Pink Salmon, or Humpies, as they are commonly referred to, have gotten a bad rap over the years. Their value as a food fish was far less than their more popular brethren the Chinook and Coho Salmon. Even the Dog Salmon, or Chum, ranks higher in the Salmon world. This diminutive Salmon has gotten very little respect, often finding their end along the banks of rivers in Alaska and Canada, adding to the nutrients, feeding the wildlife and generally stinking up the place. Sometimes they end up in tiny dusty cans on the top shelf of the supermarket with a very unflattering likeness on the label.
Well Campers, give the little guy a break. I found out this week that behind that position at the bottom of the Salmon food chain lies the heart of a fighter. I mean a real scrapper. I'm talking chrome bright, fresh from the ocean, looking to pick a fight and put some serious bend in a fly rod scrapper. I found a new respect for Pinks, and a bunch of them. With an estimated 6 million Pink Salmon forecast to return to Puget Sound this year, you are fairly likely to run into some over the next few weeks if you head that direction.
I started my adventure in Gig Harbor after a few weeks of research, google mapping and web surfing for current fishing reports. I need to give a shout out to two guys that really helped fill in the blanks by providing some charted fishing spots, fly tips and tackle suggestions for this fishery. To protect their identity and harbor them from retribution from the locals I will simply refer to them as the Monkey Skull Guys. They truly know this game and play it very well.
Now, before you native Alaskans chime in on Pinks, Emily, put your hand down and let me finish, you need to know I'm not talking about those silly looking fish you find clogging up gravel bars in Alaska looking like a Tim Burton designed nightmare. I'm referring to the Dr. Jekyll version before the hump. These are chrome bright ocean travelers that take a fly nicely and fight you right to the boat. What they lack in size, they make up for in heart. A very fun gamefish indeed. At times I thought that someone had painted an Orca on the bottom of my Whaler the way these little guys fought to avoid capture.
On returning to Puget Sound, Pinks will occasionally venture into the shallow bays and coves of the numerous islands that dot the Sound before heading up their home rivers. That's where the fly angler has a chance. If you cruise the shoreline and look for fish frolicking on the surface you can slide in and make a few casts before they move on. Many anglers target them from the public beaches along their travel path and fishing from shore can be quite successful. Much of the time you'll be the only angler on the beach. Of course, that depends on the beach. It can also be a community thing. Think I-5 Seattle at 4:00PM. A boat or other floating devise will get you away from any crowds and help you intercept moving fish. Just watch the tides and currents if you head out in anything without a motor attached or we'll see a helicopter shot of you bobbing off Tacoma somewhere on the 5 o'clock news.
Once you have figured out the where part, now it's time for the how. Fly lines from floating to fast sinking can be required, but an intermediate sinking line will probably get the most use. Match that to a 9' 7wt. rod and you have the perfect set up for the Sound. There are some that tout a 6wt. for these mini Salmon, but after tugging on over 40 Pinks in two days, I'll stick with the 7wt.
I'm not an expert on this fishery, but the flies were the easy part, anything fluorescent pink/fuchsia and white. I really can't comment on other patterns yet because I haven't used any. You see, for my little salty adventure I tyed on a fluorescent fuchsia and white Clousery looking thingy that I whipped up the day before leaving, and left it tyed on the whole time. The fish seemed to like it. A lot. The fly is still in fishable shape and could probably pop another 40 fish before needing a refit.
To round out your fly box and to prepare for the other species of Salmonids that call Puget Sound home, I would mix in a few baitfish patterns, shrimp patterns and some of your favorite Searun Cutthroat flies. The Sound is teaming with a variety of Salmon table fare from plump Anchovies to nearly invisible Shrimp. Your fly box should reflect that menu. Just make sure you have plenty of pink.