Maffeo Sutton Pinks

A Novella by Bernie Heinrichs

Just when I was starting to think that I can now qualify as a full-fledged, novice fly fisher, I realize that it is time to go back to basics. But where did I go wrong?

Day One

I was gearing up to enter what looked like fairly fishless water at Departure Bay when this elderly lady paused on her walk to inform that there were lots of fish and a lot of fishermen catching fish on the banks of the Millstone River over by Maffeo Sutton Park. Upon further queries, she also told me that this all happened about the same time (10:00 am) yesterday and that they were fishing from both sides of the river. 

“Those big fish were jumping out of the water everywhere!” she added.  That was it. No jumping fish and only one fisher at Departure Bay – it was time to move on!

The lady was right. There were pinks leaping out of the water along the rocky bank next to Maffeo Sutton Park and about a dozen fishers perched on the rocks close to the water and there was usually at least one of them fighting a fish at any one time. None of them used fly fishing gear. And that was my dilemma – how do I get my fly out to those fish?

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My first attempt was to climb down close to shore and test my skills at roll casting. The fish were jumping right in front of me but about 10 feet further out. The next attempt was to stand on the walkway in one of only two clearings along the bank. This resulted in a few casts next to them. I finally decided to perch on one of the rocks about a third of the way down and fire my back casts in a small open space and time it when no pedestrians were approaching from either side or from straight behind me. An off-duty fly fisherman assisted with directing traffic and untangling my treed flies. The casts were over the jumping, finning fish below but no hits. My frustration was exacerbated by the gear fishers continuing to land pink after pink after pink. My new compatriot fly fisher was sympathetic, praised my casting skills and helped with fly reselections but to no avail. He had more important business and left. 

When I was tying on a heavier leader to add on to the slow-sink slime line that was on, another fellow came along and said that he had the identical rod and fly line that I was using and really liked it. He had been up to the Queen Charlottes and got bored with pinks and targeted Coho up there but, regrettably, left it there thinking that there was no use for it during his visit to Nanaimo. He was also very sympathetic to my plight and even gave me three of his favourite pink Coho flies. He watched my first retrieve through the school of salmon and departed in bewilderment when it came back devoid of fish.

Seven Snaggers.

Meanwhile the school moved a bit upstream towards Pearson Bridge. I found the other clear area and continued my fruitless flailing at the lively waters below. That was also about the time I noticed that these other guys were retrieving their heavily weighted lures very quickly and with jerks. One of them even admitted to a passerby that sometimes he would get lucky and catch one in the head area. He carefully omitted the “snag” word.  An on-duty, Conservation Officer also observed this and hauled one of them off to the parking lot along with his gear and bag of fish. His buddy thought that perhaps he tried to keep one that was not caught near the mouth.  

The fellow beside and below me could really cast his pink 8 inch Buzz Bomb way past the school of frenzied fish and also jerkily fast-retrieved. A second Conservation Officer was much more lenient and only advised him to put on a smaller lure. Perhaps it was in sympathy with his race, his age or because his wife was present. 

The opposite shore offered much more casting room and one person tried wading out there but the tide was too high to get close enough to the fish. I had the afternoon and evening to contemplate the problem. It was time to dust off and blow up my belly boat which was found after four years of storage. 

Day Two

The rising tide was later and I was on site earlier. Since the tide was lower, my first attempt was to try the other side of the river. The access is a bit better but there was a lot of mud to wade through to get to where the fish were jumping. And, yes, they were still there only closer to the bay.  Alas, there was a channel that stopped me from getting within casting range.  So it was back to Plan A: Launch the belly boat. But, from where?  There was a bit of beach area below Pearson Bridge and this site was not in full public view if my attempt looked clumsy. Actually carrying all the gear and boat down the rocky slope was not nearly as bad as it looked. 

The morning was clear, calm and kicking along that bank towards the leaping school of pinks was invigorating. I stayed out of range of the shore casters and the fish allowed me to get within 40 feet. Nothing seemed to spook them. Not my fly line landing in them, not a passing seal, not even the thrashing of a fish being retrieved to shore. There was no problem with worrying about the back cast, no distractions from commenting passers-by and no trees to snag my fly. All looked great but there was only one problem. The fish still did not like the variety of flies, casts and leader combinations that were presented to them. None, that is, until I tried a pink over white fly which was cast into an exceptionally large school. That averaged size male did not jump even once. He swam in a circle and rotated my boat about 2.5 revolutions. My long handled net successfully landed him and the fly was in his mouth! I was the envy of the crowd but they were restrained enough to not applaud - loudly. Somewhat later one of the fishers did comment that it looked like a lot of fun. It was.

Critiquing the Gutting Operations

So now it looked like the fly pattern and presentation were figured out. The crowd will be really wowed with my fishing prowess. But repeated casts with repeated retrieves identical to the one that worked did not produce another single hit. More tactical changes and still nothing. By this time the fish had moved upstream a bit and I found myself within earshot of a sub teenage girl who was casting into empty water on the other side of the river. She frantically exclaimed that her hook was hung up in mid air! And it appeared to look like it was. So out of sympathy and, I must admit, a bit of curiosity, I kicked my way over to her problem. As suspected, she had snagged a piece of discarded monofilament. It was then that I noticed a lot of gear snarled up in a rat nest of a mess. 

“How many of these ½ inch, lead weights are yours?” I queried.

“Four” she replied.

“And the big-pink, lead jig?” I asked.


They were freed and I continued my quest for another fish. But not even 10 minutes later she lamented that her hook was stuck again. By this time my hearing had become selective and eventually her companion (brother?) came over and ripped the line apart. 

I remembered my camera, recorded the scenes then tried a few more presentations. Now my bladder was sending urgent messages that it was time to attempt the climb back up the rocky bank. A fisherman, his wife and son were nearby. They offered to help pull up my gear and it was appreciated. She asked how it went.  I modestly stated that I kept one without adding that it was the only bite in the last two days. The teen aged son wanted to check it out. He was impressed and said that it was the biggest one he had seen. Perhaps holding it did give him that impression. He asked me what I was going to do with it.

“Eat it.” I replied.

“No no, you need to sew it back up and mount it on the wall!” he exclaimed. 

I did not argue the point.  There was another urgent matter that needed to behandled

 .Chucking Four Lead Weights and Pink Jig

So I hope that this long-winded, narration will inspire you to go out to Maffeo Sutton Park and figure out what those pinks will take.  It needs to be done before they move on to their spawning beds and I would like to hear