver Island. Drive east of Hwy 19 towards Sayward and Kelsey Bay. En route, Sayward Road crosses the Salmon River at several points, offering angler access to the river. Cabins and angling information are available at either Fisherboy Park, 1546 Sayward Road, or the quaint Cable House Cafe on the east side of the one-lane bridge on Sayward Road that crosses the Salmon River. Saltwater fishing is also good out of Kelsey Bay, at the end of the road.

For more information on Sayward and Kelsey Bay, visit the Sayward Visitor Centre Booth a short distance west of Hwy 19 on Sayward Road at Sayward Junction (16 Sayward Road), or call 250-282-0018.

The water offshore from Zeballos boasts excellent saltwater sportfishing for salmon and rock cod, one of the smoothest, most tasty fish when fresh, before being doused with smoke (the usual treatment for most cod sold in BC stores.)

There’s a good salmon run on the Marble River, which lies 8 miles (13 km) west of Hwy 19 on the road to Port Alice. This logging road also provides access to Alice Lake, Victoria Lake and Kathleen Lake, which offer good cutthroat trout and dolly varden fishing. Campsites and a boat launch are located in the mill town of Port Alice, where you’ll find full facilities for exploring the profusion of sheltered inlets in Quatsino Sound.

Winter Harbour, conveniently located near the mouth of Quatsino Sound, provides great facilities for offshore fishing and easy access to some of the best saltwater and halibut fishing anywhere in the world. Accessed by gravel road from Port Hardy via Holberg, the remote fishing village of Winter Harbour offers lodging, a marina, protected deep-water moorage, boat launch, fuel dock, general store, fishing charters, and campground and RV facilities.

The great saltwater fishing in the sheltered Quatsino Sound during winter and spring months – particularly for feeder chinook (January to April) – is worthy of the short trip from Port McNeill and Port Hardy, as the strong northerly winds in Queen Charlotte Strait and the southeasters in Labouchere Passage impact winter fishing on the east coast of Vancouver Island.

For more information, contact the Village of Port Alice, 250-284-3391. It is also advisable to check road conditions, road restrictions and the safest travel times in the north island region. Local fishing knowledge is also essential to determining the best times for steelhead runs and for productive lake fishing

In Port Hardy, a good place to begin a fishing trip in Queen Charlotte Strait is the Quarterdeck Marina, which has bait, tackle, and fishing licences for sale, and features a boat launch as well.

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