Surfing the Great Pink Wave

Photos: Fred Sears

For anyone who lives in the NW, West Coast of BC or in AK, the simple phrase “It’s a pink year” elicits many things. For some it is an every-other-yearly calling to wrangle out the battle gear, tie on all manner of Buzz-Bomb-Dick-Nite-Blue-Fox munitions, line up along suburban river banks in an aquatic rugby scrum and floss like a speed-freak dental assistant. For others, it is 6-8 wts, weight-forward lines and furry pink things.

Pink salmon are the most trouty of all our Puget Sound salmon species and they tend to bite, roll, and generally behave somewhere between a rainbow trout and a college freshman: Travelling in packs, acting aggressively and possessed to spawn. And like clockwork, sometime between mid-August and early October, they will roll in. Literally. Thrashing about points and shoals like a dinner bell for seals, pinks come in closer to the beach than the other salmon as well. Which is where the magic happens.

In most cases, salmon fishing in the Puget Sound involves fairly long boat chases, staring at depth sounders and a lot of lowering and raising of down-riggers. A decidely non-fly affair. I did it for years and years as a kid and just can’t do it anymore. Which is why the arrival of the pinks is a greater fall event than the Hatch chile harvest, the coming of The Great Pumpkin and The World Series put together.

No Buzz Bombs, no downriggers, no depthsounders, no boat.

Just a moderate double-haul, a swing into the tideline and a hook set.

Fishing for pinks is actually a lot more like surfing than what most assosciate with flyfishing. Rather than packing all manner of gear, driving miles and miles into the hills for moving water and solitude, pinks run indiscriminately along urban and wild beaches equally. A quick parking lot check at the local point reveals if there is a pink swell. No seals, no gulls, no gillnetters and no nervous water means no fish. Lazy, late summer afternoons spent waiting for the tide to turn and the fish to turn on; like surfers with semi-guns waiting for the bowl section to form. And when they do turn on, basic patterns, wet wading and total simplicity rule the day. It is perfection, every other year.

FFJ Creative Director Jessie Lu and I managed to catch a few swells this fall, watching these wonderful fish rip line towards the San Juan Islands and later filling the smoker with pink fillets. And while these shots were taken over a month ago, the smokey ambrosia reminds us of the essential goodness of early fall in the NW.

And of course the only thing as fun as the Pink Wave is the Silver Wave. More on the cohos to come…


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