Don’t expect the action to be anywhere near as fast and furious as 2015, or even as good as 2013, 2011, 2009, 2007, 2005 — you get the idea — but for the record, a few pinks are beginning to arrive and be caught in Washington’s inside waters.
Dozens of the odd-year salmon have been brought in to docks in Sekiu over the past 10 days or so, with a handful also turning up in Puget Sound and Hood Canal, according to recent WDFW creel checks.
Peak of saltwater fishing isn’t typically until mid- to late August, but it does vary by individual stock, with those returning to glacial rivers tending to arrive earlier than others.
A wide variety of gear will get pinks to bite, but the “humpy special” — a pink squid behind a dodger — for trolling behind a downrigger or banana weight, and a pink Buzz Bomb and squid for casting off the beach or into schools from a boat are among the best on the Sound. Barbless hooks are required.
With this year’s low forecast of just 608,388 back to rivers from the Nooksack to Nisqually to the OlyPen — the fewest since the late 1990s — there is no bonus limit anywhere and a number of usually productive North Sound rivers are actually closed for pink retention.
A poor Snohomish coho forecast and South Sound Chinook quotas are also limiting how much of Marine Area 8-2 is open (just its very southern end) and what days you can fish out of a boat in Marine Area 11, respectively.
So why are pink runs down? A decade and a half of huge to humongous returns made it seem as if the pint-sized but prodiguous species would always swarm into Puget Sound in outlandish piles every other year.
The Blob thought otherwise.
Adult pinks at sea during the height of the poor ocean feeding conditions in the North Pacific returned to the inland sea in summer 2015 starving and desperately snapping at anything anglers threw their way.
The undersized hens carried fewer eggs, and due to the snow drought the previous winter and then the long, hot summer, the places they made their redds in the diminished streams were utterly walloped when four big October, November and December floods hit.
What eggs and fry survived that second catastrophe went to sea in early 2016, and while they returned in 2017 much bigger than 2015’s fish, just 442,252 spawned, the fewest in 20 years.
“We’re still digging out of a pretty big hole,” Aaron Dufault, a WDFW pink salmon stock analyst, told our Mark Yuasa for a story in the August issue. “It is a boom-or-bust situation for pinks, and we’ve had those busts in the past couple of odd-numbered years.”
This year’s return is based off of fry surveys done on beaches off the mouths of the rivers.
Resident and then ocean-returning coho as well as hatchery kings will command the focus of most Puget Sound anglers in the coming weeks and months, but pinks will also provide some opportunity as well as their runs rebuild.