Elite Escapes

How to land a king salmon, the old-fashioned way

Doug Meigs, for CNNPublished 24th September 2014
(CNN) — The fishing pole arcs to my knees.
"Keep your rod tip up!" shouts my older brother.
But I can't lean back any further and my reel unleashes a hundred feet of line with a whoosh of air, as if I've hooked a torpedo at the bottom of the sea.
We're fishing from a small motorboat in the Inside Passage, near the Canada-Alaska border.
The sea stretches north and south. Pine-covered mountains, islands and inlets frame our vantage from east to west.
Two bald eagles perched on a rocky outcropping observe my frantic efforts to land the big fish.
As I reel like a madman, the fish takes off with another hundred or so feet of un-spooling line.
Our back-and-forth fight lasts an hour.
She finally exhausts herself, and though my arms feel weak, we net her.
This is the largest and most aggressive fish I've ever caught by rod and reel: a 34-pound Chinook salmon (also known as a king).
We continue fishing for an hour before returning to the MV Parry, mothership of Westwind Tugboat Adventures.
The refurbished 1940s tugboat, our home for seven days and six nights, is a floating fishing lodge, towing a flotilla of small fishing skiffs on annual summer voyages through the Inside Passage.
It anchors in the north and central coast regions of Prince Rupert, Langara Island and Bella Bella, British Columbia.

Tugboat to adventure

Click to expand.
Click to expand.
Westwind Tugboat Adventures
Westwind Tugboat Adventures was founded 40 years ago.
The company's co-owner, Bob Jordan, quit the commercial fishing business in 1974.
That same year, he married Kathy Jordan, and the couple bought their first vintage tugboat together.
"My entire family, great grandfather, grandfather, father and uncles were all fishermen," he says.
"I saw the downside of the long periods away from their families and wanted to avoid that scenario."
Although Jordan says the commercial salmon fishery was "very healthy" during his years of operation (1966 to 1974), he anticipated a collapse.
Overfishing followed skyrocketing consumer demand paired with rapid technological advancements in radar, radio, sonar, hydraulics and on-board refrigeration.
"I'm very fortunate that I made my decision to quit before the big dollar seasons had arrived," Jordan says.
"If I had waited until the 1980s I would have been hooked with an expensive boat mortgage and stuck in a shrinking industry.
"Not as much fun as tourism."
By the time the government intervened with mandatory fleet restrictions and catch limits, Jordan had fully transitioned to the tourism industry.
Today, the MV Parry continues to fish in waters where Jordan once fished commercially.

Fishing in style

Every year, salmon migrate through the Inside Passage to spawning grounds up western Canada's rivers and streams and into Southeast Alaska.
Aside from great fishing and breathtaking wilderness, the Inside Passage also offers natural shelter from the open Pacific Ocean.
Rough waves and seasickness are minimal.
Coastal British Columbia is home to many fishing guides and lodges, including Westwind Tugboat Adventures.
The company motto is "follow the fish."
If weather or fishing forecasts turn sour, Captain Michael Boskovich simply relocates.
Boskovich began captaining the Parry in 1994; he also has a professional background in commercial fishing (as do some of the experienced guides on board).
With wine, beer and salmon appetizers every day, you'd be happy too.
With wine, beer and salmon appetizers every day, you'd be happy too.
Doug Meigs
In addition to the skipper and two fishing guides, a cheery hostess and gourmet chef take care of up to 12 guests.
After landing my big Chinook, we return to the calm waters of a secluded cove where the Parry had moored the previous afternoon.
The rest of our party is already there.
They relax on couches, sipping wine and guzzling Canadian beer from a bottomless open bar.
Salmon sashimi appetizers are waiting.
A three-course dinner follows.
Every meal is different.
The first dinner on the seven-day voyage features a bucket of fresh crab at each table.
We eat salmon every way imaginable, accompanied by fresh baked goods and homemade sauces.
Everything is organic and chef Naomi Panchou cooks to accommodate allergies and preferences.
If someone doesn't like fish, she whips up prime rib, Caesar salad or some other customized dish.
The boat serves three meals a day, preceding each new fishing session.
If you want to skip lunch to fish, Panchou will even ferry a customized lunchbox out to sea.

Other activities

The tugboat offers more than just fishing.
Watching wildlife is an all-day activity.
We spot humpback whales, orcas and seals from our small fishing boats.
Guides sometimes toss small rockfish into the water and bald eagles swoop down to retrieve the snack.
They also take us to see grizzly bears, set crab traps and hike on rocky beaches.
If you want to skip a fishing session you can learn cooking techniques from Panchou, watch movies in the tugboat's living room, borrow a book from the ship's library or nap in the private berths.
The adventure is designed to offer independence.
You can ride along in a guide's fishing boat. Or you can navigate yourself to the catch of a lifetime.
I did both.

Learning the ropes

You might catch enough fish to last you a month.
You might catch enough fish to last you a month.
Doug Meigs
Guides possess encyclopedic knowledge of local marine life, and they don't just bait hooks -- though they're willing to.
They teach how to fish.
Many first-time fishermen/women are happily tying hooks by the end of the trip.
More experienced guests master "mooching," a fishing technique akin to stop-and-go trolling.
We encounter many salmon varieties: Chinook, coho, humpback, chum.
The most plentiful is coho, a species acclaimed for its delicious taste.
They aren't huge like Chinooks (the largest of the salmon family, which can grow up to 90 pounds), but they're still big and exciting to catch.
Coho try to dislodge hooks, leaping out of the water with acrobatic flips.
When I lose a 10-pound coho, I hear the philosophic musing of the fishing guide.
"That's why they call it fishing and not catching," says bushy-bearded Duncan Browning.
Soon, another fish strikes.
This time, I land the flipping coho.
We dock back in Prince Rupert on the seventh day, where a small airport has connecting flights to Vancouver.
A forklift unloads some 900 pounds of frozen salmon from the tugboat.

How much fish is allowed?

Sport fishermen may possess the two days' limit of fish caught on Pacific waters of British Columbia.
For salmon, that's eight fish total with a maximum of four Chinooks. My personal haul exceeded 100 pounds.
The Parry's crew filleted and flash-froze some fish upon request.
Much of our catch went to a cannery for processing into smoked, canned and candied salmon.
The cannery later ships packages to home addresses worldwide.
Westwind Tugboat Adventures offers fishing and non-fishing options from five B.C. ports.
Fishing adventures; seven days/six nights at $5,895 per person.
Non-fishing Inside Passage cruises; seven days/six nights at $4,195 per person: Vancouver/Port Hardy (early May, late September). Bella Bella/Prince Rupert (early May); Bella Bella/River's Inlet (late September).