It’s that time again, when even the worst fisher on the coast looks like a genius and brings home the bacon, er, pink salmon. DFO, from its preseason estimate of 13.3 million Fraser pinks, has now pegged the best bet at 8.7 million, still lots of fish for everyone to catch their share.
In Area 19 and 20, from Victoria to Port Renfrew, pink salmon are already being caught at 40- to 70-feet on the downrigger. In the past few years, we have fished at roughly 100 feet, for pinks, as well as sockeye, and coho which intermingle on their run up Juan de Fuca Strait; but this year, the pinks are occupying the depths past fishing would indicate.
Pinks are normally found in off-shore tide lines, rather than on-shore responding to land and bottom structure. Juan de Fuca can be 700 feet deep in our area, so bottom structure is not a factor, and tide lines out to the international border with the USA are good places to practice your craft.
Fish the moving side of tide lines, and cross back and forth even though you have to clean debris off your downrigger cable more frequently. Krill and bait fish are in the moving side and salmon follow them for lunch. While any day will do, the most consistent bites are usually in August, on long slow flood tides. Once you have located a school, fire out a marker that will travel along with the school and thus show you the most likely spot for catching fish (do retrieve whatever you have used to mark the school).
One you have caught a fish, circle around to pass through the school again, and thus gain multiple passes at the same school of fish as the tide moves them forward. Often a tide line will remain on the surface to indicate where the fish should be, but tide lines can peter out, even though the fish are still underneath that ‘spot’, moving with the moving water.
When pinks or sockeye are alone, troll at idling RPM, as in slow. Sockeye prefer shorter leader lengths down to 28 inches and less action. When pinks, sockeye and coho intermingle, pick up speed because coho prefer faster more erratic action, and because the other species will also speed up when intermingled. That allows you to cover more territory, an advantage when schools are spread out.
In the past, lures with pink in them have been the best option for pink fishing, particularly squirts, or hootchies with lines in them – it makes them look more like needlefish rather than larger herring. A pink or Day-glo orange plastic bait 32- to 36-inches behind a flasher is the first option. In the past flashers with pink in them have worked best, and the original combination was a red Krippled-K and Gibbs red flasher for both sockeye and pink salmon.
Then came the red Hotspot flasher, plaid flashers, the Super Betsy (used to have red in it) and more recently, Purple Onion, Madi and Lemon Lime. Early fishing using the Homeland Security flasher has been good in 2017.
Before getting out on the water, decide the first three lures you will use, along with flashers. I always start with a Bubblegum squirt on the starboard side – has pink, and white in it as well as glow red eyes. Back ups would be all-pink squirts. Two years ago, while testing the then new Coho Killer spoons – I had a dozen colours to sort through, and that takes time – the best ‘colour’ turned out to be the all silver, a surprising choice given that past fishing has always indicated pink. So, this year, the second lure in my rotation, on the port side, has a silver Coho Killer on it, and is the first rod I check from the Captain’s seat.
When you catch a pink, don’t lift it by the spoon. That is because the new, tin spoons will bend even with a 5-pound pink (in the past we have also had pinks in the 10-to 12-pound range) lifted into the boat. Admittedly, I don’t use a net for such small fish, and because, when fishing for pinks, your chances of getting a limit are very high, it doesn’t matter if you lose one or two when opting, once the fish has stopped thrashing, to lift it up in one smooth motion, over the gunwhale, directly into the fish box.
If you get a bent tin spoon, hold it beside one that you have not used, and rebend the spoon into the shape of the unused one. And tin spoons rust, so emery board or silver cleaner (Brasso leaves a smell, so try something else) is needed before consigning the lure to the sea. Also, some spoons, particularly Coho Killers, have a freshwater hook, the shape of which is not reproduced in a saltwater hook.
You will have to change in short order to saltwater, Mustad, octopus, kirbed hooks, adding a swivel to connect it to the lure. I prefer Siwash hooks for their long point, but you will have to introduce a kirb into it to hold the fish on the hook. Hole the hook in your pliers from point to shaft and bend down to introduce a 10-degree kirb.
For pinks, at least, these alternates are fine, but when putting new hooks on tin spoons, I suggest you run a new one side by side with a changed one beside the boat, until you are satisfied that the action of the changed lure is the same. If it isn’t, you might not catch any fish. Pay attention, in your log book, to whether a lure with a different, new hook still catches fish. If not, change hook until the catch rate is the same. Or buy a package of the matching, freshwater hook, and change hooks frequently, a practice that requires adding a split ring between lure and hook. Check action again and catch your dinner.