It had been many years since I had the opportunity to sail with a group in Haida Gwaii, formerly known under the colonial name as the Queen Charlotte Islands. I had been impressed with this remote, rugged land and never thought I would be able to return.
So I was pleased to be invited to ride along from Portland, Oregon to Sandspit in Haida Gwaii with a local innkeeper who made the journey twice a season. In addition to owning the Bay View Garden Bed and Breakfast and Hostel with a stunning view of Shingle Bay, I soon found that his passion was salmon fishing and crabbing, and bringing a freezer full of freshly frozen fish back to Oregon after the tourist season ended. Of course, I said yes to the trip, and was off for an adventure to these beautiful islands just south of Alaska.
The Journey to Haida Gwaii
Getting to Sandspit required a long drive north through scenic British Columbia, taking an overnight BC Ferry from Prince Rupert to Skidegate and then, finally, a 20-minute journey via the small Kwuna car ferry to Moresby Island.
In order to get in plenty of sightseeing along the way, we did the drive in three legs and spent the afternoon before the ferry crossing in Prince Rupert. There, we did some grocery shopping (there is only one small store in Sandspit) and enjoyed a great seafood dinner with a waterfront view at The Breakers Pub.
Sandspit is located on the northern shores of Moresby Island. We took the two-ferry route to get to this remote island.
Many arrive by plane. The Sandspit Airport is the arrival point for daily Air Canada flights to the Islands and the location of the Sandspit Visitor Centre. I actually walked the road from the inn to the airport several times and enjoyed watching the visitors who had come for fishing, with their neatly boxed and iced catch loading for the departing flights.
I was soon to find out that Sandspit is a hotbed for fishing especially during the late Coho runs in September. Birding, hiking, and kayaking are also popular activities in the area. It’s the departure point for tours and trips to the most remote and protected areas, Gwaii Haanas, where visitors can experience old-growth forests and see moss-covered Haida longhouses and totems. Gwaii Haanas National Park and Haida Heritage Site is the first National Park to be co-managed by a joint board of a First Nation and the Canadian Government.
Haida Gwaii Scenery
The views from the island of the bay and sky are stunning at sunrise and sunset. Since Haida Gwaii is so far north, sunset came around 11 p.m. during the summer. The short growing season yielded colorful flowers and garden vegetables perfect for cooking at the B&B. Visitors from all around the world gathered to watch the evening sunsets.
Day trips around the island took me through old-growth forests to see rivers and beaches. These excursions provided more beautiful scenery to photograph.
Fishing and Crabbing in Haida Gwaii
A highlight of the trip was going out fishing with the B&B owner and his friend who lived on the island year ‘round. These two weathered outdoorsmen were perfect guides for a day of fishing.
Of course, we got up early and headed for the marina. Before we headed out very far, crab traps were set and orange markers were left bobbing away to mark the location.
We headed out to the places, I was told, where we might fish for over four varieties of salmon on the west coast. But first, we had to navigate the exciting narrows between Moresby Island and Graham Island. With the tides in our favor, we sped through the narrows and soon ended up in an area bordered by cliffs and deep forest. By keeping near the shore, the waters were fairly calm and ideal for trolling.
We baited the hooks with small fish and started fishing. It wasn’t too long before I heard, “Fish on!” The salmon was huge, strong, and took awhile to net. Soon after the first King Salmon was in the cooler, another salmon was reeled in. This was a White Salmon. After that, it was my turn. I snagged a Coho. I admit it was smaller than the ones the guys had brought in but it seemed huge to me. The scales glistened in the sun with rainbow colors. It was a beautiful fish. And, no, I didn’t let it go. I was truly thankful for this beautiful fish that would put many a meal on my table. The guys took care of the “bonking and gutting” and I only had time to pose with the fish before several more salmon were brought into the boat.
All the fish were strong, healthy, and of legal size. They were all wild salmon. We had purchased licenses and had to mark down what type of fish we caught. In fact, we caught our limit within five hours and headed back in through the narrows and then to the quiet bay.
On the way back we pulled up the crab pots and had some huge crabs to add to the collection of seafood on the boat. The fish were kept iced and I soon found out that I had a job to do that evening before I could rest.
Crab Dinner on the Beach with the Eagles
We docked and loaded the boat on the trailer. But on the way, we made a stop at the home of the man who lived on the island permanently. His wife was ready for us with some home-made red seafood sauce, corn on the cob and salad. We were going to have a crab boil on the beach across from their home.
Our hosts had made the boilers out of large cans and constructed heavy wooden picnic tables. Within an hour of being brought in from the sea, the crabs were boiling away as we enjoyed wine and greeted some surprise visitors (well, a surprise to me). Eagles started gathering in the trees lining the beach. They knew what we were up to and were looking forward to some crab leftovers for their dinner.
The dinner was fantastic and was certainly needed after a day out on the water. As we finished, the couple threw out the crab shells along the beach. Twelve eagles converged on the leftovers.
It was an amazing sight watching the eagles on the shore.
But the day wasn’t over. I soon learned that I was not on a charter fishing trip. There was no one to filet and bag my fish for the freezer. I was going to be helping with the process. We headed back to the B&B and the owner expertly filleted the fish, removing the head and tail. My job was to place the slices of fish in freezer bags and vacuum pack them. I then marked each bag with the date and the type of fish. This was part of the routine when you are bringing frozen fish back into the United States from Canada. The authorities would want proof that the fish was caught on a license and that it was for personal use.
With the fish all neatly placed in the freezer, we took the leftovers across the road to the beach. The eagles gathered for their evening snack. And, the sky began to glow pink and then turn golden as sunset time approached.
This was an adventure and my first exposure to fishing for wild salmon. It was a memorable Haida Gwaii experience and only part of what you can enjoy when you visit these wild islands.
When You Go to Haida Gwaii
There are many fishing charters who can make sure you find the best fish to take home with you. The Sandspit Visitors Centre has a gift shop and travel information. For full information on traveling in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, visit the Go Haida Gwaii website. Be sure to check Wander for more great things to do when you visit British Columbia.