The headline in a 1950 Vancouver Island events magazine read “Tyee salmon beware: Experts say this is the year the Alberni Canal will teem with fighting tyee salmon.”
The article went on to say local hotels were filling up as anglers anticipated the Aug. 6 season opening, with people coming from as far away as New York and Alabama “with their eyes set on a gold button for a tyee over 50 pounds.”
The headline could just as easily apply today as it did in 1950. Years of conservation efforts by all stakeholders—sportfishers, commercial fishers, First Nations and Fisheries and Oceans Canada—may be finally paying off for the chinook (tyee) salmon. Experts are predicting the Alberni Inlet (formerly Canal) will be teeming with tyees in time for the 48th annual Salmon Festival on Labour Day weekend.
The Alberni Valley Tyee Club’s leaderboard could be used as an indicator: it hasn’t been since the early 1970s that we have seen three chinook in the top three spots early in the season. James Clark still tops the leader board (as of late September) with his 32.5-pound chinook caught Aug. 8 off of Lonetree. Claudia Harrison is one pound back in second place with a 31.5-lb. chinook, and Sheldon Reed is in third, also at 31.5 lbs.
The junior leaderboard has also seen some good-sized fish. Peyton Provençal was in first place (as of press time) with her 22.8-lb. chinook. Danica Schwager is in second (21.9 lbs.) and Kayden Jasken in third (21.5 lbs.). Jasken caught the first qualifier of the season and has remained on the leaderboard.
The Tyee Club will celebrate its 80th anniversary this year. The sportfishing club was first established in 1939 when a small group of enthusiastic businessmen met at the Good Eats Café. Ardent sportsmen, they were interested both in sportfishing and in developing the salmon fishery on the Alberni Canal. Their goal was to promote sportfishing in Port Alberni as a tourist industry and guard against encroachment of commercial fishing in those areas of the Alberni District.
The establishment of this fishing club fulfilled a desire to prove to the world that the best tyee fishing in Canada was right here. The club operated at the foot of Argyle Street off a long dock where Harbour Quay now resides.
At first, children were not permitted to join the club—at least, not until 12-year-old Cliff McLean caught a 56-pound tyee all by himself! McLean became the youngest member of the Tyee Club.
The Tyee Club moved to Clutesi Haven Marina in 1969, five years after a tsunami hit Port Alberni and the harbour commission and city council of the day decided to develop the boat floats around Kitsuksis Creek.
In 2012, members of the Tyee Club led a campaign to name Port Alberni Canada’s Ultimate Fishing Town, and both the name and reputation have stuck.
This year’s Salmon Fest may well prove it once and for all.