Editor’s column: In pursuit of the wild Whidbey Island humpie

The wine, cheese and art set gets most of the publicity on Whidbey Island these days, but the real action is usually elsewhere. On odd-numbered years in August, it’s on the western coast, where humpie mania draws thousands of people to the shores to get their share of the Northwest’s funniest-named salmon.

Humpies get their name from the humped back of the male pink salmon as it nears its home waters, which in this area generally means the Skagit or Snohomish river. It seems to me that in the media, the term “humpie” is losing favor as the years go by, replaced by the less scandalous-sounding “pink.” But fishermen and women still call them humpies, which is an affectionate way of saying “humpback salmon.”

My old fashioned Merriam-Webster dictionary has a picture of a humpback whale, but doesn’t even list “humpie” as a word. The Internet has everything, of course, including humpies as a type of salmon. But something called the Urban Dictionary defines a humpie as “a strange biped humanoid who is prone to revert to his alternate personality when it is least expected.” In fact, that’s the perfect definition of a humpie fisherman, who is typically strange, bipedal, and reverts to his alternate personality when it is least expected. On Whidbey, this means people start disappearing at the oddest times. Clean-cut sales people wander out the door, carpenters lay down their hammers, hobby farmers abandon their Kubotas and commuters call in to say they’ll be late to work. Humpie fishing is best just before high tide, which this time of year generally occurs very early in the morning and later in the afternoon. As a result, people arrive to work at 8 a.m. smelling like fish, or start leaving work early to get to the beach before all the fishing spaces are gone.

Just about any public beach on the west side is lined by humpie fishermen, fisherwomen and fisherkids when the tide is right. So far, the Department of Fish and Wildlife hasn’t thought of requiring reservations and a deposit, so you sometimes have to wait for a spot. Just hang around until someone catches her limit or someone else reluctantly decides to leave because his house is on fire, and step right in. Just about everyone uses a pink Buzz Bomb, which is a fishing lure.

The scandalous thing this year about Buzz Bombs is that they are packaged with three barbed hooks, as has been the style for decades. But the Department of Fish and Wildlife outlawed treble hooks and barbed hooks, which means you have to use a single, barbless hook. This is all part of the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s goal of selling thousands of fishing licenses while assuring that all the fish go free.

Lots of humpies flop off the barbless hooks, but many others are pulled ashore by excited humans. It’s actually more fun to watch the kids catch humpies than it is to catch one yourself. It’s an experience the Xbox can’t come close to duplicating, and as far as I know, you can’t eat your Xbox successes.

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