Pink Salmon on the Squamish

The one thing missing since I moved to Vancouver is friends to go fly fishing with. Not that many people do it and the gear is expensive just to give it a go. However, finally Eoghan is all set up and I had a weekend off recovering from the Ironman 70.3 World Championships so we set our sights on the Squamish River.

Pink Salmon run the Squamish every two years. I was yet to visit for a Pink run as had no idea in my first year and this year hadn’t wanted to go alone. Eoghan to the rescue. The day before I visited the fly shop for some pointers. Their feedback was: it’s late for Pink’s (lots of dead and zombie fish) and very early for Coho and Chum but the best chance would be where the tributaries entered the Squamish, either the Mamquam or the Cheakamus.

The forecast was awful. Rain turning torrential but given we would be standing in a river it wouldn’t matter that much. No such thing as bad weather, just the bad clothing.

As neither of us had been to the tributaries before we didn’t really know where we were going. After one false turn that took us to the entrance of an indigenous reserve we found a promising parking spot. Still a way from the river we bush whacked our way in what we thought was the right direction. Our route was not well trodden but eventually we found an actual path that took us across a couple of streams crammed with pinks spawning. Always cool to see and we made every effort not to disturb them.

More by luck than judgement we emergerd perfectly just downstream of where the Cheakamus runs in to the Squamish (you aren’t allowed to fish for salmon on the Cheakamus). The first thing to strike us was the number of dead fish all over the riverbank as well as dying fish lining the shallows. This highlighted how late in the run it was and we would almost certainly foul hook some fish. We were just hoping there would be a couple of late spawners hiding in the zombie ranks.

The other factor to consider was all the dead fish mean it’s peak bear season. I kept my bear spray handy at all times but with this much sushi available hopefully steak was off the menu.

Eoghan is new to fly fishing so for once I provided the experience which didn’t bode well given my record! Full of confidence we set up the rods and walked a couple of pools upriver to then work our way back down. I tried giving Eoghan some casting tips which he said helped through the day but he may have just been being polite. As it happened he hooked a fish on his first cast, it was foul hooked but always nice to get the feel of a fish.

I walked up further to come down behind him and also got a take on my first cast which never happens! I never get bored of having a fish on especially with my reel as even with small fish it makes a cracking noise.

I have caught a lot of pinks and as we both hooked on our first cast I wasn’t too worried about landing it quickly and after a couple of runs it came off. Always the risk with barbless hooks. In hindsight I should have taken this more seriosuly as it was the only fish I hooked properly.

For the next hour we foul hooked fish occasionally and my best attemot was one hooked on the outside of it mouth. I assume it tired to take the fly and missed but you just never know. Luckily this one I did manage to land.

After the initall rush things quietened down which was a bit odd as there were fish everywhere and we didn’t change anything. The closest enocuter I had was when one scared the life out of me by jumping very aggresively inches in front of me. Apart from that scare most sightings were the sad sight of dying fishing fighting for their lives drifting down the river.

The end of a salmon run is one of the most brutal/barbaric things I have witnessed in nature. Seagulls just wait in the shallows to feed on fish that can barely stay upright. There were numerous fish still alive trying to get upright in the shallows that had already had their eyes taken out. They have spawned so all that is left from them is to die and provide nutrients to the river for the next generation to survive. The predetermined end doesn’t make the process any less gruesome to witness.

We fished till lunch but apart from the occasional nibble and foul hook that was it for the day. I loved the 4 hrs on the river and after a long summer of training just being able to enjoy the wilderness that rivers offer. The town is close by but someone once you are on the river it feels miles away.

We had also been lucky with the weather as had only endured a couple of showers. The torrential rain had stayed in Vancouver and passed us by!

When fishing without a guide it is often a learning experience and today had been no different. The biggest success was finding a new spot that I can walk in to fish. It was also great to go through the full range of casting again. Eoghan and I are both keen to come back for a crack at the coho and chum in late October/early November so hopefully we can do that. I also have one last fishing treat to look forward to as doing a day and a half bone fishing in Cozumel in November. So fishing is not quite yet done for the year!

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