Humpy Fishing in the San Juan Islands

Seaweed “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” ~John Buchan

No story is more circular than that of the salmon. Salmon begin their life in the freshwater streams that flow from high, crisp mountain tops to the vast ocean. After emerging from their tiny sacs, some will spend a year or more journeying the course of the fresh water towards the ocean, using the shadows of foliage, boulders, and logs to hide from the numerous predators they encounter along the way. Their bodies mature from one that thrives in freshwater to an ocean worthy, fully-scaled body. Once their evolution is complete, the salmon emerge into the ocean.  Depending on the species, they live at sea anywhere from eighteen months to over eight years. No one is sure how or why, but after their stint at sea, the salmon suddenly become homeward bound, returning to their natal stream. Their sleek, silver frames transform and the males develop vibrant colors and grotesquely hooked jaws. Upon returning to their birthing grounds, the females build small gravel nests while the males engage in battles, hoping to win the opportunity to mate with females. Once the new fertilized eggs have been laid, the salmon die. Their bodies feed and nourish the stream bed sheltering their next generation of offspring. The cycle begins again.

I love the story of the salmon. Their life cycle truly reflects that life is short, but that there is a purpose for everything we do during and at the end of our life. While we were fishing in the San Juan Islands this summer, I was able to see pink salmon, locally referred to as humpies, in the different phases of their maturation. Some of the fish we pulled from the ocean were small and covered in silver scales. Their shape was very linear and clean, and their jaws were small. Others were building into their final fight bodies, with their backs swelling into large humps and bottom jaw curling up almost over their snout.

Unlike some of the other salmon types, the humpies have a very short life cycle. Upon emerging from their egg sac, they immediately work towards the sea and spend very little time in freshwater. They mature in the ocean for a short eighteen months and then make the long, final trek back up their natal stream. In the islands, this means the humpies make a “run” every other year. You can still catch some humpies during the even numbered years, but the odd numbered years are when the fish are hitting hard and often.

buzzbombhot_pink_1789_generalDirectly before the pink salmon return to streams, they quit eating. This may not seem like an important detail, and I guess when talking about fishing it isn’t really important but it is interesting. I point out that the humpies quit eating because it begs the question: “Then how do you catch one?” When fishing, we tend to think about what would be appetizing to the fish. What is just going to get his belly rumbling. But the humpies aren’t eating, so nothing should be appetizing to them, right? Right. However, they are in a very aggressive state, and they are looking to fight. So, when fishing for humpies, you want to use a bright pink lure because apparently they despise pink lures and instantly want to attack it, or so the tale goes. My recommendation is the pink buzz bomb.

The man at the store directed me on the best kind of line, a monofilament with 8 pound test, barbless hooks, which are required when fishing in the San Juan Islands, and the pink bomb. He said, “If nothing else, grab a handful of pink bombs and the humpies will hit all day.” I grabbed two from the shelf and was on my way.

I went fishing for salmon in a lake boat. Normally I would never recommend taking a Sea Ray lake boat out on the ocean, but the San Juan Islands are protected from the open ocean, and while the currents can get nasty and you have to watch the wind kicking up, it is very similar to jetting around on a lake, a very large lake, but a lake nonetheless. While waiting for the down riggers to get set-up, I threaded on my pink buzz bomb and lazily casted from the side of the boat. Within a few minutes I had a bite! And within another few, I pulled in a humpy! He was small, but he was a humpy! We trolled the rest of the day with both down riggers out and with hand-held poles. Both set-ups were successful, but I have to admit, the down rigger brought in a bit bigger fish. It also brought in a beautiful ocean rock fish, which we released since you are not able to keep them.

RockFish HumpieinNet

The daddy fish of the day was a nice seven pound humpy that was starting to mature for heading to freshwater. His jaw was starting to curl and his back was swelling into a noticeable hump. Coming from an area where the big fish is considered two or three pounds, this was a treat to reel in. The humpies put up a great fight all the way to boat, and the play you get using light tackle makes the fight that much more exciting. BigHumpieinNet

Well, I better get started on smoking some salmon now! It is calling my name!
Happy Fishing!

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