It’s a beautiful day in late July 2022, and I’m riding as a walk on passenger on BC Ferry’s Spirit of Vancouver Island. It’s late in the afternoon, just after supper time and I sit on the open deck of the ferry catching the last warm rays of what has been a gorgeous evening sail across the Strait of Georgia to BC’s largest city Vancouver from my home in Victoria on Vancouver Island.
Today marks the culmination of an adventure that has been over two years in the making. Two years of maybe’s and conflicting schedules. Two years of dealing with COVID, travel restrictions, and shuttered seasons. And after two years and now at 53 years of age, I’m wondering what the heck I am doing.
You see I am heading off to the most remote island that exists almost 100 nautical miles west of the rugged coast of northern BC. A place so remote that access is only gained via helicopter, float plane or boat. A place where the ghosts of legends swim and countless stories have been written by travelers from all over the world and from every walk of life since the beginning of recorded history. A place that I have heard about for the past twenty years or more and one that I have vowed I must go before it’s too late. A place that has called my very soul since the first time I ever heard about it. That place…is Langara Island. A chunk of isolated land off the northern tip of what was once called the Queen Charlottes, and now known as Haida Gwaii.
But first let me back up a bit and give you the reader the backstory. If you’ve followed my blog at all, you’ll have no doubt read my series called “It’s a Guide’s Life”, where I chronicled my emergence as a professional fishing guide back in 2019. After that first season I was left wanting more, and was hoping to return to the same gig I had in the upcoming 2020 season. But unfortunately due to a number of reasons that wasn’t to be, so I sent applications to a number of lodges “Up North” to try and get guide work somewhere else and expand my horizons.
In the early parts of 2020 I received offers from three lodges in Haida Gwaii very quickly, including the Queen Charlotte Lodge, the West Coast Fishing Club, and finally after some discussion on the phone with the General Manager and after receiving some recommendations from friends, Langara Fishing Lodge. Now to be fair, I should mention that I have some very good family friends who had worked at Langara Fishing Lodge many, many years ago. Their stories of the 40’s, 50’s and occasional 60 pound salmon being caught on a regular basis were inspiring. So my choice of location to work, all be it remote and challenging when managing a family and two kids, was made for me. Langara Fishing Lodge was my employer of choice, in fact it felt more like experiencing a family tradition than going to work. So, I accepted the job, started getting my fishing kit ready, and waited for the season to begin. This was in January, 2020.
As the months ticked by and the world erupted into the whirlwind of the global pandemic, suddenly everything was thrown aside and plans were dropped. Out of respect for the rising health crisis and the local First Nations, Langara Fishing Lodge closed its doors for the season. The first time it had ever done so since it’s inception in 1985. My dream…was over. It was the right and the ethical thing to do, but it meant that I was suddenly forced into looking elsewhere for work.
After regrouping, I was able to find employment with a prior employer but it meant going back to the world of Project Management, a field I had been working in for over 10 years in a professional capacity before I jumped into guiding. It was not my plan to go back, but I needed the work and I was extremely grateful to have the job and the steady pay check during a time where many others lost their jobs or lived with anxious uncertainty around their employment.
In 2021 even though the pandemic was still ongoing, the world knew a lot more about the disease and the degree of risk and available protection methods to stem its spread were more understood. So for the 2021 season, Langara Fishing Lodge reopened for a short season, and asked again if I was available to join them. After agonizing over the decision, I knew that I could not abandon the commitment I had made to my then employer, and had to respectfully tell the Lodge that I would not be able to join. In my mind, I thought to myself that I had probably closed that door forever, but again it was the right decision at the time.
As the new year rolled over into 2022, I fired off an email once again to Bill Gibson, the General Manager of Langara Fishing Lodge, asking about the possibility of work in 2022. To my delight Bill responded back, and connected me as well with Suzzanne Lopez, Guest Services Manager, with a note that there was a potential for work including relief work for guides who needed a break during the long season. Suzzanne sent out a list of dates where extra staff were needed, and I quickly replied with my availability for a number of them. Even though I was still working full time in project management, I would take my vacation time and work for the lodge. I was not going to let one more year pass without going. THIS WAS IT.
So fast forward now to my ferry ride. The Lodge hires the charter airline Summit Air to take guests from Vancouver to Masset, and from there to the Lodge via helicopters operated by HeliJet. Since the departure time for the flight to Masset is 6AM, I had to spend the night in Vancouver to make the trip, so I happily invested in the overnight stay to make the airport departure time as planned. I was so excited and nervous about the trip I slept about 2 hours that night, tossing and turning worried I would sleep in and miss my taxi to the airport.
At 6:00 AM, bright eyed and carrying what was a far too heavy backpack and two carry on’s, I arrived at the South terminal of the Vancouver International Airport ready to head out. As I waited for the ticketing desk to open, I looked around at the other folks lining up, trying to pick out who may be fellow guides, and who were guests. I was nervous of course, but I also knew that once I got talking to folks everything would be fine. It’s those first awkward few minutes that are the worst. I waited for who I believed were the guests to check in first, then got myself sorted and my bags checked in. Now all that was left was the flight.
At approximately 6:30 AM, the word came from the Langara agents that the airport at Masset was fogged in and that the flight would be delayed. This is apparently very common, given the climate in Haida Gwaii, especially the more northern regions and the small Masset airport is not equipped for IFR approach. So with an unknown delay in the works, guests and guides alike headed to the one restaurant open and proceeded to have breakfast and gossip excitedly about the upcoming trip. It would be almost 10:00 AM before we boarded the plane.
As I finally climbed the stairs to the plane and took my seat in the rear it felt amazing to finally be making headway to one of the top fishing destinations in the world. And it was during that 4 hours of delay in Vancouver prior to departing that I made my first connections to some of the fly in guides including Ted Cameron, Chris “Scooter” Scoten, and Gord Bagan. Those first connections set the tone for the rest of my introduction and first day as a guide for Langara Fishing Lodge, and immediately put me at ease. There’s much more story to tell…but that will have to wait until my next post.