Salt Spring Island – A Hippie Hideaway of Righteous Bass Fishing
Story & photos by: Todd Martin
Salt Spring Island is the largest of B.C.’s Gulf Islands, and is just minutes north of the American San Juan‘s. One of its many nick-names is the California of Canada for the warm, almost sub-tropical climate it enjoys. It’s advertised as a peaceful holiday locale close to Vancouver, but is known locally as a retreat for baby boomers, hippies, and recluse artisans that are 'down with the establishment.' One of its lesser known attributes for lucky Northwest Sportsman readers is the fantastic smallmouth bass fishing it provides.
Taking a trip to Salt Spring Island is akin to jumping into the hot tub time-machine. You will find tie-dyed shirts back in fashion, organic, gluten free everything in the stores, and the mantra of peace, love and harmony exuding positive vibes from all its inhabitants. As soon as you arrive the pace of everything slows down dramatically. One of the most popular local sayings is; ‘Relax, this ain’t’ the mainland! Hitch-hiking is a popular mode of transport around the island, and per the popular Canadian stereotype, most people here don’t lock their doors. Locals call arrival at the island from the mainland getting back ‘on the rock’. Now that we have focused your inner beatnik, break out your prayer beads and hum a few bars of Kumbaya while we explore the angling aspect of this island.
American style bass tournaments have not taken off here, and part of the reason is a ban on live wells in boats. This has been a long-standing regulation to prevent the intentional or un-intentional movement of non-native fish species. So when you land one, keep it or let it go right away. Both of the bass lakes on the island are small and have an electric motors only regulation, so you’ll have to leave the 200 horsepower behemoths at home. Most cabin rentals at the lakeside resorts come with complementary row boat and canoe use, and that is truly all you will need here. If you were to fire up a two-stroke outboard on either of these lakes, the immediate bad karma would ruin your day long before ‘the man’ would oppress you.
I am still a newbie at bass fishing. I’ve only being experimenting with it for a couple years now, but the bass angling on Salt Spring, along with all the love being spread around, have me hooked. These little buggars fight hard! After watching the Bass Masters and similar shows on U.S. television channels, I got tired of seeing fast expensive boats maneuvered though a backwater ditch in pursuit of these green devils, but now I get it. Far out man!
Salt Spring has two small lakes that provide groovy bass fishing for the cosmically aligned angler. The larger of these two lakes is St. Mary Lake which is on the northern half of the island. This lake offers a flourishing smallmouth bass population with ‘red-eyes’ averaging between two to three pounds, but with fish to five pounds being caught on a regular basis. The best place to try is the rocky western shoreline. The eastern shoreline is weedy with Lilly pads that can provide some fun top-water action if the bass are in the mood.
In the southern half of the island, smaller Cusheon Lake provides the same opportunities for our bucket mouthed quarry. One of the better spots to try on Cusheon Lake is anywhere near the numerous small docks along the shore and in front of Cusheon Lake resort. Both lakes are a five minute drive from the largest town on the island, Ganges. This is the central hub of Salt Spring Island. Even if completely lost, all roads will eventually lead you back here. Be a hip dude and help out the local hitch-hikers, eh!
These lakes fish well in spring, summer and fall and fishing is usually hot immediately after the mid-June bass opening. In August both these lakes heat up and push the bass into deep cover, so this is when you want to target them both early and late in the day. Both lakes have several private resorts that offer rental cabins, boats, and lots of quiet space to align your chakras. There is some public shore fishing access on these lakes, but a small boat is the best option to get into the prime spots.
Both St. Mary and Cusheon Lakes also have healthy populations of resident cutthroat and stocked rainbow trout. The rainbows are stocked annually by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. They will produce better in colder shoulder season temperatures and these trout take trolled lures and flies equally well. Quickly becoming a B.C. favorite, fly cast or trolled bingo bug style lures from Lucky Bug Lures will take trout very well on these lakes. Cusheon Lake has smaller trout, but St. Mary Lake has produced trout in excess of five pounds in recent years. St. Mary Lake also has a healthy population of yellow perch, which can provide great entertainment for kids casting small baits near shore.
Bass in this coastal region of B.C. are closed to angling from April 15 to June 15. When in open season, you can retain four bass per day. Trout are open year-round and you can keep four of those per day. The limit on yellow perch is 20 per day. Access is straight forward, but make sure you leave the better part of a day for arriving or getting home via ferry. Head north on the I-5 and cross the border at Blaine Washington. Continue north on Highway 99 and take the exit for Tsawwassen and the B.C ferries. Once at the ferry terminal you have a couple different ferry route options for getting to Salt Spring Island. Check out the Salt Spring Tourism website at www.saltspringtourism.com for all the details. You can also take your private boat, as there are numerous marina’s in the main town of Ganges that provide transient moorage and full services. My preferred method to get to Salt Spring Island is via float plane which makes the most of your valuable free time. Salt Spring Air and Kenmore Air are two well-equipped float plane operators that make scheduled and charter runs to Salt Spring Island from all over the Northwest. Rent a car when you arrive and you’re set.
Once you arrive on Salt Spring Island, take in the hippie vibe; munch on some gluten free, organic kale chips by the lake. From the summer Saturday market; to the spa’s, eateries, organic farms and wineries open to the public, there are countless options for family to be entertained while you ply the waters for bass and trout. Salt Spring Island provides a much slower pace of life for being so close to Metro Vancouver and Pugettroplois. If you are looking to fish for bass in a small lake setting, book a cabin at one of the many lakeside resorts (Lava lamps optional), load up your righteous bass sticks and make the excellent adventure to Salt Spring Island. Don’t forget to channel your inner Tommy Chong before you arrive, and you’ll go a long ways towards fitting in with the locals. Power to the people!
Author Bio: Todd Martin is a well known outdoor writer and angler who lives and writes about the wild splendor of British Columbia, Canada. Todd resides in Maple Ridge and specializes salt water and fresh water fishing for Salmon, Trout, Char and Kokanee. Visit him at www.martinoutdoors.ca
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