Cloudy, rainy days filled with chrome

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by Jason Bowers

After a long stormy day on the water a pod of chrome coho finally showed up at the Gnarlies – just as the dinner bell rang.  The cold, wet afternoon was redeemed by a few hot coho at the 11th hour.  We headed back to the lodge with our heads held high – no longer minding that we were being pounded by marble sized raindrops.  Back at the dock as my fishing partners headed in for supper I couldn’t bring myself to take my gear off and head for shelter.  I needed more!

After a quick turn around I headed back out solo.  Dropping the anchor in the exact spot we had just left, the surface of the water in all directions came alive with fast and fierce swirling coho.  They were aggressive – tossing water in all directions with each swirl.  If you looked closely enough you could catch flashes of chrome as the coho devoured juvenile herring on the surface and quickly disappeared into the darkness of the depths below.  Tossing a gurgler from the bow, the coho were so aggressive that you could see their white mouths open as they rocketed toward the surface devouring the fly.  Cast after cast the increasingly tattered fly would disappear inside the mouth of a bright 8-11 pound coho as the fish turned, peeling off line well into my backing.
The current was unsettled and waffled from one direction to another.  With every change in direction the surface action would settle.  I would dash down to the stern where my wet line lay idle.  Casting in all directions with no hits I wondered, “where had they all gone?”.  Within minutes came an arm-pulling jerk from well below the surface and a frenzied coho cartwheeled into the raindrops trying to dislodge the hook.  It was time to run back to the bow and continue throwing the dry line, again hooking fish after fish.  After two hours of this routine and 20 plus coho to the boat, the tide swung and the current changed direction.  The pods of chrome bullets disappeared back into the depths.  Reeling up both fly lines I headed for home.  
The stomachs of the 2 fish I harvested were completely empty – they were new arrivals to Dundas, showing up with empty bellies and voracious appetites.  Back at the lodge taking off my gear I felt more than satisfied and almost in disbelief at what I had just experienced!  
These moments can happen to anglers frequently this time of the season and we all hope to be one of the lucky ones – in the right place at the right time.

Dan’s Focus on the Fishing Hole – Fresh is Best


Haa-Nee-Naa Lodge has it’s own currency among guests and guides.  No it’s not the US dollar, the Loonie or even the Yen, it’s a freshie.  Walking around the dock and on any boat you will constantly hear the term “freshie”.  “Do you mind lending me a few freshies?”, ” How many freshies do you have?”, ” WOW! Look at all those freshies!”, “If there are any left-over freshies I will take them”.  These are a few of the many common phrases you will hear on the boat dock at the lodge.  
Now, while someone who has never been to Dundas Island and fished at HNNL may think freshie is another word for money, a freshie in fact, is something that money can’t buy.  Most important of all though, it is a treat no salmon can refuse! A morning-jigged Pacific Herring is what we call a freshie. There is a reason why we wake up at 4:30am to be the first boats on the water hunting for these little silver bullets: they are without question the best bait to use when mooching for Pacific Salmon.  Herring are exactly what a chinook salmon eats, so it is only fitting to use the exact bait.
Heading out to the herring grounds, gulls and diving birds are a dead give away for the location of bait, especially when the birds are literally diving into the water and slurping back these precious baitfish.  Orcas, sea-lions, porpoises and humpback whales are also often in the mix when a large school of herring is near. Many guests fall in love with herring jigging and we literally have to grab the rod from them in order to start salmon fishing.  “One more stringer, please”… Famous last words!
With a cooler full of fresh bait – it is time for the real fun to start.  After rigging up a cut plugged herring you must ALWAYS inspect the “roll”.  You want that fish to give off a certain movement that says “Eat Me!”.  It is important to handle the baitfish with care and leave all the scales intact.  The scales are what give them their deadly sparkle in the water – flash which we joke, can be seen from a mile away.
One morning last June we ran an experiment on one guide boat: We rigged two rods with freshly jigged cut plugged herring and the other two with brined bait, also known as “T.V. dinners”.  The freshies out-fished the brined herring 5-0!  The experiment ended quickly and all rods were switched over.  On several occasions last season boats using fresh herring vastly out-fished boats using T.V. dinners.
So trust me, it’s worth driving around like maniacs looking for fresh bait in the morning.  Some days it takes a little longer than others but the extra time spent is well worth the reward.  Plus, do you think we would reach our hands into the freezing cold ice water at 5am picking out perfect freshie if they did not work?  I think not!!

