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West Coast Resorts’ Salmon Masters Tournament

Ron LaForce, Salmon Trout Steelhead Magazine, March 2010

For the past seven years, West Coast Resorts has hosted the Salmon Masters Tournament. Salmon Masters is North America’s largest cash jackpot salmon tournament with a total guaranteed payout of $360,000.00. The Grand Prize is $115,000.00. The proceeds from the tournament support the Make a Wish Foundation and The Pacific Salmon Foundation. The entry fee of $6,995 includes a spectacular trip to one of West Coast’s three participating salmon lodges. In addition to being the richest cash salmon tournament in North America, West Coast’s Salmon Masters Tournament is an IGFA Offshore Qualifying Event, and the winner of the satellite competition is then entered in the IGFA Offshore Champion Tournament.

Three years ago, Dean and Rudy Nielsen won the West Coast Resort’s Satellite Competition conducted at Walters Cove Resort located on Kyuquot Sound British Columbia. The grand prize was a trip to Cabo San Lucus, Mexico where they competed in the International Game Fish Association’s Offshore World Championship. Their team of four raised Canada from 64th to 11th in the world.

The seventh annual Salmon Masters Tournament ran from May 27 through May 31, 2009. On May 27, 2009, 128 anglers rendezvoused at the Delta Vancouver Airport Hotel located in Richmond, British Columbia. Here the West Coast Resorts’ annual Salmon Masters Tournament would officially begin. On the evening of their arrival, a banquet was held at which fishing guides were assigned by a random drawing to each group of competing anglers.

The following morning, the anglers were bussed to the South Terminal Vancouver Airport and flown to one of West Coast’s premiere salmon lodges where they would compete for the prize money. The money was to be awarded each day for the largest Chinook salmon brought to the docks of the three tournament lodges. Each of the three lodges has, in the past, produced a Salmon Masters Tournament winner. It would be difficult to predict which lodge would produce the next winning chinook.

Englefield Bay Resort is located on the west side of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Englefield Bay and the surrounding areas have produced an astounding number of tyee chinook (salmon over 30 pounds) each year, and in 2008, a beautiful 67-pound chinook was brought to the dock. I am sure that Englefield Bay Resort will continue to produce tournament winners in the future.

In 2009, West Coast Resorts relocated its Tasu Sound Lodge to the Hippa Island area on the west side of the Charlottes. I have personally fished this area and it is nothing less than a fish cauldron. These waters are alive with big chinook, coho, halibut, and ling cod. I believe it’s only a matter of time until this area produces a Salmon Masters Tournament winner!

Whale Channel Resort is located on the Inland Passage to Alaska on Whale Channel. This area boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in North America and some of the best Chinook salmon fishing in British Columbia. I have personally weighed a 72-pound and a 70.5-pound Chinook caught there in late May. Any one of these resorts can and has in the past produced a Salmon Masters Tournament winner.

Rudy Nielsen and his son, Dean, had chosen to fish the tournament from Englefield Resort. At the banquet dinner, they drew Mike Carroll as their tournament guide. While Rudy is relatively new to the sport of saltwater salmon fishing, his son, Dean, has fished the Queen Charlotte Islands and studied salmon fishing for years. Rudy, like many successful men, is a workaholic. Dean said, “Dad, you are working too hard; you need a hobby. Let me take you salmon fishing, and teach you how to catch those big chinook.” Rudy agreed and so began his journey to winning the Salmon Masters tournament.

When Rudy left home for Richmond, he told his wife, Joanne, “We are going to win this tournament! We have done our homework, and we are prepared to compete.””Oh, sure you are!” she replied.

Dean and Rudy felt fortunate to have Mike Carroll as their guide. Mike is an outstanding guide, and he’s considered one of the best guides working for West Coast Resorts. With Mike as their guide, Rudy and Dean felt that their team was complete, fine-tuned, and ready for action. Before the tournament began, Rudy was so certain they would win that he made a deal with Dean and Mike. “From the prize money,” he said, “we will give a large check to the Children’s Make a Wish Foundation and a portion to the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Kenya. Then we will split the balance between the three of us.”

