Salmon Fishing the Pacific Ocean, and in British Columbia in particular, is an absolute must do trip for the good times with friends and the possibility of filling your freezer with the highest quality meat around. I feel in love with it a few years ago on a trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island with a few buddies of mine. We lucked out as my buddy’s dad was a fishing guide and we were able to boot strap the cost of that trip to about $500, and as a result I came home with enough salmon, ling cod and red snapper to keep feed my wife and I all year.
After my first coastal salmon fishing experience, I’ve made an effort to go back every year. Some years turn out to be more expensive than others but we have really dialed in a system for how to keep costs low, learn tons and come home with amazing stories and equally tasty fish.
Step 1. Pick your spot
There’re many places to go Salmon Fishing in BC from as far south as Vancouver, all the way west to Tofino and as far North as Haida Gwaii. You really can’t go wrong in any location but the more research you can do beforehand, the better. A generally accepted idea is the later in the summer you go, the more time the fish have to put on weight and the closer in to shore they will be. Keep an eye out for featured locations to do some coastal salmon fishing in upcoming posts, podcasts and videos.
Step 2. Find a boat
Your next big decision may very will have the biggest impact on the success or failure of your trip. You can always pay a guide around $1000 per day to get you on the water but I’ve had both good and bad experiences. Once you find a good guide, stick with them for as long as your willing to pay the price.
Your second option is to find a boat to rent. In 2019, we opted to rent a boat from a local fisherman for $300 per day which significantly brought down costs. You can also spend as much time on the water as you like with this option. You already traveled across the province or perhaps even the country, paid for the ferry and fought the traffic, so you may as well spend as much time as you can on the water.
We recommend using any connections you can make on the dock and in fishing stores to find people willing to rent their boat. Of course, boat rental can always be accomplished with a quick google search, but utilizing connections made for future trips may save you money in the long run. Learning to fish on your own can be much more rewarding than waiting for a guide to figure everything out and simply hand you a rod with a bite on. If you plan to make your salmon fishing trips a regular occurrence, we definitely recommend taking the time to learn the techniques and tactics to catch fish without having to have a guide with you every year.
Step 3. Get to know your gear
If you make the bold choice of renting your own boat, you will have to do plenty of research before your trip. The basics of salmon fishing will be to use a down rigger to bring your gear to the depth of choice. More than likely you will be using a flasher with swivels on both ends and some type of lure.
My favourite setup is to have your lure 6 feet from the flasher. It’s worked for me and is easy top measure. I’m 6’5″ so I use my wingspan for a quick guide and shorten it up a few inches from there. Every flasher I’ve used and would recommend using has a skinny end and a fat end. Always have the fat end to the back as this always your flasher to spin properly as you troll along.
ABOVE: my awesome wife with her first spring salmon, taken July 2019.
When selecting your lure and flasher, I recommend asking the friendly folks in the local fishing store as they will give you a few good options to start your trip. It can pay huge dividends to keep an eye and ear out for fisherman on the dock returning from a successful trip, as most fisherman tend to be pretty chatty after they’ve had a good day out on the water.
Lastly, ensure the boat you rent has a depth finder. These are crucial, as I’m sure you can imagine, for keeping tabs on where the fish theoretically may be hanging out, primarily the bait pods (schools of fish the salmon feed on) , and ensuring your lures and down riggers aren’t getting caught on seaweed.
Step 4. Get to know the tides
A surprisingly important detail when salmon fishing is to plan your trip around ideal tide conditions. I learned the hard way on our last trip that you want to fish on the tides with the largest discrepancies between high and low tides. The idea is the larger the tides the more flow there is which creates ideal feeding situations for the salmon. High tide is when the salmon will be traveling closer to shore, then as the tide retreats is when the salmon tend to hunker down in coves and behind islands for protection. The bait (salmon’s food) will travel with the tides as well and fish use this time to eat and store energy for their long journey from the ocean to the spawning grounds. You can use the below link to start doing your research.
Step 5. Processing your fish
Finally the last step to discuss is processing your catch. There will be a lot of services that can flash freeze and package your fish for you when you get back to the dock. This method is very convenient and I have certainly done it before. I don’t like vacuum seals as I don’t believe it lasts as long as other methods. It can also be about $2 a bag which will add to your cost quickly if you catch a few 20+ lb salmon. The last few years I have kept my fish frozen whole until I got home and spent a better portion of a day to thaw, fillet and package myself. Refreezing salmon that is this fresh is just fine. Filleting the fish and then using plastic wrap and butcher paper over top is an excellent and cost effective way to keep fish fresh in your freezer for at least a year.
Step 6. Take that trip!
Planning your trip is very time-consuming, but the more you can do yourself the more rewarding it can be. If you have any specific questions about planning a salmon fishing trip to BC, drop us a DM on Instagram @thegillseekers! I would strongly recommend using a guide at least once to build your confidence and learn a few tricks but work towards doing more and more yourself. There are plenty of fantastic salmon guides out there that will provide you with a trip you will remember for the rest of your life. The amount of knowledge I now have of my favourite fishing spot is 10x what I learned on a guided trip and this is what drives me to keep going back every year.
I hope you found this blog useful and would love to hear your feedback on other information you would like to see from the Gillseekers in order to help you have a better time on the water. If you’re reading this article, you’re only a few decisions away from creating a lifelong journey for you and your family that will create many memories around the dining room table. The fish you catch in the Pacific Ocean is a quality you won’t find in your average grocery store. I’ve said many times that I’ve never bought meat in the store and shared it with my whole family but every time I go salmon fishing, I get just as much satisfaction from the catch as I get from sharing it with whoever is willing to come over and share a meal and hear a few stories. Good luck out there and I hope to hear your stories soon.