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HUMPY (PINK) FISHING

By Tom Nelson

Humpies or Pink salmon return in heavy numbers in Alaska, British Columbia, Canada and Washington.  They also exist in great numbers in the Great Lakes area of the Midwest.  This year (2013) six and a half million humpies are expected to return to Puget Sound.

In Alaska and BC, Humpies return every year.  The northern waters of BC experience a run every year (either local or migrating).  As we move south into the Frazer River area of BC, Humpies become an odd year fish.  The mighty Frazer River has massive returns of Humpies, numbering in the millions in odd years.

In Washington State, the main returns are also odd year fish, much like southern BC.  There is a small return on the even year.  Washington Humpies return primarily to the Skagit, Snohomish, Puyallup and Nisqually River systems, with smaller returns to Hood Canal and small rivers in the Straits of Juan De Fuca. 

The average Humpy caught is in the 3-5 lb. range with some up to 14 lbs.  The BC Fraser River Humpies are larger than most Humpies caught on the west coast.  But, even in the Northwest, the occasional Humpy caught will be over 14 lbs.  While the Humpy is the smallest of the Northwest’s five species of salmon, they are tenacious fighters, and properly handled, excellent eating.  If you fish and catch Humpies with the same gear you are using for Chinook, you will probably not be thrilled with the fight.  But, if you target Humpies with a light Steelhead/Salmon rod (even a heavy trout rod) and lighter gear, it quickly becomes apparent that these salmon are real fighters.

Many anglers refuse to recognize that a properly handled Humpy is a good eating salmon.  They are especially good smoked.  Humpies that aren’t properly handled quickly become soft and lose their flavor. 

So, let’s talk about how to take care of your Humpy catch.  Once you land a Humpy, give it a sharp rap on its head to put it to sleep.  Second, cut both gills and allow your catch to bleed out.  Next, clean your Humpy as soon as possible and get it on ice.  Bank anglers, smaller boats or even larger ones, such as my 24 ft. North River need a high quality cooler.  The Silver Horde KatchKooler Bag is the ideal way for most anglers to keep their catch fresh (click here to see instructions for successfully using the Katch Kooler).

Here are the guidelines for hot Humpy fishing:

  • Humpies return home to Puget Sound Rivers at the height of summer.  Good weather, long days and easy to boat fish are the recipe for a real good day on the water.
  • The best fishing is early in the morning or late in the evening, but these fish will hit all day long.  Humpies are aggressive biters.
  • GO SLOW!!  While you can catch Humpies at any speed, if you are especially targeting them, slow and slower works best.
  • Humpies are ordinarily caught in the top 60 ft. of water, but occasionally on sunny days, will go quite deep. 
  • Downriggers of course are the most effective way of fishing because it gives you depth control. 
  • Those of you who don’t own downriggers can do well by using an 8-oz. Sinker attached three ft. ahead of a dodger or small flasher.  However don’t put any more than 50 ft. of line behind the boat.  Drag on the lures will only allow you to fish at a depth proportional to the amount of weight being used.  If too much line is let out, the lure will end up way behind the boat, not deeper.
  • The most effective lures when Humpy fishing are hot pink mini squid or small spoons fished behind a dodger or flasher.  Gold Star (Silver Horde) markets a Humpy Kit consisting of a #0 Dodger (8”) with a Gold Star pink mini squid, tied 13 to 16 inches behind the dodger.  For those of you who would prefer a pre-tied kit, this would fit the bill.  Small flashers (8”) such as the Pro-Troll are also effective but tie your leader 16 to 21 inches behind the flasher.  When the Humpies are below 60 feet, glow spoons in smaller sizes such as the #2 or #3 Gold Star Kingfisher can be deadly.
  • Be sure to use scent to your advantage.  Smelly Jelly in shrimp flavor not only covers the smell of your hands, but also adds a strong attraction.   
  • The more gear you have in the water, the more Humpies you will catch.  Keep your rods in the water when landing your hooked fish.  Often another fish will bite; doubles or even triples are not uncommon.  If you land a fish, circle around and hit the school again.
  • Don’t be surprised if you hook a Chinook or Coho while trolling with the set-ups mentioned above.  The oval spots on their tail easily identify Humpies.
  • If you want to have more fun after you have located a school of Humpies, stop your boat, pick up your trolling gear and use a light casting rod.  Cast Buzz Bombs or other jigs into the school.  Buzz Bombs sink at about one foot per second.  So, if you found the fish at 20 feet or less (common in early morning or late evening), just count your seconds and retrieve.  You can get “savage” strikes doing this. 
  • An alternate method for light tackle fishing is to troll small Hot Shots or Wiggle Warts in the hot pink colors with no weight on your line.  Drop them back 35 to 40 feet behind your boat.
  • In rivers, casting the Dick Nite hot pink spoons is almost a standard for good fishing.  If you think Humpies are aggressive in salt water, they are even more aggressive in the rivers.  Small (1/8 oz.) pink jigs fished under a float or bounced across the bottom is also an excellent way to catch Humpies if you are river fishing. 
  • Have fun and catch a boatload of fish.  You’ll probably have enough fish for the barbeque with some left to smoke and enjoy later.  Here's a great recipe to use.

 

CASTING FROM SHORE OR DOCK FOR HUMPIES (PINKS)

Those anglers that are shore bound can do quite well Humpy fishing.  Some of the better places to fish are Ediz Hook, Lagoon Point, Bush Point, Point No Point, Browns Point and the shoreline at Point Defiance.  However, almost any shoreline where you have access will have Humpies passing by.

Some of the tackle that works well are 1/8 or ¼ oz. jigs fished under a float.  Cast out, let your jig sink, and then begin a slow retrieve.  Reel about six feet, pause, let your jig sink and repeat.  Retrieve your float until it’s almost on shore, as Humpies very often you will catch a Humpy in knee-deep water.

Dick Nite spoons or the new Silver Horde #2 Kingfisher spoons will also work well under a float, using the same “reel and pause” method.  These lures will also work well with the traditional “cast and retrieve” method. 

The main thing is THINK PINK in lure selection.

Don’t be surprised if you hook a nice Chinook or Coho!