Every two years, hundreds of thousands of pink salmon swim within a few feet of angler Steve Saville’s property near Dash Point. This year, about 700,000 pinks are expected to swim past as they make their way to the Puyallup River.
Saville, a skilled and obsessed fly angler, was out at Dash Point Park on Aug. 6 to greet the first waves of fish. Saville, who was casting a secret fly of his own design, lost four fish that evening: one at his feet.
“Oh, well,” Saville said. “That’s fishing.”
Fishing is often thought of as a solitary, tranquil pursuit, but Saville was far from alone – and it was far from quiet.
More than 100 other anglers – using all kinds of gear – flung lures from the small public beach and pier. Screaming, laughing children raced up and down the beach and rattled around in the playground equipment. Families ate picnics, tied lures onto lines and socialized until dusk.
That’s fishing during the big Puget Sound Pink Salmon run of 2009.
More than 5 million pinks – which average 3 to 5 pounds but can reach 15 pounds – are expected to roll into Puget Sound during the next few weeks. The Puyallup is the southern boundary of the pink run, and Dash Point is one of the main stations.
And it seems as though anglers from all over the world are heading to this usually quiet section of Puget Sound to cash in on the big pink salmon run of 2009.
Anglers on the beach and pier during recent days talked in English, Spanish, Russian and Chinese.
But the universal language was fishing.
Lee Ham, of Federal Way, brought his entire family to the pier.
“The pinks swim really close to shore here, they’re abundant, and this is just fun,” Ham said as he whipped his pink Buzz Bomb lure into Puget Sound. “It’s a thrill to hook a salmon, and everyone is having fun.”
That said, salmon can bring out the worst in some anglers, and competition for limited parking near Dash Point has sparked some hard words.
It pays to arrive early — the parking lot opens at 7 a.m. — and to fish during weekdays.
Nathan Howell of Tacoma also whipped a pink Buzz Bomb – pink salmon have a lurid attraction for pink lures and flies – off the pier.
Howell has fished for pinks at Dash Point since the run of 2003, and he’s fished the runs in 2005 and 2007.
“Pink fishing is just now beginning to pick up,” Howell said. “And it’s supposed to be a really good year for pinks.”
For some reason, pink salmon return to Puget Sound rivers on odd-numbered years. Pink salmon runs have also grown in size – even as coho and chinook runs have struggled.
Biologists believe that pinks are doing well because young pink salmon leave their freshwater streams – and the perils of living among millions of Puget Sound humans – very soon after they hatch of the egg.
Chinook and coho salmon live in their freshwater streams spend months or even a year in the stream.
Some Puget Sound anglers have worried that the pink run is off to a slow start, especially if 5 million fish are supposed to arrive in August.
But state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists said that the pinks will show up. Pinks are slow migrators, but they should show up, said Doug Milward, a fish biologist and expert on ocean fisheries.
“I think they’re kind of just rattling down the shoreline – sniffing for their rivers – but it’s going to be a good year,” Milward said.
Pinks bound for the Puyallup River swim close to Dash Point and Brown’s Point, and big schools are starting to show up in nearby waters.
Biologists made counts of pink salmon fry swimming out of Puget Sound rivers – this year’s fish are the offspring of the big run of 3 million pinks in 2007 – to estimate this year’s run at 5 million fish.
But no one knows exactly how many will return, as the Pacific Ocean is a big place, said Val Tribble, who oversees pink, sockeye and chum salmon for thes Department of Fish and Wildlife.
A BUILDING BITE
The pink migration might also be a little late this month for a good reason, Tribble said. When the number of returning pink salmon is high, the adults tend to feed a little longer in the ocean.
In any case, anglers in boats have found large schools of pink salmon roaming Marine Area 11, which covers the Sound from the northern tip of Vashon Island to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
Khim Rein, of Tacoma, cast and retrieved his Buzz Bomb as the sun went down Wednesday night.
“I got two yesterday,” Rein said. “It was just after 7 p.m.”
Rein said he’ll chase the pinks as long as they’re off Dash Point and then he’ll follow the run into the Puyallup River.
But catching the fish in saltwater – when they’re bright and strong from two years in the Pacific Ocean – is the best, Rein said.
“I just like the fight,” he said.
And the strong runs and leaps of a bright pink salmon are what it’s all about for many fishing the early days of the 2009 pink salmon run.
“They’re a wonderful fish,” Saville said as he left Dash Point to jumping, swirling pink salmon.
Chester Allen: 360-754-4226
Pink salmon numbers
Year No. of fish 2005 return 42
2007 forecast 13,443
Year No. of fish 2005 return 470,000
2007 forecast 777,573
Year No. of fish 2005 return 800,000
2007 forecast 1,333,917
Year No. of fish 2005 return 2,028,300
2007 forecast 3,344,350
Pretty in pinks
• Anglers fishing Dash Point, Browns Point and other areas of Marine Area 11, which is the Puget Sound from the northern tip of Vashon Island south to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, can keep two salmon per day and two more pink salmon. That means anglers can keep up to four pink salmon a day. Anglers must release all wild chinook salmon and release chinook salmon that are shorter than 22 inches.
• Pinks are aggressive, snappy fish, and they’re weak for lures and flies that are pink. Many anglers cast 2.5-inch-long Buzz Bombs or other pink lures, using a retrieve with a stop-and-start, sweeping motion of the spinning or casting rod. Fly anglers cast pink Woolly Buggers, Clouser Minnows and Comets. A floating or clear intermediate line works well. Retrieve the fly with short, sharp strips.
Anglers fishing in saltwater must use single, barbless hooks. For more information, visit wdfw.wa.gov.
• The best way to fish Puget Sound pink salmon is from a seaworthy boat. Boating anglers don’t have to deal with shoreline crowds, parking spots or other hassles.
But many anglers are limited to the shoreline. It pays to be nice to your fellow anglers – as it’s likely that they will be nice to you. Fishing early or late in the day on weekdays is the best way to avoid the crowds. All public beaches within reach of swimming pink salmon will get very crowded this month.
Anglers also should obey no trespassing signs where private beaches border public beaches. Some beach owners will grant polite anglers permission to fish on their property.
Chester Allen, The Olympian