The Kelp of August

Fly fishing in Puget Sound in August often means high temperatures (as has been true the past weeks) and hazy skies from distant forest fires (as was true last year). But there is another consistent issue in parts of Puget Sound in August and that is the kelp forests that often cause casting from the beach to become a source of frustration due to frequent hookups of the bull kelp floats.

For some time, I had been thinking a sinktip line would work from the beach in the deeper waters under the Tacoma Narrows bridges during the high and low slack periods. I wanted to get the fly down to fish that might be lurking several feet down in the slack waters.

I had looked at a number of sinking and sinktip lines and bought the Rio Intouch 24 Foot Sinktip in 200 grains (for a six-weight rod). The line has a 35 foot head with a 24-foot sinking section. I thought the line would work both here and as a streamer line in Montana. In comparison to other lines, once I started casting it in the backyard I recognized it was also easy casting. But casting in an actual fishing situation is really the only way to see how a line works.

Wednesday mid morning there was an extra low slack on the ebb, meaning I could get out before the day turned hot. I brought my net along just in case some fish – hopefully a coho salmon – decided to jump on whatever fly I was using.

As expected, there were fields of bull kelp along the majority of the beach up to and past the Narrows Bridges. But I was there and I decided to look for places I could cast between patches of the kelp under the bridges.

The line worked perfectly. I found none of the kick I’d found in other lines. With the heavy sinking head, shooting line was effortless. About the only problem, as is typical of Rio lines, was the running line tangled. I had brought my stripping basket, so that might have eliminated at least some of the tangles. Unfortunately, there were no fish – well at least none that were interested in my chartreuse and pink woolly buggers.

Then as I started working my way back to Narrows Park I found no patches of clear water and decided to call it a day. Along the way I did catch one empty plastic water bottle (with cap on) that was floating in the tidal current. Someone must have been careless. I tossed it into a trash can.

As I looked back down the beach, I knew it would have been a good deal more fun if the kelp hadn’t been there.

But then I remembered reading an article about how bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) in Puget Sound is in decline. Scientists are concerned because the kelp provides habitat for juvenile salmon, rockfish, sea urchins and other species. It is an annual plant – meaning it starts fresh every year. Starting as a microscopic plant in spring, bull kelp can grow to 30 to 40 feet tall by mid summer. The bull kelp then begin to decline and disappear in early to late autumn.

The causes for its decline are the same many of the other threatened species in Puget Sound – warming water temperatures and toxic pollution. In addition, changes to the shoreline and sedimentation are also suspected.

The bull kelp is another reminder that the chain from microorganisms to humans is long and complex. Disturbing the kelp imperils the salmon, which as can be seen in local news, imperils the resident Orca population.

Ultimately, it will be humanity that pays the price for its actions.

You can read more about efforts to restore bull kelp here.

Author: Tom

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