Haa-Nee-Naa Lodge Newsletter 2020

In this Issue …

It seems quite shocking that it is already time to sit down and write a newsletter! This past year has felt surreal. Such a whirlwind of effort and emotions towing and getting set up on Dundas and then back again – these are distant memories already and 2020 isn’t even over! ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ is what my dad used to tell me. Clay prefers to remind me not to ‘high-five’ too soon. In either case, we got too excited about the 2020 season too early and it jinxed us – and possibly the rest of the world!?! The stage was set for what was to be our busiest season in recent memory, but as we all understand now, COVID-19 changed – and continues to change – everyone’s plans.

After many weeks of uncertainty last spring we decided, with the support and encouragement of so many of you, to forge ahead with the season. Looking back, we feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to open our doors and to do what we love – even if it was just for a few weeks.

Clay, Jason and I would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of our guests – those of you who joined us last summer – and those of you who were unable to visit us, you showed us patience, support and understanding just the same. You all helped to make a dreadful situation much, much kinder and for that we thank you.

To our American friends – we miss you! You have continued to be in our thoughts as infection rates and general unrest have surged across the country. We hope that you are all well and taking good care of yourselves and of each other.

Please enjoy this retrospective on the 2020 season while we all look forward to getting back on the water together in 2021. We are using a new format for the newsletter this year. Instead of one really long email, click below on the different articles. Hopefully this will make for a better reading experience! Please let us know what you think.

Yours very truly,

Bobblehead


In this Issue….

2020 – A Year in Review

Chinook

written by Clayton Vanier

Normally our chinook season starts around the 15th of May – exploring the waters on the north end of Dundas in search of the first chinook bite of the season.  This spring, as days of uncertainty turned into weeks, and the lodge remained tied up in Port Edward, in an effort to maintain our sanity we distracted ourselves by fishing locally. I re-discovered spots I hadn’t fished for many, many moons. Edye Pass, Qualdzeet, Humpback Bay and Hunt’s Inlet, my old stomping grounds as a young and cocky charter boat captain still remain the ‘go-to’ spots for many locals. Fishing through May and early June was exceptional! Chinook in the 10-20 pound range were common and easy to come by. We were catching our limits almost every outing and it filled us with optimism for (what we hoped would be) the upcoming chinook season on Dundas.

This extra time we had in May and June also allowed us to try squid fishing for the first time! The late night squid jigging adventure in Edye Pass was the first, but will surely not be the last. These alien-looking creatures come to the bright spotlights in vast schools and are easy to snag with a herring or squid jig. These squid made for some of the best table fare you could ever imagine considering what they look like before they hit the cornstarch and hot oil  – a bright spot for all of us this spring!

Finally on June 22nd we got the ‘OK’ from our government to open operations and the tow north was on. We were all hopeful that the exciting early season fishing was going to continue, but weren’t as happy as we could have been… July 6th marked the arrival of our first guests, 7 weeks later than usual. Although fishing was decent, the average fish was smaller than expected and the bigger fish didn’t start moving in until later in July.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Koreski

We were very happy to once again see immense bait balls on the north end of the island this summer – a real bonus when fishing is tough. Generally herring fishing was easy-peasy. Rarely did we have to search longer than 5 minutes and most days we’d just drop in on a school and game-on. As we’ve often discussed, fresh herring is the bait of choice on Dundas. Every fish loves to eat ‘freshies’ from rockfish to salmon to halibut – even large jumbo herring cannibalize their young when they reach the shores of Dundas in early July. The high-energy morsels sustain the rich north coast eco-system.

As July faded into August we were still catching some very nice chinook. For reasons unknown the bigger fish seemed to turn up a little later in the season this year. It was impossible to accurately estimate how many springs were actually swimming through our local waters due to the foul weather hampering access to many of our fishing grounds –storm after storm rolling through the pacific north coast continued to skew our catch stats.

Guests enjoyed some really fine coho action starting by mid July – when they showed up in droves – at times making up for the slower chinook fishing. It was a real bright spot compared to previous years early season returns. Limits of coho and chinook were common by mid July – guests were happy and we were happy. While the rest of the industry was reeling and most lodges were still shut down, we were excited to be busy with guests and to be catching fish.

