Tony Capecchi

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Since age 18, Tony Capecchi has been chronicling his worldwide travel and outdoor adventures for national magazines, including In-Fisherman and North American Hunter. He has co-hosted “Live Outdoors” on CBS Radio, produced television for NBC and worked on The History Channel’s hit series “MonsterQuest.”

Posts about Recreation

Adventure in The Great Bear Rainforest

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: June 29, 2014 - 9:21 PM

Editor’s Note: The author visited Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, a second-generation family-run lodge in northern British Columbia. This article is the fourth of a four-part series on Nimmo Bay. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the adventure. 

My love affair with Canada began with a high school graduation gift from my old man: a week-long, father-son fishing trip. We bunked in a rundown resort in the woods of Ontario. Wind and rain besieged the camp, and daily thunderstorms forced us off the lake back into our knotty pine cabin, which housed a pair of field mice. In the black of night, a wind gust blew open the cabin door and in our semi-awake state we shoved a dresser in front of the door to prevent it from blowing open again and letting even more rainwater pour in. 

I loved every minute of it. 

Since that stormy initiation, the Canadian wilderness has beckoned me back annually, if not two or three times a year. From the East Coast to the West, I have laid to rest in everything from sleeping bags on rocky islands to five-star accommodations in plush fly-ins. 

This May, a decade and a half after that first fishing trip, my love affair with the Canadian wilderness culminated with an incredible adventure: a week of ocean kayaking, mountain hiking, and heli-fishing at the incomparable Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort in the Great Bear Rainforest. 

The resort, recently featured in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” consists of nine cabins built on stilts on a tidal, fjord-like bay just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage, and is accessible only by helicopter and sea plane. From this pocket of luxury, guests have access to over 50,000 square miles of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year old glaciers, mountain tops, old-growth rainforests, remote islands, white sand beaches, hot springs, a 5,000-foot waterfall and over 50 pristine rivers and streams––the majority of which can only be reached by Nimmo Bay helicopters.

I was lucky enough to experience a day of heli-hiking and heli-fishing in the mountains during my second day at Nimmo Bay. This adventure gave me the chance to soar into grizzly bear country, terrain above the clouds that is otherwise off-limits. I can’t count how many glacial waterfalls we hovered along in our helicopter, but that remarkable day provided more than enough material for an article in and of itself.

So, too, did my first and third days at Nimmo Bay, the former of which I spent ocean kayaking, paddle boarding and bear-watching, and the latter of which I visited an old village on the water to see a hearty breed of people who stake their homes in the wild. 

Each day also consisted of evening bonfires on a floating dock, nightly soaks in an outdoor cedar hot tub at the base of a waterfall, and over-the-top, spectacular food––cuisine ranging from fresh Dungeness crab to locally caught halibut.

As grand as the operation is today, it all began with one man’s dream over 20 years ago to run a fishing lodge with his wife and kids. “I wanted to make a living doing something where I could be with my family,” explained Vancouver Island local Craig Murray, who started the lodge in 1980 after purchasing an old float house near Port Hardy and towing it by barge to Nimmo’s current location. “Not a lot of jobs out here at the time other than logging and commercial fishing and those would require me to leave my wife and kids behind and travel to wherever there’s work.”

And so, at 34, Murray decided to follow his dream and start Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort with his wife and sons, age 3 and 1. 

“There are 150 million things that can go wrong, and most of them did at some time or another, but we managed,” said Craig. “We had no options––we had to make it work, even when the bank would say, ‘Sorry, no more money.’” 

The resort initially focused just on fishing, and gradually grew from accommodating eight guests to its current capacity of 18. For nine months of the year, the eco-friendly operation is powered by electricity generated from the waterfall. A hydroxyl waste management system converts all the camp’s waste-water into to bacteria-free, clear water that can be released back into nature. Nimmo Bay has always led the way with sustainability and consciously minimizes its carbon footprint. 

“There are too many things in this world that are not sustainable, too many people that aren’t thinking about that,” Murray said. “Right from the get-go we had a catch-and-release only fishery, so we never killed any fish at all. We have the purest, sweetest drinking water coming down from Mount Stevens. We did all the stuff you can possibly do to be green right from Day 1 because we know how fortunate we are to live in this pristine environment.”

Over the years, visitors from all over the world have taken note of the pristine environment as well. Nimmo Bay boasts a 76 percent return rate. It is consistently rated as one of the elite wilderness resorts in the world. The secret behind it all is simple, according to Murray, who in his early years visited his guests at their homes to study their behavior and preferences in order to optimize their future Nimmo Bay experiences. 
 