Outlook for 2016



It is always interesting to read through the collected data from the past season’s sport and commercial fishery.  Comparing the data to previous years, biologists come up with an educated estimate of run sizes for the upcoming season.  It causes us to reflect on last season’s ups and downs and pushes us to think long and hard on how to characterize a whole season at the lodge in just a few paragraphs.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) forecast for our region concerning Chinook salmon always seems to be about the same: average returns, all hinging on ocean survival of outgoing smolts.  When you really sort through the data you can see some downward trends and some definite trends looking upward. It appears that the early season Nass and Skeena fish, which make up a large portion of the fish we intercept on Dundas Island, seem to be fairly stable or slightly down from the historical average.  However, the percentages of fish swimming by Dundas to the central and lower parts of the Pacific Northwest seem to be on the rise. It is only a matter of time before we get a bumper year on the North Coast tributaries and when combined with the increasing numbers to Central and Southern rivers, we could be in for some incredible fishing.
Last year saw some of the largest returns of big fish to our local tributaries.  At one local hatchery, fish in the 70 pound range were being harvested for brood stock on almost a daily basis. The hatchery manager on this tributary anticipates this season to be even better! These big fish are still out there and swim past Dundas – who will be the lucky one to get their fish of a lifetime this season? Our regional biologist has noted some highlights from last year: in 2015 the average weight of the commercial troll fishery  Chinook on the north coast was only 11 pounds. In most fisheries when there is a large return of jacks or smaller fish, the next year tends to get a bump in the population of 4 and 5 year olds (big fish). With any luck we will see that bump in 2016.

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The outlook for coho on the North Coast has been described as abundant for 2016. This is good news given that late run Skeena coho numbers were down last season. These low numbers didn’t seem to impact our experience – we continued to have incredible coho action on both cut plugs and on the fly throughout August and into early September. We are excited by this forecast for next season and hope to see large numbers of coho passing through the waters on the north end of Dundas.

Bottom Fish
Possession limits for halibut will remain the same in 2016 (one halibut per day, 2 possession), however there will be changes in the size restrictions.  The large fish will remain at 133 cm and the second fish in possession will drop from 90 cm to 83 cm.  We are also anticipating a change in yellow-eye limits from 3 per day down to 2 per day, four in possession.  We look forward to more great fishing for halibut and all other bottom species.  Fishing may even get better as our guides and anglers are always trying new techniques and locations to further our knowledge of the area.

2015 Year in Review – Bottom Fishing


Fishing for the bottom dwellers around Dundas Island seems to keep getting better and better.  Several new halibut and lingcod spots were discovered and explored last season.  Some of these new holes consistently held large halibut and massive lingcod.  Often the moment your bait hit bottom and was within eyesight of these behemoths, it would be engulfed.  We are very interested to see if fishing in these areas will remain as good in 2016 – the true test of a secret fishing hole.

All of our regular spots produced well again last season.  Most anglers that put the time in pursuing these tasty creatures were rewarded.  Our staple “chicken” halibut (<25lbs) fishing was great throughout the season.  Several flats are within mere minutes of the lodge – these local hot spots can be fished under almost any weather conditions and always seem to produce well.
One technique that has been very productive over the last several years has been the ‘drop mooch’ or ‘dangle’ as it is known.  While anchored halibut fishing we fish a deep running salmon rod rigged with a cut plugged herring.  Depths range from 40-90 pulls down.  While you wait patiently for the flatties to grab your hali-sticks you have a great opportunity to hook chinook and coho on the salmon pole. Chaos often ensues when you “double up” on both a salmon and halibut. If you are up for a new challenge then give it a try!  Ask any of our knowledgeable, friendly guides and they will set you up and direct you to a deep-water combo flat.

