Northwest Fishing Holes Magazine
As we enter the new millennium, those of us who live in the cities and suburbs lead lifestyles that have become so insanely fast paced. Computers, e-mail, pagers, and cell phones are our lifeblood, without which we would feel disconnected from the world in which we live.
We never realize that there are other lifestyles out there as dependent on neighbors and nature as we are to the Internet. I recently visited just such a place, and immediately upon my return, road rage reared its ugly head at the first traffic light I encountered! Small wonder, as I had not seen a car in five days, let alone navigated the mess we know as traffic.
In the Broughton Archipelago of British Columbia, Canada, one’s lifestyle is the complete opposite of what most of us have come to accept. Located between the northern end of Vancouver Island to the west, and Kingcome and Knight Inlet to the east, this gateway to the “inside passage is made up of hundreds of beautiful islands.
Its sheer beauty, and calm protected waters can make one forget all about the daily grind of life in the suburbs. In your mind, this area was just recently discovered. In reality, the Broughton Archipelago has a long rich history of two things, fishing and logging. These two industries have flourished here since early in the last century.
People who live in this wild wilderness don’t live on cul-de-sacs, with expensive cars in the driveway. They live in houses sitting on floating logs, tied up in protected coves and inlets. Their only mode of transportation is by boat, or floatplane. You want to go to the store? Jump in the boat for a ride across the bay. School? The kids go by boat. Work? Five or six commutes a week in the boat. I think you get the idea.
Such is the life of Chris Bennett. With his long strawberry blond hair, he looks more like an aging rock-n-roll star than he does a fishing guide. Chris however, is an expert on the entire area, and will happily share his knowledge with his lucky guests. Originally from Vancouver, BC, Chris has always enjoyed fishing, and started guiding for places like Nimmo Bay, and King Pacific Lodge. He always had a dream of having his own fishing lodge, and in 1988-89, his dream became reality with the opening of Blackfish Lodge. Blackfish is also Chris’s full time place of residence, where he guides fishing trips all summer long, and works in a logging camp during winter months.
Before deciding on an area in which to operate, Chris had a girlfriend who attended the University of British Columbia. Through her, he gained access to their vast library of fisheries data. He painstakingly researched to find an area that would offer the widest and most productive opportunities, not only for his clients, but for himself as well. He found what he was looking for, and Chris now has access to virtually all kinds of angling opportunities.
Blackfish, like many others, is a floating lodge. Early on, Chris towed it twice a year to different locations following the fish runs. Since 1995, it has been tied neatly in a little cove off Baker Island. This location puts Chris in the heart of the Broughton Archipelago, and he can easily go in any direction to get his guests into the prime fishing grounds.
Prime fishing grounds means different things to different people. Maybe you are an avid saltwater salmon angler. Perhaps you prefer the solitude of wilderness fly-fishing on pristine streams full of coho, pinks, or cutthroat trout. Maybe kicking around a trout infested lake in your float tube is more your style. Possibly you are one of those steelhead nuts, longing for new and exciting pools and runs. Whatever your vibes desire, Chris Bennett can lead you to your own personal nirvana.
Flip Hennig and Steve Swain, two fine gentlemen of the angling brotherhood, joined me the first week of September 2000 on a visit to Blackfish Lodge. What we soon discovered, is that staying at Blackfish is really like not staying at a lodge at all. It’s more like hanging out at your best friends place for a few days, and having him take you to his favorite fishing holes. Of course the ones that are hard to get to are the ones that leave you ga-ga, and wishing you had two more days on the itinerary!
We flew up to Blackfish via Kenmore Air. They have regularly scheduled flights to the area, and are very dependable. Flying from their base in Lake Washington, the DeHavilland Turbo Otter made good time heading north, and after a quick stop in Nanaimo to clear Canadian Customs, we were off on our adventure.