The first afternoon of the tournament was designated a pre-fish day allowing the guides and participants to explore the area and make decisions about their fishing strategies for the next three days.

On the first morning of the competition the weather was cold and the sea was rough. Mike ran the short distance from the lodge to one of his favourite spots where he carefully worked the boat in between two reefs. They were fishing in 60 to 90 feet of water and Mike had decided to use plug-cut herring and motor mooch between the reefs. Before Mike lowered their offerings to the desired depth, he attached a set of KoneZone Daisy Chain Flashers to the downrigger. The rotating KoneZone Flashers are used to attract salmon to the herring bait.

The daisy chain was designed by Calvin Higano, manager of Nikka Fishing Marine located in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Dean has used the KoneZone Flashers for the past several years with great success. His favourite colours are called “Guide Green” and “Cracked Ice, Silver.” There is no doubt in the minds of Rudy and Dean that their success was due to the use of the KoneZone Flashers. For further information regarding KoneZone Rotating Flashers, go to the KoneZone website: or call owner Mike Hyneman at  (503) 348-9442 .

On day one, Rudy and Dean took fifth place with a chrome-bright, 26-pound chinook. On day two, the weather was cold and the sea was still very rough. Some boats did not even go out to fish. Mike again worked the lodge boat in between the two reefs and began to motor-mooch by kicking the engine in and out of gear causing the herring to assume an erratic darting action. Mike had run the herring back 17 pulls or about 34 feet behind the boat before attaching the line to the downrigger.

Suddenly, Rudy’s rod snapped off the downrigger and the reel sang as a very large chinook headed for Alaska. While the big chinook made his runs, Rudy had to fight the salmon and the rough sea. He braced himself against the consol and the gunnel while the battle was on. At last, Mike slipped the net under the exhausted salmon and lifted it into the boat. At the lodge, the big chinook weighed in at 41.7 pounds. Rudy’s chinook took first place on the second day of the tournament.

The third day of the tournament dawned much like the past two days. Mike once again eased the lodge boat into the sweet-spot and went to work. The sea tossed the boat about while the herring danced below between the two reefs. When the rod came off the downrigger, Mike knew this was another very good fish. It fought gallantly, but the slender, 10-foot mooching rod proved to be just too much, and the beautiful bright chinook was finally netted, photographed and placed in the fish box for the trip back to the lodge. Once again, Rudy’s chinook was the largest salmon caught by all three resorts on day three of the Salmon Masters Tournament, and it took first place in the third-day standings. Competition ended on the evening of day three of the tournament. When all the boats were in at all three resorts and the fish were weighed, Rudy and Dean had won $137,000.

The tournament concluded on Friday, but the helicopter was not due to pick the guests up until 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning. Since Rudy’s wife loves halibut, Dean and Rudy decided to try for a halibut before the helicopter arrived to fly them out. Dean lined the boat up with two islands and a rock on the mainland, and dropped two halibut lines down over 300 feet. Within minutes, Dean had hooked a big fish. The team was in a hurry to boat the fish and get it back to the lodge so that it could be filleted and vacuum packed for the trip home. Dean really put the pressure on that big halibut and horsed it up from the bottom. Just as the big halibut came to the surface, Dean’s rod broke. Fortunately for him, at that same instant, Mike harpooned the fish and together Dean and Mike wrestled it into the boat. The big halibut weighed in at 130 pounds, and that is a lot of fish and chips! It was a great team effort.

The happy crew then quickly made the short trip back to the lodge. “In my life, I have had many outstanding experiences,” Rudy said, “but winning the Salmon Masters Tournament with my son tops them all.” Dean and Rudy have already booked at Englefield for the 2010 Salmon Masters Tournament.