Washington’s Waters Running Pink (2013)
By Terry J Wiest
A phenomenon is about to occur that we only see every odd year in Washington – the return of the Pink Salmon. While Alaska has their Reds, we have our pinks.
Twenty years ago pinks, or humpies we’re more of a nuisance. Smaller, not as much fight, didn’t fare as well, and really only running in the Skagit System. As far as fishing for them there wasn’t much interest except for the locals around the Skagit Valley, About 14 years ago I was introduced to this “new” species by one of the few guides that targeted these ugly little salmonids that grew a hump on their back, Curtis Welch. Along with Curtis I Also met what would become a great friend and fishing partner Brian Long.
Back then we anchored above a hole and fish one of three offerings, either a spin n glo and sandshrimp combo, a wobler spoon, or a Dick Nite. These we would cast behind the boat, let it sit in the hole and let the current work our rigs. The most important detail of each offering… it didn’t matter what color you used as long as it was pink!
We did well back then toting home our limits without much effort. Was it fun? Hell yes it was a blast. With the advice of Curtis we smoked our fish and they turned out wonderful. The main reason they turned out so good was how we handled the fish after landing them. It’s extremely important to bleed these fish immediately and then cleaning and putting them on ice ASAP. Prime time is September so it doesn’t take long for these fish to start loosing their edible status. After arriving home they should be placed in brine or cure right away.
Even though these fish were abundant with several million fish returning every odd year, fishing pressure was almost non-existent and it still amazes me as to the lack of interest in pursuing these fish.
Now skip forward just another few years and things are beginning to change in many ways. First of all, pinks are showing up in rivers that they previously hadn’t existed. Runs of other salmonid species are diminishing. The interest in fishing is at an all-time high. Combine these factors together along with spreading rumors of how easy these fish are to catch and we now have a world class fishery… yes for Pinks!
In the last 6 years not only have these fish thrived and have been showing up in the millions on rivers that they never roamed before, but record numbers of anglers are pursuing them setting all sorts of tackle sales records virtually selling out of every Dick Nite in stock, and every lure that is pink in color.
A few years ago people would laugh when I’d say how I loved to fish pinks. Now, its become so popular I’m actually working with Fetha Styx in designing a Pink Specific twitchin rods which should be available prior to the anticipated run. They wont be pink in color but you gotta know they’re going to sell out, everything does for this fishery, everything.
So I mentioned they’re easy to catch… I betcha want to know how? Even if you already know how, continue reading, I have a “new” technique I’ll disclose, at least I haven’t seen or heard of anyone using it yet.
Tried and True: The Dick Nite Spoon
I’m not sure if Dick Nite put pink fishing on the map or visa versa, but the two have become synonymous with each other over the years. No other single type of lure has put more pinks on the bank than the Dick Nite, including setting and breaking the world record several times. You don’t want a large size, a size 0 or wee is all you need. If you replace the hooks with higher quality hooks as I do, make sure the are the exact same size. Dick Nite has spent thousands of dollars and countless hours of research and testing to find the exact balance. This came from Dick Fossage, owner of Dick Nite to yours truly when I visited his operation. So why change the hooks? You don’t have to, but I prefer a sharper stronger hook than what’s supplied. If your good with a file just sharpen them up.
The old tradition of letting your Dick Nite sit in the current weighted down in a hole still works. Tie a 18” dropper to a three way swivel. Put on a 3’ leader to your spoon and cast away… let it sit taught and get ready – they slam em!
True dat, it still works. I prefer to fish them a different way, one I’ve been using for 12 years now – a Dick Nite under a float. That is correct. I use a slip float with 4’ of line to a bobber stop. I tie the main line to a ¼ oz inline weight. From there a 4’ leader to my Dick Nite. This works best in little to no current. Cast out and let is sit. Very,Very,Very slowly retrieve as so the spoon barely wobbles. If the current moves your float theirs no need to retrieve.