“There are three reasons for our success at Nimmo Bay: humor, music and detail,” Murray said. 
“Music is the universal language, and it’s all around us in nature,” Murray said. “If more people got involved with making music it’d be a happier place.” 

His own children have taken the advice to heart. Murray’s middle child, Clifton, serves as an international ambassador for the resort while traveling with his popular band, The Tenors. Murray’s youngest child, Georgia, works full-time at the resort by day and is a professional singer by night. Guitars, sing-a-longs and karaoke are common at Nimmo Bay. 

Murray’s oldest, Fraser, now runs the resort along with his wife, his cousin and his sister Georgia. “My dad has taught me so much,” says Fraser, who became a father himself earlier this winter. “He was there when I caught my first fish, and he also had me washing dishes and cleaning toilets at a very young age.”

Fraser and his generation of Murrays were the driving force in expanding Nimmo Bay’s offerings to include a wider breadth of activities beyond fishing, such as heli-hiking, whale watching, whitewater rafting and glacier trekking.   

“We have all dedicated so much of our lives to Nimmo Bay that it is hard to separate life from work,” Fraser admitted. “Dad taught me the value of a long, hard day’s work and to never give up on something you believe in. I would say the only thing that was ever bigger than Nimmo Bay in our lives was our family, and this is true to this day.”

The result of Fraser and his family’s tireless devotion to Nimmo Bay is frequent recognition as one of the top wilderness resorts in the world. But the true reward for Fraser is much greater: friendship with guests from all over, and the unequaled satisfaction of waking up each morning in paradise to share your passion with others. 

During my stay, I made friends not only with Fraser and the staff, but also the other guests at Nimmo Bay: a delightful couple from London, and a Vancouver woman who was lovely inside and out. 

“Nimmo Bay is a resort with a soul,” said Jeneen Southerland, who was visiting Nimmo for the first time and plans to return. “This whole experience is rejuvenating. The Murrays are such an incredible family, and it’s amazing to think how they have created this place in the wilderness for others to enjoy.” 

Indeed, it is remarkable. 

In the past decade, I’ve been deliberate and dogged in my pursuit of the planet’s most beautiful vistas. Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Alaska. The Cliffs of Moher. Coronado Island. The crown jewel of Hawaii’s Kauai Island, the Na’Pali Coast. The mystical Isle of Skye, a ferry ride beyond the farthest reaches of the Scottish highlands. The island of Capri, where fabled sirens once sang to sailors in Homer’s The Odyssey. 

I realize it is a serious understatement to say I’ve been fortunate with the sights I have seen. I list these destinations not to boast, but purely for reference––for of all the places I have been, I have never before communed with wilderness beauty the way I did at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. 

The website for Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is www.nimmobay.com. For more information on Nimmo Bay, call 1.800.837.4354 or email heli@nimmobay.com.  

For more information on this region and other parts of British Columbia, visit HelloBC.com

My new friends Peter and Jo, from London, graciously let me join them in the early mornings for bear-watching expeditions led by our Chilean guide, Francisco. We all agreed that seeing a bear in a setting like this is purely a bonus––simply being out in the wilderness watching the fog rise up into the mountains is its own thrill.

 Above I am pictured searching for bears; below is a video I took of a large bear we got to watch for over 35 minutes from a fairly close distance. We also saw a mother bear with her cub, several other massive adults (larger than the one in this video) and one bear while paddling on a stand-up paddle board. 

My words are quite inadequate in describing Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, but this video shows what the experience is all about.

A Village on the Water

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: June 22, 2014 - 9:17 PM

Editor’s Note: The author visited Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, a second-generation family-run lodge in northern British Columbia. This article is the third of a four-part series on Nimmo Bay. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the adventure. 

Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort: Day 3

Thursday, May 22, 3:56pm

Survivor shows and wilderness-based reality TV have brought to the forefront the intriguing question that has often populated people’s minds since the Industrial Revolution took hold and humans became, by and large, city dwellers living with modern conveniences: What is it like to live in the middle of the wilderness? 

With wild animals as your neighbors, Mother Nature as your provider, and personal instincts and intelligence as your primary survival tools, life in the wilderness is beyond my true comprehension. My trip to Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort did not give me insight into the rough-and-tough survival aspect––with gourmet chefs, a wonderful masseuse and 5-star accommodations, it has been named one of the top luxury wilderness resorts in the world––but it did offer a glimpse into the “living in the middle of nowhere” aspect. 

