The pink fever begins!

Published on September 2nd, 2009 by Rodney

The anticipation of pink salmon turns into anxiety as we approach September during every odd year. Each day when no fish are caught, I become more excited and worried at the same time. As other years, we started searching for pink salmon in the Tidal Fraser River around August 20th because small schools often sneak into the river during incoming tides. In previous years, I was always able to connect with a few fish and successfully land them before the massive run arrived. This has not been the case in 2009. Beside one fish that I briefly hooked and lost one week ago, each outing has resulted in no sightings of pink salmon. Where and when are they passing by my favorite spots, these have been the questions that I asked myself each day. Despite of how lowly some anglers talk about pink salmon, I find this chase is just as exciting as other salmonid fisheries.

Yesterday we saw the first signs of much large number of fish arriving in the river during the incoming tide. My UK friend Iwan and I managed to hook three fish each, but none ended up in the landing net. Iwan visits Vancouver with his wife Kira every year to see her family. During his visits, I always try to find an unique fishery in BC for him to experience. We’ve tried fall coho and chum salmon fishing, spring bull trout fishing and sturgeon fishing. This year he really wanted to experience the pink fever that I have described with such enthusiasm, so the mission has been to put a few humpies on his line.

After losing every single fish yesterday, we lost sleep last night because it was likely that today would be even better. We arrived at the same location at 2:30pm, when incoming tide was just starting. It seems like fish have been making their way upstream when the water is low. As soon as we arrived, Mark informed us that fish were rolling everywhere. It only took a few seconds for us to look up and spot some risers. Excited, we scrambled to get our lure in the water.

Fish continued to surface around us but there were no hook-ups. I could feel the occasional tugs but they were too light and fast for me to react. I guess this is what happens after the two year break. Nina hooked into a fish soon after we started fishing but it quickly shook itself off the hook. After an hour of trying, a fish or two were hooked around us before the school disappeared. Some say pink salmon are the easiest salmon to catch, this does not seem to be the case all the time.

Disappointed, we took breaks, chatted and made casts casually while waiting for more fish to arrive. The social aspect of Tidal Fraser River fisheries is why I find them so appealing.

At 5:00pm, Mark and Nina noticed many fish jumping downstream from us in the horizon. The tide was almost peaking, so if they were going to come, it had to be now! It only took a few minutes after the sighting for these fish to surface in front of us. They rolled and jumped in the middle of the channel first before slowly approaching our casting range.

The atmosphere suddenly tensed up. Everyone was eager to hook a fish. Mark was the first person to raise his rod when a pink salmon slammed his lure just several feet in front of him. It was not very big, but it pushed his rod to the limit. I reached down with a landing net after a few minutes and scooped up Mark’s first pink salmon of the year.

The first of the year is always very satisfying!

It only took minutes before others were finding humpies dancing on their lines as the school of fish grew in front of us. Despite of everyone’s success, Iwan, Nina and I could not seem to hook a fish! I could feel numerous bites, but they were always too light and swift. Fish started to circle in front of us instead of migrating upstream. It looked like they were actually feeding because tiny baitfish were frantically jumping out of the water! We had fish porpoising right in front of us, as if they were mocking our inability to trick them.

Finally, I had to change the game plan. I decided that the 1/0 hook was simply too big for these fish because all the ones landed looked to be in the 3 to 4lb range. I switched my hook to a size 2 and immediately I hooked up after detecting the same light tug! I landed the fish in no time and quickly put a size 2 hook on Nina’s spoon as well. She made a cast while I turned around to organize my box. “Fish on!”, she exclaimed before I had a chance to put the 1/0 hook away! It leaped a couple of times before spitting the hook out. Disappointment there was not, because we were finally hooking fish at least.

The right hook size resulted in a bent rod.

A few minutes later, Mark’s reel screamed as Nina hooked into another fish at the same time. The little 6lb setup that Nina was employing was taking a heavy beating by the fish as it peeled line off the spool like a freight train. “I cannot gain any line! It just kept going and going!”, Nina became worried. The fish showed itself on the surface soon after she made that remark and I chuckled because it was no more than 5lb. After the long sprint, the fish surrendered as Nina gained her line back. I extended my arm out with the landing net while Nina guided the exhausted fish into it. It was her first Fraser River pink salmon, ever!

Relieved with a fine catch after hours of trying.

Now that Mark, Nina and I had landed a fish, Iwan was still blanked beside a fish that was lost earlier. Looking deflated, he must have been wondering what was going on like what I was experiencing earlier. The rolls and splashes tapered off in front of us after an hour, it looked like Iwan’s time and luck was running out.

Nina and I gave our spot to him because fish seemed to be surfacing closer to shore at our spot. It took another 30 minutes before another school of fish began approaching our spot again. Finally, just as Iwan was ready to lift his lure out of the water just several feet from the rod tip, a pink salmon made a shallow attack and surprised him. I quickly grabbed the camera to document his first while Mark stood by with his net. After so many losses, Iwan played the fish with confidence while it made short darts and high leaps in the shallow water. Even though it was hooked not far from shore, it was not ready to surrender yet. We held our breath and watched Iwan and Mark putting on a brief dramatic performance.

A miss by the netter!

A first for Iwan at last after 15 hours of trying! His grin from ear to ear shows how rewarding it is when persistence is paid off.

Another happy Tidal Fraser angler.

September 2nd marks the beginning of 2009’s Tidal Fraser pink salmon fever. Fishing in the next several weeks will only get better. This is one salmon fishery that anglers of all ages and skill levels can truly enjoy, so make sure you take advantage of it while it lasts! If you need more information, please read this article.

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