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 Fishing

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

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!

To Fly is Human ... To Hover, Divine

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: June 22, 2014 - 11:40 AM

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

Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort: Day 2

Wednesday, May 21, 2:38pm

Our helicopter mirrors the waterfall, descending down 300 feet parallel to the raging waters. At the base of the falls, we hover above the turbulent pool of blue and white. We are above the clouds, in a separate world of 10,000-year-old glaciers and pristine streams that salmon fill and grizzly bears hunt. In this other-world we have hiked and climbed and fished, but at the moment we simply hover. I feel weightless. 

...

Days before boarding the aircraft, we had seemingly already explored as far into the Great Bear Rainforest as one can push––taking a small plane from Vancouver to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, then crawling into a float plane for a 20-minute flight over fjords and bays until landing on a floating dock at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, which clings to the base of Mount Stephens.

After a sun-filled Day 1 of ocean kayaking, paddle boarding, bear-watching and hiking through old-growth forests, Day 2 finds us embarking on Nimmo Bay’s signature experience: a dreamlike day of heli-fishing and heli-hiking in the high mountains. 

We start the day, of course, with food. Breakfast begins with sinful chocolate croissants, offset by fresh fruit, yogurt, granola and fruit smoothies. Upon devouring Round 1, we are rewarded with Round 2 of breakfast: thick pieces of french toast loaded with fruit. After our surrender to the food gods, lodge owners Fraser and Becky Murray come to greet us with their 5-month-old daughter Fauna in tow. 

“We have all dedicated so much of our lives to Nimmo Bay that it is hard to separate life from work,” Fraser said. “I would say the only thing that was ever bigger then Nimmo Bay in our lives was our family, and this is true to this day.”

Fraser has grown up at Nimmo Bay since he was just a bit older than Fauna is now. I am both envious and puzzled by Fraser’s upbringing; I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up in a float house attached to a mountain in this rugged and beautiful setting. Where would you go to school? And how would you get there? How would you make friends? What about the winters, and the wildlife? In fact, when Fraser was 4 a grizzly bear turned his family’s floating dock into her den.

And then there’s the overwhelming beauty of it all. And the incredible, intimate encounters with Mother Nature you must be graced with when you spend your entire life in this setting. For Fraser’s part, he seems no worse for the wear. In fact, the 35-year-old, second-generation owner of the luxury lodge possesses a unique combination of kindness, charm, appreciation of his surroundings and a surprising connection not only to the natural wonders of his backyard but also to the people who travel from all over the world to be a part of it for a week. Fraser was even given an honorary name by the local First Nations tribe, which is exceptionally rare and speaks volumes about the charismatic, modest young man.   

“We’ve met so many amazing people,” he said. “We have some people who have been coming for so long, we just kind of quit charging them. We’ve just become friends. We travel and go and stay with them at their houses, and they come and see us here.”

For my stay at Nimmo Bay, I was surrounded by fellow first-timers: Jeneen Sutherland, from the Vancouver area, and husband-and-wife Jo Connah and Peter Scorfield from London. Believe it or not, I am not forgetting anyone or leaving a guest off the list because he annoyed me with poor jokes and bad body odor. Incredibly, there were only four of us guests at the resort our entire time there. And get this: there were TWO chefs! A pastry chef and an executive chef, both of whom justify the strong praise Nimmo Bay received in “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” when best-selling author Patricia Shultz said the food––which she called the best in British Columbia––is arguably the highlight of any day at Nimmo Bay. 

The resort, of course, can accommodate a few more than four guests––it features nine cabins built on stilts above the water––but it is intentionally small. “I don’t want to get any bigger,” said Fraser, who has expanded the resort’s focus from purely fishing to offer a wider variety of eco-tourism activities such as whale-watching, beachcombing and glacier trekking. “We like being small. We like spending time with the people who come here and being able to share these experiences with them.” 

I feel the resort’s intimate size is a tremendous advantage and allows each guest to receive individualized attention (i.e. when I sat by the campfire at night a staff member rushed over with a blanket and tucked me in; when I finished my glass of wine under the stars another employee immediately topped me off), and my fellow guests certainly agreed.

"Nimmo Bay is a resort with a soul," said Jeneen Sutherland, who made herself at home during her first trip to the resort by taking advantage of morning yoga classes, hikes with the staff and stand-up paddle boarding (including a paddle when she saw a bear). "When you meet Fraser and (his father) Craig, you kind of want to pat them on the back and say a big 'thank-you' for creating this incredible place. It is an experience that leaves you feeling totally rejuvenated."

