Jigging the depths of the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of Canada, is nothing short of an angler’s dream. Monster halibut, trophy-sized ling cod, red snapper the size of pumpkins, and dozens of species of rockfish and other bottom dwellers keep you busy playing fish until your arms are sore from working the rod.
Planning a trip with my fishing buddies Cam Morrison and Wes David for early June put us on the saltchuck during prime time for a plethora of strange-looking ocean fish. We booked with Serengeti Fishing Charters, based out of Port Hardy, on the north end of Vancouver Island. Seeing this part of the world was worth the trip alone, but the insane fishing made it an adventure that was off the charts.
Port Hardy is located on the north end of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, providing access to productive waters that stretch right up to the Alaskan panhandle. The harbor comes alive with boats and anglers every summer, anxious to tackle the bounty of saltwater fish.
Serengeti Fishing Charters use 27-foot Grady Whites, which are stable and comfortable boats for the various conditions encountered on the open seas. More importantly, the boat is set up for fishing and has two holds to store what you bring over the rail.
A brace of black rockfish, also often referred to as black bombers, black sea cod, sea bass or black snapper, was a great way to start the trip. This species of rockfish is tremendous table fare and a welcome sight on the end of the line.
Check out the size of the yap on an average ling cod. The best nickname for these feisty predators would be “water wolf.” They never quit pulling from the time you hook them and often grab onto rockfish being reeled to the surface, changing the nature of the fight in a split second.
Red snapper are aggressive bottom dwellers that hit bait with authority. They are usually found in water 200 to 300 feet deep, and will test your arm strength before getting them to the boat. Cam Morrison proudly shows off a pair of pumpkins that will likely hit a Camp Chef cast-iron pan with some blackened seasoning.
Bottom dwellers live in an eat-or-be-eaten world. This snapper thought he’d have one last snack of a quillback rockfish while in the hold of the boat. Wes David laughed when he found the glutton hoping for one last meal before hitting the filleting table.
When you see a double header on the jigging rods you know the action is intense. The boys hooked into a pair of big halibut that pulled the 100-pound test braided line off the reel with the wave of a tail. Fishing like this turns adult men into giggling school kids, like a retroactive sip from the fountain of youth.
A pair of big butts finally surfaced leaving the deck crew running circles, like they were caught in a fire drill, trying to measure then land or release. Anglers can keep one halibut a day with size restrictions. The biggest fish here is still swimming, as she was too big to legally keep.
Cam Morrison used both hands to hold up his keeper halibut for the day. We caught dozens of halibut on the trip with the biggest tipping the scale at 155 pounds. We fished one spot so hot someone was always reeling in a fish and we often had triple headers.
I love ling and when this toad smashed my bait it almost ripped the rod out of my hands. They make incredible fish and chips with a good beer batter and deep fryer, but are the most versatile fish for the plate being equally as good steamed, smoked, barbequed, poached, baked or pan fried.
Check out the melon on this ling! No wonder the smaller rockfish hide in the nooks and crannies of the ocean floor. Ling can live to be incredibly old and weigh over 100 pounds. The 20- to 30-pound fish we caught were ideal candidates for an Engel Cooler ride home.
Blue skies, bright warm sun, and the last snapper needed for a full limit. Red snapper are actually called yellow-eyed rockfish but most people refer to them by their nickname as a snapper. The otolith, a structure within the organs of the inner ear, used for gravity, balance, movement, and directional indicators in all vertebrates—snapper have big, dish-shaped structures that can be used to age the fish, but are also used to make unique ivory-like jewelry.
I’m a sole man…da da da dadunda da da. Not only is it a catchy tune, but a great fish that shares the depths of the Pacific with other bottom dwellers. They are diminutive compared to other deep-water fish, but are a flavorful flatfish all the same.
The first thing I did when I returned home with fish was fire up my Camp Chef Smoke Vault and put Hi-Mountain brined salmon, halibut and cod on the racks.
If battling bottom dwellers on a rod and reel doesn’t get you excited, chances are a whiff, or better yet, a taste of the smoked fish will force you to make plans for a fishing adventure.