If bait is allowed it doesn’t hurt to put a little shrimp or krill scent on for good measures.
Color? Come on, pink of course. Anything with pink, Half pink and half white being the most popular. My favorite color? 50/50 Brass/Nickel. OK, so it’s not pink, it will however catch more of this species, and all other salmonids as well in my opinion.
The Popular Choice: Twitchin
What can I say, majority rules! I love twitchin. Its not only the popular choice of techniques for pinks but will soon surpass Dick Nite as the number one all time techniques for these fish. Why so popular? It flat out kicks butt!
For this technique rod choice does make a difference, that’s why I’m so exited about the new twithin rods Im working on. Up until now I’ve been using a Kokonee or light Steelhead rod, neither being ideal. The general specs in the upcoming rod: 1 piece 7’ 6” rated 6 – 15lbs. This will have a specific action I want for pinks along with a custom butt section. A new Coho Twitchin rod is also in the works.
The idea of twitchin is simple – doing it in a correct manner which will produce the most strikes is not always witnessed when I look amongst the banks and boats at anglers who appear to try and snag these fish. Done properly you will outhook the snaggers ten fold.
We start out with a twitchin jig. Nothing more than a ½ to 5/8oz jig with a longer tail then what we use for steelhead. Pink of course being the go to color. Purple or white have also been known to work. Remember there’s a reason pink jigs sell more than any other color! If you cant find a good twitchin jig don’t worry, just slip a 3” pink worm on a jig head and your good to go. Some of my buddies actually prefer using the pink worm.
Tie your jig directly to your main line. I like power pro but for pinks mono can work better if you tend to set the hook hard which may pull the hook from a pinks soft mouth.
If the pinks are around you should be able to see them breaking the surface occasionally. Cast out and let your jig start to sink. This is where the “twitch” starts. With a crisp motion bring the tip of the rod up quickly but only 12 to 18 inches. When doing so try and only use your wrist to create this action. As the rod tops off, drop the tip to the previous height. As the jig drops reel in the slack which should be the equivalent of less than one crank. If you reel in too much you’ll kill the action most fish are looking for. You’ll still catch fish, but done properly you’ll catch many more. Continue twitchin all the way to your feet or the boat and then cast again.
When a fish strikes its outta this world the feeling you’ll get. If the numbers of fish don’t convert you to this method the feel of the strike will.
If your wrist starts getting sore from so many fish, or maybe its not used to the action, refer back to the previous technique, or better yet, add a float to your current setup with your float between 4 and 8 feet deep (assuming the water is deeper than this distance).
Using this float and jig setup, add a small piece of raw prawn (the kind you buy at the butcher block). Cast out and let it sit. No movement necessary.
You Heard it Here First: Bobber Twitchin
That’s right, bobber twitchin. This method is intended for water that’s moving a little faster than those slow to no current situations. Using a ¼ oz twitchin jig tie it with a ½ oz slip float and 1/4oz inline weight. Tie your bobber stop so your jig would be just off bottom if it were vertical in the water. Cast out and let the jig fall. If there’s enough current to move the presentation at a slow to fast walking pace, great! You’ll only have to create the twitchin action and wont have to real in until the end of the drift. This action is similar to regular twitchin but smaller twitches, only 12 inches at the most. Any more than 12 inches and you’ll upset the float too much. Now if the flow is less than walking speed or more than a fast walk, this isn’t the technique to use. You know if it’s the later there aren’t gonna be any pinks there anyway as they’ll be in the slow stuff.
You can be rest assured the days of low angler pressure for pinks has long gone. The Rivers will be loaded with not only pinks, but anglers pursuing them as well.
Good ol Curtis is retired now, but still makes his trek over to fish for pinks when they’re in. Brian you can count on seeing on the river, if not fishing with me then not to far away. Seems Curtis taught us good.
So there you have it – Washington’s simplest salmon to catch!