PROFILE OF A HELICOPTER FISHERMAN
When you saw the words "helicopter fishing," you probably assumed we were going to tell how to emulate "Madman of the Sea" and "Man vs. Fish" host Matt Watson's feat of diving from a chopper into the Pacific Ocean and landing on the back of a big marlin. But no worries -- we're going to tell you about a different, considerably less risky sort of helicopter fishing. This is the kind in which a copter provided by a sport fishing guide company ferries you to some remote, relatively pristine prime fishing spot -- usually one that you would have difficulty reaching by any other means of transportation. And along the way, you'll probably be able to enjoy a breathtaking, panoramic view of the wilderness.
Helicopter fishing might sound like the sort of pricey adventure that's enjoyed only by billionaire software moguls, movie stars or third-world dictators, but that's not really so. There are plenty of fishing-trip impresarios from Alaska to Australia who are willing to fly you to various remote anglers' paradises, with some day trip packages advertised for less than $500. For that much, the operation will drop you off at a fishing spot, provide a guide (at extra cost) and allow you to bring several fish back with you without additional charges. At the same time, if you've got bucks to burn, there are exclusive, high-end packages. At the posh yet rustic Nimmo Bay Resort in British Columbia, for example, you can engage the exclusive services of a copter and pilot who'll chauffeur your party out into the wild to catch some fish, and then have all of you back at the lodge by evening for a soak in the hot tub and dinner. The price for a party of six for four days is a mere $57,900.
Helicopter Fishing (cont.)
The most important piece of equipment is the helicopter, and that's provided by your outfitter. Various companies use craft ranging from Bell JetRangers to Eucoreil AStars, but the brand probably isn't as important as having a craft that's well-maintained and equipped with appropriate safety equipment, such as fixed floats or an inflatable flotation system if you're going to be flying over bodies of water. Obviously, you also want to have an experienced pilot who's certified under the Federal Aviation Administration's fairly stringent Air Tour Safety standards. The pilot should give you a brief but thorough primer on safety before you fly.
Another crucial piece of equipment that will be provided by the tour operator is a federally-approved life vest (or a "life preserver," as the FAA regulations call it). There are noninflatable and inflatable life vests, but the latter, which don't take up much space until you deploy them, probably make it easier to get out of a copter in case of an emergency water landing. You also need to have a device that's adjustable to fit your dimensions. If you want to be totally prepared, buy your own. One manufacturer, Life Support International, makes the $269 HV-35P Helicopter Passenger Vest, which has dual flotation cells that can be filled either by manually releasing a CO2 inflator or, if that fails, by blowing into the tube.
What sort of actual fishing equipment you use is up to you. Some helicopter fishing outfits will supply you with lightweight spin casting or fly fishing gear, which is all you need if you're going trout fishing. But you're usually welcome to use your own equipment, so you might as well. If you're going after salmon, for example, be sure to bring along some heavier gear.
Helicopter Fishing (cont.)
The catch depends on where you helicopter fish. In the Pacific Northwest to Alaska, one popular fish for helicopter fishermen is coho salmon (Oncorhychus kisutch), also known as silver salmon. Coho have dark metallic blue or greenish backs with silver sides and a light belly, with small black spots on the back and upper lobe of the tail. Adults may measure more than 2 feet in length and weigh up to 36 pounds. After beginning their lives in freshwater streams and rivers, they migrate to the ocean and then return to their birthplace to spawn and die.
Another popular catch for helicopter fishermen is the steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). These majestic fish can grow more than 55 pounds in weight and nearly 4 feet in length. They're dark olive in color, shading to silvery-white on the underside with a heavily speckled body and a pink to red stripe running along their sides. Steelheads hatch in gravel-bottomed, fast-flowing streams. Some stay in freshwater all their lives, while others migrate to the ocean and then return periodically to freshwater to breed. (Unlike salmon, though steelheads can spawn more than once.)
Steelheads are an unusual species because they develop differently, depending upon their environment. The ocean-goers develop a more pointed head and a more silvery color and usually grow to be much bigger than the steelheads who remain in the streams. Steelheads are found along the entire Pacific coast of the U.S. and Canada, and in inland streams and rivers.
WHY YOU SHOULD THROW IT BACK
The purpose of helicopter fishing is for you to experience wild habitats that otherwise might be inaccessible to all but the hardiest, most agile fishermen. In exchange for that privilege, the least you can do is help preserve the fish populations there. Some helicopter fishing outfits require catch-and-release as standard practice.