Nimmo Bay’s enclave of cabins, built on stilts on a fjord-like bay just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage, is only accessible by helicopter or float plane. The resort clings to the base of Mount Stephens and offers guests over 50,000 square miles of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year old glaciers, mountain tops, old-growth rainforests, remote islands, white sand beaches, hot springs, a 5,000-foot waterfall and over 50 pristine rivers and streams––the majority of which can only be reached by Nimmo Bay helicopters.

As grand as the operation is today, it all began with one man’s dream over 20 years ago to run a fishing lodge with his wife and kids. “I wanted to make a living doing something where I could be with my family,” explained Vancouver Island local Craig Murray, who started the lodge in 1980 after purchasing an old float house near Port Hardy and towing it by barge to Nimmo’s current location. “Not a lot of jobs out here at the time other than logging and commercial fishing and those would require me to leave my wife and kids behind and travel to wherever there’s work.”

And so, at 34, Murray decided to follow his dream and start Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort with his wife and sons, age 3 and 1. 

“There are 150 million things that can go wrong, and most of them did at some time or another, but we managed,” said Craig. “We had no options––we had to make it work, even when the bank would say, ‘Sorry, no more money.’” 

Things have certainly worked out since then, as Nimmo Bay has become famous world-wide and Craig’s oldest son, Fraser, has taken the reigns. Fraser and his wife, Becky, along with his younger sister, Georgia, and cousin, Jenny, have transformed Nimmo Bay from a fishing lodge to a more diverse operation also offering eco-adventures such as whitewater rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, glacier trekking, bear- and whale-watching excursions and hiking.

“We are so lucky to be carrying on our mom and dad's legacy and putting our own stamp on it," said Georgia, who is also a rising star in the music industry. "It is very special to be a part of a family business."

On Day 1 at Nimmo Bay I enjoyed kayaking, paddle boarding and bear watching. Day 2 landed me on Nimmo Bay’s quintessential adventure: a remarkable day of heli-hiking and heli-fishing in the mountains. Today, Day 3, gave me an opportunity to see a bit closer what life is like for the handful of hearty people who make this part of the world their home. 

Fraser took my fellow guests and me on a day-long boat tour, traveling to see a tiny village built entirely on floating docks in a bay way beyond the far reaches of civilization.

The majority of the town's population only comes during the summer months, but a handful of residents live there year-round. The town conists of a general store, a library and one restaurant (which has been voted Best Restaurant in Town four years in a row).

Sullivan Bay also sports its own golf course, located at the far end of the dock, with a floating hole anchored in the ocean offering perhaps golf's most unique hole-in-one opportunity. 

After touring Sullivan Bay, we dropped a few crab traps and boated along several waterfalls and rapids. The vast beauty of Nimmo Bay’s surroundings cannot be captured by camera, in large part because you lose the sheer scale and immensity of it all. Nonetheless, this video shows a small glimpse of the scenery we enjoyed as we zipped away from Sullivan Bay.

Our next stop after Sullivan Bay was Billy’s Museum. Billy Proctor lives in his own section of the world, in Echo Bay some miles away from Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. He built and runs a museum with thousands of artifacts collected from the region. 

When I saw this old man gingerly walking down to greet us as we pulled up to the dock I immediately thought I would like him. As soon as he started talking, it confirmed my suspicion. “The other day some old fart came to visit, and he was walking real slow out of his boat, so I asked him if he needed a hand,” Billy told me during our visit. “The guy said, ‘No, I’m just waiting for my dad.’”

Billy is full of fantastic stories; I could listen to him talk all day long. It is terribly cliché of me to say this, but he reminded me of the Native American father, Chingachgook, in “Last of the Mohicans.” When Billy talks about the old days, you can’t help but think, “Wow, this guy is the last of his kind.” He will take a tremendous amount of history with him when he goes, and in the meantime he is doing what he can to share what he knows. 

He has published a book, “Full Moon Flood Tide,” about the rich stories of his fellow pioneers and former neighbors in the region––the majority of whom have either passed away or since moved back to civilization. 

“Billy is a special guy,” said Fraser, who teases back-and-forth with Billy like a grandfather. “He has an amazing sense of the history of this place.”

Billy has collected thousands of various items, including arrowheads and crude knives that date back to 5,000 BC. He also has a 1910 mimeograph machine from Minstrel Island, Chinese opium bottles, bone fish hooks, a crank telephone Chinese opium bottles, old tools and engine plates, a scale from the old Simoom Sound post office and thousands of artifacts from the coast.

