Saltwater Fly Fishing Series
"West Coast Coho
on the Fly"
with 'Ole's Hakai Thorn'
with Barry M. Thornton
British Columbia has over 4000 miles of Pacific coastal shores and this does not
include the circumferences of it's many coastal islands. From April through September, the
waters off these shores are the aquatic highways for five Pacific salmon. But, one, a
salmon I prefer to call the Prince of the salmon, pauses along these aqua routes near kelp
beds, shoals and small islands. This Prince is the sportsman's fish, the angler's trophy,
the west coast fly fisher's apex. This is the salmon that provides that crescendo, that
climax to long hours of casting and hunting. And, what a saltwater salmon he is! This is
the fighting fish that dances on water, that arcs in startling six foot leaps, that strips
reels to their backing then beyond, and, even when finally brought to the boat, this
salmon twists, turns, and tugs in a manner that makes even the most experienced fly fisher
pant and praise this Prince of the north Pacific.
This past summer was my journey into various locations along our B.C. coast. It was a summer of success and silver
smiles. It was also a summer of folly and frustration. Water colors were the most serious
problem, the frustration when previous patterns refused to attract the Prince. But,
experimentation provided a whole new set of patterns that eventually gave me that vital
confidence in this exciting saltwater fishery.
Situated in the center of the
B.C. coast is Hakai Pass. This 'wide passage', as this Indian name means, provides an
east-west break in the islands and mountains that forms the long north-south Inside
Passage. It has been declared as a Marine Recreational Park by the provincial government,
a status that retains the remote wilderness appeal of this special area. For many salmon
it is their first landfall after travelling the north Pacific currents in the Gulf of
Alaska, and provides that special pass which allows them to enter the Inside Passage and
head for their natal streams. But, it also acts as a route for many south heading salmon
including those along the east coast of Vancouver
Island, the Fraser river and
even the Columbia river. Throughout the summer months of July & August it is rich in
homing migrating salmon, a place made for the salmon fly fisher.
This past August I accepted an invitation from Ole's
Westcoast Adventures to stay at their floating lodge in Hakai Pass. I was there to
experiment with salmon fly fishing and I was not disappointed. Flying out from Port Hardy on the northeast coast of
Vancouver Island, I was astounded at the vast number of small islands punctuating Hakai
Pass. The 45 minute flight by Pacific Coastal Airlines to Ole's Lodge provided an exciting
overview of this very fishy region.
It was a trip for experimenting, a chance to try my many successful southern salmon fly
patterns that had landed so many silver coho in the
waters around Vancouver Island. The traditional method of salmon fishing in Hakai Pass has
been with trolled cut herring in the prime fishing locations of Barney, Odlum, Bayley,
Kelpie, the Racetrack, and the Gap.
The kelp bed at Bayley was my first target after a day of orientation by
Fishmaster and General Manager, Ernie Daley. The Bayley fishing waters are a traditional
early morning coho location located at the northeast corner of Hakai Pass. Concentrations
of boats from the many resorts in Hakai Pass provided a view of constant salmon action. It
is an area that simply cries for salmon fly fishers. On this trip I anchored at the west
end of the kelp bed and used the ebbing tide to hold me steady in the ever present
saltwater current. "Black Bombers" were everywhere! In fact, back at the
floating resort one angler asked me if there was ever a time I did not have one of these
sporty black rockfish on the end of my fly line. It seemed, he said, that every time they
looked over to my boat I was playing another fish. The black rockfish were so suicidal in
this location that I was unable to work my casts for the salmon that were cruising in the
At Odlum, it was different! I was still experimenting with various silver,
chartreuse, and pink patterns tied with Mustad 34011 stainless steel hooks searching for
that attractor pattern that would entice the Prince. On this third day of my trip I had
the camp cook, Lars, with me as guide and guest. Lars was keen to try fly fishing in
saltwater and he knew some additional locations where the salmon were in shallower waters.
At Odlum Point he showed me a series of underwater benches with kelp beds, perfect
locations where we could tie our bow rope. As at Bayley, the Black Bombers were exciting
and we managed to hook and release at least a boat full during the afternoon. But, out
from the kelp bed there were also salmon! Two grilse took a pink variation of the Silver
Thorn pattern and this gave me the confidence to work this particular pattern out beyond
the reach of the black rockfish. The eventual strike of a heavy salmon came just as I was
getting my cast - retrieve routine into a methodic process. The strike was a smash hit and
I can still see the fly line I had retrieved bounce off the floor and streak through the
rod guides. I was also experimenting with a new reel, a Scientific Angler's 'Mastery
Series' #8/9, which, while light weight, held an impressive spool of 300+ yards of
backing. It was needed! I had hooked a large flashy Northern coho of fifteen pounds and he
was into the backing in nanoseconds. I had set the reel at the point of least tension, a
tip I had learned after loosing big fish in the past. The untried reel was my biggest
concern but it spooled the line out in smooth turns with no fatal jerks. Well into the
backing the Prince started it's flashy surface display but to no avail. A long retrieve,
after many surface and deep water dogged fights eventually brought the trophy to the boat.
A Hakai Pass hook nosed Northern coho, the Prince of salmon, on the fly - what an
On the final day Fishmaster Ernie Daley, an accomplished fly fisher joined me for a
short fly fishing jaunt. During our short trip we once again found the schools of large
Black Bombers and thoroughly enjoyed the fighting thrill of these sporting fish. The fly
we used became designated, "Ole's Hakai Thorn", the monicker for one more
successful Pacific salmon saltwater fly pattern.
Next summer I will once again search out those trophy salmon in Hakai Pass and invite
fly fishers to join me. For further information contact Ole's West Coast Adventures at (250) 897-3341 or
email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ole's Hakai Pass West Coast Adventures floating fishing resort is in
its 14th successful year of operation and is situated in an ideal location in Hakai Pass.
It offers all-inclusive fishing packages in private accommodations. Outstanding gourmet
meals, complimentary bar, fishing licences, total fishing catch care, boats, gas, tackle
and foul weather gear are also provided in your package. Contact Ernie Daley, General
Manager, by phone or email for further information on a saltwater fishing package of a
lifetime with trips geared for either the novice or the experienced angler.
© Copyright Barry M. Thornton
Barry M. Thornton