Tag Archives: humpies

Pink Bonus Limit On Puyallup Starting Saturday

THE FOLLOWING IS A WDFW E-REG

Anglers allowed to retain 2 additional pink salmon in the lower Puyallup River on days open to fishing

ADAM BROOKS, SON OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN CONTRIBUTOR JASON BROOKS, HEFTS A HEAVY HAUL OF HUMPIES MADE IN MID-AUGUST 2011. (JASON BROOKS)

Action: Anglers may retain 2 additional pink salmon as part of the salmon daily limit.

Effective date: Aug. 31 through Oct. 31

Species affected: Pink salmon.

Location: Puyallup River, from the 11th St. Bridge to the East Main Bridge.

Reason for action: 170,000 Pink salmon have been passed above the Buckley trap, exceeding the preseason forecast and the escapement goal for the Puyallup. The higher than expected return supports additional harvest opportunity for recreational anglers.

Additional information: Salmon: Min. size 12”. Daily limit 6. Up to 2 adults plus 2 additional pink salmon may be retained. Release chum and wild Chinook.

A reminder: Pink salmon over 12” are considered adults. Anglers may not continue to fish for salmon after the adult portion of their daily limit has been retained. The lower Puyallup River is closed to all recreational angling Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays during the months of September and October.

Short Humpy Opener Coming Up On The Snohomish

Editor’s note: Updated 3:15 p.m., Aug. 29, 2019, with comments from a WDFW stock analyst.

Break out your humpy jigs, there will be a short pink season on the Snohomish after all.

“While three days is not a ton of opportunity, it’s better than the total closure we were looking at, and welcome news for local retailers,” said Mark Spada of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club this morning. “It should be a three-day zoo.”

The Sept. 1-3 fishery only has a limit of one salmon — coho or pink — but the popular Central Sound river wasn’t otherwise scheduled to open for the odd-year fish in 2019 due to a relatively low forecast.

WILL LUTZ SHOWS OFF A NICE HUMPY BUCK CAUGHT ON THE UPPER SNOHOMISH IN 2011. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The preseason prediction was 128,362 fish, just a tenth or less of some recent years’ escapements, but it appears more are returning.

“It appears the low pink forecast was way off, and there looks to be an abundance of pinks in the Snohomish,” says Spada. “An overachieving forecast is good news for future pink runs if the fall weather cooperates.”

After 2015’s run came in and spawned, their redds were hit hard by four pretty big October, November and December floods.

That year’s fish were also skinnier and less fecund due to The Blob  in the North Pacific, leading to a low 2017 return.

But that year’s progeny appear to have done better at sea.

“Early information indicates that the return of pinks to the Snohomish River is large enough to support a small recreational fishery in the river,” WDFW stated in an emergency rule-change notice.

Pink salmon biologist Aaron Dufault in Olympia said the escapement goal is 120,000 and with the forecast so close to that mark, the state and tribes initially wanted to manage the stock conservatively.

“Now that we’re seeing some positive signs in-river we thought a small fishery was acceptable. We’re already open for coho during this time, so pink would be caught and released regardless. This way some can show up in some angler coolers instead,” he stated.

The official go-ahead is posted here.

As for what to use, a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jig with a squid skirt and a pink Buzz Bomb are good starting points. Dick Nites are also popular.

LOWER RIVER HUMPIES LOVE THEM SOME PINK JIGS, LIKE THIS ONE THAT A DUWAMISH BUCK BIT EARLIER THIS WEEK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Public boat ramps include 10th Street in Everett at the mouth, Lowell-Snohomish River Road and the small one just south of the town of Snohomish, while Langus Waterfront Park just upstream from Dagmar’s has bank access.

At this point, after Sept. 3, the Snohomish will remain open for one coho a day only through the end of the month. Recent years have seen some very low wild runs, including 2015’s smallest on record — just 12,804 — and that has drawn scrutiny from federal fishery overseers who now list one of Puget Sound’s historically strongest silver stocks as overfished.

A review of the draft plan to rebuild the run is the subject of a Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting next month.

The Snohomish has also been among Puget Sound’s strongest pink salmon systems. While this opener may provide a glimpse of its past glory, including a truly epic day for yours truly and a friend off the former sawmill that yesterday burned, managers and anglers should be careful not to stress the run too much.

