Fly Fishing – Whidbey Island by Jonathan Knapp
Several years ago I had the good fortune to go fly fishing with Jens Christiansen and his son Rasmus for several days during late summer when thousands of pink salmon were making their return to North Puget Sound streams. Jens and Rasmus had traveled from Denmark to visit the late Jack Charlton of Mako Reels. Jens, an Atlantic Salmon fly fishing guide and creator of the website Templedog Tube flies, had expressed to Jack an interest in fly fishing some of the local fisheries so Jack called me up to see if I was available to take them fly fishing. I knew that Jens was a seasoned and traveled angler, so I wanted to treat him to a fishery that would be indicative of the diverse angling opportunities found in Puget Sound. Beach fly fishing for salmon is certainly just that, especially when one takes into account that salmon can easily be fished on both a river and beach within the same day.
We conversed via e-mail for several weeks leading to their scheduled arrival. Jen’s asked the standard questions regarding which rods, lines, and flies to bring and general expectations. It was apparent from our exchanges that he expected to be fishing on a river. I mentioned that the local rivers were very low and the fishing slow but that the beaches were fishing well. I don’t think this completely registered with him but to his credit he remained open. After spending several days visiting with Jack we scheduled our first day to fish. I wanted to hit a morning tide so I told him that I would be happy to pick them up but that it would be early. As with all true fishermen by this time Jens was anxious to be on the water and happily agreed to be ready. That morning, as I pulled up to the house where they were staying, through the fog and darkness, I began to make out the shape of very tall individual standing on the road in front of the house. I laughed at this because I understood his obvious excitement to be able to fish. Fishermen are kindred spirits, and we are somewhat predictable when it comes to our passion. A smaller person emerged from the driveway and together they walked to my car. Jen’s introduced himself with a deep strong accented voice. His hand shake was equally strong. Rasmus being a young fellow was quieter but it was obvious that they had a special bond. To this day, when I think of both of them, I can still hear Jen’s larger than life voice calling out his sons name “RRRAAASMUS”.
After loading their gear into my car, we began to head west towards the beaches of North Whidbey Island. Jens was still amazed that we were in fact going to fly fish for salmon on a beach. He had never done this before and explained that most of his experiences fly fishing in the salt in Europe had been for sea trout. This type of fly fishing was technical and opportunities to catch numbers of sea trout were far and few between. Upon hearing this, I knew that I had chosen a perfect fishery for him and one that would truly reflect the unique opportunities of the area. As we pulled up to the beach the tide was still a bit low. He looked out at the exposed beach; his expression revealing that he was still not able to fathom what we were about to experience. We had a bit of a walk ahead of us so I utilized that time to explain the presentation and flies we would be using. I explained that there are three colors to use when chasing pink salmon; pink, pink, and pink. He laughed, not sure if I was kidding or not. Jens is an accomplished fly tier of Atlantic salmon flies and my simple marabou pink flies probably seemed, well, simple.
It did not take long for the tide to swing and the water to rise filling the expanse of the beach. Jen’s was anxious to fish and he began to wade and cast still with an apparent disbelief that the type of fishing I had described would materialize. This was not a reflection of his confidence in me as a fishermen, I never felt that, more so it was that the notion of fishing for salmon cruising 30’ feet in front of you on a beach was just inconceivable to him. I explained to him that when the fish were in fact present we would know it. It was not long afterwards that we began to see the first of many salmon jumping; first down the beach a ways and then closer and closer. Within minutes of the first salmon showing themselves in front of us Jens was hooked up. I looked at him and noticed a giant smile on his face. He hooked and landed a couple of fish right away and at that point was probably resolved that the fishing was going to slow; the trip already a success. Feeling confident that Jens knew the drill by now I began to fish and was into a fish immediately. Jens and I proceeded to hook many salmon often having doubles. By now Jens was beginning to understand that this was not an anomaly but a reflection of how good beach fishing can be in our area. Rasmus was not an avid fisherman like his dad and up to this point had filled the time exploring the beach content to watch us fish. Rasmus, a very bright and inquisitive young man, was also very interested in examining the fish we landed up close, asking various questions about their anatomy. Because the fishing was so good and the fish so close in even Rasmus had to get into the action, and he too was able to hook and land several nice fish without even getting wet.
Eventually the tide changed and the salmon moved on but we certainly had found success and called it a day. Jens thanked me and I simply told him that it was my pleasure to share the experience with both of them. Jens graciously extended an invitation to me to come and visit him and fish for salmon on his home rivers. He also showed me how to tie some of the Templedog tube style flies he ties and left me with some very cool fly tying materials. I truly enjoyed meeting both Jens and Rasmus and once again the experience of fly fishing proved to have value greater than simply catching fish.