This summer the pink salmon of Johnstone Strait have been late. From Campbell River north to the Salmon, Eve, Cluxewe, Keogh and Quatse, the fish have been late. When I left the area on August 3, the fish had just begun arriving at the Eve, though the Campbell had few fishers.
If you want to do the fishery this summer, phone River Sportsman, at 250–286-1017 and ask how things are going before you head north. For Strait of Georgia, phone Nile Creek Fly Shop, at 250-757-2095.
My annual trip started an unaccustomed way: the first night I woke freezing, and huddled until morning under my formerly great two-bag down-filled Black’s system, good to 40 below. Well, that was long ago and obviously much down had escaped the bags over the forty years since I bought them. I made a quick trip to Campbell River to pick up a North Face bag – a more current logo – and raced back to camp and fish. And slept warm and toasty.
The reality was the fish were in small numbers in the third week of July. At the bar, with fifteen of us lining both sides of the channel on the flood, one guy seemed to get more than his share of bites, though the rest of us were silently cheering when he didn’t land any of them. After him receiving 7 bites, it dawned on me he had a heavier inch-per-second sink tip in front of his floating line than the rest of us, and that there was a trench in front of him. Thus, he was sinking deeper and in the fish zone more frequently than the rest of us.
Looking at the lip of the bar, it appeared that I could walk from one side to the other, the water being so shallow. That meant the fish were coming in over the lip, then dropping into the gut of a trench, where they rested before moving up. As the tide rose slowly, this spot was the hot spot for a couple of hours before the flood rose above it, thus eliminating the structure and allowing the fish to move higher.
It makes good sense to memorize an estuary’s entire bottom structure from low tide to high tide. This gives you a much better sense of where the fish will be at any given tidal height. In pink fishing, you fish where you see fish. If this general rule doesn’t pan out, look where fish are being caught and insinuate yourself in the line of anglers – at the high end on a flood, and low end on the ebb. In other words, if you can’t fish the hotspot at the time it is happening, you want to be on the hotspot a little later in the tide. Then you will get the bites.
An obvious way to get more sink instantly, dawned on me. Rather than taking the time to change tip, leader and fly while standing in water that if any were dropped they would never be found, I tried an instant solution: after you cast, throw another ten feet of line out the rod tip guide and count to ten to let the rig sink before stripping in. I hit fish on my next two casts – my first two fish of the day – and thus had found the zone.
The reality is that if you concentrate on trying to catch fish and the options to achieve the various variables, you will catch more fish than if you zombie-like cast line and strip. Another similar rule is that you fish the highest percentage fly until you think it does not work, and then change. Don’t just keep casting, keep that edge of concentration. That’s why fly anglers will always ask the person hitting fish what colour of fly they are using. Switch to it, and then to others of the same colour, but different materials.
Pink is the common colour, but Handle Bar style of wrapped plastic, is different from, say, a sparse pink Muddler, done in feathers, from a Fuzzy Pink done in size 2 plastic wrap commonly put on trolling spoon hooks, from a Bucktail style fly in calf or buck tail, from one made of synthetic fur that draggles down the hook, and so on. And the current rage: purple Handle Bar flies, look awfully pink to me.
If one doesn’t work, move to another. If that doesn’t work, ask the successful angler to show you his/her fly. And then make one that evening or ‘buy’ one with a beer offered to the successful angler.
Let me return to the ‘fish where you see pink salmon’ rule. One evening on a high rising tide, I spotted a school two thirds of the way across the tide-swollen river. Once I edged out so my vest was in the water, and then both sleeves of my fleece coat were as well, my fly was on the money. Before the school moseyed on, I released one, and lost another. Then, when I could see no more fish, I heard a beer calling my name.
And there are specific behaviours that spell bitey fish. A porpoising fish, particularly in freshwater, is happy, content and on the bite; similarly, the nose of a pink, or one just to its eye. It seems odd that pinks will have the specific behaviour of lifting their eye above water, but it is surprising how far away you can see one, when sun is shining in that eye. Idle tail fins, and dorsal fins show you where to fish, but not the biters, and, of course, jumpers are not biters. They just show you where the fish are.
In all these cases, make a first few casts and strip, then, if not rewarded, cast a bit above the fish, count the fly down and into fish, and begin stripping. If the school is not moving, chances are the bitey fish are on the bottom, particularly if faced with some structure right above them such as a riffle that is shallow and coming in their faces quickly, making them stop for a bit before moving.
Another variable in all of salmon fly fishing in freshwater is: use only as much leader as you need to separate the fly from the fly line, typically four feet. The point is for the fly to be at the level of the sink tip, not above it. And note that tying on new flies shortens leaders. In saltwater approaches, leader length can even be 10 feet, so the fish don’t see both the fly and flyline at the same time. And the higher the water speed, the shorter leaders can be, because, the quicker a fish must react, the less likely it is to see both fly and fly line.
Another trick is to use an improved clinch knot between fly and leader. The purpose is to let the fly move as naturally as possible, by pulling the finished knot up the leader so an eighth of an inch gap opens between it and the hook eye. This is particularly useful if you want to use a higher pound test weight leader and still retain good presentation. I use a low diameter, 15-pound test, and thus need this trick and if I think the high weight is dissuading biters, I switch to lower test. Use only low diameter leaders, for example, my 10-pound leader actually has a wider diameter than my higher pound leader. The issue is both, being seen by the fish, as well as inhibiting natural fly action.