Take The Long Way Home E-mail
Written by Pete Julian   
Sunday, 02 November 2014 21:58

Take The Long Way Home

My brother Gus and I grew up fishing around Washington State and were attracted to the simplicity of kayak fishing around five years ago. Months before this trip we found ourselves landlocked in the middle of the state, attending college and feeling listless. Both having felt a calling to the outdoors from a young age we made the decision to drop out of college this year and put a spark back in our lives. With a new sense of freedom and wanting to make the most of it we departed on our greatest adventure yet: a 300 mile kayak trip down the west coast of Vancouver Island. Much more of an undertaking than any of our previous fishing trips, but it turned out to be just what we needed.

Our trip started at the head of Quatsino sound on the north end of the Island. We stuffed our Ocean Kayak Trident 13’s with enough gear to live unassisted for the first 140 miles. For food we brought rice, oatmeal, pasta, granola bars, trailmix and a few different spice rubs for cooking all the fish we hoped (and needed) to catch. We brought a good Coleman tent and two large tarps along with all the normal camping gear. We brought a thorough first aid kit and a vhf radio for checking the weather. Because of the weight of propane and with nowhere to restock, we brought none and cooked every meal over a wood fire. On July 8th we paddled out on a calm sunny morning headed west towards the open ocean.

west coast 1st half 011 west coast 1st half 038 west coast 1st half 056

It took us 3 days but when we reached the coast it was like a switch had been flipped. The water changed to a deep blue, the air tingled on my skin and the fishing turned from poor to fantastic. We enjoyed a few days of great fishing and great weather. We caught lingcod, many different species of rockfish, and my brother landed a chinook of about 20 pounds which fed us for two whole days. It was a luxurious start to the trip.

After enjoying the area for a bit we decided to continue south. But on the morning of our departure we only made it a few miles before thick fog rolled in and we decided to land and wait it out. I was anxious and wanted to keep moving but we soon learned to accept weather delays because the next day the wind picked up to 35 mph and blew relentlessly for four days. There was no chance of paddling in such strong wind so we just enjoyed the downtime as best we could. The weather delay made us realize it could take longer than we expected to reach the small town where we could restock our food, so we rationed hard.

The wind stopped one night and the next morning we got up early and paddled out just as it started to rain. The ocean was calm and we covered about 12 miles by noon. We set up camp, made a fire and dried our gear. The rain was still coming down that night but we were more than happy to have traded wind for rain. It felt great to be moving again.

west coast 1st half bear west coast 1st half choppy seas west coast 1st half cook

As we paddled out the next morning we immediately noticed the swell had gotten bigger. It grew as we went and in a couple hours we found ourselves getting seasick in the largest waves I’ve ever been in. The waves seemed as tall as houses. Bobbing along at the peak of a wave felt like overlooking a valley. At the first opportunity we headed back to shore to take shelter behind a nearby point but the swell slowed us down so much we moved at a crawl. I stared at the point and paddled trying to ignore the dizziness and nausea. Eventually we got there and found a protected cove behind the point. We dragged the boats up and collapsed in the sand, overjoyed to be back on shore. The day gave us a humbling taste of what mother ocean was capable of. It gave us perspective and confidence though, and the seasickness subsiding felt so good we were in high spirits. However we were more careful about picking our days to paddle in the future.

Rain continued as we moved south. Sometimes it poured and sometimes it misted but it never stopped for more than a couple hours at a time. The scenery was made even more beautiful in the rain. We spent a week in an area that has never been logged and has no roads or trails. The only access is by boat and very few people visit the area. Because of the harsh environment the trees grow slowly, like large bonsais, and cover every inch of the rocky coastline. Dead trees still stand all through the forest and give the whole place an eerie feel. One camp spot was a soft sandy beach that stretched for miles in each direction and wolf tracks covered the length of it. It was true wilderness without a doubt. As beautiful as it was we did not linger because the fishing was scarce and we were hoping to get better weather as we moved south.

west coast 1st half cove west coast 1st half cruising west coast 1st half fishing

On day 16 the rain had been coming down for 10 days and a few of those days were the hardest rain I’ve ever camped in. Everything was wet and we found ourselves up the mouth of a river looking for a place to camp. I was exhausted from not eating enough. We had not been catching many dinners lately and needed to ration hard because of all the bad weather slowing us down.

