Smolts, Safe Journey

Today was a reminder of why fly-fishing in Puget Sound can be a source of awe and perspective.

I had gone down to fish the beach at Purdy. The large falling tide meant strong ebb current and a good chance to find a cutthroat trout. I got one strike. Unfortunately, it felt like the fish spit it out or couldn’t get a strong bite in the heavy current.

But that wasn’t the reason today was a day of wonder. The Coho smolts were heading out to the ocean.

Everywhere, there were small salmon jumping as they moved out of Burley lagoon into Carr Inlet and then on into Puget Sound on their way to the Pacific Ocean. Most I saw looked to be three to four inches in length, with a few somewhat larger.

Near and far, they were jumping seemingly for joy as their big life adventure had begun. While I continued to cast and strip line, I found myself doing it just for the chance to share my small bit of water with these magnificent fish.

Their future lives started in late summer or early autumn of 2014, when their parents returned through Burley lagoon to Burley Creek or Purdy Creek, which are the natal streams for Coho. Their parents in their final act of life deposited and fertilized the eggs in the creek gravel.

This generation of Coho then emerged as fry in late winter or early spring of 2015. They spent all of last year in the slow moving water of their natal creeks. Then sometime this spring they began the process of smoltification, where their physiology changed from living in fresh water to living in salt water.

And now they are on their way to spending the majority of their lives in the Pacific Ocean. Most will stay out for two to three years before returning to their birth streams to start another generation of Coho salmon on their way before ending their lives.

The majority of smolts I saw today likely will be returning in 2018 or 2019.

In all that time, they will live their lives forgotten or unknown by the majority of people who live around the shores of Puget Sound.

And the concerns of these same people over these two to three years – the 2016 election, football seasons, urgency manufactured by marketers and bosses, the daily drudgery of life and work, and the minor tragedies and comedy of being human – will for the most part be forgotten by the time these fish return to Burley lagoon.

The fish will have a much more real urgency and that will be to propagate the next generation of their species and then finish their life cycle.

And maybe their departure today is a chance for us to remind ourselves that our great life cycle should be focused on the important things.

No Coho Salmon Fishing in 2016?

The Seattle Times today is reporting the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) will decide whether to close the Coho salmon 2016 season at its April 9-14 meeting.

There is alarm at the dramatically low rate of Coho returning for spawning. For example, last year only 242,000 Coho (out of the expected 700,000) returned to the Columbia River system. As the PFMC stated on their website, “…but expectations for wild coho runs to the Washington Coast and Puget Sound areas can only be described as disastrous.”

Commercial fishers and guide services will suffer economic loss to be sure. Recreational fishers of all equipment types will miss out on the annual chance to hook a fighting Coho. But it is necessary to give the Coho stocks a chance to replenish if it’s not already too late. At the same time, temporary bans do not solve the problems of urban runoff, industrial pollution, over fishing, and climate change. All those factors have, and will continue to have, impacts on the survival of all life in Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean.

I hope the PFMC receives universal agreement from the tribal managers and state fisheries managers (California, Oregon, and Washington) to make the hard, but needed, decision.

Washington residents may submit comments to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife here.

The Blob and Coho Salmon Runs

The Seattle Times reported on the fall 2015 Coho salmon run on the Skagit River. The news is not good.

The Skagit 2015 run was 12 percent of the average return for the last decade. Beyond that, those that made it to spawning weighed only three to four pounds – half of the normal range of six to eight pounds.

Fisheries scientists put the blame on what they call “the blob” – an area of warmer water (up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer) that has been in place off the Pacific coast since 2013. This blob has been responsible for the winter weather patterns seen over the last couple of years.

There is a strong debate as to whether the blob is a result of climate change, but whatever the causes last year’s Skagit run suggests a similar pattern for Coho runs this year – there is no indication the blob has dispersed.

Pink salmon venture farther out into the Pacific and are not impacted by the blob -as evidenced by last year’s Pink Salmon run. But if the blob is a result of climate change, then sooner or later the Pink Salmon will be impacted.

I fear we are seeing the beginnings of a new normal – and a future that will become increasingly grim.

Read article here.

Chasing Salmon

Narrows

This is our second autumn on the west side of Puget Sound and after only focusing on SRC and resident Coho last year, this is the year I’d go after the migrating Coho (pinks will be next year).

First time out I went down to the Narrows on a cloudy cool morning and worked the beach casting both a Miyawaki popper (surface) and a woolly bugger (sub surface). I got no grabs and only saw a few fish jumping well off the beach – likely around 120 feet out (well beyond my casting range).

I didn’t expect much as this was a day for growing comfortable with the bigger ten-foot eight-weight rod, and I wasn’t disappointed. The view of the bridge and spending time on the water was enough – for that day.