Flying on a clear day, the islands of the inside passage seem almost indistinguishable, appearing as pieces spread across the water to one of God’s forgotten jigsaw puzzles. Before we knew it, the plane started its descent, and banked sharply into an inlet. After a smooth landing, we idled up to the dock, where Chris, Greg Rebar, and Greg’s wife Ingrid greeted us.
Chris had hired Greg and Ingrid for the summer season. Greg to help him guide fishing trips, and Ingrid to seemingly add pounds to everyone’s waistline! Both of them have worked for Chris in the past, and are very good at what they do. Greg was only there with us one day before family matters took him back to Vancouver. Ingrid on the other hand, fed us in fine style, starting with a lunch of homemade soup, and fresh Dungeness crab immediately upon our arrival.
Blackfish Lodge is a small place, and it’s a real treat having exclusive use of it for just your party. No sitting down to meals with ten other people you don’t know. It allows you to really relax and be yourself. It’s especially nice for families that want to spend some quality time together, without having to share your guide and cook with additional groups whose agenda may be totally different from your own.
After having a bit of lunch, we jumped into the boats, and headed for Blackfish Sound, where the incoming tide provided a fair afternoon salmon bite. Though a bit seasoned, Chris’s boats tell a story of many successful outings. New Honda engines and GPS electronics keep you moving in any kind of weather however, so you can travel and fish worry free.
Steve and Flip fished with Greg, while I fished with Chris. All of us released a number of good-sized coho, but Steve also managed to hook and land a nice 35 lb. Tyee. That´s Canadian for “big freaking king salmon!”. Coho were off limits during the season to protect a certain stock according to Chris. Regulations change each year, so check before going if things like that are concerns to you.
We had decided prior to our trip that we wanted to experience some of the great freshwater opportunities around the area, and Chris was all for it. The following morning, after some coffee and baked goodies, we headed up a series of inlets to a small stream with a short estuary. On the way we made a quick pass at a good spot for big springs, where Steve immediately crackered off what appeared to be a good one!
When entering these estuaries, you have to work the tide. You go in at low tide so that upon your return, your boat will be afloat in the high tide. Coming in at high tide will leave your boat high and dry when you return from the bush.
Chris has asked me not to divulge the names of any of these places, because they are true wilderness settings, and he wishes to keep them that way. When I think about it, it matters little that you know the names of them anyway, because you are not going to go there without help from a guy like Chris. Visit him at Blackfish Lodge, and he will give you the grand tour!
After tying up the boat, we hiked up river on well-used bear trails. Signs of them were everywhere. Tracks, droppings, you name it. Making a little racket, Chris led us about a mile and a half through the woods. All the while, we could hear and spy the little stream running over boulder patches, and through fast chutes.
We came to a gorgeous pool encased in a little canyon, right below a chute. We all gazed in, and saw many nice salmon lying in it. Steve could not resist, and took position to get a line in there. Flip stayed with him to get some photos. Meanwhile, Chris told me the next pool up was the main attraction, right below the falls.
As we approached the falls, and they came within view, I nearly gasped! There before me was the most picturesque pool one could ever imagine. A long narrow falls drops right into a tight canyon no more than six feet across. The water then leaves this small gorge and empties into a deep slow pool. The pool then gives way to a shallow tail-out, which we easily waded across.
I started salivating as I realized this pool was literally frothing with salmon. It was a mix of pinks, and fresh coho. As I took my casting position, I took one look back at Chris, who knew all too well what was about to happen. I cast my weighted marabou jig up near the head of the pool, right where the water leaves the confines of the canyon. The hook-up was almost instantaneous. I continued to hook and land fish on eight consecutive casts.
I could see Steve hooking fish in the pool below, and motioned for Flip to join me. I changed up my offering to a small Dick Nite spoon. The results were similar with one exception. The pinks left it alone, and I hooked mostly coho on this setup! Flip was going nuts with his camera, but I managed to talk him into a few casts. Chris fixed him up with a spinner, and two casts later he too was fighting a nice coho salmon.
