Joe’s Salmon Lodge

Want to catch: halibut up to 60 pounds, king salmon (fondly referred to as “springs”) up to 30- to 40 pounds, silver (coho) salmon until your arms grow tired, or maybe lingcod up to 30 pounds?

Wait. There’s even more! How about a beautiful floating lodge, nestled at the end of a quiet, remote cove, with a professional staff trained to meet your every need?

Joe's Salmon Lodge located on the coast of British Columbia.
Joe’s Salmon Lodge located on the coast of British Columbia.

Need more? How about a 17-foot Boston Whaler boat and all the gear you need to catch those fish?

If you’re not interested by now, better go buy a new set of clubs and spend a bunch of money hitting the links! But, maybe you would like to spend five days catching big fish and not see another fishing boat, other than those from your lodge.

If you’re a little hesitant about the challenge of doing battle with big fish, how about a team of Fish Masters that will lead you out to the fishing hot spots, stay with you all day, bring food, replenish your supply of bait (or beer, if needed) and guide your tired body back to the lodge for a gourmet dinner.

Sound too good to be true? Yours truly has fished from Alaska, down the Pacific to Mexico, Hawaii, across to Chesapeake Bay. This is for real. A unique experience in self-guided fishing! Welcome to Joe’s Salmon Lodge located on the coast of British Columbia!

Now, this is not one of those “the lodge gives a writer a free trip to do a raving review.” My longtime friend, Jon Moberg, of Salem, Ore., met the owner on a golf course. He liked what he heard. We gave it a try.

Getting There
The adventure begins early. Anglers arrive at the South Terminal of the Vancouver Airport by 1 p.m. and depart at 2 p.m. on a charter flight over rugged, snow-capped country to Bella Coola, B.C. where you are greeted by owner Doug Stuffco and staff. You board a comfortable, high-speed water taxi for a beautiful one-hour ride through the rugged islands of fabled Hakai Pass country.

On arrival, the staff are on the dock to welcome you and transport your luggage to your room.

Fish Masters gives a brief orientation about boats and gear. They will lead boats to the current hot spots. They fish every day. They stay with the boats all day, providing assistance, snacks and more bait, if needed. Stuffco gives a demonstration on plug-cutting herring for bait. Mooch/trolling is the suggested method for salmon.

The author (left) and Jon Moberg with king salmon.

How to Mooch Troll
Here’s how to execute a popular technique there, mooch trolling. With the motor in gear, feed the lines out to desired depths. When lines reach about a 45-degree angle behind the boat, put the motor in neutral. This will allow the herring to flutter downward as if wounded. When the lines approach near vertical, put it in gear again until 45 degrees is reached. Continue to repeat the process.

Typically, salmon will strike as bait is fluttering down. Set the hook hard because salmon jaws are tough.

Fish Masters suggest to rig each rod with a different size weight. A rule of thumb is to set the two rods up front with heavier weights than the stern rod. One rod up front should have 8 ounces of weight, one 6 ounces and for the stern rod use 4 ounces.

If you find one weight consistently getting more strikes, consider switching the other rods.

Gearing up
Recommended gear includes 10-1/2-foot rods, 8-foot leaders, barbless double-hook mooching rigs, and herring.

Boats here are equipped with three rods and reels. (Two anglers are allowed to use three rods.)

Canadians love center-pin reels. I prefer to call them “knuckle-busters” based on past experiences.

I break tradition and ask for a baitcasting reel. I get a top-of-the-line Shimano bait caster. The other two reels are center pins, with left-hand cranks.

Moberg doesn’t like to crank left-handed. It is entertaining-at times-to watch him fight a hot fish, reel upside down, reeling backwards.

 The popular center pin reel.
The popular center pin reel.

Time to Fish
After a gourmet dinner, Fish Masters lead us to the mouth of the cove to begin mooching for salmon.

Fishing is slow until late. Moberg and I land two nice silvers (coho) of 9- and 10 pounds. Just before dark, he hooks into a 17-pound spring. It comes to the net as the air turns black. It turns out to be biggest fish of the short day.

We fall into bed exhausted. A long day of travel and fishing. Here we are, living a dream, fishing the fabled Hakai Pass waters.

Choose Your Species
Each evening anglers decide which species to go after the next day. You can choose: halibut, bottom fish or salmon. You can fish local waters or Fish Masters will lead the way to places with intriguing names such as Spider Rock, 60 Pound Bay, Chicken Coop, or Jurassic Park. Spider Rock and 60 Pound Bay are one hour runs from the lodge. It’s a beautiful trip, weaving through tree-lined, rugged islands. At one point boats pass through a narrow gap no more than 20- to 25 feet wide at low tide.

Staff will prepare your boat with heavy gear if you choose to go for halibut.

Wake-up is 5 a.m. and at 6:30 Fish Masters will lead you to the current hot spot and stay with you for support, advice, more bait, or a snack. Radios are used to keep contact and share information on what seems to be working best.

A fleet of Boston Whalers ready for fishing.
A fleet of Boston Whalers ready for fishing.

A good example happens the first full day of fishing. Most of the boats are fishing an area called Bailey’s, about a mile from the Lodge. It is loaded with fish. Many of the silvers are small. A call on the radio — from the Fish Master — suggests, “8 ounces of lead and out 30 pulls” to go deeper. I follow his advice and never catch another small fish on that rod. They are all “keepers.”

You realize how great fishing has been when–on the third day–a float plane takes off with 1,000 pounds of fillets for the Vancouver freezer!

Over five days Moberg and I lose track of how many silvers we release. We bring home limits of salmon. We catch lingcod and halibut, too. The last morning before we leave, I land a 58-pound halibut! (pictured at top.) Two centimeters longer and it would have been over the legal limit!

This is what Joe’s Salmon Lodge is about. As Stuffco, the owner, said, “If you don’t catch fish and have a good stay, you won’t come back.”

This attitude was obvious with staff. Pause on the dock and look around for a few seconds and a staff person will spring into action. “What do you need? Can I help you?”

I have fished a lot of places over the years, and I have never seen an entire staff so committed to making sure clients have a good experience. It becomes obvious when over 80 percent of their clients return!

I didn’t hear any complaints at the airport when guys were gathering up those 50-pound boxes of fish fillets.

For more information contact Toll Free: 1-888-452-8822.

Top Photo: Author (left) and Jon Moberg with a day’s catch including 58-pound halibut.


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One Response to “Joe’s Salmon Lodge”

  1. Denis Spackman

    I understand how we would get from Bella coola to the lodge leaving Vancouver at 2:00 pm. But when would we leave the lodge and when would we get back to Vancouver on a 5 day trip?