By Deepwater Don
I wanted to be the first guest to set foot on the landing pad on the first day of the 35th anniversary season of The West Coast Fishing Club, but my wife Kim beat me to it by about 10 seconds. That’s OK, she was every bit as excited as me to be back.
Turned out the excitement was well-founded. Just over two hours after our helicopter touched down at The Clubhouse, an angler named Shawn W. recorded the first tyee of the season. The beautiful beast taped out at exactly 35 pounds, making for an appropriate start to the 35th season.
The lounge was a happy hive of activity during the cocktail hour that evening, as guests swapped stories of scrappy teenaged-size Chinook salmon on the west side, mostly at the Fishbowl where Shawn grabbed and promptly released his tyee.
The interaction among people from diverse places and backgrounds is always amazing to witness. Relationships are solidified and new friends are easily made when folks are brought together to fish for Pacific salmon in remote marine wilderness. But many places offer that experience. What is different about The Club is that guests take to the waters in the safest and most reliable boats anywhere, guided by seasoned and certified helmsman, and then retire to a highly refined atmosphere when the day is through.
Simply put, the lodges are to the sportfishing industry what first-class cabins are to international air travel – sophisticated, comfortable and exhilarating.
And yet, in spite of fiscal challenges due to covid restrictions and rising costs, significant investments have been made to further elevate the guest experience. I have always believed that any fool can balance a budget – simply cut costs and skimp on details – but such has never been the way of The West Coast Fishing Club.
The improvements at The Clubhouse include a 14-person high-top table in the outdoor dining area, conveniently located near the wood-fired pizza oven. And the entire main deck is now glass-covered with numerous new fire pots and sitting areas, making it possible to gather in the great outdoors at any time and in any weather. The additional outdoor space also ensures that The Clubhouse is even more relaxing and never crowded, with lots of room to breathe in the vistas and refreshing evergreen air of Haida Gwaii.
And if there is one thing I have noticed over the years, its that spirits soar at dinner time. Who doesn’t enjoy the inimitable appeal of lingering over fine food and wine in a uniquely convivial atmosphere? On that note, gone is the dinner buffet table, replaced by extensive menus from which guests choose from a wide range of artfully prepared offerings from both land and sea. If you’ll pardon a tired cliché, everyone appeared to be having the time of their lives, even if they didn’t notice the colorful new designer floor covering and seating. Kim noticed it though. She doesn’t miss much when it comes to décor.
She also picked up on how the serving area near the kitchen has been renovated to create more space and efficiency, and how new display shelving highlights the vast collection of Riedel stemware. A server explained that prudent investments have also been made to improve staff quarters, underscoring The Club’s 35-year commitment to recruiting, retaining and rewarding the most professional staff in the industry.
To a person, staff members bring youthful exuberance and professionalism to every aspect of operations, including an off-the-charts culinary program headed up by Chef Blaine Robinson and dining room manager and sommelier Dawn Schultz, whose elegant place settings are accented by fresh-cut flowers on every table. Fresh-cut flowers! Thirty-five miles off the grid!
At mealtimes we were seated with Brian Legge, the affable and quick-witted co-founder of The West Coast Fishing Club. We toasted to the 35th anniversary season and to Brian’s late business partner, Rick Grange, an avid angler who had fallen in love with this region in the mid-1980’s and envisioned much higher standards of service than what the industry then offered. He was a special guy who was committed to fishery sustainability and to the local community where he eventually took up residence. I am among the countless many who admired him.
We shoved off the next morning with guide Nate, who is pursuing a master’s degree at a university in Tennessee on a lacrosse scholarship. A descendant of ardent anglers, fishing is in Nate’s DNA. He was laser-focused and incredibly efficient in running his gear and boat, all the while answering a litany of questions from Kim, who is a former university athletic director with great fondness for student-athletes. Watching Nate work reminded me that it takes a variety of expertise to make this all-star guide team.
We picked up a couple of fish at Boulder-Gunia and then headed out to the Fishbowl where we found a couple more. After lunch we went on a concerted halibut hunt west of Lacey Island along with a handful of other boats. Normally we would have found turkey-sized specimens in abundance but not this time, or at least, not yet. The good news was that guests were catching halibut in shallow waters on salmon rods, so we planned to do the same the following morning.
In the meantime, we raced back to Lacey and immediately got into some salmon, as did other boats in the area. We subsequently received word from The Outpost, some 35 nautical miles to the south, that the fishing was on fire, with multiple double-headers on all boats and scads of fish from 15 to 25 pounds. No shortage of halibut down that way either, according to reports.
On day three we awoke to sunny skies and calm seas. What followed was memorable to say the least. We began at Fishbowl, where Nate suggested we could simultaneously target both Chinook salmon and halibut. That worked out perfectly, leaving us the afternoon to head back to Lacey where the bite was on! Double headers and whoops and hollers in every direction. A humpback whale cruised around and did a bit of showing off too. What a way to finish!
The après-fish cocktail hour that night was more animated than ever, with chatter and laughter among new and old friends who had come in equal numbers from both sides of the Canada-US border and as far away as Switzerland.
These included a group of friends and colleagues from Seattle, among whom were several women, which is always great to see in the lodges and lends an extra measure of grace and civility to these rustically elegant surroundings. Good on them for their gusto, I thought.
As for me, I still don’t know what is more rewarding: battling a wild Pacific salmon or watching Kim do the same. She’s become pretty darn good at it, and I love that.
Just before dinner was served, a double rainbow magically arched across the shimmering waters of Parry Pass. The phenomenon of celestial colour spanning the horizon appeared to be one of divine intervention, or at least another indicator that much awe and wonder is in store for the 35th anniversary season.
The following morning, we bade farewell to Brian, who was staying on for the Beef, Barbecue & Bourbon event, and reluctantly boarded the helicopter for Masset.
I am pleased to report that the fishing has been consistently superb throughout the two weeks that have passed since our visit. Details of same have been provided by Mike Tonnesen, head guide at The Clubhouse, and Shawn Crawford, lodge manager at The Outpost. Watch for more reports from them as the 35th season rolls along. If the early season is any indicator, 2023 will go down as a vintage year in the storied history of The West Coast Fishing Club.
Friends, if you have a trip planned this year to either of the lodges, I wish you the very best of luck, adventure and fulfillment. As you will soon see, it’s truly something far beyond even the wildest imagination. But if you’ve been before, then you already know what I mean.
Until we meet again, stay safe and well.
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