All good things must come to an end, and after hooking and releasing what seemed like a hundred fish, the bite subsided. I think the fish finally sought refuge in the canyon at the base of the falls. This spot however, will be recorded in my memory banks as the single most beautiful pool I have ever had the pleasure to fish. If God had stuck me down right there, I would have died a very happy guy!
We were pretty tired by the time we hiked back to the boat, but Ingrid always packed a ton of sandwiches, fruit, baked goods, and stuff to drink, so we took stock in most all of it! On our way back to the lodge, we trolled a few spots looking for some big springs, with no luck. September is very late in the season for chinook, but the ones that are still around are usually big bruisers. You just have to put in your time, and work the tides at that time of year.
Day three took us to another small stream, this one similar, yet different from the day before. When we got to the end of the inlet, there were actually two streams, the one we were going to hike, and an even smaller one. Before heading up into the wilderness, we fished the shoreline for sea-run cutts. Steve managed two huge cutties off the mouth of the smaller stream, and would have caught a few more, but Flip and I were too anxious to get upstream.
Instead of fishing our way upstream, Chris wanted to hike through the timber all the way to the falls, then fish our way back down. Sounded easy enough, but holy smokes, Chris is like a cat in those woods, and a rotund fellow like me had a difficult go of it. Steve seemed to keep up with Chris the best, while Flip graciously followed behind me in case I passed out!
Climbing over logs, crawling under them, and scaling side-hills made for an interesting trek to say the least while packing fly rods and cameras. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel, and when we arrived at the falls, we were not the least bit disappointed. Before enjoying the spoils of our work, we took some time to sit in the sun and relax on the big boulders.
The river below the falls here was quite different from the previous days journey. Instead of the big deep pools, the river tumbled through boulder patches with little flat runs in behind them. Behind each boulder, and in every run, were hundreds of pinks and coho. For this river, fly rods were the weapon of choice, and it did not matter the least what type of fly you chose, as long as it had some flash to it. We went with large marabou flies.
After spending a good amount of time bending sticks near the falls, we headed downstream. Before long, the big boulders gave way to gravel and sand. Of course Chris, with his long legs and sure footing, got well ahead of us. He was waiting quietly at the head of a long run for us suburbanites to catch up.
As we drew closer, I realized why he stopped where he did. This run, which was about twenty feet across, thirty yards long and maybe four feet deep, was literally black with salmon. The sun was shining directly into the run, and the water was gin clear, except for the black cloud covering most of its bottom.
Starting at the head of the run, and continuing into the tail-out, the bottom was completely covered with pinks, big fresh coho, and a few chum as well. There must have been no less than two hundred fish packed into this small area. A truly amazing scene, one the likes I have not seen before anywhere.
We found that in order to fair hook these guys, you had to start retrieving your fly immediately under the surface, and literally watch a salmon rise from the pack to take it. That itself was quite a rush. We worked this piece for quite some time before I got the idea to low-hole my buddies, and took it upon myself to wade down to the next bend in the river. It was well shaded, and boiling with salmon as well.
The shaded water really made these fish aggressive, and I got a take on my fly with literally every cast. That sounds impossible I know, but was indeed the case. My first cast into this pool enticed a fresh chum of around 15 lbs. to give me a ride. He finally took my fly and went home. You’ve got to love this wilderness fishing. Nothing in the Puget Sound region even comes close in comparison.
The day prior to this one, on the first stream we visited, Flip and I each enjoyed a nice cigar while plying the waters. On this day, I decided better of it, realizing I might need both lungs for the hike out! As it turned out, hiking down the river was a much easier path than the incoming one through the timber, but again, every step was well worth the effort.
Back at the lodge, Ingrid had prepared her usual fabulous meal, and we all stuffed ourselves while regaling each other with events of the day. Chris told us of his plan to take us up to one his favorite little cutthroat streams the next day, and he got no objections from Flip, Steve and I. I went to sleep that night legs and arms sore, belly full, and dreaming of what adventure that next day would bring. Tough duty I know, but someone has to do it!