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Tasseomancy, Puget Sound Pink Salmon Style

We’re trying not to jinx it so work with us a moment, but ethay umpyhay unray ookslay argerlay anthay WWDFay orecastfay!

The translation from pig Latin: The signs are getting better that this year’s Puget Sound pink salmon run will more than meet the relatively low preseason prediction — and perhaps come in well above it.

PUGET SOUND PINK SALMON ANGLERS’ SMILES MAY GET BIGGER AND BIGGER AS SIGNS POINT TO A MORE ROBUST RUN THAN FIRST EXPECTED. (BRIAN LULL)

Among the harbingers, portents and auguries we’re seeing at the bottom of our wine glass this afternoon are good catches in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Sound, strong early returns to Hood Canal, and relatively high numbers at a trap on the Skykomish.

It’s still early and there’s waaaaaaaay too much uncertainty out there to know how far off the official forecast of 608,388 ultimately may turn out to be.

But on the back of a salmon stock analyst’s sriracha-stained napkin we recently discovered in the trash at a rest area between Olympia and Fraser Panel meetings is a guesstimate that the run could actually come in between 1 and 2 million strong.

And nearby we also found a pair of seagull-pecked graphs for two fisheries in the Straits.

One shows commercial test catches in British Columbia’s Area 20 — the north side of the waterway — that say this year’s Puget Sound stocks are turning up at rates three times higher than they did during 2017’s piddling return of roughly half a million.

The other is of sport catches in Washington’s Marine Area 5, Sekiu and Pillar Point, which have been matching and besting the longterm historical average.

A CHART TRACKING PINK SALMON CATCH PER UNIT EFFORT IN WASHINGTON’S MARINE AREA 5 SHOWS IT SPIKING IN RECENT DAYS AND LONGTERM AVERAGES.

Both graphs show that peak fishing is still to come in a week to two weeks.

Meanwhile, WDFW catch stats show that yesterday 72 pinks were tallied at the Olson’s East Docks, 28 at Van Riper’s Resort.

But humpies are also turning up throughout Puget Sound proper –38 at Everett, 31 at Shilshole, 22 at Armeni and 15 at Point Defiance on Wednesday.

If salmon anglers weren’t focusing on Chinook in those areas, the catches might be higher still.

The caveat is that a strong bite doesn’t absolutely, unequivocally mean a strong return — the fish could just be hungry, like in 2015, when they came in starving and snapping at everything in a desperate attempt to get bigger before spawning.

But some 8,731 pinks have also already returned to the Hoodsport Hatchery, 5,630 more than the next best mark for this same point over the past four runs, 2015’s 3,101.

And at Sunset Falls on the South Fork Sky, 42 have arrived at the fishway, five more than 2017 and twice as many as 2015.

(WDFW creel and hatchery escapement reports go back further than 2013 but are not readily available by week — or at least I haven’t discovered the secret stash with the agency’s rejiggered and occasionally mildly infuriating new website.)

So what does this all mean?

As humpy returns rebuild from the pummeling they took from The Blob and four big fall 2015 floods, it won’t be a return to the bonkers harvest years of 2009, 2011 and 2013 — praise be their names and hallowed be their memories.

But as king salmon action begins to tail off and before ocean coho arrive, pinks should provide a decent bridge fishery in the saltwater and then the rivers over the coming weeks and month or so.

In fact, this oracle of the genus Oncorhynchus just may swap out the Point Wilsons and Pucci Jigs in his go bag for the trays of pink diamond-shaped darts in his shed.

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 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.

Watch for jumpers or your sonar and work the schools as they move around in the shipping channels and along shorelines.

With no bonus limit on marine waters due to the low initial forecast, up to two can be retained if you haven’t kept a Chinook or coho.

Note that there are fishery restrictions in place in Marine Area 7 (closed), Area 8-2 and 11, so be sure to check the pamphlet.

As they move into rivers, pink jigs and Dick Nites are best bets.

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From Salmon To Perch To Crab To Derbies, August Has Lotsa Ops: Yuasa

Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.

By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association

In the blink of an eye, summer has shifted past the midway point but that doesn’t necessarily mean anglers should throw shade on late-season fishing opportunities.