We set up camp on a small island in the river that seemed to be above high tide. As tired as I was our gear was wet and we needed a fire. I paddled my boat along the shore of the river and hiked through the forest looking for wood, but unlike the beaches there was almost nothing to burn. While Gus struggled to get a pile of wet twigs burning I scrounged up a boatful of wood, waterlogged from days of rain. It was a lot of work but finally we got a fire going and dried out our gear. The minute my sleeping bag was dry I got in the tent and fell asleep.

I woke up to the faint trickle of water and immediately knew what was happening. I unzipped the tent and saw our island covered in water from the rising tide. Quickly we packed up our gear and took down the tent just in time to avoid getting it wet. The entire island was soon submerged and our only option was to hang all our gear in the trees and then sit on a log and wait out the tide.

The next day I was thoroughly exhausted and we were hungry. We needed to get back to the ocean where fish and firewood were easier to find. My brother fished the river that day and caught a small steelhead but being a passionate steelhead angler he would have had to be on the brink of starvation to kill it. Instead we had delicious oatmeal and paddled back to the ocean that afternoon.

As we paddled out of the inlet we could see the sun ahead and steam rose from every hillside. Because of the heavy rain, waterfalls poured off cliffs into the water all along the shore. It was a beautiful sight. That evening we caught two nice rockfish and set up camp in the sun for the first time in a while. We cooked the fish with rice and taco seasoning and had a delicious Mexican feast. There was nothing more we could have asked for.

It felt amazing to wake up to the warmth of sun coming through our tent. We slept in, getting some much needed rest. I was so rejuvenated, it seemed like the sun had come just in time. From here the weather held and for weeks it was hot and dry. As we headed south it seemed like a vacation after the bad weather up north. We were protected from wind and swell by some offshore islands so the water was glass flat and the sun was hot. We paddled in swim trunks and fished as we went, catching enough rockfish to eat well. Every night we camped on a different beach and each one seemed more beautiful than the last.

One day as we paddled along we had our jigs trailing behind us and I watched as my brother’s rod god slammed! The rod shook and bent deep as he grabbed it and set the hook. Seconds later the fish rolled on the surface and showed the huge tail of a King, but then he was off. It was exciting- the first salmon we had hooked in weeks and we knew there would be more.

west coast 1st half trout west coast 1st half rockfish west coast 1st half wolf no dogs out here

 

Over the next week we caught some awesome King salmon and lost a lot more. They were hard to keep on between big jumps and a strange trick where they lazily roll side to side just below the kayak, making it nearly impossible to keep pressure on them.  It was some fun fishing and we took a number of days off to enjoy it. We ate some great salmon dinners and caught some really memorable fish. The largest of the trip was about 25 pounds, and my brother got him casting a fly along the edge of the kelp on his 10 weight. Later that day I got one almost as big while casting a buzz bomb from a rock island I had paddled my boat to. It certainly made up for any fishless days up north.

On day 26 we had gone 140 miles and made it to Tahsis, a small town where we had mailed ourselves a 35-pound box of food. We got ice cream cones and met some nice people, both of which were a great treat. The next day we picked up our food from the post office and headed back to the ocean ready for more.

With our boats full of food and a month of experience under our belts we cruised south with speed and confidence. We caught plenty of rockfish but the salmon were pretty elusive, so the second half of the trip became more about paddling and enjoying scenery.

We found many more beautiful beaches to camp on. One night we sat in hot springs and watched an awesome sunset in the fog. We also found a number of small islands to camp on without another person in sight. It was a joy and aside from a little bit of rain and fog the weather was still fantastic as we hopped from one great beach to the next.

Eventually we reached a point where the next section of coast seemed daunting. Our charts showed it to be a shear rock cliff for miles with nowhere to land. On top of that we were supposed to register and pay to camp there, so we decided it was a reasonable place to end the trip.

 

west coast 1st half releaseking west coast second half fogsun west coast second half river entry

In order to reach a good pick up spot we turned east and paddled up the longest inlet on the Island to Port Alberni. In the protected inshore waters we flew and covered 50 miles in 3 days, quite a difference from the unstable conditions of the coast. The next day my mom was nice enough to drive up from Seattle on her day off and pick us up. And so we ended our trip after 47 days and 300 miles of paddling.

During the drive home I looked back and couldn’t help but smile ear to ear.  Although I had started the trip dreaming of amazing fishing, overall the fishing was not that great. Every other aspect of the trip exceeded my expectations however. It was the challenges, the beautiful and inspiring moments, the freedom and the adventure that made it my best fishing trip ever. It gave me a new sense of confidence and got me more excited about life than I’ve ever been. I really felt like it had given me exactly what I was looking for.

 

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