19 Jan Guide Profile Curtis Smith
Full timing it in Campbell River BC is Curtis Smith. Curtis owns and operates Coastal Wilderness Adventures, running saltwater charters year-round and wadering up for freshwater guiding on the north and central Island. Here’s his take on living the guide life, steelhead troubles on the Gold, DFO chinook policies, raising two boys and the changes he’s seen in 20 years of guiding.
Our latest guide profile starts now…
CAN YOU GIVE EVERYONE A RUNDOWN OF THE FISHING YOU DO ON VANCOUVER ISLAND?
Definitely we’re a year round fishing spot with fairly mild weather, but I’d say our huge focus is March through October. This is when there’s prime salmon migrations, Spring trout action and Winter and Summer Steelhead. We don’t offer anything in November and then start rocking some prawn and winter Chinook salmon trips in December, January and February. It’s colder and more volatile on the weather front but still some great fishing to be had, just not a huge draw for the clientele due to weather mostly, but we get out when we can and have the die hards.
The Summer months offer the most consistent salmon fishing in Campbell River and Fall is always a fun month with good local river fishing. This is always our busiest time of year, but I love it, weather is always nice and we can have some pretty crazy fishing for sure.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT CAMPBELL RIVER YOU LIKE FOR RUNNING YOUR OPERATION?
I like that is has everything for all types of clients. The biggest factor being calm water. Families, seniors and just anyone that doesn’t want to get beat up while fishing loves this place. We get all 5 species of salmon consistently also, which is something not a lot of other BC salmon fishing destinations can say. Having the flexibility to chase big chinook salmon all the way down to small pinks on spinning tackle really helps to offer something for everyone. It’s pretty darn nice weather also, shorts and flip-flops fishing that makes some north coast guides jealous!
WHAT CONSERVATION ISSUES ARE FOREFRONT FOR YOU AT THE MOMENT?
Unfortunately with these wild creatures and the endless variables that affect their lives there seems to always be some run, some species somewhere on the coast that is in need of some help or conservation measures. Two of the big factors at play are our coastal steelhead and some runs of salmon. To speak to just my area, starting with Vancouver Island steelhead, there has been challenges. One of the most famous rivers on Vancouver Island for winter steelhead, the Gold River, has taken a drastic decline in recent years, sparking a full closure.
It’s been a tough one and a big mystery on the most part. There’s unproven theories, and studies being done, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can’t currently fish our beloved river anymore. The puzzling part is that virtually every other steelhead river on Vancouver Island is following a pattern of cyclical highs and lows, where the Gold River is not. This is what sparked the closure as it’s out of the norm. I wouldn’t say all the other steelhead rivers are in peril but they are not in high runs size years either. We’re all hoping with good science that some resolve can happen.
Moving into salmon, the forefront of Campbell River talk and South Coast talk for that matter is the Interior Fraser River Chinook. It’s become a hot bed of conversations, political and media hype, and unfortunately truly low numbers of fish for a few particular tributaries. However, what’s got this topic so hot is that it’s a VERY small fraction of what the sport fishing community catches in the chinook salmon realm on the ocean. For example DFO science showed that 0.8% of Interior Fraser Chinook were caught by sport fishers on the entire east Vancouver Island travel corridor to the Fraser River.
However in this day and age, political pandering to a generally uninformed public, created by ENGO untruth sparked a storm of controversy and pressure. That coupled with our current governments drive to appease First Nations demands, ignoring all DFO Science has created some big challenges.
We’re hoping for some progress for 2020, with some level headed and science based decisions. It’s unfortunate that this one run and one topic has overshadowed some massive highlights as well for 2019 with many of Vancouver Island rivers and lower Fraser Rivers hitting record high or decade high chinook salmon returns. That’s news worthy for sure. Salmon are creatures that bounce back quickly as over the course of DFO data collection history there has always been ups and downs in rivers, regions and species and as sport fishers we are well aware of this for sure.
At this time there is the most amount of volunteers, foundations and initiatives to help wild salmon coming from the sport sector. We’re a group that really cares about our wild salmon.
WHAT CHANGES IN SALTWATER FISHING HAVE YOU SEEN IN THE PAST TEN YEARS?
