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There was a party in the Pacific and the herring invited us all!

small herring dangling from a hook
This little herring, one of millions, that inspired a party in the ocean.

Salmon, sea lions, humpback whales, birds and fishermen! We all converged because the lowly herring was there.

Without the Pacific herring, there would be no party! Herring are forage fish consumed by birds, fish, sea lions and whales. A single female lays 20 to 40,000 eggs per year and since they have no defences, they rely on these huge numbers to survive. They create a feeding frenzy when they lay their eggs, as the roe is highly prized by humans and sea life. And, when they mature, the party happens again.

Along the BC coast in early August, juvenile herring are found in large schools near the kelp beds. Salmon are feeding voraciously before their journey home to spawn. And that’s why each year at this time, my son Byron, and other dedicated fishermen, yield to the pull of the Pacific waters near Prince Rupert. Whenever he sees the ripples caused by these flashy little fellows, he casts his fly line out to catch the Coho salmon that are in hot pursuit. And, this year, as I did in 2015, I got to go with him.

aerial view of Dundas Island, BC
It all starts here, when a float plane delivers us to remote Dundas Island, near Prince Rupert. We’re close to Haida Gwaii and Alaska. That’s our designation, Haa Nee Naa fishing lodge, nestled in the protected bay. And all those little coves and inlets? The fish are hiding in there, just waiting for us.

The fishing was great!

a fisherman scans the water, looking for the telltale sign of fish
On the water as soon as possible, Byron is on the alert, scanning the water, looking for the tell tale sign of herring or salmon.
Success! This beautiful Coho is our first reward.
Happy with our first day of fishing! Over a five day fishing trip, we’re allowed 8 salmon each. We reached our limit but we had to work at it.
The mornings came early but oh, so worth it!
The coffee boat brings us a warm breakfast and more
After fishing for three hours in damp, foggy conditions, the coffee boat at 9 am is a welcome sight. They bring us a hot breakfast, take our fish for cleaning and freezing, and then ask the important question: “Would you like some Baileys in your coffee?”
halibut next to boat
This is a very large halibut that Byron caught! In fact, so large, he had to let it go. If a halibut is over 126 cm (4 ft!) it’s a reproductive female and needs to be released. So we did. But we caught two smaller ones (about 80 cm) and they are in the freezer!

We were robbed!

Sea Lion roaring on rocks
We were robbed by a marauding sea lion, just like this! I made this image on a previous visit to the coast but we learned how smart these monsters are. They seem to recognize that boats on the water mean an easy snack for them. More than once, we had a salmon on the line, splashing and flipping in the air, when suddenly a massive pull, a big surge of water and … nothing. The sea lion did it again! Moments later, we would see it surface, toss the fish in the air, and swallow it. After a couple thefts like this, we moved to a different location. Guess what? Mr. Party Pooper followed us. You can imagine the conversation at dinner that night! Who invited him to the party?

The Humpbacks Partied Too!

Humpback whales feeding close to shore
It’s so awesome to see humpback whales cavorting in the ocean. It’s surprising how close to shore they will go in their pursuit of the delicious herring.
On my previous trip, I wrote about humpback bubble feeding but did not manage to see it. So lucky this time! One afternoon, we were fishing when we were told that a group of humpies were bubble feeding nearby. Off we went! You can spot them by the clouds of birds waiting for a freebie. And then suddenly, a group of these ten ton creatures break the surface together and rise up with their giant mouths wide open!
Bubble feeding is amazing! The whales dive deep where the herring are and, as they slowly ascend, release bubbles, creating a circular net, which traps the herring. When they reach the surface, their mouths are filled with the little fish. When the whales are on the surface, we could hear a deep groaning sound along with the whoosh of their breath. Unforgettable scene! Be sure to watch this incredible video of bubble feeding in action (only 2 min).
tail of humpback whale
On a different day, we were greeted by this giant fishing humpy from a very close distance. He waved at us and we noticed some sort of creature attached to his tail.

Party with the Birds

bald eagle soaring
Meet Herbie. He’s the eagle that is well known to passing fishermen. When Herbie sees your boat pause near his rocky roost, his eagle eyes are on full alert. Maybe an occasional herring will slip out of the boat!
bald eagle flies vertically
Herbie approaches our boat as if to say, “Come on guys! I wanna party too!”
bald eagle catches fish
Herbie on the take. No mistakes here.
bald eagle with prey
Thanks, guys! Yum!

A Beautiful Place to Party

awesome beauty of sea, mountains and sky
The action in the boats kept us busy and even though we fished from dawn to dusk every day, there was never a dull moment. Thankfully, there were moments between the action to pay attention to the unforgettable beauty of the area. Most mornings had fog but this day, we were gifted with a sunrise. Exquisite!
One place we often fished was a group of islands known as The Gnarlies. They drew my eye every time we were near.
The Gnarlies at sunset, with a little double exposure help.
island in the pacific
This Gnarlie island looks regal and stately to me.
Enjoying the interplay between the clouds and islands.
Our last morning at the lodge was so calm and peaceful …
… and the conditions created art on the water beside us.

Thankful …

Incredibly thankful to share a beautiful week with my son. And to be invited to the party and share it with the fish, whales, birds and such a beautiful place. And to the staff of Haa Nee Naa Lodge who do a superb job of making the week perfect. And it’s all thanks to the lowly herring!
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