The long and large train of pink salmon returning to their natal waters has already entered the Salish Sea. Anglers in the Strait of Juan de Fuca have been catching their limits for a couple of weeks. Anglers in the Port Angeles area and the San Juan Islands have been finding them on the end of their lines as well.
In odd-numbered years, the pinks end their two-year life cycle by returning to streams throughout the Northwest. This year, an estimated 6.2 million fish are expected to make their way to Puget Sound.
Making it even more exciting for South Sound anglers, more than half of those fish are expected to make their way to waters like the Green, Puyallup and Nisqually rivers and Hood Canal.
“There appears to be a lot of fish in the pipeline headed our way. What will push them to move this way remains to be determined,” said Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“The signs are positive. The fishing has been down right good in the Strait. We are already seeing some pink salmon in (Marine) Area 7,” Thiesfeld added. “To see them in the first week of July in areas 6 and 7 is pretty impressive. Whether they are early or the run will be bigger than forecast, there’s no way to tell that yet.”
When they finally make their way to the South Sound, a host of anglers each day will fill the pier at Dash Point State Park, line the shallows of the Puyallup River and stand off the shore at Browns Point.
While many of those people will be adults looking to fill their smokers, put some fish on the grill or collect eggs, local fishing experts say the pink salmon run is a great opportunity to introduce children to salmon fishing.
“A fish is a fish to kids, they don’t care. Kids like action, like fishing for perch,” said long-time angler Tom Nelson, who operates salmonuniversity.com. “Pinks are close as we come to perch, where you can catch a lot of them.”
“It’s great for kids because you can hold their attention because the action is so fast. You’re not waiting an hour between bites. You can keep them excited and paying attention,” Thiesfeld said.
“Trying to get them started on chinook, where you can grind for hours for just three or four bites, that’s hard on kids,” he said. “Most kids are going to lose interest after a half hour or 45 minutes. With pinks, if you are on them, you can get bites every five minutes.”
Another reason the pink salmon fishery is a good one for kids, according to Randy Anderson at Sportco, is that the schools of pinks move in shallow water close to shore.
“Kids can stand there on shore, in the water or on a dock and easily cast to them,” he said.
Equipment: Nelson recommends letting young anglers use a trout rod.
“A kid as old as 12 would have trouble handling and casting a salmon rod,” he said. “I personally use a trout rod because it is more fun. Most pinks average 4-6 pounds, so a trout rod is more than enough and it’s lots of fun.”
Most trout rods are 6-7 feet long, while salmon rods are typically 8-12 feet long with a much longer, thicker handle.
Using a smaller rod allows better control when casting a lure. That’s vital when the action is good and anglers are standing just a few feet apart. Make sure your child can control where the lure is going when it is cast to avoid bonking someone next to you.
Nelson likes to cast a hot pink 1/4-ounce jig about 5 feet under a float. Using a reel-and-stop is effective for fish and kids. “That will keep the kids involved because they are always casting and retrieving,” he said.
Make it fun: Because it’s called fishing and not catching — even for pink salmon — adults have to make sure kids will be entertained even if the fish are not cooperating.
Parents can make it a fun outing by bringing snacks along and playing some sort of game when the fish aren’t there, Nelson said.
“There is nothing more boring for kids than to sit in a boat for four hours. Even if you catch a 30-pound king, it’s still not as exciting because you had to sit there for four hours,” Nelson said. “You have to keep them entertained.
“When they do hook a fish and land a fish, praise the heck out them,” Nelson said.
safety tips: All three stressed the importance of making sure your child is safe while fishing.
“They do have to be careful if they’re out on the salt water. You have to watch for waves,” Anderson said.
“I remember a friend and I were standing on the Dash Point dock, and a tug pulling a barge went by. You couldn’t see the wake until it got right to shore. It knocked everyone on shore down.”
Anderson and Nelson recommended children 12 and younger wear a life jacket when fishing from a Puget Sound shore or along a river.
“It only takes a few seconds for your kid to get in trouble, even fishing from shore,” Nelson said. “They can take one step too many in a river and then are gone.”
Where to go: The options might seem endless, but there are a number of good places to start close to home.
Among the favorites are the fishing pier and shore at Dash Point State Park, the shore at Browns Point Lighthouse Park, the piers along Ruston Way in Tacoma from Old Town to Point Defiance, and the Puyallup and Nisqually rivers.
Farther from the South Sound, but one mentioned by all three experts was Point No Point at the north end of Kitsap Peninsula. The county park there is a favorite pink salmon spot.
“It is still one of the best places to catch pinks. The water is deep right there, so you give shore anglers easy access to the deep water where fish are running,” Thiesfeld said.
Other options are piers in the Des Moines area, Kayak Point south of Stanwood, Marrowstone Island, Bush and Lagoon points on Whidbey Island and the beaches at Deception Pass State Park.thenewstribune.com/outdoors