As noted above the year to year changes and cycles of up and down runs is nothing new and mostly just the norm. Two very big noticeable factors though are the increase in herring in the upper Georgia Straight and the return of humpback whales. I would say it’s probably been about 8-10 years where we really started to notice that the needle fish that were somewhat common, started to give way to a massive resurgence of herring. Each year with an increase over the last until about 4-5 years ago when it seemed to peak with astronomical clouds of herring and a lot of it averaging 8-11 inches!
And with that same time frame of about 4-5 years ago we started seeing humpback whales showing up in the area. These whales hadn’t been seen in 30 years! Then year over year the increase in their numbers with I believe somewhere around 25 last year made upper Georgia straight their home for about 7-8 months. This is absolutely outstanding! Shows the health of our Georgia Straight when that much feed and that many whales make such a large come back. Our local whale watching companies and whale researches have told us that primarily they are feeding on krill here, which would make sense why the herring have come back so well. The bottom of the food chain up!
WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE YOUR KIDS TO GET INTO THE FISHING BIZ?
This is a tough one for sure. I’m starting my 20th year guiding and love it beyond words. Fishing in the blood, sharing moments with so many people from all over the world and playing outside in a place that the world regards as a paradise, is just amazing. However the politics can wear one down. The current political climate of Canada scares me with all resource based industries being attacked daily.
Fishing, Hunting, Oil, Logging…..doesn’t matter. I think until there is a greater understanding in the public of what Canadian resources are and how they are managed, I’d have a tough time wanting my kids to be a part of this. Nobody in any of these industries I believe goes to work thinking “How can we ruin this resource today”, but that seems to be how all of us are demonized in all these industries.
I’m personally hoping for a shift in mentality in this country where we encourage, work together and focus on doing things better, more innovative, green etc in each of these industries without negative bashing, and economic destruction. Killing Canadian resource industries and ultimately the prosperity of all Canadians is hard to watch and at this point within the sport fishing realm scares me to have my young boys follow in my footsteps.
SALTWATER SALMON GEAR YOU DON’T LEAVE THE DOCK WITHOUT?
I would say primarily Tomic plugs. With that huge resurgence of Herring the plug is hands down the lure of choice for most of the season. Of course that’s chasing Chinook, which is what we’re doing a lot of the season. Certain areas of Campbell River are migratory moving fish vs the heavily feeding fish of upper Georgia straight, so in those areas we move to some hootchies and anchovy in teaser heads.
ANY TIPS ON WINTER STEELHEAD FISHING ON VANCOUVER ISLAND?
Patience! Our prime runs, and focus is winter Steelhead and they behave nothing like a summer run! Work every inch of a good run and don’t be discouraged by slim results. Winter fish will move to gear nothing like a summer run, so you’ve got to be perfect with your presentation and persistent to cover every inch of a pool. Telling your buddies you caught a winter Steelhead will trump any summer run fish…….ever!
HARDEST PART ABOUT BEING AN INDEPENDENT OPERATOR?
The hours I put in. To make things runs smooth and be successful it’s long hours and borderline anal organization. 5am to 7pm is a standard day for about 150-200 days straight. That is the number one challenge.
IF PEOPLE WANT TO COME FISHING WITH YOU THIS YEAR, WHAT SHOULD THEY KNOW?
Couple of things, we always get emails asking if it’s too early to book a charter. The answer is always no, we’re super busy and welcome almost all repeat clients between myself and my guides, so contacting us early for a booking is always a good idea. Prime booking season is December through May and often mostly filled by the latter part.
And the second thing, and really relevant this year and last. Even when it was catch and release for Chinook from mid April till mid July last year our guests still loved it! We’re pretty focused on getting good pictures for our clients as everyone wants to brag of course. Not one of my guests has ever brought their friend to their freezer to brag…..it’s always the pictures. No matter if we can keep or catch and release, what we do this for is always there.
The thrill of catching one and honestly last year was the best we’ve ever seen! Having really strong runs of chinook that we do intercept, coupled with that fact nobody could keep them made it off the charts fishing. Never seen before daily numbers in my 20 year career. That’s pretty special, regardless of the silly way government implemented the catch and release.
KEEP UP WITH CURTIS…
About the Author
Yos Gladstone is the owner operator of Chromer Sport Fishing, a guiding company and booking agency based in British Columbia, Canada. A full-time salmon & steelhead guide, Yos spends 200+ days a year on the water fishing, guiding and hosting trips.