“We feel very fortunate to be one of just a few people here,” added Peter Scorfield, who has experienced wilderness safaris in the far reaches of Africa yet was nonetheless amazed by the beauty and serenity of Nimmo Bay. “It’s like we have the place to ourselves."

To Fly is Human ... To Hover Divine

Fraser and Becky chatted with us after breakfast, then told us the plan for our big adventure in the helicopter. This was the day I had been anticipating for months––the signature Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort adventure unlike any other. You could say that heli-fishing put Nimmo Bay on the map, and that Nimmo Bay put heli-fishing in the dictionary. The concept is this: You board a helicopter and fly high above the clouds, into the mountains to fish untouched streams that otherwise can’t be reached. The Murray family has access to over 50,000 acres of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year-old glaciers, 5,000-foot waterfalls and 50 rivers and streams. 

Numerous celebrities ranging from George Bush to David Kelley to William Shatner have visited Nimmo Bay and fallen in love with the resort’s famous heli-fishing and heli-hiking, and now I was about to do the same.

First, Fraser brought us to the dry room, where we were equipped with complementary boots, rain gear and waders.

From there we headed to the helipad, met our pilot, Tim, and boarded the helicopter. Peter and Jo were my companions for the day, for which I was most grateful. The couple was kind, enthusiastic and witty. Besides, who doesn’t love that British wit?

 

The heli-hiking was spectacular, as was the flight itself. I'm complimenting my photos with stock photos from the resort, since intermittent rain made it difficult to photograph some of the spots. Trust me, though, when I say that neither my photos nor the stock photos do the mountains justice. 

My new friend and travel partner for the day, Peter, summed it up well. "It's an amazing feeling flying in this helicopter, knowing that we can go anywhere." Indeed, the maneuverability of a helicopter gives you unrivaled freedom in the mountains. Tim dropped us down on several spots to hike throughout the day. One of my favorite stops was at an estuary where hiked along a river and the ocean. 

 
Tim, who was one of the youngest pilots in British Columbia to receive a flying license, brought his rifle with us at all times. After all, we were in grizzly country. It felt more like a tree graveyard, however, with the remains of giant trees surrounded by the marshland. The dense fog and low clouds added to the ambience. 
 
 
The footing was tricky, but the views were worth it. 
 
 
 
After hiking for a few hours, we decided to do some fishing. What a life! Up in the helicopter we go, and Tim flies us to one of 50 different unnamed and untouched streams.
 
 
 
Here, we discuss our exit strategy should we encounter a grizzly. Last year during peak season, Tim saw a grizzly every other day while stream fishing and had several close encounters. Call me crazy, but I did hope a grizzly would emerge from the bush and begin fishing the same water as me. Granted, in my mind I pictured the bear emerging on the other side of the stream, not that the narrow water would have provided  any meaningful barrier. In the end, it's probably for the better we never had to give up our fishing spot to a bear (after all, I want my wife to let me go on trips like this again in the future).
 
The Murray family has been practicing catch-and-release in these streams since they first opened Nimmo Bay in 1980. Suffice it to say, fishing in rivers that only a handful of people fish each year has its advantages. We primarily caught rainbow trout, but the streams are also a salmon haven. When we tired of one spot (a relative term, since I could fish all day on that stream and never grow tired of it), we boarded the helicopter and flew to another stream where the fishing was equally good.
 
 
After an unforgettable day of fishing, we took the scenic route home––flying over the mountains alongside dozens and dozens of waterfalls. We returned to a warm welcome and a soak in the outdoor cedar hot tub, idyllically situated at the base of a 5,000-foot waterfall. Dinner never tasted so good, which I attribute both to the adrenaline of the day and the delicious, local Dungeness crab.
 
 
The fact that I am only 30 years old and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to experience a day of heli-hiking and heli-fishing in the Great Bear Rainforest is not lost on me. In truth, I could have lived an entire lifetime and not once had an adventure this remarkable.

That Fraser and his family at Nimmo Bay makes this experience available to people is simply amazing. Or, as the wooden sign at the lodge says, divine.
 
 
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.  

Come back next week for Part Three of the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort series, when the author visits a local legend and has his closest encounter with a bear.
 
Click here to read Part One of the series. 
 
For more information on beautiful British Columbia, visit the website for Destination BC.
 
