“Slaaab!” Irish Lord shouts into the intercom on our 6.5-metre sport fishing boat as I land a 42-pound white Spring salmon. “Slaaab!” he repeats to other guides tuned into the radio. “Slab” is the fishing guides’ code word for a big catch. And for me it made good on my promise to catch a fish bigger than my bra size. Irish Lord—a.k.a. Jamie Williams—our friendly 26-year-old rookie fishing guide, yells the word “slab” every time someone lands a tyee. “Tyee” is the term used to describe Chinook or spring salmon weighing 30 pounds or more, which is considered to be the “fish of a lifetime”. Our Sex and the City trio of type-A thrill-seekers will hear the word slab three times in four days.
From the Queen Charlotte Lodge in Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) we venture out to fish at Green Point, which is where I win Mother Nature’s lottery. Legend has it that it takes about one minute per pound to reel in a trophy-sized Chinook. My Mr. Big took only 20 minutes.
I don’t know what I enjoy more—fishing, or the passionate guides who instruct and inspire, know how to work tide lines and understand the ever-changing ocean conditions. Irish Lord Williams impressed me. Although this is only his first year guiding, he made me feel like a pro, even though I have no technique, unlike the others in my trio.
The remote Queen Charlotte Lodge (QCL) is situated on the west shore of Naden Harbour on Graham Island, and is accessible only by boat or by air. We arrive by helicopter, but first we have to catch a jet to the northern fishing village of Masset. Thus, our trip begins at 6:30 a.m. at YVR’s South Terminal with grande joes-to-go and bonding shots of Baileys and Grand Marnier while discussing the challenges of packing light; there’s a 25-pound maximum aboard the Sikorsky S-76 (the British Royal Family’s favourite whirlybird) for the 15-minute helicopter flight from Masset, over a teal ocean, to Naden Harbour. The air is chilly and clean and by 1:00 p.m., we’re suited up in Helly Hansen flotation jackets with four rods in the water. At the end of the day, we’re at the weigh scales with 75 pounds of coho and halibut. There’s closed-circuit TV in the bar to record your catch at the dock and to keep you honest in case you’ve made any fishing bets.
Unbelievably, the next day finds us in the second season of the docu-reality fishing series The Lodge, which will air on the World Fishing Network in 2011. The Lodge is a peek behind the scenes at the trials and tribulations of running the QCL, as seen through the eyes of the staff of 80. Today, the film crew is shadowing Irish Lord. As the crew turns the corner at Bird 2, a favourite fishing hole, the camera captures Mat, Lecia, and Irish Lord busting out moves to Lady Gaga via satellite radio while I steer the boat. Five minutes later, my friend Lecia sees a tug on the line, grabs the rod, yanks it to set the hook and brings in a tyee, her first in four years of fishing at the lodge. This is reality fishing.
What the Queen Charlotte Lodge has over other salmon fishing destinations in British Columbia—besides the friendly staff that love their loyal clientele as much as their clientele love them—is the MV Driftwood, a refurbished 3.5-metre 1941 wooden U.S. Army tug boat anchored in the area’s best fishing waters, which serves as the lodge’s floating lunch vessel. This is where we stop for rich New England–style chowder, hearty chili, barbecued cheeseburgers and succulent pulled-pork sandwiches and to swap tall tales and wildlife sightings with other guests. Over the four days, we see humpback whales and orcas, harbour seals and Steller sea lions, black-tailed deer, bald eagles and a Queen Charlotte black bear, the largest sub-species of the American black bear. To maximize fishing time, up to 14 hardcore fishermen can stay on board the Driftwood with a private chef and throw lines in as early as 3:30 a.m. before heading out in guided or unguided boats two hours later.
It’s time for martinis and margaritas and a dip in the outdoor hot tub before dinner in the multi-level rustic-luxe dining room. Included in the lodge’s rates is ambitious cooking by chef Ryan MacKay, who toiled with uber-chef Pino Posteraro at Vancouver’s award-winning Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill and Enoteca. MacKay prepares a well-executed menu with a variety of fresh-caught seafood, keeping it simple to emphasize natural flavours: platters of Dungeness crab and raw oysters; West Coast albacore tuna carpaccio; and a pristine and perfectly cooked halibut dressed with a riesling beurre blanc. There’s also duck breast exquisitely spit-roasted and a juicy grilled steak sauced with an opulent green peppercorn sauce.
A highlight of the trip, on my very last day, is a tour to Kung led by QCL staffers and de facto Haida guides Dan Matthews and Duane Foerter. Kung is minutes away from the Lodge by boat and home to triple mortuary poles with hollow tops, which once contained the remains of Haida chiefs. The poles are now being allowed to rot into the ground, as per Haida custom. We learn that the islands of Haida Gwaii are considered in Haida legend to be the place where time began.
Time may have begun here, but it also ends. After a night spent sleeping off the day, morning comes and it’s time for this trio to break up and head back to the city. Mr. Big comes with me, though he’s been gutted and filleted on the dock by my main man Irish Lord; then frozen, and carefully packed at the Lodge, and placed on our flight to Vancouver. Once home, I brush a fillet with an extra virgin lemon-infused olive oil and grill it on the barbecue. The flavour is rich and delicate, the skin bronzed and crispy, and the first bite is the best wild salmon I’ve ever tasted. What a catch.
Photos: Duane Foerter/Queen Charlotte Lodge.