“Some stuff I just find when I’m looking around,” he explained. “Some stuff people come and give to me. Nowadays people don’t like to give their things away, they like to keep them for themselves, and that’s OK, too, I suppose.”  

A guy like Billy Proctor has wisdom that you can only gain with years of experience. I am grateful I had the opportunity to meet him, and that Fraser and his family at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort make experiences like this possible. 

The sheer beauty of this wilderness in staggering––indeed, it is more than enough to attract the folks from all over the world whom come to Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort year after year. But the region’s history adds a layer of richness that Fraser and his family hold dear to their heart, and share graciously and respectfully with their guests.    

The website for Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is www.nimmobay.com. For more information on Nimmo Bay, call 1.800.837.4354 or email heli@nimmobay.com.  

For more information on this region and other parts of British Columbia, visit HelloBC.com

Photo Essay: Surf & Sand Resort

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: July 5, 2014 - 10:57 PM

You could call my wife and me Midwestern folk, a vague description that calls to mind winter parkas, hot dishes and Minnesota accents heard in the movie Fargo, don’t ya’ know? All of which would seem to be the polar opposite of the image that surfaces when you think Laguna Beach. Yet this past February, during a historically cold Minnesota winter of polar vortexes, my wife and I fled the land of 10,000 frozen lakes to bask in the sunshine of San Diego and its neighbor to north: Laguna Beach. 

While we may not have fit in, per se, with the Real Orange County crowd of MTV fame, we quickly fell in love with the seaside city. Some of that, of course, had to do with the weather––70 and sunny year-round with the ocean calling your name is pretty darn nice––but most of it was due to the people we met and the gem of a hotel we stayed at: Surf & Sand Resort

The 167 room resort was recently renovated in 2012 to the tune of $30 million, and sports a fantastic pool, an award-winning spa and too-cool-for-school indoor and outdoor restaurants with fantastic fire pits and chic decorations. 

But the best part, without a doubt, is the magnificent view. 

“Many SoCal resorts have ocean views, but we are one of the very few that are literally right on the sand,” said Joanna Bear, Resort Manager. “Our joke is that ‘our biggest asset is our loudest asset.’ With a location right on the sand, guests expect to hear crashing waves, and we deliver that. But we also place earplugs in guestrooms for any sleeping issues guests may have.” 

Indeed, my wife and I were blown away by the fact that our fifth-floor balcony room was literally right on the ocean. We couldn’t get over the fact that we had to raise our voices to hear each other over the roaring waves when we were sitting just feet apart from each other on our private balcony. I absolutely loved that! It is strangely relaxing and energizing at the same time.

The sheer magnitude of the ocean made me feel insignificant, reminding me I am a small part of a big universe, yet the impeccable service and exclusive views we enjoyed made this Midwestern couple with our Minnesota modesty suddenly feel very important in Laguna Beach. I can definitely see why guests flock to Surf & Sand Resort from all over the world, including countries such as Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Brazil.  

“We have many guests returning year after year with generations of their families or to celebrate special moments––like their on-site weddings or their honeymoon location,” Bear said. “One couple in particular spent their honeymoon with us in 1969 and have stayed in a suite every year since then to celebrate. We always try to send them a special bottle of champagne or other sweet token of our appreciation.  We most recently had a photograph of their first Surf & Sand trip framed––a surprise waiting for them in their suite upon their arrival.”

We actually saw a bridge and groom taking photos during our stay at Surf & Sand. Some 80 to 100 couples each year get married at the resort, which boasts 180 degree views of the Pacific for spectacular panoramic wedding photos. With 280 staff members in total, the resort has experienced personnel on-hand for weddings, and can handle receptions from 50 to 180 guests. 
 

People ranging from your Average Joe to the rich and famous have gotten married at Surf & Sand, though the resort respectfully declines to name names. “Surf & Sand offers a classic experience—timeless and genuine,” Bear said. “The property is understatedly elegant and chic, yet approachable.”

Another perk to Surf & Sand Resort is that it’s less than 10 minutes away from Dana Point. My wife and I met a good friend of ours at Dana Point to go on a whale watching tour with Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari during one of our days at the hotel. Capt. Dave is one of North America’s most renowned whale experts, and has published books and documentaries; he’s also appeared on ABC, NBC and CBS television. 

Our 3-hour tour was phenomenal; in fact, it was the best whale watching I’ve ever experienced. Not only did we see over half a dozen migrating gray whales at close range, we also saw hundreds of dolphins and got to both see and hear them “face-to-face” in Capt. Dave’s cutting edge boat, the Manute’a, with its exclusive Eye-to-Eye Underwater Viewing Pods.

