July 2008

July 2008
July 2008
July 2008
July 2008
July 2008
July 2008
July 2008

A PASSION FOR PINKS

by Bill Luscombe

August brings fishing doldrums to most freshwater areas of British Columbia save for bass and pike waters. It is a time when most fly-fishers put away their rods, pack up the family and hit the beach. On the West Coast, fly-fishers still pack up their rods, but only to throw them into their vehicles and head for the river estuaries in pursuit of pink salmon.

At this time of year every fly-fisher and spin-caster capable of raising a rod heads for the river mouths. Wading off the beaches, sometimes up to their waists in the clear ocean, they cast to singles and pairs of jumping pink salmon. Pinks tend to school, and the appearance of only a few jumping fish belies the fact that there are many more just below the surface, possibly hundreds.

As salmon go, pinks are the smallest. While their maximum weight is estimated at 12 pounds, they average four to five pounds when fully mature. They are nicknamed “humpies” because of the characteristic humped back the males develop during their spawning migration. Identification of these fish is quite easy, as they have large, oblong, blotchy spots on their tails rather than the small round spots found on coho and chinooks. They also lack the characteristic black mouths of chinooks or the black tongues of coho.

One of the favourite methods of fly fishing for pinks is to wade from shore, and there is a definite technique to this. Slow retrieves are the key, and when combined with the soft takes of these fish, it makes the strikes almost undetectable. It feels much like hooking into floating weed, and knowledgeable anglers always set the hook at the first sign of resistance. They end up setting the hook into a lot of weeds, but they also hook a lot of salmon.

Pinks are very soft mouthed, so you must take care not to pressure them too much once hooked. If you are overly aggressive when playing them, the hook will pull out. Although they love to run, they seldom go long distances like coho, so you have little need to pressure a fish too much unless you plan on releasing it.
During a pink salmon spawning run, anglers catch many more fish than the law allows them to keep, thus catch-and-release is practised unless they quit after killing their limit. This isn’t too difficult with pinks, since their short runs allow anglers to bring fish quickly to hand. Barbless hooks combined with their soft mouths, allow for quick, easy releases (barbless hooks are now mandatory when fishing for salmon in saltwater). It is a documented fact that approximately 80 to 90 per cent of all salmon properly released, survive to spawn or be caught again.

Pinks that are killed make excellent table fare if cooked fresh. They don’t freeze well, however, and many people, myself included, like to bake up a fresh salmon as dinner the same evening as it was caught, and smoke the rest (they are outstanding!).

When fishing the beaches near river mouths, it is best to take up a position and allow the pinks to come to you. If you spend the day moving from spot to spot you’ll not be as successful, since the schools slowly cruise along the shoreline. The exception to this is at low tide. When the tide drops, move near the river mouth. The pinks often funnel in and are “fish in a barrel” until the tide rises again.

When casting into tidal flows or the current of a river mouth, remember to mend your line to present the fly to a fish as its natural prey would appear. Casting crosscurrent and dragging the fly back is a common mistake most anglers make when beach fishing. The drag makes the fly move in the wrong direction, just as in a river, and you get significantly fewer strikes because of it.

Fly patterns are simple ties that imitate the food of pink salmon, which feed mostly on small shrimp and other tiny crustaceans, plus squid and baitfish. Small streamer patterns of blue, pink or green over silver bodies, tied on stainless steel hooks in No. 8 through No. 2 work well, and are most common. Pink appears to be their favourite colour, which is probably due to the fact that they feed significantly on krill.

Chest waders are a necessity since you will be wading deep. Make sure your wading boots have sturdy soles, and that the legs have sewn-in knee patches to protect areas that may come in contact with barnacles. If you wear a full length vest, remove fly boxes and other gear from the lower pockets. If you don’t, and end up wading deeper than the bottom of the vest, whatever is in your bottom pockets will be soaked in saltwater. Once you get home, hose down your boots and waders, then disassemble your reels and flush the parts with warm water to get rid of any residual salt. I cannot stress good maintenance enough when dealing with ocean water. I’ve seen many instances of good gear ruined due to lack of proper maintenance.

