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.

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Tom

Author: Tom

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