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Let's go salmon fishing

West Coast salmon fishing is one of the first tourism sectors to open as COVID-19 restrictions ease

The big salmon are biting like crazy off the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

COVID hasn't changed that.

But what the pandemic did change is how the West Coast sportfishing tourism sector is rebounding after two months of lockdown.

"We're following all WorkSafeBC and B.C. Ministry of Health guidelines," says Wade Dayley of Port Hardy's Wicked Salmon, a division of Bear Cove Cottages & Sport Fishing.

"We're using common sense and social distancing on the boats and using masks and gloves."

In the past, the B.C. salmon sportfishing industry attracted a lot of big-spending Americans, who booked into specialized fishing lodges and hired guides up and down the coast.

With coronavirus travel bans lingering, high rollers from the U.S. and elsewhere in the world are out of the equation.

"We're now promoting salmon fishing as a staycation, a keep-it-local, drivable activity for tourists from B.C. and Alberta," says Dayley.

"You can also fly into Comox Valley Airport from Calgary and rent a car to drive the three hours and 15 minutes to Port Hardy."

All this talk about the sportfishing industry reopening reminds me of when my dad, my son, and I went out with Wicked Salmon for an epic three-generation experience.

The bravado hits fever pitch when my son and I score the fishing double-header.

For the uninitiated, the double-header is the much-hyped, but seldom-seen, phenomena of two fishermen in the boat having giant Chinook salmon on the line at the same time.

It's a reel-screaming, arm-numbing good time that elicits laughter, good-natured ribbing, trash talk and old-fashioned competition.

My 28-year-old son, Alex, is the first to have his rod shudder violently with the hit of a 7.7-kilogram Chinook.

The fish takes off, squealing out a 30-pound (14-kg) carbon test line.

My encouragement for Alex abruptly ends when a Chinook smashes my line and I have a classic man-versus-fish battle of my own to take care of.

As we fight the fish in back-and-forth spurts, we berate each other for poor technique and postulate about whose Chinook is bigger.

I claim victory when I get the salmon to the surface first and fishing guide Dayley scoops it up in the net.

Soon after, Alex's fish is beside the boat and Dayley is ready with the net.

We high-five and Dayley takes a picture of us with our trophy Chinooks.

All of a sudden, I feel sorry for my dad, Alex's grandfather, who's also in the boat and ended up being a double-header third wheel.

After all, this is supposed to be an epic three-generation boys fishing trip out on the Pacific Ocean.

But the pity doesn't last long.

My dad already had bragging rights with the biggest fish of the trip, a glistening 9.5-kg one caught earlier that morning.

We all grin and call it a day because we've caught our daily limit of two Chinook each.

Our feeling of accomplishment is immense.

But the reality is Dayley did all the work and we claimed all the glory—though that's fine with him.

"I never get tired of helping my clients catch fish," says the tall and bearded man.

"I'm excited every day for this job."

Wicked Salmon's most popular package is a four-night stay in one of Bear Cove Cottage's eight rustic-luxe cabins and three days of fishing.

Price is about $2,500 per person based on all-inclusive, double occupancy and also includes fish frozen and vacuum-packed for you to take home.

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Pique's travel section will be going on hiatus starting next week, but we eagerly anticipate its return in the future.