In fact, the horizon looks very bright in August when salmon fisheries come into play at Buoy 10 near the Columbia River mouth, Willapa Bay, inner- Elliott Bay, Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Freshwater fish seekers also can set their sights on abundant yellow perch in many statewide lakes!

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

First off, the pink – a salmon that returns mainly during odd-numbered years and often referred to as “humpies” for a distinct hump that grows on their back near spawning time – forecast is a paltry 608,388 which could be among the lowest runs on record dating back to 1959. Returns soared above 1 million in 2001 and peaked at more than 10 million in 2009. The strong pace continued when it hit 6-plus million in 2011, more than 8 million in 2013 and dipped to 4 million in 2015.

In 2015, the pinks went from bloom to gloom as they faced a monumental drought period and extremely warm water temperatures in rivers. Winter flooding followed leaving very few young pinks to make it out to the ocean where they eventually ran into “The Blob” a large mass of warm water that wreaked havoc on sea life.

That lead to a dismal 2017 with an actual return of around 511,000 (1.1 million was forecasted) pinks, which was less than 82 percent the historical 10-year average.

While the pink forecast is conservative – this summer’s unexpected strong return of chinook and coho – we just might see a late fourth quarter comeback for humpies too. In fact, some early pinks began showing up in catches back in July so don’t give up on them just yet.
“There have been a lot of pinks caught (at Neah Bay and La Push) and many of them are nice size fish,” said Wendy Beeghley, the WDFW coastal salmon manager.

An unexpected large return of pinks were also showing up in other places like Sekiu, outside of the Freshwater Bay closure zone and in open areas off Port Angeles in the Strait of Juan de Fuca as well as the San Juan Islands (which closed Aug. 1 for salmon fishing).
The Puget Sound pink run usually peaks in mid-August, and in southern Puget Sound the last week of August and early September are best.

Pinks aren’t the only game and so far, the coho and hatchery king fisheries have been a pleasant surprise from the coast clear into open areas of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The party lights began flashing for coho in June when places like central Puget Sound (Area 10) reopened for off-the-charts good action on resident coho. Then good king action began happening last month in the San Juan Islands (now closed to fishing in August), Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Tulalip bubble fishery and south-central Puget Sound.

It was the same scenario in the ocean when catches ramped up in late June from Neah Bay south to Ilwaco and have remained good this past month. Most of this is likely related to a strong forecast of 1,009,600 coho to the Columbia River compared to a 2018 forecast of 349,000.

Look for coho success in open areas of Puget Sound and Strait to only get better in August and build to a crescendo in September. In Puget Sound the total coho return for 2019 is 670,159, which is up from last year’s 557,149.

There will be a short inner-Elliott Bay king fishery from Aug. 2-5 and additional days may occur if in-season data shows the run to be stronger than expected. That won’t be the only crowning moment as areas from Whidbey Island south to Olympia have seen an uptick in catches of hatchery kings and should see good fishing this month in places that remain open.

WDFW extended the hatchery king salmon fishery in northern Puget Sound (Area 9), which is open through Saturday (Aug. 3). Central Puget Sound (Area 10) also remains open for hatchery kings as does south central Puget Sound (Area 11). Look for the latter two to produce some stellar fishing heading into this month.

Lastly, before heading out the door, check the WDFW website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/ for any possible emergency closures this month and also what marine and freshwater areas are open or closed for salmon.

Yellow perch options bloom in the summer heat

There’s nothing better than getting a first-time angler or youth hooked on fishing and yellow perch is one of those prime options.

Lake Washington – which is 20 miles long and covers more than 22,000 acres – is one of those places that comes alive in August for yellow perch.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Their population levels in this large urban lake is very robust and they continue to have yearly strong recruitment and survival rates that won’t make the slightest dent on production.

Most yellow perch average 7 to 10 inches along with some “jumbos” hitting the 11- to 12-inch range.

WDFW experts say it is only a matter of time before the official state record could come from Lake Washington. The current state record of 2.75 pounds was caught by Larry Benthien at Snelson’s Slough in Skagit County on June 22, 1969.

The reason behind this possibility is due in part to the ample feed and room for yellow perch to grow in Lake Washington, which is the second largest natural-bodied lake in Washington. Female perch are the largest and tend to grow much faster (usually maturing in three to four years) and can live if 8 to 10 years.

