We just returned from a great fishing trip on the MV Charlotte Princess, a self-guided fishing resort anchored at Langara Island at the north end of Haida Gwaii (formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands), British Columbia, Canada. Although we fished with the Oak Bay Marine Group once before, this was our first unguided trip for salmon, and it turned out to be really fun.
We opted for a mid-day flight out of Los Angeles that arrived in Vancouver early evening. After an overnight stay, the flight to our final destination began early the next morning. We embarked in a thirty-passenger, two-propeller engine plane that landed in Masset, a small airport on Graham Island, a little over two hours later. After that it was a short, scenic helicopter trip to Langara Island. The helicopter landing pad was a small barge anchored next to the MV Charlotte Princess. Cabins on this vessel were set up for two person occupancy, with each having its own bathroom. They were comfortable and well stocked with towels, etc. Foul weather gear was also hanging on the wall upon arrival.
All of the guest fishing boats were 17-foot Fat Cats powered with 50 horsepower Yamaha outboard engines. Each boat was outfitted with three fly rods for salmon trolling. You could request either single or double action reels spooled with 25-pound-test nylon line. We opted for the double action level wind reels because we were more familiar with their operation. Two halibut rigs were also provided and stored aboard so you could fish for flatfish any time you wanted a break from salmon. Each boat also came with a tackle box filled with appropriate gear, bait, a gaff, a harpoon, a knife and pliers, and a Billy club to use on your catch before storing it in the fish locker.
Lunch was served quickly after our arrival, and then we had our orientation briefing before hitting the water a little after one in the afternoon. Being from southern California we were used to fishing for a variety of species, but those didn’t happen to include salmon. We requested an on-the-water lesson from one of the crew members, and this was really helpful in helping us set up the boat for our adventure. We were used to fishing for salmon with downriggers, but the fishing style here was motor mooching. That skill is easily acquired though, and we had no problems with adjusting. After that we were ready to be on our own, and let the fishing begin!
My wife, Pam, had never manipulated a net before, so we practiced a bit before we started fishing in earnest. That turned into a mini-adventure of its own. While I was fighting a 10 pound Coho to the side of the boat, Pam had her first shot with the net. I had told her to hold the lower part of the net in one hand to keep it from trailing in the water, and she did just that, exactly as I had told her to do it. I led the fish to her, and then, Bam! She swatted it about five feet up into the air. Because she didn’t let go of the lower part of the net, it acted just like a tightly strung tennis racket. The fish stayed on the line though, and I led it into her for another try. Bam! Another forehand with the net, and another flying fish racketed off back into the water. By now I was laughing so hard I could hardly talk, but I managed to point out that she was supposed to let go of the end of the net when she scooped up the fish. One very tired Coho soon hit the deck after a perfect third attempt with the net. Pam had graduated, and she had no trouble with the net after that.
During our three full days of fishing on this trip, Pinks were plentiful, Coho readily available, but Chinooks a little harder to find. That was this trip though, and they all vary. We were amateurs, but we still caught plenty of fish in spite of our limited skills. There were several halibut over 50 pounds pulled in, but we had to settle for the smaller variety. Pam, however, landed the largest Chinook of the trip for the entire boat, and she won the grand prize, a MV Charlotte Princess clock, for her efforts, which sits proudly on our mantle as I type this blog.
I should add that the deck and cabin crews did their usual outstanding job helping make the trip a comfortable adventure. Don’t plan to diet on this trip though— the food is plentiful and delicious, and we both gained a couple of pounds in spite of the work we put in on the boat.
On the way home it was back to the hotel in Vancouver where they stored our frozen and boxed catch in their freezer overnight. We opted for a very early flight back to L.A. and a quick drive home to stow our booty in our own freezer. Nothing left to do now but eat salmon and halibut weekly for the next year while we contemplate returning as more experienced anglers in the future.
One tip you might consider: We flew Alaska Airlines, and they offer an upgrade to first class for an additional $50 each, if any first class seats are available within 24 hours of your flight time. That option waives all baggage fees, and includes free food. Consider it, depending on the amount of check-in baggage you have at the time. If you have several boxes of fish that cost $20 each to ship as luggage, first class upgrades can actually save you money.
We had great fun on this trip, it was a blast. Part of that enjoyment came from learning new salmon angling skills, part from meeting new friends, part from some good fishing, and part from Pam gloating over catching the biggest fish, again. We’ll do it another time soon, and we recommend you consider this option for yourselves.
You can check out Oak Bay Marine Group’s web site at http://www.obmg.com for more information.
(Author’s note, August 2015: I’ve received several inquiries recently about fishing on the Charlotte Princess. I’m sad to report that the Charlotte Princess returned to dry dock after the summer 2013 season, and is no longer in operation. Oak Bay Marine Group still offers other fishing opportunities at several of their other resorts in British Columbia. You can check their website (www.obmg.com) for information.)