2020 Chinook Hall of Fame


Bottom Fishing

With the ever-present foul weather, when we did get a day of calm seas we were pushed westerly to some of the finest bottom fishing locations on the coast. Lingcod fishing was off the charts this season. If you had a windless day, you could expect your limit of what is arguably the finest eating bottom fish in the North Pacific Ocean. These are clean, hard fighting, aggressive fish that are always eager to show the anglers a good time.

While yellow-eye rockfish remain closed for retention, the numbers of these fish hooked and released increases every year. Each boat is required, by law, to possess a descending device. These clever devices allow the angler to drop the fish down to the atmospheric levels where their inflated bladders will re-collapse and give them the best chances of survival. Thank you to everyone who has willingly participated in these releases!

Halibut fishing was again strong, although a couple of our spots weren’t as productive as previous years.  Our eager young guides found new spots to challenge our guests and explored areas they will fish for years to come.  

Photo Credit: Jeremy Koreski

Coho & Flyfishing

As July melted away like a sunset that we couldn’t quite make out behind the clouds, August quickly emerged as a fly fisherman’s heaven … that is until the rug was pulled from under us on August 10.

Les, Mike & Ray kicked off the fly-fishing season on the afternoon of August 3rd.  Anchored up and casting at J-Point they hooked 14 fish on the cast fly before the rest of their group had even arrived! We all had high hopes that this was a sign of good things to come!

The hungry schools of coho moved on and left us with vacant waters. Fly fishermen had a very tough time casting to these ghost fish. With coho sparse, even the bait anglers had to really work for fish. The double-digit coho days of July were long gone and the struggle to search for these chrome bullets began. With the continued poor weather and heavy winds we were again limited to the north end of the island.

Prince Rupert made history in August, shattering historical records for the wettest season on record. Needless to say, most days we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as we geared up for another day on the water. That said, offshore fishing – when we could get there – was strong – as 198 found out one glorious late afternoon. After a dismal day on the north end of the island, Jason took the chance, braved disappointment and the wrath of the Chef and headed across to Zayas, hoping to redeem the day. Within a couple of hours offshore, 198’s guests had landed their limits of coho, not concerned that they had missed dinner, 198 was, once again, a hero. “Simply fantastic” was all the guests could say when they made it back to the dock.

When the coho fishing is hot, why not mix things up? Casting buzz bombs, spoons and swim jigs for coho is a great way to shake it up. When coho are thick and you can see them swirling on the surface the conditions are just right to give this tried and true method of fishing a go. This technique does require a different touch and feel but is definitely a blast to hook a salmon on a lighter bait casting or spinning reel set up. Interested in giving it a shot?  Let us know next time you’re up, whether it is something you want to try on your own in the evenings or spend some time with your guide – we can get you set up.


Keep Reading….

Early June on Dundas Island

Hello again, we are back to share some more of the goings on around beautiful Dundas Island.

Early June brought with it some wetter weather, but that didn’t dampen spirits as the Chinook fishing continued to heat up with more and more good-sized fish showing up as the days got longer. 

Freshie fishing continues to be consistent in the early hours of the morning, and we are starting to see more bait in our favourite spots with tons of signs of life in the water. As we all know – bait on the sounder is a good sign when looking for aggressive feeding Chinook.

There have also been great signs of Coho already this year.  In early June we were seeing the odd one jumping on top, slashing through bait balls, and the exciting but frustrating chasing of weights they are famous for.

With cooperative winds we have been to explore the west side of the Island and beyond.  These areas have been producing well all season for bottom dwellers, and with the first sign of a Coho run showing up offshore, some beautiful Coho have been making it back to the dock as well.

Trip 7 was a memorable one for many of us.  My parents, along with Jason and Robyn’s parents made it up to the Island for 5 days of great times on the water – a rare treat! It was great to be able to share our summer lives with the folks and help them understand what drives all of us to keep coming back every summer.  They were blown away with the scenery, wildlife, and of course the fishing.

I fulfilled a life long dream of mine by helping my mom with a belated Mothers’ day gift. With Herbie the Eagle watching from One-Pull, she battled and landed her first ever Tyee!  It was a surreal experience and I was glad to share it with my pops as well who taught me everything I know about fishing. 

