Fishing expedition turns into amazing wildlife tour



With fishing lines dipping into the glassy ocean, we sat and waited. Boredom brought the lines up from the depths to check the bait that would slip back into the abyss with our hopes firmly attached to the lures. Then we drift some more with the only sound of the trolling engine pushing us on a meandering course.

Our guide sensed we were not committed to catching salmon, when he heard us says things like, “How do we know it’s a salmon on the line and not some seaweed? And, what if we catch a seal?” Then there was me pointing at eagles and trees instead of watching the line.

Knowing we had paid good money for a West Coast experience, he carefully asked, “Would you guys like to pack up the lines and look for wildlife instead?” I was thinking, “Yes! Yes!” but I calmly said, “Well, only if you think the fish aren’t biting.”

The whole salmon fishing season had actually been a washout with everyone, including the commercial fishermen coming back with little or no fish in the coolers. I was happy to leave a salmon or two behind for the sake of the species.

Eagles and seals put on a show

Photo: Joanne Elves

The seals didn’t seem to mind as the motorboat circled them in the eddy. Who was watching whom?

The giant Evinrude motor kicked into gear. The guide knew exactly where he wanted to take us. Our fishing expedition from Painter’s Lodge on the shores at Campbell River instantly turned into a private wildlife tour wandering around the islands of Discovery Passage.

The boat pointed into an inlet and the engine slowed to a hum. “That eagle you were watching flies back here,” he said pointing at a nest high in a tree. “Lets see if they are still here.” Almost on cue, the eagle flies towards the nest with one of the fish I left behind. Two big heads poke up and the feast is on.

In an eddy further along, a dozen seals float in a foamy swirl like synchronized swimmers. Their big black eyes and whiskered smiles follow us as we coast by. To top off the experience, we see a black bear wander along the shore. Could it get any better?

Back motoring in Discovery Passage we head for home. But the boat stops and we look at the guide.

“Do you want to see something really cool? Lay down at the front of the boat with your head and outside shoulder leaning over the edge of the boat.”

Sounded strange, but we complied. I had my head and right arm extended at what seemed to be dangerously too far over, but he said it was perfect. And Jeff, on the other side of the boat looked the same. The engine revved and we swiftly skimmed across the water. I thought it was cool to be looking at the water tear away as we sliced through the surface, but there was so much more to see.

Killer whales or playful porpoises?

Photo: Joanne Elves

Fish? What fish? Watching Dall Porpoises take turns surfing along the bow of the boat was the highlight of the fishing expedition.

Suddenly out of the depths, black and white bodies came to the surface right under our heads. I thought they were baby killer whales by the markings, but they were Dall porpoises coming up to ride on our wake. My nose was probably 30 centimetres from the porpoise skimming the surface. If my arm was a little longer, my fingers would have dipped into the water and dragged along his rubbery back.

I lifted my head and looked at Jeff. We smiled briefly to share the chance of a lifetime experience then went back to watching the show. Different porpoises would come along and take a turn in the wake and sometimes two would be lined up to surf together. As we passed a little island, they suddenly departed. When the boat slowed down we sat up soaked from the spray but overjoyed with the chance to be part of the experience.

This may be something coastal people take for granted but for us prairie dwellers, it was a chance to bond with another world. We walked the dock empty-handed but that didn’t matter. Our guide provided an experience we’ll never forget.

I hear the fish are back. Maybe next time we’ll catch that Chinook.

If you go:

Campbell River is a mecca for salmon fishing and wildlife tours. Painters Lodge and April Point, the sister property across the passage on Quadra Island are great for a spring through fall weekend getaway. Many other properties and tour operators are available. Check the Campbell River Tourism page for more ideas while you are there or Vancouver Island Tourism.

Contact Tourism Vancouver Island at (250) 754-3500

To get to Campbell River: Drive 3.5 hours from Victoria. From Vancouver, take the Horseshoe Bay Ferry to Nanaimo and drive north 1.5 hours. Air Canada and WestJet both fly to Comox, only an hour away.

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