What to expect in August?

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As the summer winds gently blow warm air off the Pacific so comes with it one of our finest fisheries of the season.  It’s NORTHERN time:  when large, hooked nosed coho begin their journey past Dundas Island.  These large coho can grow in excess of 18 pounds and boy do they fight!  Cartwheeling through the air and making long screaming runs they are a true testament to what is still wild and pure.  Plentiful and very aggressive, they are significantly different in appearance to the early run fish.  Shiny blue backs are replaced by olive greens with noses hooked in preparation for their upcoming spawning battle.  After a long 3 or 4 year journey into the open Pacific these perfect specimens are destined to northern rivers like the Skeena, Nass, Kitwanga or the Kwinamass, just to name a few of the local watersheds.  This is exciting fishing which tests light tackle to the max!  Many guests prefer to put down the mooching rods and jig buzz bombs or Stingsildas with even lighter tackle while others enjoy bucktailing or casting a fly.  Whichever method you choose they can all be very successful and produce some heart-stopping excitement.  As table fare, coho salmon is one of the finest.  Lean, bright red meat lends itself nicely to the smoker or on the BBQ. 

Combine this coho action with the fabulous bottom fishing and it makes August a great time of year to come enjoy Haa-Nee-Naa Lodge.  Remote by nature, Dundas Island has very few local anglers or charter boats making the long trek to our waters in August and early September.  It is remote, quiet and exciting, everything that you expect out of a fly-in fishing trip.  When the day is done you can look forward to our fabulous hostess preparing you a specialty cocktail and après-fishing treats on the back deck.  A great way to wind down after a long hard day on the water, after all catching big coho and halibut and be very stressful!  

2015 Year in Review – Coho Fishing

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Coho Fishing
What a fantastic year for coho!  Large numbers of coho arrived in early June holding strong through early August, and they were big!  Many of these bright, blue-sided early coho were tipping the scales at well over 10 pounds.  These fish were not likely returning to our northern rivers but rather were headed to the south or central coast – hence their early arrival.  The strong early presence of these fish was a great indication of what was about to come in August.
August fly-fishing was outstanding!  In the history of our fly-fishing program at HNNL it ranked among our top three seasons.  Double-digit days were normal and not the exception in 2015.  Some of our anglers were even lucky enough to tackle a Chinook on the cast fly!  Although rare, such events do happen and when they do, watch out!  Not nearly as abundant as previous years, our late season local coho seemed to follow a different pattern than usual.  These fish weren’t found offshore chasing deep schools of herring but instead we found them regularly driving jack herring in amongst the kelp forests into very shallow water.  While looking down you could often watch pods of coho cruising for feed.  These fish seemed to really focus on surface presented flies.  There were many days throughout August where anglers didn’t have to throw a wet line and could watch coho voraciously attack gurglers on the surface cast after cast.

