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.
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.
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.