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Fishing Hot Spots, Tips & Tactics - Port Alberni

Fishing Hot Spots, Tips & Tactics - Port Alberni

Originally christened by a Spanish military garrison back in 1789, Port Alberni is nestled on Vancouver Island, at the northern tip of Alberni Inlet, approximately 200 kilometers away from Victoria. You can access this charming town via Highways 1 and 4. A scenic route on the M.V. Lady Rose cruises through the fjord-like Inlet, spanning 27 miles to the southwest. Eventually, it spills into Barkley Sound and continues for another 15 miles before reaching Cape Beale near Bamfield.
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For years, Port Alberni was renowned for its timber and paper mills. However, it now proudly dubs itself as the 'Salmon Capital of the World,' playfully competing with Campbell River for this title. 
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Port Alberni's winter fishing scene is characterized by the calm waters of the Inlet. Surrounded by towering mountains and taking on a long, narrow form, the Inlet provides a safe and comfortable environment for fishing, with its often glassy waters. Starting at 50 feet deep near the harbor, it plunges to a depth of 1,000 feet before rising to 300 feet at its far end, beyond Haggard's Cove.
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During the summer, fishing in Port Alberni is influenced by the remarkable runs of sockeye salmon bound for Henderson and Great Central Lakes, as well as the presence of enormous 30-40 pound Robertson Creek chinook salmon.
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Port Alberni witnesses an annual cycle of runs, with all five species of salmon making appearances: chinook, coho, sockeye, and smaller numbers of chum and pink salmon. The latter four species are migratory fish, showing up as mature adults during the summer and fall as they make their way to spawn in various river basins, particularly the Henderson, Nahmint, and Somass rivers. Chinook salmon can either be resident winter fish or migratory summer fish.
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In the winter, you can find chinook salmon averaging 8-12 pounds, taking the bait like hootchies and bait at depths ranging from 80 to 150 feet during February and March in Barkley Sound. There's also a new fishery that has emerged mid-channel near China Creek, in areas with a 300-foot bottom, near prawn beds.
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Come May, the first summer chinook start appearing on the South Bank and in Barkley Sound waters, and they stick around until the end of June. Early coho fishing is centered around Effingham and Austin Islands.
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From May to September, successive runs of hundreds of thousands of sockeye salmon grace the waters, with cool spells drawing them into rivers and offering fantastic freshwater fishing experiences.
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In August and September, Robertson Creek tyee chinook return to the Inlet, providing a highly anticipated and celebrated trophy fishery. The full moon lures these fish into the harbor ledge, a 50-300-foot deep reef running from the mouth of the Somass River.
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From June to September, successive runs of coho salmon enter Barkley Sound, with these fish reaching around 15 pounds by early fall. Northern coho, averaging 8-16 pounds, make their appearance in September.
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Mid-August sees pink salmon making their way up the Alberni Inlet, while chum salmon show up in September and October, leading to popular river fishing from the shore or in drift boats. November marks the start of the first run of winter steelhead.
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As autumn progresses, fishing shifts to Barkley Sound locations for the first winter feeder chinook.
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Various lures are employed throughout the year, with bait such as anchovy and herring strips used for winter chinook, and anchovy as the preferred summer rig for chinook. Hootchies are used for sockeye, coho, and chinook, each with their respective setups. Spoons like Gibbs Wee G's are popular for sockeye, and flashers in blue, purple, or green/gold are mainstays.
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Port Alberni offers two distinct fisheries: structure-related fishing for chinook and summer fishing for all salmon species. The town boasts two distinct fishing opportunities: Barkley Sound and Alberni Inlet. It's worth noting that a convection wind may push north towards Port Alberni in the afternoon, making it a following wind for returning boaters.
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Barkley Sound opportunities are detailed in the "Hot Spots, Tips & Tactics - Bamfield" article, with winter fishing focused on Toquart, Main, and Vernon Bays, which are about an hour and ten minutes away by boat from Port Alberni.
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Alberni Inlet, like Saanich Inlet in Victoria, is a long, deep fjord with minimal tidal flow, typically calm at its northern end. Steep mountain slopes descend hundreds of feet underwater, and most summer salmon runs occur in the top 100 feet of the water column. Consequently, fishing is concentrated in mid-channel waters with little regard for underwater structure. Winter chinook fishing centers on depths of 100-150 feet in mid-channel off China Creek and closer in near Franklin River.
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The summer sockeye run in Alberni Inlet is robust, supporting commercial, native, and sports fisheries. Similar to other sockeye fisheries, adding extra flashers to downriggers and fishing at depths ranging from 45-65 feet (which may deepen to 100 feet as summer progresses) is common practice. Interestingly, sockeye often appear deeper on depth sounders than their fishing depth, and they rarely feed when deeper or when jumping.
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Summer chinook fishing mainly targets the ledge, running 50-300 feet deep from Port Alberni harbor. It's advisable to fish during the ebb of a major high tide, with chinook often positioned below the ledge. Downrigger depths are typically set at 80-100 feet, and a pink hootchie (with more ultraviolet than other colors) is the preferred lure due to the darker water. Bait and spoons also yield success in landing substantial derby-winning chinook.
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The harbor pool consistently produces late-summer chinook, to the extent that local anglers are considering establishing a special spoon and plug fishery, carrying on the tradition of the Campbell River Tyee Pool.

 

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