During our long weekend at Surf & Sand Resort (before then heading down to San Diego for a fabulous week of sailing, fishing, sight-seeing, feeding giraffes and rhinos at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and, of course, more beaches), we saw kids, couples and grandparents. “Our clientele includes multiple families that have made this resort their second home for generations,” Bear said. 

As a couple from the frozen tundra of Minnesota, we could certainly see why people would fall in love with the real Laguna Beach. And it doesn’t take long. We arrived to the hotel at dusk our first evening, went up to our room’s private balcony and before even unpacking one bag, enjoyed this spectacular sunset. 

The website for Surf & Sand Resort is www.surfandsandresort.com. To contact the hotel for more information, call 877.741.5908 or click here

Surf & Sand Resort is one of the only hotels in Laguna Beach that is literally on the sand with direct beach access. All we had to do was take the elevator to the ground level, step outside, and we were on the beach. I loved swimming in the ocean there. My wife took these photos of me from our balcony. 

Directly from Surf & Sand Resort’s beach, there is fantastic hiking along the shore in either direction. Each morning we woke early and hiked along the powerful Pacific Ocean. Below are a few photos and videos we took along the way.
 

Questions from the Land of Oz

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: June 17, 2014 - 10:16 PM

The picture prompts unanswered questions. Who was that woman? Was it a special trip––a farewell outing or a last hoorah? Was it the daughter’s first time to the ocean? The mother’s last? Did they live nearby, or did they come from far away to play on the beach?

“Look at that,” I said to my wife as we sat in front of the Hotel Del Coronado. “That mom and her kid are perfectly framed by the sunset.” 

There are few sounds sweeter in life than the giddy laughter of a child. The splashing waves, cool against the evening air, tickled this girl to no end. Perhaps because it was Valentine’s week, or perhaps because my wife and I are expecting our first child, but for whatever reason the scene of the mother dancing with her daughter in the ocean captivated us. 

I snapped the photo, and Jodie made a suggestion. “You should almost, maybe, see if they want us to email them the picture.” 

The idea sounded silly, at first––after all, we were complete strangers. But then I thought, maybe if Jodie came with me so they saw I was married, and normal, we could introduce ourselves and explain how we happened to take the photo. Get her email address and send her the photo when I got back home. We hemmed and hawed, then decided we would try it. It could be a great keepsake for the mom, we reasoned; how often do you have a picture-perfect postcard capturing a magic moment of you and your child silhouetted against the sunset?

Before we approached the mother we watched the rest of the sunset and snapped a few photos of ourselves, one with the ocean as our backdrop and one with the hotel’s signature panorama in the background. Satisfied with our photos, we then turned our attention back to the mother, only to find she had disappeared. 

We looked around, confused and disappointed. It seemed we had only turned our back for a moment to snap a few pictures, but I guess we took too long. My ego in wanting the perfectly centered and staged photo of us, for some future picture frame, wasted the opportunity to give the mother a memento of this candid, joyful moment she had experienced with her daughter. 

I regret not speaking with the mother. Kindness shared between strangers is one of travelling’s unexpected joys. I had my chance, and I blew it. But it is my only regret from the Land of Oz. 

… 

As we discovered, it turns out picture-perfect moments are not all that uncommon at The Hotel Del Coronado. The National Historic Landmark, with its distinctive red roofs contrasting the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean, has stood as an icon since 1888

For more than 125 years, the Del has drawn people from all over the world, including every American president since Lyndon Johnson. It’s easy to see why. It is the largest oceanfront resort on the Pacific Ocean, and it sits on 26 acres of what has often been named the No. 1 beach in America: Coronado Beach.

The attraction is greater than beautiful buildings and breathtaking beaches, however; the Del, with its aged, wooden character and its smiling, devoted staff, exudes an authentic charm you can’t create or capture. Simply put, it’s one of a kind.

After reading about the hotel in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” my wife and I thought we’d add the hotel to our list of “1 Place to See Before You Have Kids.” And so, four months into our first pregnancy, we decided to pack our bags and leave behind a record-breaking cold Minnesota winter in favor of the sparkling beaches of Coronado Island. The Grand Lady by the Sea, as the Hotel Del Coronado is affectionately referred to, did not disappoint us.

