About this blog

This blog is all about fly fishing for native trout. On it I cover trip reports, fishing tactics, conservation, the latest news about native trout species and much more. This site provides a companion to my web page Nativetroutflyfishing.com.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Time to think pink

The Pink Salmon is a rather odd little fish. These fish, the smallest of the North American Pacific Salmon have a two year life cycle and this has led distinctive odd and even year spawning runs. It is believed that these two distinct spawning runs are a relict of a long isolation between Pink Salmon populations at the northern and southern parts of their range during the last ice age. Today in the northern part of their range, i.e. Alaska and northern British Columbia the even year run timing dominates, while the odd year dominates in the southern part of their range i.e. southern British Columbia and Washington State. 2009 being an odd year, it is Pink Salmon time in western Washington and not only that, but we are having one of the best returns since the 1960's. With around six million fish projected to be returning to the Puget Sound and close to one million fish to the Puyallup River near Tacoma alone.

Although Pinks have a poor reputation with anglers due to their poor quality as a food fish, there are a number of things to like about them. First off is that just about all of those 6 million fish are wild and native fish instead of hatchery fish. Second is that they are probably the most fly friendly of the Pacific Salmon and are a blast on a 6 weight rod.

With this many fish coming back the Sound, naturally I have been trying to get as much fishing in for them I can while they are around. Yesterday, Clint and I got out on his boat to see if we couldn't find a few of these salmon. Luckily they aren't to hard to find if you know where to look. We decided to start at a spot where we had heard tell of good numbers of pink holding and as it turned out, there were extremely good numbers of fish holding there! In fact it only took me three casts to catch my first fish, an average 4lb Pink.

A bright Pink Salmon taken on a baitfish pattern.

Pinks don't fight nearly as well as Coho, and while they seem to have perfected the underwater roll that Coho love to use against me so much, they have a much more down, deep and dogged fighting style. In other words they aren't much for acrobatics, but this doesn't mean that they aren't powerful fish. Actually it is quite the contrary, and a few minutes after the first fish, I hooked into another very large and hot fish. This Pink went straight into my backing, not once but three times. Each time I would bring it in within sight of the boat before it would go ballistic and take off again. However, on the third run the fish gave me a big head shake and threw my fly. Not long after this I got another Pink, followed by another one and then Clint finally got one too.

Clint hooked up with a decent fish

Clint with an average Pink Salmon

While we were truly on good numbers of fish, with twenty fish visible jumping or fining on the surface at any giving time, the number of hook ups was not quite up to parr. We both tried several different flies and a wide variety of stripping speeds, but continued to only get sporadic hook ups. Then I finally landed on the hot fly of the day, something that should have been a natural choice. A cerise and pink Marabou Clouser. Talk about instant gratification, I tied this fly on, cast it out, made a couple of short erratic strips and bam I had a fish on. On the next cast the situation repeated itself. Then Clint who was also now using this fly got a fish as well.

Being that this is fishing through just when we figured things out the fish moved on and we had to go find another school. We spent about a half hour searching and getting a few hook ups before we really got into the fish again. My first two casts on this school resulted in two very nice male pinks at five and seven pounds. However, just when we found the fish again we ran out of time to fish and had to reluctantly call it a day.

Me with a nice male Pink Salmon

A big male Pink starting to show its dorsal hump.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Salmon way out west

This year Washington State is receiving some truly decent salmon runs and over the past few weeks I had been hearing an awful lot of good reports about fishing at Neah Bay through the grapevine so I figured that I ought to check things out for myself. Over this past week my dad, my brother-in-law Mike and I found the time to make a trip out this small Makah Indian fishing village on the wild and rugged northwest tip of the state, to see if we couldn't get ourselves into a few salmon. We left on Tuesday, but got off to a bit of a slow start and pulled into the small town of Sekiu in the evening.

Conditions looked decent so we decided that we would rent a boat for a few hours to try our luck. However, things can change quickly on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the combination of wind and tide changes made conditions less than ideal. We still put in a couple of hours on the water, but the only thing that we had to show for our time was one Spiny Dogfish caught by my dad. We didn't feel too bad when we made the decision to head back in, as out of the forty some other boats we only saw one or two very small salmon caught. In any case Wednesday was to be the fishing day and this evening outing was really just a little bit of "bonus time" on the water.  After getting off the water we headed up the highway toward Neah Bay to find a campsite for the night and fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing against the coastline.

