Coastal Culture

It’s still dark, but dawn is slowly breaking on the horizon, a sliver of light touching the hills in the east.

There’s the smell of salt on a light breeze that barely stirs the trees. Down at Rushbrook Docks, some friends sleepily and robotically go through the motions of getting a boat into the water and making sure the gear is all on board—rods, downriggers, lures, bait, coffee, lunch. As the boat skims across the glassy bay, the sky erupts in a cacophony of colour. Little coves and bays reveal themselves on the islands, some housing remnants of past or present human use: the occasional old cabin, the tiny picturesque community of Crippen Cove, and the village of Metlakatla. Finally there’s not much to see other than ocean, islands, coastline. And that’s just fine. What’s most important is hidden under the waves. Stake out a likely trolling loop, bait up, and send the lines down into the ocean. By now, most of the crew’s collective sleepiness is cleaned away by the crisp air, and the day opens up its endless possibilities. 

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Prince Rupert is a fishing town.

Everyone here has a great fishing story—including those of the “one that got away” variety—and the best spots to troll, anchor, and cast are spoken of in hushed tones. Most locals keep a healthy stock of salmon, halibut, and crab in their freezers. At the right time of year, you can see paper-thin salmon fillets being dried by the sun on backyard drying racks. The smell of fish being smoked fills the town.

Prince Rupert was built on fishing and it has lost nothing of those humble origins today. The past and present is irrevocably linked to fish, from the deep connection of the Tsimshian people to the bounty of the North Pacific, to the boom of the commercial fishing and canning industry in the early twentieth century. Because this is truly a fishing town, everything you need to catch some fish is right here. From tackle shops to outdoor clothing to boat repair, take your pick. For folks who aren’t sure where to go or come without the means to get on the water, there are a number of local guides who will take you out, show you some of their favourite spots, and do everything they can to make sure you come back to shore with a good catch and a great story. 

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So what seafood can you catch or gather here?

Well, there’s sea asparagus and seaweed, clams, mussels, scallops, crabs and prawns, the mighty salmon—including spring (aka Chinook or king), sockeye, coho, chum, and pink—there’s halibut, snapper, cod (yes, including black cod), tuna, eulachon, herring, octopus…and that’s just scratching the surface. The north coast is often compared to a giant natural supermarket—everything you could ask for is right here, you just have to know what to look for. 

Salmon and halibut are the main fisheries that bring people to Prince Rupert. The salmon fishing here is extraordinary. At the right time of year, bagging half a dozen big salmon takes just a few hours. Snagging a juicy halibut can be as easy as dropping a line to the bottom, waiting a few seconds, and then reeling it back in. For those who favour fishing in a freshwater environment, a drive inland along the Skeena River will get you to some great spots, and you might find some choice creeks closer still where the salmon are so fresh they still have sea lice on them when you reel them in.

Remember, if you’re planning on putting a line in the water with the hopes of catching something—and it’s pretty likely you will, given the abundance around here—you do have to pick up a fishing licence first. Most of the local tackle shops sell them or with a bit of searching you can find everything you need online. And if you’re more inclined to sample seafood from the comfort of an indoor venue, look no further than Rupert’s restaurants—most of the seafood you order here was caught locally. 

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Out among the islands where most people fish, glimpses of sandy beaches beckon from behind fierce looking rocky shoals and stands of trees that visually bear the brunt of fierce winter storms. At the end of the Lucy Islands, a historic lighthouse provides a stunning break to the natural environment. There’s nothing around but a light wind, waves, the seabirds that play on both, and good friends. Oh, and there’s fish, too, of course. Naturalist and whimsical writer Henry David Thoreau said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” He’s right, of course. The company of good friends and the simple feeling of being out on the water makes a fishing outing that much more satisfying. Catching fish is good, too, though. In Prince Rupert, you can have both. 

 

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