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Pink Summer

By Bill Luscombe, 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


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

At this time of year every fly-fisher and spincaster capable of raising a rod is headed for the river mouths. Wading off the beaches, sometimes up to their chests in the clear cold ocean, they cast to singles and pairs of jumping pinks. Pink salmon 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.

Pink salmon, or "humpies," inhabit the cold waters of the north Pacific Ocean. They range from the central Washington state coastline north to Alaska and across to northeast Asia. They have the shortest life span of any of the pacific salmon and spawn in two-year cycles. Every second summer they return to the streams and rivers that bore them to make their contribution to the survival of their species. On the mainland coast of British Columbia these salmon return every odd year; on eastern Vancouver Island they run in the even years. A few of the rivers, like the Oyster near Campbell River, are unique in this regard because of very successful hatchery programs. As a result there is a smaller run even in the "off" years. What a bonus for the angler! Every year you can fish some of the estuaries with a reasonable chance of success.

As salmon go, pinks are the smallest. While the maximum weight for these fish is estimated at 12 pounds (5.4 kgs.), they average three to five pounds when fully mature. They are nicknamed "humpies" because of the characteristic humped back the males develop during the spawn, but they are more formally known as Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, or pink salmon. Identification of these fish is quite easy. They are small in size and have large, oblong, "blotchy" spots on their tails rather than the small round spots found on coho and Chinook. They also lack the characteristic black mouths of the Chinook or the black-edged gums of the coho.

One of the favourite methods of angling for pinks is to wade from shore and there is a definite technique to this. Slow retrieves are the key, and when you combine slow retrieves with the soft takes of these fish, it makes the strikes almost undetectable sometimes. 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 into a lot of salmon.

Pinks are very soft mouthed and you must take care not to pressure them too much once hooked. If you are overaggressive when playing them you'll tear the hook out, and although they love to run, they seldom make long runs like the coho so you have little need to pressure the fish too much unless you plan on releasing it.

During the salmon run, anglers often catch many more fish than the law allows them to keep, thus catch and release must be practiced unless they quit after killing their limit. This isn't too difficult with the pinks since, as I mentioned earlier, they don't make long runs. The short runs allow the angler to bring the fish to hand quickly and barbless hooks, combined with the salmon´s soft mouth, allows for easy hook removal. Barbless hooks are mandatory in most locations. It is a documented fact that approximately 80% to 90% of all the salmon properly released survive to spawn or be caught again. The pinks that are killed make excellent table fare if cooked fresh and they are excellent smoked as well. They don't freeze well however and many people, myself included, like to bake up a fresh salmon for dinner the same evening as it was caught and smoke the rest.

When fishing the beaches near river mouths, it is best to take up a position and allow the fish 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 the shoreline. The exception to this is at low tide. When the tide drops move near the river mouth. The fish funnel in there and are "fish in a barrel" until the tide rises again.

When fishing in the tidal current or the current of the river mouth remember to mend your line to present the fly to the 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. The humpies feed mostly on small shrimp, squid, baitfish and other small crustaceans. Small streamer patterns of blue, pink or green over silver bodies tied on stainless steel hooks in sizes #8 through #2 work well and are most common. Pink appears to be one of these salmon´s their favourite colours and is probably due to the fact that the fish feed significantly on shrimp and euphasids.

If you plan to fish the estuaries it is wise to remember that you are dealing with salt water. Maintain your gear diligently or the salt will ruin it in short order. Anodized reels are the rule of the day to help prevent rust and corrosion. Chest waders are a necessity since you will be wading deep. Make sure your wading boots have sturdy soles and that the waders have sewn-in knee patches to protect the areas that may come in contact with barnacles. Remove your fly boxes and other gear from your lower pockets if you wear a full-length vest. If you don´t you will end up wading deeper than the bottom of the vest and you will soak whatever is in your bottom pockets in salt water. Once you get home hose down your boots and waders and 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 are just beginning to be recognized by anglers. Pink salmon are slowly becoming recognized as a great summer sport fish, especially by flyfishers, and with their numbers holding steady or on the increase in some areas, this 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 pink salmon make a tasty alternative to the regular summer fare of hamburgers and hotdogs.

Sidebar for Pink Summer
Fly Patterns for beach fishing pink salmon.

The Blue Streak

Hook: Mustad 34011 Stainless Steel # 6
Thread: Black 6/0 or 8/0
Tail: None
Body: None or silver tinsel, or opalescent tubing
Rib: None
Hackle: None
Wing: Light green bucktail, sky blue bucktail, and blue crystal flash

Cathy´s Coat

Hook: Mustad 34011 #6
Thread: Red monocord
Tail: Pink polar bear or bucktail
Body: Florescent red Lazer Wrap over flat silver tinsel
Rib: None
Beard: Pink Krystal Flash
Wing: 50/50 white and pink polar bear or bucktail with a few strands of pink Krystal Flash

Pink Euphasid

Hook: Mustad 34007 Stainless Steel #4 - 6
Thread: Red monocord
Eyes: Small clear plastic eyes or melted monofilament
Tail: Hot pink Polar bear
Body: Pale pink steelhead yarn
Shellback: Pink Krystal Flash
Rib: Red monocord thread
Beard: None
Wing: None

Pink Handlebar

Hook: Mustad 34007 Stainless Steel #6
Thread: Red monocord
Tail: Pink Krystal Flash
Body: Florescent red Lazer Wrap over flat silver tinsel
Rib: None
Beard: None
Wing: None

Sidebar for Pink Summer
Where to go for beach fishing pink salmon on Vancouver Island.

The east coast of Vancouver Island has many good locations to fish for pink salmon off the beaches. There are, however, a few spots well known for their productivity and ease of access. The estuaries of the Cluxewe and Keough rivers up towards Port McNeill are incredibly productive. Closer to Campbell River the mouth of the Oyster, as well as Black Creek produce very well, and further south near Qualicum the Nile Creek estuary has a very productive run.

In between these spots are innumerably beaches that can provide anglers with many opportunities to fish for these great little salmon if you persevere and can find access down to the beachfront through the private property or bush

Bill Luscombe has been hunting and fishing for most of his 42 years. He has been flyfishing for 20 years. He instructs flyfishing, and has done so for the past 12 years. He also instructs the federal FSET firearms course and the BC CORE hunter training course. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and has been writing freelance since 1987. He has been published in BC Sport Fishing Magazine, Outdoor Edge, BC Outdoors, Western Sportsman, Island Fish Finder, and the BC Hunting Guide.

Bill Luscombe was born an army brat and raised in Ladner (Delta, BC) where he was raised hunting waterfowl and pheasants. He presently resides in North Cowichan on southern Vancouver Island where he has lived and worked full time as a professional forester since 1982.

He presently works in Nanaimo for the BC Forest Service and continue to write the fly-fishing column for BC Sport Fishing Magazine as well as contributing articles freelance to various outdoor magazines in western Canada. Bill Luscombe is also a BC Director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.

"Catching fish is not hard. You simply need to understand what makes them tick. If you think like a fish, you will catch fish. It´s as simple as that."- Bill Luscombe

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