We got up early the next morning all rearing to go and get some salmon. We headed to the Big Salmon Resort in Neah Bay, where I had called a few days prior to reserve one of their rental boats. As we walked into the resort there was somebody at the counter in the process of trying to rent our boat. It seemed we got there just in the nick of time to keep our reservation for the morning, but they had apparently already double booked the boat and rented it out for the afternoon. This meant that we would have to be back into the harbor at mid-day and put a serious damper on our plans.

With the whole reservation fiasco behind us, we headed down too the docks and loaded all of our gear into the boat, which was beat up little skiff with a 15hp motor on it. For what we were doing it would serve our needs though. The weather to start things out wasn't bad with overcast skies, no wind and calm seas. As was we made our way out of the bay I rigged up the rods while my dad handled the boat and Mike took in the scenery. I rigged each of them of up with gear rods, but I would be using my trusty 8wt fly rod, which I decided to setup with a Baity Baitfish (great herring imitation) tied onto a 30 foot of 300 grain sink tip. We started off trolling and within a few minutes I hooked up with a nice salmon, which made a few good runs but was no match for the 8wt. When I got the fish in it turned out to be a nice about 5lb wild Chinook, which I promptly released before getting my line back in the water. However, the one thing to consider in this wild corner of the state is the ever changing weather and by the time I got my fish in a fog bank rolled in and forced closer to shore. The main problem with the fog isn't so much of not knowing what way to go, there is GPS for that. It is that you don't know who else is out there and it is no fun to have a freighter that you can hear but not see bearing down on you. However, there was plenty to keep us busy in along the rocky shoreline and within a couple of minutes Mike caught a nice Black Rockfish.

Mike's first fish of the trip a Black Rockfish a.k.a. Sea Bass

For the next couple of hours we hugged the coast, fishing along the kelp beds and rocky drop-offs and catching several species of bottom fish, including several Cabezon, Rockfish, a Lingcod and even a small Halibut. In a couple of the coves that we fished we also had some Grey Whales for company. These giants of the deep were feeding on krill right inside the kelp beds themselves.

It is a little hard to see but there is a Grey whale in this photo. Look for the plume where it was blowing air.

By mid-morning the fog finally lifted a bit and we were able to head out to the deeper water behind Tatoosh Island to try for some salmon again if only we could find them. Luckily for us this did not take long at all. My line had been in water for 30 seconds tops when a fish absolutely crushed my fly. This was a strong fish and within seconds it was into my backing and doing cartwheels while it was at it. After a heated battle I brought this robust 8lb wild Coho to the boat, released it and got back to it. Thankfully this fish wasn't a fluke either and the fishing continued to be red hot and within a couple minutes my dad and brother-in-law doubled up, with one fish being another wild Coho and the other being a nice hatchery fish.

My dad with a nice hatchery Coho bound for the BBQ, while Mike's wild fish sneaks a peek before being released.

Looking towards the foggy Cape Flattery and Tatoosh Island

While my dad picked up a hatchery fish here, we ended up having a very hard time getting many hatchery fish as the wild fish were outnumbering them about 10 to 1. Good news for Washington's depleted wild runs! Next it was my turn again and I got myself another nice wild Coho on my Herring pattern.

A wild Coho salmon ready for release.

For the next hour the fishing continued much of the same, with us trolling through a small patch of vacant water before running into another school, which would usually result in at least a double hookup if not a triple. The Baity Baitfish seemed to be outshining to the bait by a bit and before long my dad and Mike had run out of bait and so I threw on a couple of flies for them rigged up about four feet behind their 3 oz. weights. This setup was worked great and started producing fish for them right away.

Mike with a nice Coho on the fly

While the fishing was flat out amazing and we had long since lost track of how many fish that we had caught, we were quickly running out of time thanks to the double booked boat reservation. We made the call to troll back until the fishing died or we ran of time. The first option didn't seem to likely as within a couple of minutes I tied into another nice Coho, which turned out to be a hatchery fish. 

A nice hatchery Coho on the Baity Baitfish

However, the game ending blow was coming but from an unexpected source. Shortly after I got my hatchery Coho, Mike hooked into a very nice fish. From the second this fish grabbed his fly it didn't stop. I saw the fish thrash on the surface at about 100 yards behind us, then a few seconds later I heard a pop and saw a shocked Mike and an empty spool on his reel. My best guess would be that this was a big Chinook but we will never know for sure. From what I could tell it was a minimum of twenty pounds and was quite the fish to be capable of a spooling. I any case we made the call not to continue fishing and made it back to the dock right at the end of our allotted time.

A shot of the coastline on the way back to the bay