My arm is throbbing, but I can’t quit reeling. A few minutes ago my guide Jason Assonitis and I landed a double––a pair of king salmon each topping the 10-pound mark––and now I’m battling another king that may be twice that size. Mercifully, the fish quits running at the boat and instead turns 90 degrees to the right and dives deep, giving me a temporary reprieve from winding as it peels out line.
“That’s a nice fish,” Assonitis says knowingly. He’s seen more than his fair share in his 30-odd years, the majority of which have been spent guiding. The past 9 years guiding have been the most meaningful, for it was almost a decade ago that he and friend Jeff Copeland decided they had spent enough time fishing for others and would start their own operation called Bon Chovy Fishing Charters. The gamble has paid off as their reputation as one of the elite fishing charters in British Columbia has grown––a fact exemplified by the 20-pound salmon I finally manage to coax into the net.
We’re an hour boat ride from Vancouver, fishing around the famed Gulf Islands, and we’re being richly rewarded for making the run across choppy water through the Strait of Georgia. The bite is on, and we’re catching both quantity and quality. Because of the fast action we're only running two lines, one for each of us. Good thing! If we had more lines out my arm would really be dead.
In fact, I’ve fished salmon in Ireland, Alaska and on the Great Lakes, and I’ve never had action this good. And the scenery is right up there, too. I first read about the Gulf Islands in the New York Times best-seller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” The archipelago, a string of about 100 partially submerged mountain peaks between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, is shockingly unpopular.
Sure, it’s a destination people know about (Salt Spring is the largest and most popular Gulf Island, with a population of 10,000 strung across 82 miles of craggy coastline), but the islands are significantly less popular than Washington’s San Juans, while their beauty can be argued with any rival. Of the 100 or so islands, some 25 have small villages or tiny, traditional towns that use the ocean as their life source. The rest of the islands are uninhabited. As Shultz wrote in her book, “Take a kayak for a spin here and you’re more likely to bump into a seal or Dall’s porpoise than another tourist.”
On our day, which began at 7:00am on Granville Island, barely a 20-minute drive from Vancouver International Airport, we saw seals, seagulls and bald eagles. But the main thing we bumped into was king salmon, or Chinook as they’re called in Vancouver. We had our best success running Gibbs Delta Guide Series Flashers (STS, Bon Chovy, Lemon Lime) and hootchies on short leaders in 120 to 160 feet of water. We ran the Yamashita Spacklebacks and Yamashita UV double skirts, and the salmon devoured them.
As fantastic as the salmon fishing was, it may get even better throughout the summer. The Vancouver area holds resident king salmon year-round, and is where the Fraser River––one of the world’s premier salmon rivers––enters the Pacific Ocean.
“They’re predicting the largest sockeye run in history on the Fraser River this year,” Assonitis said, quoting an article that forecasts 40 to 70 million salmon will run through the Fraser in August. “The record had been set in 2010 with the largest run the river had seen in 100 years, but this summer it will more than double that record.”
Assonitis has witnessed incredible fishing in a myriad of locations. He fished commercially for years, and guided over on the West Coast of Vancouver Island for three years as well as the Queen Charlotte Island for four years before settling back in his native Vancouver.
Assonitis has also guided the band Green Day, who since invited him to one of their concerts, as well as numerous professional athletes and other celebrities. What’s refreshing, though, is that the youngster who has so quickly climbed to the top of the guiding pyramid remains humble. He gently offers me pointers on how to play the fish, asks me questions about fishing I do back home, and admits to being a bit tired from celebrating his parents’ wedding anniversary the night before (his parents have a place on Vancouver Island, but most of his family is in Vancouver).
But if you think the young guys in town look to save a few bucks with gear compared to the old-timers who already have their life’s savings built up, think again. With four premium charter boats, Bon Chovy Fishing Charters boasts some of the fastest boats in Vancouver. They regularly run a 23-foot Grady White Gulfstream, a 28-foot Grady White Sailfish, a 30-foot Grady White Marlin and a 35-foot Blackfin. They can handle corporate groups up to 50 people.
Bon Chovy Fishing Charters also has a guide devoted to sturgeon fishing on the Fraser River, where giant white sturgeon are measured in yards, not feet and inches.
The youngsters take pride in being fully insured, meeting Trasport Canada’s safety requirements and being equipped with the latest navigation, tackle and fish fishing equipment. In fact, Assonitis is even a Transport Canada certified 60-ton Master Mariner.
“When we first started, the trend was for everyone to have these big heavy boats,” Assonitis explains. “We were on the front edge of buying lighter boats designed for speed and fuel efficiency. Because our fleet is so fast it expands that window of water that we can reach, and it really opens us up to be able to access the best fishing.”
I can attest to that. Our hour run at top speeds of 45 miles per hour expanded our range and gave me the chance to tap into the best salmon fishing of my life. For a change of pace, and to target a new species I’ve often eaten but never before caught, we switched gears and fished for ling cod for an hour or two in the afternoon. We jigged off reefs and enjoyed fast action for the tasty, toothy creatures.
We also stopped at a crab pot that Assonitis set out, and I got to pull in a trap full of Dungeness crab. Turns out Assonitis takes clients there and offers them the fresh crab to take home as a special bonus for a day on the water.
In our case, we had easily over $200 worth of fresh crab. Consequently, I decided to quit my day job and move to Alaska to get a job on a crabbing ship in “Dangerous Catch.” Unfortunately––or, perhaps, fortunately––my wife vetoed the decision when I got back home, but at least now I can say I’ve done it.
To me, it’s those types of unique experiences added to the spectacular fishing that makes a day on the water with Bon Chovy Fishing Charters such a special experience. No wonder they’re Vancouver’s No. 1 rated fishing guide service on TripAdvisor, with nothing but 5-star reviews.
What’s interesting about their reviews is that they range from serious anglers to first-time fisherman. Here’s a 5-star review from a Washington, D.C. family who fished with Bon Chovy Fishing Charters for a half day before an Alaskan cruise. “We had 6 individuals, kids to grandparents and everyone had a ball. Our highlight was a 22lb King or Chinook Salmon. Jeff, our captain, was great and the boat was perfect for our family. We had never salmon fished and it was fun for everyone. We came home with plenty of salmon, which Bon Chovy cleaned and filleted for us, and took it with us to a local salmon packager. We picked up a week later, after our cruise on the way to airport, and it was perfectly packaged and currently enjoying at home. Thank you BonChovy for a great morning and unforgettable experience!”
Mr. Swanson, of Irvine, California, wrote a review about his day fishing with Bon Chovy Fishing Charters cleverly titled “Best Day of Fishing Ever.” He finished his review with this comment, which I think is very fitting: “On a scale of one to five, these guys are a 10.”
I stayed at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel for my day fishing with Bon Chovy Fishing Charters. It’s an elite hotel right at the airport, only 20 minutes from Bon Chovy’s dock. Click here for a link to The Fairmont.
For helpful info on other Vancouver activities, visit Destination BC at www.hellobc.com.
Bon Chovy Fishing Charters has an office on Granville Island, right next to the marina where they dock their boats. During our day on the water, we saw this boat towing a supply of lumber. Logging remains a major industry in British Columbia and it was cool to see this old tradition carried out.
At the very end of the day, right before we had to reel in and make the run back to the dock, I had one last strike. I set the hook on another solid king salmon, and the fight was on.
What a way to end the day!