For a fly fisherman like me, one that is a still relative newcomer to the pursuit, in a still relatively new place, an event like the one experienced in odd years in the Puget Sound can be terribly flattering to one’s oft-battered fly fishing soul.
On one morning last week it went down like this:
I took a ferry boat to an island nearby because I had a rehearsal there later in the day. I got over there early because I knew the fish would be more active in the morning, not to mention that being on an island, the usual hordes of people fishing from the bank would be diminished if not downright non-existent. Luckily, the latter was the case:
I had the spot to myself, which is excessively rare during a strong salmon run. At first, I was concerned. No visual action. Then I glanced a bit further down the beach and saw a fish jump. Suddenly, it was like I woke up in a new paradigm.
Fish were jumping, splashing. Porpoising nearby. I could see their dorsal fins and tails.
It was almost like getting into a school of redfish on the Gulf. Nervously, I waded out into the water as I deep as I dared.
I threw numerous horrible casts, flailing my line towards any splash I heard or jump I saw.
I actually managed to hook a fish, but it quickly spit my fly and left me shuddering with adrenaline.
So I took a moment to have a smoke and think.
I waded back to the bank and sat down on a log. I sat there, barely able to control my anxiety as I watched the fish get closer to the bank. Eventually, I waded out shin deep and stood there frozen, emulating the herons I see feeding in the shallows. When a pod a fish came within a range that I can only describe as “Holy Sh#t,” I casted. Still awkwardly. But after a few short strips of my streamer there was that familiar yet always new and exhilarating tug on the other end. I knew I had this fish hooked well. I played it for several minutes coaxing it closer until I could land and release. I continued this exercise of standing stock still in the shallows and awaiting a pod of fish to come “Holy S” close, and hooked 6 or 7 more, landing two.
Pink salmon (aka Humpies) return in vast quantities to the Puget Sound in odd numbered years. Being 2011, this is one of those years. Approxiamtely 6 million pinks are in the process of returning to the streams and rivers in which they were born. This is a large number of fish and a very strong, healthy run. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that all of the five species of Pacific salmon used to return in numbers similar to these. Today in Washington, only Pinks and Chums really return in significant numbers.
The rest are still around, but too frequently you hear an old timer describe the fishing as “not what it used to be.”
See, the thing about pinks is that they are not considered nearly as desirable as their more popular cousins, Chinook (king) and Coho (silver) salmon. They’re not as large and they are said to leave quite a bit to be desired on the dinner table. Most folks around here seem to think they are not as feisty brawlers either.
As of yet, I cannot speak on the pinks as table fare, though I plan to change that soon. I’m nearly always a catch and release fisherman but there LOTS of these fish returning and I’ve heard that when caught in the salt, properly cleaned and put on ice quickly, they actually make decent barbecue guests or at least strong candidates for the smoker. So I plan on keeping one soon and getting it on the grill. As far as putting up a scrap, the couple I’ve caught so far threw down pretty hard.
So while the pinks play second fiddle to their cousins, for me, they’re salvation.
They’re 5-8 lb fish that willingly take a fly and fight a hell of a lot better than most fish I can actually catch.
Here’s one putting some welcomed pressure on my fly rod:
Here’s that fish landed:
Here’s another horrible photo I snapped with trembling hands while trying to quickly release another fish, but it does give a decent idea of their size:
I don’t have Shaq hands but nor am I a 4’11″ female. You get the idea. These are pretty big fish for a fly angler like me.
We’re supposed to have at least two more weeks of this. The challenge is finding a beach that is not already shoulder to shoulder with gear anglers and fly guys and gals alike.
AND, need to keep my eyes peeled for these:
In other news, the hike in the Olympic Mountains that I still feel bad for dragging my friend Cori from Dallas along, through fog and mist and snow, was perfectly clear the other day and I took the opportunity to hike it.
Here’s the view from the top:
It was bittersweet, because I was awed by the views but couldn’t help but remembering the day a few weeks before when it should have looked like this but all she got to see was clouds.