Year in Review – 2015 Chinook Fishing

 Chinook Fishing

Overall, chinook fishing in 2015 was great!  Lodge guests experienced consistent catches all season long, hooking limits of bright fish daily.  The arrival of our first guests in late May kicked off our season with larger numbers of fish than previous years.  While the average fish weight was smaller than in previous seasons, the numbers definitely made up for it.  As we often see when targeting migratory fish, there were ‘bumps’ of salmon throughout the season: last season the end of June was a bit of a slump as fishing tapered off a little. This only lasted for a short time frame then the fishing came back strong as we moved into July.  Mid-tide bites seemed to be the ticket last season, more often than not the bite would come on right smack in the middle of the tide change – a refreshing transformation from 2014 when the bites were very unpredictable and fleeting.
Weather seemed to play a large part in the good fishing.  May had only a few hours of rain throughout the entire month.  Normal average rainfall in Prince Rupert in May is approximately 132cm (52 inches), less than 3 cm (1inch) of precipitation fell in 2015.  June, which can sometimes be a rainy month, was equally nice.  These warm conditions paired with the long hours of sunlight had a noticeable effect on the marine conditions.  The ocean was teeming with algae and plankton, conditions perfect for herring to actively feed in the shallows and close to the surface.  Where there is bait salmon are never far behind!
With little wind and few storms lodge guides were free to roam wherever the bite would take us.  The average weight of chinook salmon in May/June was below our 25 year lodge average, though many fish in the 20-25 pound range were boated by our first eager guests.  These early season fish pull line very hard – there is something that makes them a little different.  Maybe it is the long, cold winter without our rods bent, or just that these anadromous fish are genetically perfect in every way.  After an amazing journey where they spend 3-8 years at seas, less than 2% of theses fish beat the odds and return.  They swim past our island to feed on the abundant bait fish in preparation for yet another amazing journey up our wild, remote northern rivers to spawn; continuing an age-old cycle.
The first Tyee of the season was caught by none other than Anita Irwin Bowers, Jason’s lovely bride.  Anita’s 34 pound buck at the end of May set the stage for many other Tyee that would arrive later.  As June crept along the average fish size stayed about the same, though fishing continued to be very strong and most guests were able to take home their limits.  For a few days in late June salmon fishing was slower than normal.  There are a few factors which may have contributed to this.  Though they are only guesses at best, the most plausible theory is that the north coast drought, while it brought great early season action may have also been a factor to the clearing of water surrounding Dundas Island.  Clear means no plankton – which is the foundation of life in the ocean.  Krill and other euphausiids feed off plankton and in turn the herring feed on them.  This may have pushed the salmon runs a little offshore and made them travel deeper in search of food their favourite food: herring.
The late June slump didn’t last for long, the rain eventually showed up and with it the return of some real Dundas Island hogs – there were four fish landed at the lodge weighing in at over 50 pounds!! Congratulations to 15 year old Kate Leeuwenburg who on her first ever salmon fishing trip landed a beautiful 55 pound chinook, out-fishing not just her Dad, but Uncle Chris and Grandpa too – all seasoned salmon fishermen.  Overall the 2015 season saw over 50 Tyee landed – that means you have a 1 in 4 chance of being the next member of the Tyee club.  These are some of the best odds Chinook fishing on the coast of BC.  The strong Chinook fishing continued un-characteristically late into August. One noteworthy slab was a 35 pounder brought to the boat in the third week of August!


Dan Nordstrom 58 lbs
Kate Leeuwenburg 55 lbs
Jon Heisler
54 lbs
Joerg Nixdorf
52 lbs
Gunn Robison
47 lbs
Dana Burchart
45 lbs
Chris Davis
43 lbs
Stephanie Kramer 41 lbs
Gary Lewis 41 lbs
Kevin Formes 40 lbs
Mel Grant 40 lbs
Another of the many highlights of the season was watching Leon Loucheur set a new lodge record – one that may never be broken! Leon caught a 30lb Tyee on a small trout rod using a buzz bomb with 12lb test line! The battle lasted about an hour and the Chinook tired out before Leon did, giving him the chance to net the fish all by himself. This was an extraordinary feat for any angler and is an experience that Leon will never forget!
First time Lodge guest Joerg had the trip of a lifetime too – arriving late on Friday night – not on the same schedule the rest of the group and departing at lunch time Sunday, Joerg still managed to clean house.  Joerg’s first ever Dundas Island salmon was a 52 pounder, followed by an even 30 pounder and a couple in the high teens. Add to that 2 nice halibut and a boatload of ling, Joerg went home with full fish boxes thinking “That was easy!”, though he did miss collecting his derby winnings for the weekend!