The atmosphere aboard the Summit Air charter jet was palpable. A mixture of excitement, apprehension, and joy. Imagine an aircraft filled entirely with fisherman, guides and guests alike, all eagerly waiting for their first opportunities to wet a line at one of the pioneer remote fishing lodges on the West coast of Canada. For some this was a return to sacred ground that they had been treading for years, and for others it was their first foray into Valhalla where kings (salmon that is) roamed and silver (coho’s) ran so thick your could walk across their backs. OK, OK…that’s a bit dramatic but honestly a place of legend.
An hour and a half out of Vancouver and after flying up the west coast of British Columbia, the plane banked towards Masset and we began out descent into the clouds. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the airport in Masset but to say I was underwhelmed is an understatement. But an airport it was and it did provide the necessary runway and jumping off point to our next mode of transport to Langara Fishing Lodge. Once done landing and deplaning, we anxiously awaited our turn to be called to the runway apron to board one of the Helijet choppers for the brief 17 minute ride over to the Lodge.
After watching the first two helicopters depart (they have a capacity of 16 passengers), I heard my name being called by one of the airport crew and they escorted me out to the tarmac to a waiting helicopter. My ride was to be from the co-pilot seat of the freight chopper, which was just fine with me as it gave me a birds eye view of the trip! As the pilot hopped aboard, the chopper spooled up and after some bumping and jostling around on the ground we gently took off and began our trip, ascending no more than 300 feet during the trip due to the low ceiling of overcast skies and fog.
In my mind I had pictured Haida Gwaii to be similar to where I live on Vancouver Island, with lush forests, giant cedars and towering fir trees. But while flying over the land I saw what looked very much like my birth province Newfoundland: short scrappy trees beaten by the wind, intermixed with bog and tundra like terrain. I hadn’t realized jut how far north this place was, so it made sense once I saw the land moving past below me. But we soon left the protection of land and headed out over the ocean water, making our way along the northern coast of Graham Island towards Langara Island where the Lodge is located. As we flew low over the water I could see the fleets of boats from around the area working their way amongst the kelp filled bays, channels and islands in search of their trophies.
As the helicopter continued to skim over the surface of the sea, the pilot applied power and climbed slightly as we approached Langara Island. As our forward momentum slowed, the pilot dropped us down expertly amongst the trees into the protected waters of Henslung Cove and the small floating helipad of Langara Fishing Lodge. With the pro touch of my pilot, we soon landed and as I waited for the helicopter blades to slow to a stop I was eagerly looking out the window, my heart racing knowing that I was now committed. There was no turning back now!
When the blades finally stopped their movement the doors opened and I hopped out and was immediately greeted by the dock staff and led over to the Guide Shack, located on the main docks. Once there I was quickly introduced to the Head Guide Takeo “Tak” Hiroi who after a quick hello gave me the dime tour of the facility including showing me to my room, the gear drying closet, fish processing area (aka “fish pit”), the fish leader board, and of course the boats.
It was around 12:30PM when our helicopter had touched down I had been told that I needed to be prepared to fish with guests within an hour of arrival. That meant find my boat, get my gear, set up four rods including rigging (for the first time mind you) the mooching style rigs that Langara fishes exclusively, and then quickly figure out where the heck to fish. So I raced to my room to get my reels and my tackle, then down to my assigned boat, a 21 foot aluminum center console with the name “Auklet”.
Then it was busy time for me getting the rods ready, making sure I had bait and enough tackle to fish for at least 5-6 hours, and prepare myself to meet my very first guests. All the time mind you a constant stream of helicopters were landing and taking off, bringing the 66 guests in from the airport at Masset. Each group that arrived was immediately shuffled off for orientation, room assignment, cruiser suit fittings, and briefing from the Lodge Manager Bill Gibson and Fish Master Johnny “5.0” Marcell on the facility. This cycle of processing guests was something I would witness two additional times, as I was there for the duration of three sets of visitors or “changeovers”.
Ready to fish and sitting in my boat getting the lay of the land, my first two guests arrived and introduced themselves. They were two gents from Saskatchewan and I don’t think I could have asked for a better set of firsts. Over the next few hours we got acquainted and I could tell right away that these two guys would be fun guests. We fished until supper time, and I managed to get them a Chinook salmon on their first excursion out and that broke the ice for all of us in the boat. Having not fished cut plug or mooching style for many years, I had been nervous that I would forget how it all worked but as it turned out it simply wasn’t the case.
As the next few days of fishing went by, my new Saskatchewan friends and I had a great many laughs out on the water, with these two guys being folks that I likely would have wanted to hang with in other situations. They had me in stitches from laugher more than a few times!
Along with them I cut my teeth on some of the fishing spots such as Coho, McPherson, Andrews, No Name, Gunia and Seath Points. Then on to Boulder, Pillar, Egeria, Bruin and Lepas Bays. And offshore at Langara Rocks, Langara Light and spots like the “Dinner Plate” and “Al’s”. We fished for Chinook, Coho and Ling Cod, and searched for some Halibut as well. As their time with me came to and end, I knew that although I had not loaded them up with their limits of all species they had a good time and went home with smiles on their faces.
