The Notorious Humpy
If I told you that on every even year for about a month-long period 100+ salmon are caught on my boat virtually every day, you’d probably shout “sign me up!” faster than a politician can make a promise on election day. Well, it’s true. Every even year when pink salmon, or “humpies” are running strong, we catch this aggressive and plentiful species of salmon on nearly every cast! But believe it or not some anglers actually turn their noses up at, and even dread, humpy years. Sure, they’re not as good-eating as sockeye salmon, and they don’t fight quite as hard as a silver salmon, but humpies have a lot of endearing qualities, and personally, I LOVE humpy years on the Kenai…. Here’s why:
- When hooked in the lower stretches of rivers, a humpy puts up one heck of a fight! Unfortunately for the humpy, they run along-side the most acrobatic salmon in the river, the silver salmon. When you compare the fight of a humpy to a silver salmon, the humpy loses every time. But that’s a relative comparison, and a fresh tide-water humpy puts up a tussle that rivals many other treasure fresh-water fish, especially on a 7 weight fly rod or a medium/light weight spin rod.
- The main gripe that comes from the anti-humpy crowd is that humpies get in the way of catching silver salmon. There is a bit of truth to this, but the reality is that there are many ways to avoid such a “problem.” Moving locations, techniques, and presentation can all help you avoid a good proportion of the humpies in the river if that’s your goal. If silvers are in the river you’ll still catch them, you’ll just catch a whole bunch of humpies in-between them… not a problem many fishermen can sympathize with, right? When humpies and silvers are running simultaneously as they tend to do, it’s typical for your experience to go something like this: humpy, humpy, humpy, humpy, humpy, humpy, humpy, SILVER, humpy, humpy, humpy, humpy, humpy, humpy, humpy, SILVER… sounds fun doesn’t it?
- When it comes to table fare, once again the poor humpy gets compared to silver salmon and winds up with a reputation that’s less than what it deserves, but despite their reputation, fresh humpies are not bad eating after all. The females are a little better eating than the males, and once a humpy gets very far upstream their edibility decreases drastically. I wouldn’t keep a humpy that wasn’t caught in tide-water, or close to it, and I wouldn’t keep a huge load of frozen fillets that you won’t get around to eating for months. But a fillet for the barbecue that evening is a great idea, and smoked or canned pink salmon is a treat that can be enjoyed months after the fish was harvested from the river.
- Humpy fishing is perfect for kids and beginners! They get tons of action to keep their interest, tons of experience fighting fish, lots of experience feeling bites, casting, reeling, and all the other things that beginners and kids need to learn and feel to become better fishermen. A day of humpy fishing can exponentially advance a beginner fisherman’s skills.
- You can catch pink salmon using almost any technique imaginable. They’ll bite spinners, plugs, flies, eggs, jigs, and I’ve even seen them eat top water stuff! And not only that, but they respond to many different presentations as well. If you have a favorite technique, or a technique that you are looking to practice, then humpies are likely the perfect target to help you accomplish those goals.
- Finally, perhaps my favorite thing about humpy years is…. the trout fishing goes off! An influx of millions of humpies (literally millions) brings with it an immense amount of trout food. Between the humpy eggs that are laid on the river bottom, the humpies that get filleted and thrown back into the river, and the humpy graveyard that is created as the run dies in the late fall, humpies create a trout buffet that lasts them throughout the late summer, fall, and even into winter. Almost all of our biggest trout ever caught are caught in the fall on even, humpy years.
The next time your fishing buddy rolls their eyes at the thought of the inevitable humpy onslaught that will ensue this coming fall, remind them of these perks to even/humpy years. Who knows, maybe they’ll even learn to love and appreciate the notorious humpy as I do.