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Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Via ferry or flight

 Campbell River Map
50.0094° N –125.4430° E
Accommodations

Painter’s Lodge offers a variety stay options, including ocean-view suites, garden-view lofts, and cabins in the woods. Discover the full range of Campbell River accommodations.

Salmon Tour Group

Tyee Club of British Columbia offers guide-rowed fishing tours; Painter’s Lodge provides opportunities for wildlife tours and whale watching; and Destiny River Adventures leads half-day, full-day and multi-day river rafting trips as well as river snorkeling with spawning salmon.

Author's Note

Equipped by local tour operators, the Active Junky team snorkeled with spawning salmon in the Campbell River, in addition to catch-and-release fly fishing in the same section of the river. Finally, Tyee fishing for large salmon made for a trio of fish-focused experiences this fall on Vancouver Island.

Photography

All photography was taken by Keith Ladzinski.

The City of Campbell River, British Columbia is anchored at the southern end of the coastal Inside Passage shipping route. Rolling hills lead down to the low-lying town and to sea level where small creeks penetrate deeply into the dense forest, each tributary a final destination for spawning salmon returning from years at sea.

Comox and Coast Salish people fished these rich waters for centuries, wise to the rhythms of weather and seasons. Their survival depended upon the bounty that would eventually make this the “Salmon Capital of the World.”

Snorkeling with Salmon

Five species return here to battle upstream to a spot within yards of their birthplace. While their numbers fluctuate each year, some seasons find them fin-to-fin for weeks on end. Those that return experience physical changes before spawning and dying, including a vivid color change.

Our first salmon encounter provided the privilege of watching this metamorphosis while snorkeling in the Campbell River, equipped with full wetsuits, gloves and boots. Bright flashes of green and red cut through the water, the salmon displaying their remarkable transformation.

Fly Fishing the Campbell River

Day two with the salmon led us back to that same section of the river. With barbless hooks and catch-and-release fly fishing on the agenda, our trio stood in the water with waders secured and fly tightly tied.

There in the final stretch of their journey, the relentless determination of these salmon was evident. Some floundered in the shallows, others succumbed to exhaustion, but most plowed on to their destination.

Fly Fishing
Salmon Catch
Salmon Catch

Tyee Club Fishing

The following day, a short drive from the city brought us to the celebrated Tyee Club. In a tradition gaining its name from the local tribal language, “Tyee” fishing is the hunt for salmon weighing 30 pounds or more. The word’s meaning: “The Chief” or “Great Leader.”

A $10 day fee included guide-rowed fishing tours and weighing any fish caught on approved line and tackle in hope of joining the Tyee Club — membership allowed only after meeting specific club requirements.

Departing from Painter’s Lodge, Tyee guides motored toward the official fishing grounds. Once inside the zone, oars were the only propulsion — the sounds of creaking oarlocks and whirring reels bounced across the surface.

Paddel

The End of a Journey

Dusk became sunset, and the return to shore couldn’t be delayed; guides pulled in the oars and dropped the motor to head back to the lodge.

After a three-day experience, we sat contemplating the incredible journey these salmon undertake year after year – both sad and triumphant; turbulent and peaceful. The long-heard stories of salmon migration faded away, replaced by experience and feelings of awe and admiration.

Sunset
Artwork by Andrew Steiger
Artist Andrew Steiger joined our paddling journey and interpreted his experience through his artwork: "The salmon is bold, brave, and representational of all things fearless. It endures countless battles in the ocean and some of the strongest currents of any living creature before returning to the same stream of its birth for spawning, the path of no return.” – Andrew Steiger

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