In fact, the hotel exceeded our lofty expectations––a challenge made greater by the fact that I spent the two weeks preceding the trip reading my wife the hotel’s staggering list of awards, showing her videos of the Del over and over again, and even watching Marilyn’s Monroe hit film “Some Like It Hot,” which was primarily filmed at the Del. 

OK, so I was excited. But can you blame me? The hotel was designed specifically to be “the talk of the western world,” and its fame has steadily grown as the hotel has aged gracefully and, in many ways, remained unchanged.

Of course, there have been some evolutions at the hotel, such as Del Beach, which launched this May. The luxurious waterfront set-up features plush daybeds and half-moon cabanas, as well as a plethora of recreational activities geared toward adults and kids.

The new program––including a lively beach playground for kids and boogie board, surfboard, stand-up paddle and kayak rentals––is the first West Coast operation to be managed by Boucher Brothers, a Miami-based hospitality management company charged with setting up and managing the beach daily from sunrise to sunset.  

Another addition came in 2007, with the premiere of Beach Village at The Del. The oceanfront enclave of 78 cottages and villas places lucky guests even closer to the ocean.

Under the Del umbrella, the Beach Village has its own contemporary design and offers elevated service and amenities including secluded pools with a private cabana, sunset cocktails at the exclusive Windsor Cottage Club and the option of a private dinner prepared by a master chef in the comfort of your own cottage or villa suite. 

A constant at the Del is its sense of romance. Over the years, The Grand Lady by the Sea has often been voted as the No. 1 place in America for a destination wedding. Hard to argue with that. I mean, can you imagine a more picturesque place for a wedding in the continental U.S.?

 

As for the food served at a wedding reception at the Hotel Del Coronado, I’m sure it’s amazing. Jodie and I had dinner at the Del’s signature restaurant, 1500 OCEAN, and had difficulty deciding what we loved the most: the food, the beachfront setting or the service.

Our waiter worked previously as a tour guide on one of San Diego’s popular trolleys and delighted us all night long with stories and folklore about Hotel Del Coronado’s rich history––which, I suppose, is a glamorous way of saying the guy genuinely enjoyed entertaining us and wanted to make sure we were having a great visit. His pride in the area and in his work was clear as he took so much care in giving us detailed tips and advice on what we should do during our stay. 

One of his recommendations was biking, which we loved. There is a scenic, six-mile boardwalk around the curved isthmus of Coronado, and renting from the Del’s onsite bike shop, PeDels, is the way to go. It’s also a beautiful, relaxing way to burn off a few calories from the delicious desserts found not only at 1500 OCEAN but also at the Del’s various on-site restaurants and ice cream cafés. 

Fishing on and around Coronado Island is also very good. I spent a half day fishing out in front of the island and caught dozens of spotted bass, as well as a beautiful leopard shark. I love to fish so for me it was perfect, but there also other ways to enjoy time on the water during a stay at the Del, such as sailing, kayaking or paddle boarding. 

There is a ton to see and do all around Coronado, but we made a point to take it slow and soak up the history and ambience of the hotel. The hotel does an excellent job of keeping that history alive. One cool fact is that author L. Frank Baum stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado many times, going all the way back to 1904. In fact, he wrote part of his Wizard of Oz series during his stays the Del and, in a 1905 San Diego Union article, attributed his outburst of creativity to the hotel’s colorful atmosphere.

Specifically, the hotel and its grand, spiraling rooftops and colorful views were Baum’s inspiration for the Emerald City he dreamed up for The Wizard Oz. It’s true there’s no place like home, but there’s also no place like the Hotel Del Coronado. 

“Those who do not find Coronado a paradise have doubtless brought with them the same conditions that would render heaven unpleasant to them, did they chance to gain admission,” Baum wrote in 1904. The prolific writer also penned a poem about the hotel which answers any remaining questions one may have about the iconic Hotel Del Coronado.

Let Coronado wear her crown
As Empress of the Sea;
Nor need she fear her earthly peer
Will e’er discovered be.

We revel ‘neath her tropic palms
And scent her brilliant flowers;
And fondly greet the song-birds sweet
That warble in her bowers.

And every day her loveliness
Shines pure, without a flaw;
New charms entrance our every glance
And fill our souls with awe! 

The website for the Hotel Del Coronado is www.hoteldel.com. For more information, call 1.800.468.3533.

For information on other activities on Coronado Island, visit www.sandiego.org/Coronado.

Fishing for Kings

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: August 18, 2014 - 9:43 PM

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.”

The website for Bon Chovy is www.bonchovy.com. To contact Jason and his team, click here or call 604.763.5460. 

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!

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