Saturday, 19 July 2014

Pink Salmon Fly Fishing

It is time to move north and begin fly fishing for pinks on the beaches, in estuaries and in rivers. Close by, Cherry Point is the first spot where the Cowichan net-pen pinks stage in early August. In Nanaimo, where the Millstream River enters is also a good spot, with gear guys on the right bank and fly fishers on the left. This is a muddy spot so be prepared and don’t get stuck. (1)

Then there are volunteer pink netpens/hatcheries in a good fifteen streams from Nile Creek north to Salmon Point, which also has the Oyster River in its area. The Quinsam, a tributary of the Campbell, had a blockage blown up in recent years and the early estimate of pinks is 750,000.

This is an even-numbered year, so from Campbell River – now stuffed with pinks, says River Sportsman – north to the Quatse in Port Hardy, there are at least a half dozen drainages that will have more fish than 2013. These include: Amor de Cosmos (a bushwhack to the estuary), Salmon, Eve, Cluxewe, Keogh (accessed from the airport south of Port Hardy) and the Quatse. In 2012, the fly fishing for pinks was so good it was beyond superlatives, and 2014 will bring return progeny from the 2012 spawners.

Beach/estuarial fisheries have much in common everywhere you fish. The most important thing I can suggest is that you memorize the spot’s 3-D structure on low tide. This lets you know where the fish are going to be on any given tide, whether up or down. You can anticipate this, and when you are marginalized by the location of other fly fishers or being persecuted by the gods, you can move to where the fish will be in half an hour, and thus glom the best spot before it happens.

Any spot that has water on a low tide, will hold fish in its gut on higher water. The channels where the river flows also usually have fish along their sides in the slightly slower water on the flood. Any place that a gravel bar forms on low tide, fish will tend to migrate over or sit on at higher tides, particularly ones that are long, slow risers. The shallow water makes the zone easier to reach. An estuary that is a mile long – the Salmon is much longer than this – will have multiple points where fish will stop on either tide.

Where the stream flows down a riffle from a tail-out on a low tide, will form a ‘barrier’ where the rising tide brings the fish in numbers to that point and they wait. Once the tide rises above the top end of the riffle, it eliminates the tail-out as structure and the fish and you mosey up to the next structure, slow spot, or end of faster water.

In such clear water you should use at least a 10-foot leader, and if you can aerialize it, 15, because it is embarrassingly clear when you strip in line how the fish is presented with the fly in view of the fly line. You won’t catch many fish until you lengthen your leader. And do remember that length of leader and weight of fly are highly important to getting your fly in the fish zone. Pinks and other salmon tend to move in a horizontal plane and are looking to nab something in direct line with their noses, whereas a fly a foot higher or lower than the zone does not get bitten.

In rivers, hitting the zone is far more important because once pinks commit to a river, like the other species of salmonids, they bunch together in large schools on the bottom – coho are the only ones likely to stray up to a fly. You need to pass your fly through the school at the horizontal level of their noses, and as only 5- to10-percent of committed fish will bite, need thousands in front of you to have a good day. 

It is more important to use sink tips, sinking lines, and poly sinking leaders in freshwater as the zone can be six to eight feet deep – oh, and leaders as short as four feet. Also use flies with heavier bead chain eyes. The hinging caused by a heavier fly can to some extent be eliminated by emphasizing good casting technique: let that fly extend fully on the back cast and only then do the forward stroke with the haul being performed at the same time.

As for flies, I attach a photo of my small box for pinks. You need back up flies when your go-to fly isn’t working and all the flies in this box will catch pinks. I suggest you pick up some pink Muddlers in size 8 and 10 at River Sportsman on your way through Campbell River. They are sparsely tied but can be incredibly fishy.

In the Campbell itself, even a standard coloured, sparse Muddler is effective. Having back up colours in green, pink and some years purple Lazer Wrap (if you can find it) for handle-bar-style flies can catch you fish when they won’t touch your best fly. Tie three of any new test fly, and if it works, make sure you resist the temptation to fish the last fly, and lose it, and your memory of its pattern. Blue will serve triple duty when there are Dolly Varden and coho around.

I am a big believer in eyes and tails for pink flies. Bead chain in silver is more effective than gold for beach/estuarial fishing. The most common fly in the right side of the box is my most effective fly. As you will notice I tie in pearl- or pink-pearl-escent tails of as much as two inches in length.
I have noticed that length attracts pinks and generally does not mean they will miss the fly itself by biting on the Krystal Flash. But if I get bites with no sticks, I trim a half- to one-inch off the tail and try again. I am convinced that when fish hit the fly sideways, and I don’t mean flossing, it gives them a bigger target to see and aim at and they take the whole thing in.

This googly-eyed pattern starts with a size 6, medium streamer, saltwater hook with a round eye I use size 2 pink tubing from Radiant (normally used for saltwater trolling spoon hooks), cut it two thirds of shank length, crush the barb and then slide the tubing around the bend onto the shank.

Tie in your Krystal Flash tail with flaming pink thread, daub it with clear nail polish, push the tubing over the daubed tailends, and wind the thread forward to the eye. Lay down a bed of thread, take medium bead chain eyes and tie them in solidly, then move the thread to the eye. Figure-eight the pink chenille (several colour variations work well) around the eyes and then tie off behind the eye. Finish with clear nail polish or Hard as Hull. I make 50 go-to flies at a time so I don’t have to re-tie in season.

One final thing: tie your fly to your leader with an Improved Clinch knot and then – the important part – pull the knot away from the eye and tighten. The fly dangles from the knot and has a more natural movement, than if the knot is tightened to the eye. In addition, you can use higher test leader up to 15 pounds, in the more expensive, thinner diameter leader material. The purpose is to eliminate break offs. In a day where you might release 25 salmon, the time you save from not retying, and sometimes having to take the whole leader off and put on a new 15 foot leader when you have retied flies many times, adds up over time.

And even more final: while I don’t mind your fishing this fly right beside me, just don’t catch more fish than I do. I won’t like that. I will be off doing my annual camping trip thing for the next two weeks, and so send two columns this week.

1.       Can someone at the Sidney Anglers Association let me know whether there will be a netpen pink return in Sidney this summer?

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