The opportunities that the pink salmon sport fishery offers along British Columbia’s coast is just beginning to be recognized by anglers. With the decline in some site-specific coho and chinook salmon populations, pinks are being hailed as a great alternative. With their numbers holding steady, even on the increase in some areas, this new-found sport fishery should see a significant increase over the next few years. Check out this new angling opportunity. You’ll find yourself having a whole lot of fun, and it’s nice to know that pink salmon make a tasty alternative to the regular summer fare of hamburgers and hot dogs.

This is an excerpt from Fly Fishing Canada - From Coast to Coast to Coast. Available at www.flyfishingcanada.net
 

Huxley’s Run: 

SHOW BUSINESS

by Dr. Adipose Huxley

The hum of early evening traffic on the Island Highway was mingled with the sounds of families on the Campbell River Seawalk and the lapping of Discovery Passage’s waves against the revetment of barnacle-covered boulders. However, even amidst that cacophony I clearly heard the hiss of air through an eagle’s wings as it flew low overhead to its roost, a small fish tucked aerodynamically, head-to-tail, in its claws. Bonaparte gulls chittered and squeaked a few yards away, feeding on small morsels of food unleashed by the rising tide. A great blue heron squawked raucously as it landed awkwardly amid a bed of kelp, then found safe footing in the bulbous mass before becoming perfectly still.

The sun, low in the sky, illuminated the few clouds with bright orange and crimson. It’s evening like this that make beach fishing enjoyable, even when the fish don’t bite.

If you watch just in front of town at this time of year, you will sometimes see fish moving on the surface. The pinks will half-flop, half-porpoise, while the coho and cutthroats rocket into the air or slash quickly through the surface, chasing down unfortunate baitfish. And if you’re anything like me, someone who fishes whenever possible, such sightings can be intriguing and rewarding.

Casting a fly to moving fish has always seemed to produce better results. I used to think that it had something to do with getting to them while they were actively feeding, which was why the hook-up success was much more than when simply casting blind. Now I realize that the real reason for higher hook-up rates is obvious -- the fish are there.

On this particular evening I was thigh-high in the water but only a few fish were moving. Enthusiasm had waned slightly, only to be replaced by my marvelling at my surroundings. All this serenity, yet only a few seconds from the city’s main thoroughfare. And a pub not a minute away.

Then the fish hit. There was no warning, no wake behind the fly, just a jolt that ripped the line out of my hand. It took line steadily and at a brisk pace, sometimes stopping to shake its head. Then it turned and came willingly, but turned again and raced off once more. After two or three minutes I still hadn’t seen the fish.
There was no way it was a cutthroat, it was too big. A coho would probably have jumped, but it was still too early for coho. It was also too early for chums and certainly wasn’t a sockeye. A pink would have stopped and eventually circled. The thought of a fly-caught Chinook off the beach went through my mind. I have caught them off the beach on a fly, but they were small. Nothing that had the weight of this one.

Some of the Seawall strollers had obviously seen the fish, too, for I could hear the chatter of their excited voices. It appeared that I had attracted quite a gathering. I smiled, and thought of walking back to my Jeep while holding that beautiful fish, pausing to chat and make sage comments as I passed through my adoring audience. “Please, please, no autographs. Well, if you insist.”

I finally glimpsed the fish and was surprised to see that it was a fair-sized pink after all. I was looking around for a suitable rock or piece of driftwood when it suddenly streaked off again. That I didn’t lose it was more through good luck than any skill, but my audience murmured approvingly.

When it finally came into the shallows, I breathlessly held my rod against its beautiful body. It was well over the legal limit, but I did another quick measurement to show my audience that I was a conscientious angler. Then I laid down my rod, picked up a rock and bent over to deliver the coup de grace. Which is when I noticed the white gums. What I had assumed to be a pink was actually a protected wild coho. I dropped the rock, quickly removed the barbless hook from the fish’s jaw, and then released it. To say that I was thankful at discovering my near mistake would be an understatement.

Picking up my rod, I turned toward the Seawalk and noticed that my fickle audience had already dispersed.

Well, I thought, that’s show business....

 

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