Thank you to everyone who shares pictures and help make it possible for us to keep you in the loop!

Until next time,

Cheeks

They’re here!

Howdy Folks, with the first few trips of the season under our belts, I am stoked to give you an update of the goings on around Dundas.

The first trip brought back many familiar faces that were just as eager to get out there and roll some herring as all of us were, and on a 7-day trip you could feel the excitement on the dock to get out there and explore the opportunities.

The fresh herring were plentiful with many of them being what I would describe as “The Perfect Herring”: 5-7 inches and not a scale missing – the perfect weapon for hungry Chinook. The jigging was also very close to home, some mornings were spent getting bait right in front of the Lodge.

The first trip of the season, beginning May 24th, had some hot days on the water with a healthy number of chances for everyone, this allowed for some great catch and release fishing – throwing some beautiful fish back into the water to continue their journey to the rivers. This followed by some slower days, but it showed that if you stick it out on the water and are patient, you will be rewarded. The forecast was sunshine and low winds which allowed for some off-shore bottom fishing days, guests and guides had the opportunity to venture out and explore some farther flung fishing spots.

This pattern continued for the next few trips: some stellar fishing days followed by some tougher fought ones, but time spent of the water is a major factor of success, and when that bite comes, we have to be ready to capitalize on those opportunities.

Hats off to Mike who patiently waited for his bite and managed to stick a beautiful 35 pound Chinook with his good friend, Ray, and guide RBS.

Mike’s 1st Tyee!

After a slow day on the water, Guide Noel was so keen to get into some fish he and his guests skipped dinner and headed back out the wall – they made up for their tough day with three Chinook on the evening bite!

Overall the early season is showing great signs of a healthy run, with some of the elusive Tyees hitting the dock every trip and with this cold water the fight in these migratory fish is breath taking with big jumps and massive long runs giving us what we all love to hear:  screaming reels.

Along with these brutes is the first sign of early coho runs, these smaller fish still pack a punch and are a great tasting bonus to take home.  This is hopefully a sign of things to come for our fly fishing guests in August. 

Derby winner Chantel with her first Tyee!

One of the questions that we keep hearing is – what are the limits this season?  At the moment the retention limits for salmon are the same as in 2017. You are allowed eight salmon, of which 4 can be Chinook.  This means you are once again allowed to retain up to 2 chinook/day with 4 in possession.  The official management decision has not been released by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but all indications are that there will be no change in retention for the 2019 season.

If you’re interested in receiving the most current information on regulation changes, you can sign up for email notifications through the DFO website!  

Tight Lines and see you on Dundas soon!

Cheeks

One Tide Away from a Great Day!

thumb_mh7d0160jpg_27038611424_o_1024During periods of tough fishing it is important to keep a positive attitude and to be optimistic. That is why the motto for the trip #3 was: We are just one tide away from a great day! Everyday on Dundas Island is a great day if you ask me. Any angler knows you will go through some slow periods, which makes catching a beautiful Chinook salmon all that more rewarding!

Guests on trip #2 and #3 had to work hard for their fish and made sure they were ready when that Chinook salmon bit. We had a few good flurries of action where multiple hook ups occurred in a short period of time. The weather made it especially difficult to travel around and fish some of our offshore spots, which usually hold good numbers of feeder Chinook salmon.

DSCN1544After 5 days of tough fishing, perhaps the highlight from that week was when the floatplanes could not make it to the lodge due to the 40-45 knot winds all afternoon and evening. For the first time in Lodge history the outbound guests had to stay overnight and the inbound guests got stuck for a night in Prince Rupert. So what do you do when you are stranded at Haa-Nee-Naa Lodge? Go fishing of course! The boats were loaded back up with guests and out everyone went for a bonus evening of fishing.

Hats-off to Jake Snorsky who had not landed a Chinook salmon during the trip, fate was on his side and during the bonus evening of fishing, the fish gods smiled down upon him and he was rewarded with his first Chinook of the trip! Good job Jake, perseverance pays off!