 
 
 

A Father and a Fisherman

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: June 15, 2014 - 12:49 PM

Today is the last Father’s Day ever before I become a dad. As I prepare for the upcoming birth of my first child, I call to mind a man who is both father and fisherman––a man who took me on a fishing adventure last fall on legendary Lake Gitchi Gumee.

Dave Williams and his bride Cathi visited Grand Marais some 40 years ago during a winter that wasn’t much better than this year’s. “It was below zero with the wind blowing snow everywhere, and I said to Cathi, ‘Do you want to move here?’” Williams recalls.

Apparently Cathi said yes. The pair of teachers quit their jobs and headed to the far north woods near Lake Superior to start a small guiding and outfitting operation in 1972 that, over the past four decades, has become a staple in Grand Marais. Bear Track Outfitters have given Dave a chance to fill his life with both his passions: his family and the outdoors.

The Williams family worked hard to turn their dream into a reality––building cabins, guiding fishermen, outfitting kayakers and campers––and then worked even harder to keep that reality afloat amid recessions, down-turns in fishing’s popularity and, tragically, a fire to their camp years ago. 

“To make a living up here, you gotta work hard when the sun shines,” said Williams. You also have to be resourceful. Dave and Cathi re-built cabins after the fire, and expanded their offerings to include canoe lessons, birding outings, scenic dinner cruises and skiing. They were the first outfitter in the area to use Kevlar canoes. Many a cross-country ski team has rented out their remote cabins to hold camp for practices, and more than one Olympic skier has stayed at Bear Track’s year-round cabins on North Shore Mountain Ski Trail at Bally Creek Camp.

What I discovered is that Williams treats everyone like an Olympian. “I really like taking Veterans out fishing,” he said. “I took one guy out who was close to 90, who used to be in the Navy during World War II, and he just had a ball being on the water. And it was great listening to his stories.” 

Military vets get a discount on guided trips with Williams. Then again, so do children 13 and under. Kids under 5 are free. You get the sense Williams isn’t in this business to get rich. 

His grandfather had a little place near Cascade River that Williams used to visit every summer as a boy. Eventually, he fell in love. “It sort of grows on you, this area,” he said. 

Lucky for Williams, his wife fell in love with the region, and so did their children. In fact, that’s why Williams’ boat is named “Fishin’ Chics.” Daughters Brooke, Lindsay and Stephanie are certified captains, and have guided for the family business at various times over the years. 

“It was great to see the kids want to be involved with what we do,” said Cathi. “Our daughters have taken a lot of young girls out fishing over the years, and I think that’s a wonderful example for girls to see.” 

The Williams sisters no longer guide, so Dave was our captain on the calm September morning my mom and I went fishing. He did have some help, though. 

“Capt. Jack is my first mate,” Williams said of canine companion. “He’s a real schmoozer. People want to take him home by the end of the trip.” 

We pulled spoons behind dipsy divers in 80 to 120 feet of water and took advantage of the hot bite. 

I’d always wanted to catch a salmon on the big lake, and we didn’t have to wait more than 30 minutes for that to happen. A perk to “working” in the fishing industry is that you get the scoop on guides––which guides are good, and which guides are great. Williams definitely falls into the latter group. 

We quickly caught all the salmon we wanted to eat (Williams cleaned and packaged the fish for us back at the marina), and I also caught a bonus fish: a beautiful lake trout that gave a heck of a fight and tasted great on the grill.  

“September is a great time for lakers,” Dave explained. “And fall is a beautiful time to be up here.” 

Of course, anytime of the year is a wonderful time to embrace Superior and all that she offers. The Williams family takes pride in helping others enjoy the outdoors year-round, and the couple has seen their fair share of seasons change.

“Today is our 42nd wedding anniversary,” Cathi told me when I called her the other day. She was waiting for Dave to get dressed to head to dinner at their favorite restaurant: The Angry Trout. “It’s hard to believe it’s been that many years.” 

The website for Bear Track Outfitters is www.bear-track.com. To contact Dave or Cathi, call 1-800-795-8068 or email outfitters@bear-track.com.

With a sunrise over Superior like this, I would have been happy had we not caught a single fish. As for Capt. Jack, well, I guess being on the water day-in and day-out takes its toll on him. After helping us haul in all those salmon, Jack needed a bit of a cat nap ... though I'm sure he calls it something else. 

Bear Tracking Outfitting is directly on Hwy 61 in Grand Marais. The year-round cabins are back up in the hills. 

Cathi runs the gift shop, does bookings and helps get groups checked in for guided and outfitted trips. Cathi and Dave certainly provided my mother and me with a memorable outing.

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