The Beautiful Butts of Bamfield

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The Beautiful Butts of Bamfield

-by D.C. Reid

Now that I have your attention, let me dispel the salacious innuendo by telling you the rear ends referred to are halibut, or ‘butts', as their known along the pacific coast of Vancouver Island. And they come in all shapes and sizes, from 30 - 70 lb ‘chickens' to 400 pound big butts - the big ones are definitely all female, containing as many as 4,000,000 eggs.

The halibut come in from the Pacific in March, following the herring on their annual spawning run. At this time of year, the mid-island waters of Barclay Sound start giving up halibut in the more sheltered areas of Trevor, Imperial, Lowden and Folger Channels as well as right in the surf line off Swale Rock.

But most of the halibut fishing takes place a little later in the year on the reefs comprising the Big or La Perouse Bank with spots at 7, 10, 12, and 23 miles offshore. Mark June in your calendar and the locations on your chart. Jim Levis of Imperial Eagle Lodge and Charters advises, "Take the GPS reading off the chart and check your depth sounder to find the bottom."

"You want to drift over the lee side of the reefs," Jim says. The halibut grounds are rocky bottoms 250 - 300 feet beneath the surface. Use Penn rods and levelwind reels; Tufline is also a must. This new braided line has taken halibut fishing by storm. Guide Barry Otterson, also of Bamfield, uses Tufline because its thinner than monofilament and doesn't stretch. You feel the strike, and set the hooks more easily. It's easier on the arm, too; you don't have to lift the rod as high before letting the lure flutter down.

"But before we get into fishing, let's talk safety," Barry says. The Swiftsure Bank to the south (discussed in last month's column), La Perouse to the west, and South Bank to the north are wild spots out in the open ocean with the power of the whole Pacific beneath them. There are also fogs, freighters, currents, huge rolling waves and weather that can change in minutes. Both Barry and Jim advise taking as much equipment as possible: two compasses, a GPS, VHF, depth sounder, loran and radar.

The unfriendly conditions call for all the gear you can afford. Freighters motor from the fog like mountains - your radar may save your bacon. Even the most experienced boater becomes disoriented in fog. Picture yourself mistakenly motoring into 5,000 miles of ocean until your fuel runs out. A VHF or cellphone becomes vital in such an emergency. Your GPS can fix location within 100 yards - crucial information for rescue, as well as the happier eventuality - locating the fish. If you can afford it, take back up equipment. The new hand held GPSs, for instance, come in under $300 these days. Barry even recommends more than one fuel system.

"It's too dangerous to let people go out alone - no matter how experienced they are." Jim agrees. He adds the wise suggestion that, "You'll catch more fish and have a better time with a guide."

Jim and Barry agree on the fishing as well. In the right spots, the fishing is so good, both guides move along unless they catch something in the first few minutes. Fishing on the banks is better on light-tide days - a speed of around 2 knots - because lines must be kept directly under the boat. If line gets out to the side, line drag prevents it from getting to the bottom - and that is where the halibut hole up. Rarely 30 feet from the bottom, halibut must be fished with heavily weighted lures that the fisher thunks on the bottom every minute or so. Jim uses 12 oz Spinnows, pointing out that there are so many species of fish off the west coast, bait doesn't make it down to the halibut, particularly in July when the sharks are in.

Jigging is the technique for the offshore banks. Lift your rod slowly, then drop it quickly to let the lure flutter down, releasing halibut-attracting vibrations. The rest is arm-pumping action all the way to the surface. Barry notes that setting the hook hard in the first 15 feet is critical. He fishes Norwegian pipe jigs in silver, white or green. Cleverly designed, the hook rests on top so the lure won't hang up. The large hootchie skirts in white and green, red and black and yellow and green also produce.

For the diehard salmon addict you can fish for salmon and halibut with the same rig. Troll the 90 - 120 foot depths with white and green hootchies or anchovy behind a Hotspot flasher. Spot the bait on your screen and dial the down rigger to match. Wherever your gear nears the bottom, both halibut and salmon may be found. And the summer chinook are chunky, averaging 25 - 30 pounds.

"This is a healthy resource. It's properly managed and the opportunities are great," Barry says. Both guides encourage their parties to release large butts - for conservation reasons. Large means larger than 70 pounds! A 40 pounder is easier to clean and tastier than a 200 lb fish. So have the fight and the photo opportunity, then keep the chickens. With a possession limit of 3 fish, the average fisher goes home with over 100 lbs of pure meat. Get the lodge to quick freeze and vacuum pack your catch and you can catch a plane to anywhere on the planet and be sure to get home with enough dinner for the rest of the year. Then you can come back the next summer and load up with the largesse of a largely untapped wilderness fishing resource. What could be better?

Top Notch Bamfield Operators:

Jim Levis, Imperial Lodge and Charters Ltd., W. Bamfield Gen. Del. Bamfield, B.C., 1-250-728- 3430

Barry Otterson, Bamfield Lodge, Box 23, Bamfield, B.C. 1-250-728-3419.

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The Beautiful Butts of Bamfield