There are some every year in fall. Yet it is every other year, during odd-numbered years, pink salmon, or ‘humpies’, ascend the river systems of northwestern Washington in numbers great enough to humble even the thickest among us, crowding portions of the rivers, delighting snaggers & vexing fly casters challenged to make them bite.
The humpbacked bucks run about 3 to 6 pounds, & the autumn colored hens about 2 to 4 pounds. The hens, to my eye, are among the most beautiful of salmonids. With broad, powerful tails, humpies are strong, active fighters. Pound for pound, I’d give them the nod over chinook.
And humpies will bite. They aren’t eating, but they are a primitive, automatic kind of fish, & they will bite the fly if the angler can figure out where their trigger button is that day. Oh, it is true that on some days, lucky days, & for mysterious reasons, humpies will go on the bite – & bite anything. But, everybody knows, that is usually not the case. Most of the time you’re left to cipher exactly how they want the fly presented.
Fortunately, fly color is no great decision, as the humpy’s penchant for prawn colors -- combinations of red, orange, pink & white -- is a fair constant, though they do seem to appreciate a nicely detailed pattern.
Presentation is what they’re really picky about. Common knowledge has it that humpies like the fly jigging (Clouser-style patterns are popular), & that’s true, though not always the case – & wasn’t the case on a recent trip to the Skykomish, where, I eventually found out, they wanted the fly swinging, dead-drift, tickling the bottom. Swinging. Not jigging. That made me happy.