Being new as a guide in any area no matter how great a fisherman you are (or aren’t) means that it is very difficult to hit a home run out of the gate. There is no substitute for time in the seat at any one location. You get to know the rhythms of the place: which bay or point produces fish on which ebb or flood tide for example. Or where fish traditionally have been found at certain times of year. What areas to avoid and how to know which combination of wind direction and tide movement create the most hazardous sea conditions. As a fly in guide the only way to get any intel on “what to do and when” means that you have to rely on your fellow guides to assist you and share some of their local knowledge. Without that…well you are basically flying blind. You end up tossing your gear in areas that you’ve studied on the charts and think will produce fish, but with no certainty or local experience to back it up. Anyone who tells you that they don’t ask for help, is lying.
One of my apprehensions before going to Langara was not knowing how I would be treated by the other guides, or even the staff. As the “rookie” fly in guide, I fully expected to be left to struggle on my own , having to scratch and plead for local knowledge. I will state right now that I was completely wrong. From the minute I touched down on the helipad I was made to feel welcome. In fact I would go even further to say more than just welcomed, but appreciated and immediately welcomed as part of the team. I’ve never had an experience quite like it to be honest. As I was setting up my lines on the boat for instance, Bill Gibson took the time to come and say hello to me, shake my hand, and say how great it was to finally have me here (after two years of back and forth!). Imagine that now; on the busiest day (changeover day) where all sorts of action and mayhem are transpiring, he took to the time to come see me and welcome me to the Lodge. The same could be said for all the staff I met, and the guides were even more exceptional than I could have hoped for. They were helpful, answered all of my questions, offered tips and advice, and gave more support that I could have even imagined I would get. The sense of brotherhood and camaraderie was instant.
Over the next 10 days I went through two more sets of guests, and my knowledge and my success fishing in the waters around Langara Island grew quickly. I came to enjoy and appreciate the mooching style of fishing, with its simplicity and the one to one connection you get with the fish rather than using down riggers and flashers like I normally do for my charters on Vancouver Island. Not having the drag of the flasher while playing a fish really allows you to go head to head, and get a real sense of appreciation for the power that a big Chinook salmon can have as it peels off line and bends your rod tip into the water. Watching the excitement of the initial nibbles, the rod bouncing and quivering before it finally springs into action as the hook is set and the fight is on is awesome. I still like to watch a down rigger rod pop off the clip and explode into a screamer of a run, but the finesse and the sensitivity of the mooching rig seems far more elegant and way more fun!
As my time at Langara quickly began to run out, I was proud of what I had been able to accomplish in a short time. I’d figured out the Ling Cod and Halibut game, managed to guide a guest to one of the increasingly rare Tyee Chinook over 30 pounds (a 31.5 pound salmon, one of only 4 over 30 pounds for the week) and managed to limit out my last two sets of guests. Considering everything, I was pretty happy with how things worked out. I had come to Langara with apprehension and doubts….wondering if I had perhaps fooled myself that at 53 years old I was still able to keep up with the young guns. But what I found instead
was that I was amongst my peers. No matter how old, what gender, or level of experience I never once felt like I was an outsider. Perhaps it’s the uniqueness of the Lodge, or the area, or some other sort of voodoo magic that attracts like minded souls like myself to this remote outpost on the Pacific. Surrounded by natural beauty, it’s easy to get lost in the romance that is Haida Gwaii. It’s not for everyone and it’s most certainly a cold and often wet climate with “summer” highs of 14-15 degrees C and more often than not it’s foggy, windy and misty. But there is magic here. A tangible, almost otherworldly feeling that gets deep into your very core and makes you miss it the minute you step off the plane when you return to civilization.
On my last day at Langara Fishing Lodge, after fishing the morning with my final set of guests, I waited along with the other staff on the dock taking shelter in the Guide Shack as the steady arrival and departure of helicopters signaled the end of another set of guests and heralded the arrival of the next ones. As the last chopper touched down and we all piled in, we were treated to an “extra special” ride on the way back to Masset by the pilot who swooped low and close to a few of the more spectacular landmarks such as Pillar Rock, as well as over some Killer Whales transiting through the area in search of salmon. In my heart I was both happy to be returning home to my wife and step-sons, but also torn at leaving behind the Lodge and all the new friends I had made. It had been an incredible experience and I am supremely grateful I went and for having the opportunity (thanks Suzzanne and Bill!). Knowing that I would be back there again in August this season made the trip out a little less painful, and I can see now why some of the guides and staff have been coming back year, after year. Much like the moss that carpets the ground and the old mans beard that hangs in the trees, this place grows on you.
As I close out this post, I want to take time to thank ALL of the amazing guides and support staff at Langara Fishing Lodge. Your knowledge, open hospitality and genuineness makes Langara Fishing Lodge the amazing destination that it is. I was genuinely blown away.
I wish I had the time to take photos of all the guides and staff I met, but with only so many hours in the day and sleep to catch, it wasn’t possible. I’ll be going back to Langara soon for more work, so I hope to be able to share more characters in my next post.
Until next time Langara!!