Dawn brightened the canyon as we parked near the last pool reached by
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Angler's Paradise - Sooke, B.C.By Ray Bone,
Sooke, the name is synonymous with trophy salmon fishing at its finest. Anglers from far and wide travel annually to sample its riches. Situated on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island just a thirty minute drive from scenic Victoria, Sooke offers a myriad of angling opportunities.
One of the oldest settlements on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, it is as though Sooke is situated with recreational fishing in mind.
Although not quite as well known as some other more highly publicized Vancouver Island salmon fishing destinations (and some locals would prefer to keep it that way), it offers one of the most varied year round fisheries on the west coast. Springs (also referred to as chinook or King salmon), coho, sockeye, pinks, and chum salmon are abundant, as are halibut, lingcod, and more. Just launch and take aim.
Launch you say? And just where do I do that? Well, you have a number of choices. Pedder Bay is an excellent spot. It is closest to Victoria, but does require a bit of a run to get to the fishing grounds. A full service marina with a terrific ramp, this marina also offers boat and tackle rentals. Further along the coast towards the primary fishing grounds, are Cheanuh and Pacific Lions Marinas. Tucked in Becher Bay between Church and Alldridge Point, these marinas offer boat launch facilities and other services. Even further northward along the coast, you will find the Sooke basin itself, where Sooke Harbour Marina and Sunny Shores Marina are located. Here again, these marinas offer boat launch facilities and all other standard amenities, while being right on top of the fishing grounds. There are also many choices for moorage for the incoming boater.
After setting your sights from the marina of your choice, there are a number of recognized hot spots. From east to west they are as follows; 1)Race Rocks ,2) Christopher Point, 3) Church Rock, 4) Alldridge Point, 5) Beechey head, 6) the "Trap Shack", 7) Secretary Island, 9) the "Gap", and 10) Otter Point.
Otter Point, west of the Sooke basin entrance, is an excellent spot to look for larger chinook salmon, as the plentiful bait fish schools get tossed around the point into a naturally forming rip and back-eddy. Here, larger salmon tend to hold within the back-eddy, anticipating the emergence of baitfish. The underwater landscape consists of a 60 to 120 foot shoal stretching out a few hundred yards before dropping to depths of up to 400 feet. This shoal, coupled with the tidal rips and back-eddies, provides suitable holding water for passing, migrant salmon. In the midsummer, the rocks along Otter Point are often dotted with anglers shore casting for the migratory chinook and coho salmon. Bucktailing (trolling saltwater flies) is also occasional, as is fly-fishing for coho.
Secretary Island yields very good results throughout the spring and summer for all five species of salmon, and a multitude of bottomfish, including large halibut. The rugged rocky terrain found here is typical of the outer West Coast of Vancouver Island. Locally, it is known as a major fishing hole for larger chinook salmon (up to 50 lbs.), and is often a targeted location during derby events. The area has ideal depths ranging from 15 to 180 feet, with sheer drop-offs to 400 feet. Gulls, murres, and cormorants will often provide indication of feed, as the turbulant tidal currents drive the baitfish to the surface.
Secretary Island (a.k.a. Donaldson Island) is typically fished from its southwest shoreline, and along the northern shores of the island, an area referred to as the "Gap". The fast-flowing tidal current along the shores of Secretary Island provides proven results, as anglers sit along these tidal rips to intercept migratory salmon. A popular method for anglers is to sit with the bow of the boat pointed forward into the current, while maintaining an adequate speed that allows them to "buck" the tide. With the proper speed achieved, the boat can maintain a stationary position while the tidal current provides ample action to the trolling set up. This method is an effective method used to stay directly above fish holding in these currents. Jigging off the southwest corner also produces excellent results once you have located the drop-offs. Bucktailing for coho in this area can also provide some great light tackle results.
Through the body of water known as the "Gap", lies a long, straight section of shoreline, with the "Trap Shack" positioned at the eastern end. Trolling tight to the shore of this stretch of water puts you into "big fish country", with large kelp beds providing a holding spot for hunter and prey alike. Pass the "Trap shack" and you round the corner to Beechey Head, another excellent spot for trolling. A word of caution however, the shoals on Beechey Head have a reputation for eating tackle, due to the jagged topography of the bottom.
Alldridge Point, located one and one-half miles from Cheanuh Marina, is a rocky point with a good inshore shelf of 30 to 90 feet in depth. On an incoming tide, the current creates a wide back-eddy, which in turn provides good transition water for migrating chinook and coho salmon to hold in. Alldridge Point, while having been known to produce good numbers of chinook, is primarily regarded as a coho and pink salmon fishery first.
Between Alldridge and Church Rock is the area referred to as the "Broken group". Tucked in Becher Bay, it offers a safe hideaway from the prevailing winds, and can offer good sport and some real trophy surprises. This location was responsible for a derby winning 38 pound spring salmon, caught by two anglers seeking shelter from the wind and rain.
Church Point is the first exposure eastward out of Becher Bay. This large, prominent point of land has a jagged seascape, which is conducive to gathering baitfish, and hence is a good passage in and out for migrating salmon. Little Church and Church Islands are favored locations due to the strong turbulence of its waters. The average depth of water in this area is typically 30 to 120 feet. Church Point and its adjoining islands are a preferred location for jigging and produces good results while trolling.
Eastward from Church Point before reaching Race Rocks, is Christopher Point. Midland between Becher and Pedder Bay, it is capable of producing back-eddies on either side which will collect intermittent pockets of baitfish, and subsequently produces occasional results of migrating salmon.
Last, but not the least of the many angling choices is Race Rocks. This picturesque outcropping of rocks is often dotted with sealions, with its lighthouse and foghorns providing a mystical West Coast feel. Set amidst a backdrop of the breathtaking beauty from the Juan de Fuca strait and the Olympic Mountain Range, Race Rocks provides fantastic fishing opportunities. The sunny days of June and July can provide an incredible day of back to back battles with fierce, tail-walking coho salmon and sounding springs. Surrounding Race Rocks are some of the best Halibut and groundfish habitats on the West Coast. The flat, sandy bottom and deep drop-offs yield large halibut in plentiful numbers.
The most prevalent fishing method practiced in the Sooke area is definitely trolling with a downrigger, anywhere from 20 to 90 feet, dependant on the time of the year. Early months find most anglers down deep looking for winter springs, but as the season progresses the gear comes up as the baitfish migration moves closer to shore, and the coho begin to show. Mooching or jigging is also a popular method for many along the tidelines, kelp beds, and the offshore hotspots. Both Coho and Pinks can be taken on the fly during the mid-summer months. Halibut season opens in February and runs right through until September. From "chicken" halibut at around 40 lbs., to the "barn doors" topping 200 lbs., they are out there in good numbers. Bottomfish of all varieties from rock cod to red snapper (true name being yellow-eyed rockfish) and lingcod are plentiful year round, almost anywhere you drop a line. Spring salmon attain weights of up to 60 pounds in these waters. Coho salmon average 6 to 12 lbs., and the harder to catch sockeye salmon hit weights of up to 13 lbs.
All in all, Sooke and the surrounding areas add up to an angler´s paradise, with world class angling opportunities to be had. Everything needed to complete any angling vacation is here. Accommodations, marinas, tackle shops, and best of all, world class fishing. Couple these amenities with some of the most picturesque natural beauty in the world, and you soon realize why the locals have tried to keep it a secret. Come visit Sooke, you´ll love it!