As dawn arrived on day four, the knock on our door came far sooner than my body required, but my head was screaming at me to wake up! The smell of coffee and baked goodies got me moving soon enough. Morning here is such a peaceful time. Looking out over the water is like looking out over a mirror. These waters are so protected, that even a good breeze does not create much of a chop. People prone to seasickness will not experience that discomfort here.
After another serene morning of trophy chinook fishing, Chris headed up yet another beautiful inlet. We tied up the boat, grabbed our fly rods, and started hiking. This stream was by far the easiest of the hiking we had done. Partly because the terrain was flatter, but also because when trout fishing, it’s a good idea to fish your way upstream, so they don’t see you coming.
This was a very small stream and running low, stained with the tea color of ancient cedars composting in it. This was also home to the most prolific population of cutthroat trout I have ever encountered. Both sea-run, and resident trout can be found here. Flies? I don´t think it matters much. We did wonders on caddis, and small egg pattern glo-bugs.
In every pocket deep enough to hide bottom, there are cutties. Lots of them. I hiked about one and a half to two miles up this stream, and hooked forty or more trout of varying size. Chris says cutthroat in this area get to be around two pounds. Chris said there was an even better cutthroat stream in the vicinity that we did not have time to visit. If only I had another couple days!
As for gear, a five-weight rod is what I would suggest for the cutthroat fishing. Trust me, some of these trout will brutalize you. These fish are aggressive takers, and you do not need to be an expert at casting and/or presenting your fly. Anything close to the zone with or without a little movement will bring a savage strike! This is a magnificent place for beginning fly fishers to experience the thrill of success, and enjoy a true wilderness setting!
Chris tells me that there are tons of lakes on the islands, and the view from the air confirms that. He says they all have great numbers of aggressive trout in them for those who wish to experience the wilderness in a float tube!
While our trip was in early September, the season at Blackfish Lodge begins much earlier in the year. Chris starts salmon fishing in April, and continues right through into September. The peak of the chinook fishing is in July and August, when migrating kings pour through the ‘Inside Passage”on their way to their native streams. Blackfish Lodge is located perfectly to intercept them. There is also lots of opportunity to go for halibut, lingcod, and whatever else lurks in the depths of these beautiful waters!
The fresh-water angling for salmon is best in late August through September, while the trout fishing is spectacular all summer long. Pinks come in even numbered years, while coho migrate every year. Winter steelhead are available December through June for those seeking a truly remarkable experience.
Like the rest of us, Chris is a hard working guy making the most of what he has. He offers a local knowledge unsurpassed by other guides in the area, and his rates are very reasonable. Some camps hire new kids every year to run boats for them. When you stay at Blackfish Lodge, you get Chris’s undivided attention, whatever adventure you ask him to lead you on.
The end of our adventure arrived in the form of a DeHavilland Turbo Beaver. Flying in low over the islands, we watched as our Kenmore Air pilot touched the floats to the otherwise glass-like inlet. Within minutes after his arrival, we were loaded and back in the air, heading back to the rat-race we call home.
The plane arrived to pick us up at 1:40 pm, and even after another stop to pick up a passenger at Big Bay Marina, we landed back in Lake Washington right around 3:15 pm. So you see, even if it all seems like a world away, it´s really only a few hours. Treat yourself or your friends and family to a great time at Chris Bennett´s Blackfish Lodge. I´m certain you will enjoy your trip as much as Steve, Flip and I did.
Chris is hard to reach by phone, so to schedule a trip or seek additional information about Blackfish Lodge, contact Rick Groman in Seattle at 206-789-1224. You can also find Blackfish Lodge on the Internet at www.blackfishlodge.com. I wish to personally thank both Chris and Ingrid for their hospitality and hope to visit them again in the future!
Copyright & Subscription Information This article is reprinted here with the permission of the author. No other reprint or reproduction is authorized. The article first appeared in Northwest Fishing Holes magazine, Nov/Dec. 2000 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, write or call:
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