Chinook Salmon caught at Haida Gwaii.
When you’re angling for salmon all day, the very best thing to dine on at night, if you can manage it, is of course salmon. And it would be best if the salmon you dined on were the same salmon you hooked during the day.
But it’s impossible. In the dining room where we ate--and Chef Jason was extraordinary--they’re not allowed to serve fish the anglers caught out on the water that day. The fish you caught hasn’t gone through the necessary health inspections required by the Canadian government, and the lodge is obliged to follow code.
No matter. I still ordered salmon at least twice during our four-day trip. Likely flown in from Vancouver. And it was excellent even if not caught in our boat. Besides, the dining room had three or four dishes on offer each night (steak, lamb, sablefish, etc.) and any choice you opted for would be excellent, thanks to Jason and his team. Langara Lodge, way up in the Canadian wilderness, also has its own pastry chef, believe it or not, and this pastry chef, named Donesh, does some amazing things. Not your typical fishing outpost in the woods by any means.
My father invited me to this place, Langara Fishing Lodge, and it was by a long shot the best of the dozen or so fishing trips I’d been on. Langara is a small island at the top of the Haida Gwaii island chain just off the northwest Pacific coast of Canada. On a clear day you can see the southern coast of Alaska across the water. The island chain is named for the Haida people that had lived there for centuries before Europeans arrived.
We were fishing mainly for chinook salmon, but also caught coho salmon and bottom fished a bit for halibut too.
The surroundings at Langara are beautiful: rugged uninhabited coastline, mist hanging in the endless miles of fir, bald eagles watching us from the rocks as we fished, hoping we’d toss them a fish now and then. Yes, the eagle on duty will swoop down and take a dead fish off the surface of the water--a rock fish or any other species tossed back in the ocean that wouldn’t live.
I saw humpback whales every day, and on two of my four days there a pod of fifty or so orca whales was passing through. The orcas managed to chase away or eat many of the chinook in the area, so their presence made for a mid-trip lull in the fishing--sometimes an hour would pass without a bite.
But generally the fishing was great, and I managed to pull off a coup of sorts during the second day, hooking and landing a 34.5 lb. chinook. My fish stood as the biggest caught by any of the 75 anglers there, a title that held for most of the trip. And I’d never fished salmon before.
Another challenge fishing Haida Gwaii was keeping an eye on the sea lions, who spend their days stealing fish. Our top-notch guide Layne Stewart, spotting one in the area, would usually just say: “Reel up. We’re outa here.” Sea lions, sometimes growing up to 2,200 pounds, swim round the boats waiting for an angler to hook a fish. Then, when the angler has tired the fish and gotten it near the boat, the lazy predator will close in and do its best to steal it off the hook. In one instance Layne maneuvered the fish and our boat brilliantly so as to keep one of these moochers from stealing our salmon. And yes, during one of the lulls in fishing, I penned a little “Ode to a Sea Lion” to record just how fishermen feel about these whiskered beasts. Read it if you’ve ever had sea lion blues.
Second to last day, in the dining room, we sat next to a retired Austrian gentleman who’d fished the world, mainly as a fly fisherman. We didn’t exchange names that night, but learned he’d made a career as a congress organizer and had offices in Prague, Vienna and Shanghai. We talked politics and fishing, and finally he made a friendly bet with me that on the last day he’d displace me from my title to largest salmon in the lodge. It was statistically unlikely of course.
Next day my father and I got a late start, the Austrian gentleman had gotten out much earlier, but when we came down to breakfast he was there in the dining room. Why?
“My guide has fallen ill,” he said. “He needed to come in and take a break for a couple hours. We’ll try heading out again later. It’s terrible bad luck for me if I’m to beat your fish.”
Later that afternoon, when all the anglers had returned to the lodge, I went up to the whiteboard where all the day’s notable catches are marked, and saw that someone had pulled in a 45 lb. salmon, putting me in second place. Again, it was very unlikely that the person in question would be our new Austrian friend, as there were 75 fishermen on that board.
I went into the dining room and saw him there holding a sort of poker face.
“Well,” he said offhandedly. “I did alright today.”
“Actually we never got your name last night. You are . . . ?”
It was the name I’d seen on the board.
“You bastard!” I shouted, breaking into a laugh and slapping him on the shoulder.
“Heh heh heh,” he added. “It’s the Tyrolean stamina you know. We’re not to be defeated.”
“You stole my fish!” my father complained. “That was my fish.”
Rainer had landed his winning chinook in a little stretch of water my father and I had trolled through not an hour before Rainer got there.
It was good fun. We congratulated Rainer and later that evening, during dinner, his win was announced and he was invited to dance round the dining room in a Hawaiian-themed victory dance with a troupe of staff members, dressed for the occasion in faux-Hawaiian outfits.
So at least I didn’t have to do that dance.
Langara Fishing Lodge is a brilliantly run operation. All the staff were great fun, completely on the ball, and as I’ve said, the food was extraordinary. The lodge fillets and freezes your salmon for you and boxes it in cool packs so you can take it home at the end of the trip. Having to return eventually to Taiwan, I couldn’t take that option, but I could get my salmon canned and shipped. My two best catches made for around fifty cans of salmon.
To get to Langara you first fly in by jet to a small town on the main island of Haida Gwaii, then fly by helicopter to the lodge.
Layne Stewart was the sharpest fishing guide I’ve ever fished with. A student of marine biology, he can tell you much about the tides, the whales, the salmon, and helps tweak your angling skills so as to maximize your likelihood of getting those hard-fighting chinook in the boat.
Many thanks to my father, Victor Mader, for bringing me along to one of the best salmon fisheries on the globe. He’s always praised Langara, and now I get it.