Our “One tide away from a great day” mantra proved itself to be true on trip #4. It always amazes me how quickly things change when it comes to salt water fishing. After missing the evening fish, the inbound group was rewarded the next morning by a large wave of hungry Chinook salmon. Everyone was into multiple fish and throughout the whole day pushes of Chinook salmon kept coming. Both the ebb and flood tide produced large numbers of fish. Everyone salmon fishing had no problem getting their limit and could be selective on which fish they decided to retain. 17-23lbs seemed to be the average size of fish caught with some larger ones mixed in.

DSCN1564The atmosphere at the lodge was electric and everyone was eager to get back out on the water!

Fishing remained very consistent for the following groups of guests with plenty of feisty Chinook circling the waters around Dundas Island. Congratulations go out to Jeff Lewis who until a few days ago had the biggest fish of the season, a beautiful 39lb slab!  Dwayne took home 1st place in the derby this past weekend with a 31lb dandy! Good work Dwayne.

thumb_mh7d0225jpg_27615544736_o_1024Coho have started to show up in decent numbers and everyday seem to be getting more abundant. We have started to run into the odd larger pod of fish when a school of herring or needlefish is near. This often results in a flurry of Coho action with double and triple hook-ups. These silver bullets make for a great battle and usually end up tangling one or more of your lines if you are not quick to get things under control! Their acrobatic nature and agility make them a blast to target.

DSCN1551As always, bottom-fishing remains productive for those who wish to target cod and halibut. A few 50+ pound whoppers were caught this past week. Not exactly the easiest fish to bring up from 200+ feet…. Darn good eating though!

Don’t forget to get your fishing licences on-line before your visit this year.  You can visit the licensing website here: Online Licencing  to set up a profile for yourselves, purchase your fishing license and refresh your memories on catch limits.

Tight Lines,

Nugget

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.

Outlook for 2016

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Chinook

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.

Haa Nee Naa-675

Coho

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.

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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.

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. 

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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.

Early August Fly Fishing – Top Water takes


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The fly fishing season is now in full swing! How can we characterize the fishing so far? When the guys come back at the end of a day fishing, they are almost speechless. They shake their heads and smile like they have just had a day that no one would possibly believe. They scarf down their dinners, tie fresh foam on their gurglers, and then get right back out there – enjoying every moment on the water – rain or shine.

Large schools of Juvenile herring have invaded the inshore waters surrounding Dundas and can be seen flashing around tight to the kelp throughout the water column at most of our hot spots. This is driving the Coho Salmon in shallow and on the prowl for food. These two ingredients make for an excellent day casting a fly for these silver bullets!

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Double-digit fish days are a regular occurrence right now for anglers casting a fly. Coho bites are being enticed by both the wet and floating line. One of the highlights of August came on the weekday trip where 3 Chinook salmon were caught on the cast fly! Dwight. Chris and Les, were fortunate all enough to experience the fight of a Chinook on a 8wt fly rod! Congratulations guys! To put how good the fishing was into perspective, many guests only fished a dry fly later on in the day because they were getting to many fish on the full sink! Is that even possible, too many Coho on the cast fly?! Seeing a large wake appear behind your dry fly as your frantically striping in really gets the heart thumping! Or nearly having your rod ripped out of your hands mid-strip on the wet line sure gives you a good shot of adrenaline!

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This past group of 14 had 6 first time fly fishers, some of whom had never caught a salmon before. As Clay likes to say, they were fresh off the Turnip Truck. The first night out all of them got into fish on the cast fly and after that they were hooked. The progress they made from the first evening out to the last morning was amazing. Fly fishing continued to be very productive throughout the weekend with a couple slower periods mixed in. During the slower periods trolling around buck-tails 3-4mph a few inches below the surface worked great! If you have not done this before I highly recommend trying it, as the hits you get are savage! Often times resulting in the Coho going airborne as soon as it is hooked! It also produced a 25lb Chinook yesterday afternoon caught by long-time guest Kirk!

The Coho have been averaging 7-12lbs and are getting fatter every day! Most fish you see on your line are puking up lots of juvenile herring attracting wolf packs of aggressive coho looking for an easy meal.

Things are setting up great for the next group of eager anglers! Looking forward to more Coho on the fly!

 

Tight lines