A Reminder From the Smolts

There are a number of principles for fly fishing on Puget Sound for searun cutthroat trout.

Two of the more basic principles are: fish only when there is moving water (meaning a good tidal exchange, i.e., “height”); and learn the beach you want to fish (some fish better on the flood, though most fish better on the ebb).

As might be expected, many individuals have found success in clear violation of those principles, as no one has told the fish what the “rules” are.

Still, when I drove down to Narrows Park yesterday, I knew from past experience I was unlikely to be an outlier. With only about a foot and a half of rise, I knew there was little tidal current and a flood at that (Narrows fishes better on the ebb).

But I just needed to get out after several days of working home maintenance items, including an out-of-control lawn irrigation system due to a temporary power interruption on Sunday.

When I got to the beach, the wind was a gentle to moderate breeze from the west – meaning as a right-handed caster I’d have the fly being blown into me.

I planned to spend time working on my casting with the wind on my casting arm side.

But as I walked down to the water’s edge, I noticed a disturbance of the water – actually a number of disturbances – small splashes.

I recognized the silver flashes that caused each splash: chum smolts were on their way north out of Puget Sound.

I had observed the same behavior in past years off the beach at Purdy, and was thrilled again at their passage.

These young smolts, most four to five inches long, spawned as fry in the late winter of 2021 in creeks or hatcheries around Carr Inlet or Case Inlet. Their last year was spent growing larger and stronger in the estuary waters near their natal streams.

Now they have begun their journey – they’ll reach the Pacific Ocean sometime this fall.

Then, they will move, as previous generations have, along the coast of British Columbia to the Gulf of Alaska, where they will live for at least three years – with some remaining out for four to six years.

Their eventual 2000-mile round trip, like the generations returning this year (most from the spawns of 2016 – 2019) will be unremarked and unnoticed until they’re seen powering up their natal streams for their final acts of life – creating the next generation of chum salmon.

Their cycle of life will have been completed.  And may the same be true for the young smolts I saw – and all those generations that follow.

Think about all that has happened in human experience since this year’s returning salmon first began their journeys.

Much that seemed so important, or tragic, has faded into the dim recesses of individual or collective memory.

The same will be true for much of what we fear or anticipate before the return of the young smolts I saw yesterday.

Watching the cycle of nature – wherever one lives – is a reminder that we are part of that same cycle.

And if some of the challenges humanity faces are existential – as certainly are own lives are – we should take responsibility for our actions, for that is our role in the cycle of nature.

We owe it to our future generations, and this year’s smolts, for it is only humanity that can save or destroy their futures.

Author: Tom

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