NuCanoe Frontier owners Jeff and Erika Holmes travel the Pacific Northwest in their spare time, writing about and photographing year-round travels in the outdoors. Jeff (a NuCanoe Pro-Staff member) is lead writer for Northwest Sportsman magazine as well as a contributor for Field and Stream, Salmon and Steelhead Journal and other publications. Erika is a professional technical and scientific writer and an avid outdoorswoman who also writes and appears regularly in Northwest Sportsman and elsewhere.
Vancouver Island’s Esperanza Inlet, accessed via Tahsis, British Columbia.
Our paddles finally began moving together in practiced rhythm as we powered our NuCanoe Frontier kayaks on phosphorescent water with the full moon’s glow at our backs, nearing our destination. Human lights came into view, two hours later than our stated return to Rodgers Fishing Lodge on Vancouver Island’s stunning west coast. Here it stays light out until almost 11 pm in mid-June, and we’d lost track of time reveling in the beauty and solitude of kayaking in protected waters an hour from the nearest port.
It’s easy to have fishing kayaks shuttled into Rodgers and other Vancouver Island Lodges that are set in protected water close to the ocean, and the trip is very manageable for Inland Northwesterners is worthy of a destination trip for adventurous On this trip we’d spend our mornings and early afternoons on a 29’ fishing boat upon the heaving sea. We’d spend our evenings and parts of our nights, however, in our 12’ Frontiers, catching rockfish and small ling cod occasionally but mostly just paddling and hiking around. In three nights of paddling, we’d see more sea otters and bears than people in three nights of paddling.
Some locals had told us about a remote logging landing in a fjord off of Vancouver Island’s Esperanza Inlet, close to the open ocean, a very easy paddle from our fish camp. We’d arrived at that landing from the lodge earlier that evening, and had watched two black bears crunch oysters and mussels at low tide on the way. With our kayaks tied to the landing’s dock, we’d spent the evening hiking logging trails that offered stunning scenery and bird watching, as well as all-important passage through the island’s nearly impenetrably lush and thorny vegetation.
After returning to the landing from a four-mile walk, our plans for a fire had been shredded like the foil packet containing china rockfish fillets, butter, citrus, and salt and pepper we’d left behind at the logging landing. A black bear had paid us a visit. We always carry our Counter Assault bear spray, a must for sportsmen and hikers on Vancouver Island or anywhere predators are numerous and known to be aggressive, and ours were at the ready. Just on our short walk, we saw scores of piles of fresh bear scat and half as many piles of old wolf dung, maybe cougar.
Vancouver Island is resplendent with predators – especially with large, coal-black black bears and an occasionally-aggressive cougar population. The island is also home to many wolf packs, including one reported to epicenter its activity in the area. In the nearest port, Tahsis, locals told us of seeing wolves in town on rare occasions, and of a steady stream of cougars, black bears, and missing pets. Super-abundant bald eagles account for lots of cat snatchings here, even dog snatchings, as evidenced by a disabled pug we met on a previous trip to the northern tip of the Island. The owners of the acclaimed Orange Tabby B&B (URL) in Port Hardy take their eagle-wounded pug for daily stroller walks.
Meanwhile in Tahsis, the owner of the highly rated Nootka Gold B&B kept her small corgi within feet of her at all times. Her B&B is a beautiful place to stay in a town of sparse accommodations. They yard borders the forest and has played host to a number of wandering critters, so she, like any sensible person doesn’t leave food or pets lying about.
It was dumb and irresponsible for us (Jeff insisted it’s be fine…) to leave that fish where the bears could get it, although it was clear that the landing is a place where trash is sometimes stored – and burned – by fishermen, loggers, and various commercial enterprises in Esperanza Inlet. We at least didn’t habituate this bear to human food, just provided its fix of fat and fish.
Early in our return paddle to the lodge, we worked off our wine and snacks the bears didn’t get by stroking powerfully against the tide in our Frontiers. We made ground against its pull as a full moon rose behind us above the peaks of Stratchcona Provincial Park. To make paddling easier, we tucked in against a small island whose shoreline led toward the lodge at the heavily forested island’s far end. Now, picking our way along the rocky backside of the small island with the lodge’s lights in sight and the moon behind us and phosphorescence in the water, the tide turned with us and sped us along. We paddled swiftly until we were within the lodge’s breakwater.
Kayak-friendly Rodgers Fishing Lodge had gladly hauled our Frontiers from Tahsis to their lodge the day before. Many stay in Tahsis and run to the fishing grounds from town daily, but there’s no getting closer to the best fishing in Esperanza Inlet than at Rodgers. The open ocean is just fewer than 10 minutes away from the remote floating lodge, and vast paddling and kayak fishing opportunities exist both offshore and in protected water.
Earlier in the evening, Jeff caught several quillback and vermillion rockfish jigging from his Frontier, and the next day we’d do even better, landing a ling cod and larger rockfish. We also fished from boats in the open ocean for salmon, halibut, and ling cod on this trip, and on a planned return adventure, we’ll catch rides with a mothership boat to access some of the most stunning and untapped kayak fishing opportunities on the West Coast.
There are vast options for guided and do-it-yourself paddling adventures in fresh and saltwater all over Vancouver Island. We’ve made trips to its remote west coast many times, but this was our first with kayaks. Ironically, Vancouver Island is world-famous for its kayaking, but despite the excellent fishing, very little kayak angling takes place. That’s our cue to keep coming back in our NuCanoes. Halibut, salmon, lingcod and rockfish are all available in protected water here in Esperanza Inlet and in nearby Nootka Sound, and in the open ocean during calm conditions.
Upon our return to the lodge that first night, we silently slid our boats up onto Rodgers deck to avoid detection, only to see the lodge lights go out. The owner’s wife, Pam, saw that we had pulled up to the kayak-friendly dock – well after midnight. Oops. We won’t make Pam worry or stay up late again, but we will be returning to Rodgers Lodge in summer 2015 with kayaks. We hope to land salmon and halibut from our Frontiers on that trip, along with fishing offshore from proper-sized ocean fishing boats. Rodgers’ fleet of 23 to 29-foot offshore boats with new twin outboards provide safe and fast travel to and from remote fishing grounds.
This trip to Rodgers this summer was our first-ever major kayaking trip and our first-ever night of paddling our Frontiers in saltwater. In fact it was only our second week of kayak ownership. Still, we felt very comfortable and stable in these boats, which we got specifically for their utility and safety. They’re tough, steady, easy to move around, and able to accommodate a tremendous amount of camping, fishing, and hunting gear – even our English setters!
Paddling the Frontier is easy despite its wide beam from being built as utility boats. We travel miles in ours regularly using only paddles, but for fishing utility, we’ll be adding a bow-mount Minn-Kota Terrova to Jeff’s and, by request, a transom-mount for Erika. Our Frontiers’ handy Slide-Mount is already outfitted with Humminbird 385 di and RAM Mounts rod holders, bait boards, and cup holders. A nice balance of useful accessories – but not too many – greatly enhances the fishability of our Frontiers. We’ve had them for three months, and the only times they’ve come off the top of our Toyota Tundra since we bought them is when they’ve been in use or on loan. And we use them – a lot.