As I sit on the dock of Sonora Resort prepared for a day of fishing, I look north to see Mt. Estero looming 1649 m high, seeming to come straight out of the water, fog pouring up and out of the valley that becomes Denham Bay. To the east, the sun peaks over the Downey Range and warms the cool morning air of the Yuculta Rapids. Sonora Island and the Stuart Island communities may only be 50 km NE of Campbell River, but I assure you there is no place quite like it. Currents whip through Dent Rapids forming the ‘Devil’s Hole’ whirlpool, while Arron Rapids can be even more tumultuous and unpredictable. Though these tides and eddies are extremely dangerous, they also cultivate an abundance of biodiversity both above and within the water. At times, thousands of small fish (hake) get pushed to the surface by the currents, in turn attracting hundreds of eagles from up and down the coast to feast. Seals and sea lions also surround the areas, bringing transient orcas who prey on them. Humpback whales pass through almost on a daily basis and the Pacific white-sided dolphins and Dall’s porpoise are never too far away.
Our community sits at the mouth of Bute Inlet, one of the longest and deepest inlets on the west coast ranging 80 km inland and as deep as 760+ m in spots. Black bears dot the beaches all the way up the Inlet and the grizzly bears await fish in the three major river systems: the Orford, the Homathko, and the Southgate.
I was raised just south of Sonora Island on Maurelle Island in a narrow passage called White Rock Pass. My father guided in the waters surrounding Sonora and Stuart Islands when I was a kid and I remember visiting the area when I was young. The rapids, whirlpools, and wild nature always left me impressed. I don’t think it’s common for saltwater to rush downhill in the ocean and for one to spot over 50 eagles in a single tree. On one tour, I vividly recall seeing what I thought was a brown log flying through the air. Turns out an adult orca had flipped a large bull sea lion in the air like it was a chew toy. A young orca was waiting for it, and nature took its course. This was to become my playground.
I have been drawn back here year after year, and I know I’m not the only one. The Stuart Island area is home to a number of fishing retreats, most that are private and accommodate corporate and family groups, and others that are open to the public (e.g. Nanook Lodge offers fishing, adventure, and this year a wildlife photography tour)– advanced reservations required. If you’re simply wishing to moor or dock your boat on a modest budget, I would suggest the local community dock in Big Bay on Stuart Island. A small general store, liquor store, and post office are located a short walk from the dock, and the sunset from your boat or picnic tables at the community centre are top-notch. Don’t miss the annual Stuart Island Salmon Enhancement BBQ and Auction. This event is usually the first weekend in August and is a huge community event. People come from far and wide and pack the docks of Big Bay to participate in a huge BBQ, live and silent auction, and, of course, live music and dancing.
More moorage awaits just north at Dent Island Lodge, an upscale lodge and marina that offers guided fishing and more, with a large dining room where you can enjoy a tapas dinner over the Canoe Pass Rapids as the sun sets. Just a few kilometres north of Dent Island Lodge sits Denham Bay Lodge. They too have moorage at a great price plus cabin rentals. Beautiful sunsets and peace and quiet await, and you are basically staying at one of the better fishing holes in the area.
Lastly, Sonora Resort is one of the most upscale wilderness resorts in North America (if not the world). A Relais and Chateaux property across the Yuculta Rapids from Stuart Island and Big Bay, Sonora has been around since the early 80s, growing from a quaint fishing camp to a 150-acre resort. Features include fishing, eco tours, bear watching, kayaking, helicopter tours, access to golf, world-class spa services and amenities, fitness centre, fly fishing ponds, tennis courts, theatre, putting green, archery, and a lake with standup paddle boards and other freshwater activities.
My wife and I were lucky enough to have been married at Sonora and we share many wonderful memories with each other and our guests from that day.
I hope that this has piqued your interest in our wonderful area and community. Most don’t know that you can hop in a water taxi in Campbell River and be here in an hour and fifteen minutes. If you have your own boat, be cautious and check your tide guides as slack tide is the safest time to arrive. Step out of the ordinary and head to what I consider to be the best place in the world.