The best time of the year to fish for yellow perch begins around July when the water heats up, and peaks from August through October.

Look for schools of yellow perch in shallow water, 15 to 35 feet, and close to the shoreline. They will school up in shaded locations just outside the cover of weed beds, milfoil, aquatic weeds and lily pads or under docks, piers and overhanging trees and brush.

Yellow perch are active throughout the day and the only time they seek out covered areas is at night when predators are lurking.

Popular locations to fish are Seward Park; Kenmore log boom and pier; Juanita Bay; Magnuson Park shoreline; Andrews Bay; Newport area and slough; Yarrow Bay; Gene Coulon Park in Renton; Mercer Island near Luther Burbank Park; and off Leschi Park, Madison Park, Stan Sayres Pits and Mount Baker Park. Areas from the Montlake Cut into Lake Union are also good especially off Gasworks Park.

A light-to-medium-action trout fishing rod with a spinning reel attached to 4- to 6-pound test line works best. Use a worm and drop-shot (egg-style) weight attached to a three-way swivel or Sniper Lure Snubs – a colorful tiny 3-inch plastic worm. Live maggots, a skirted crappie jig work well. After you catch your first perch cut a small chunk of the meat or even a perch eyeball as bait.

Other good perch lakes are Sammamish near Issaquah; Kapowsin southeast of Puyallup; Beaver and Pine near Issaquah; Sawyer northwest of Black Diamond; Harts southeast of Yelm; Goodwin northwest of Marysville; Stevens east of Everett; American near Fort Lewis; Angle in Sea-Tac; Desire in Renton; and Meridian in Kent.

Dungeness crab fishing opportunities providing fairly decent catches

The Dungeness crab fishing success has been somewhat better than expected although many are having to still throw back some soft-shelled crabs.

Areas east of Bonilla-Tatoosh Island boundary line (Marine Catch Area 4), Sekiu (5), Port Angeles (6), east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2) and northern Puget Sound (9) are open through Sept. 2 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week).

Central Puget Sound (10) is open through this Saturday, Aug. 3. The shorter season is due to an overage in last year’s crab catch.

Hood Canal (12) north of a line projected due east of Ayock Point is open through Sept. 2 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week). Areas south of Ayock Point are closed this summer to help rebuild crab populations.

The San Juan Islands (7 South) is open through Sept. 30 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week). San Juan Islands (7 North) opens Aug. 15 through Sept. 30 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week).

South-central Puget Sound (11) and southern Puget Sound (13) are closed this summer to help rebuild crab populations.

NW Salmon Derby Series loaded with events in August

The derby series kicked into high gear with the Lake Coeur d’Alene Big One Fishing Derby on July 24-28 seeing a good number of anglers turn out despite the  tough fishing. Top angler in the adult division was Bret Hojem with a 13.54-pound chinook; and top youth angler was Cooper Malcolm with a 9.82 chinook.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Prior to that the Puget Sound Anglers Bellingham Salmon Derby was held July 12-14. A total of 392 adult tickets and 72 youth tickets were sold with 164 chinook weighed-in for the event, which was 10 more fish caught than last year.

Tom Hartley of Anacortes took the top prize of $7,500 with a 21.90-pound hatchery chinook; second was Chris Wilson with a 21.60 worth $2,500; and third was Adam Beardsley with a 20.62 worth $1,000.

Other derbies on the horizon are the South King County PSA Salmon Derby, Aug. 3; Brewster Salmon Derby on Aug. 1-4; Gig Harbor PSA Salmon Derby, Aug. 10; Vancouver, B.C. Chinook Classic, Aug. 17-18; and Edmonds PSA Coho Derby, Sept. 7. The Columbia River Fall Salmon Derby on Aug. 31 has been cancelled due to expected low salmon returns.

Drawing for the grand prize boat takes place at the conclusion of the Everett Coho Derby on Sept. 21-22. New at the Everett Coho Derby is a second weigh-in station located at the Edmonds Marina.

The grand prize $75,000 Weldcraft 202 Rebel Hardtop boat from Renaissance Marine Group in Clarkston will be making the rounds to each derby. The boat is powered with a Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motor on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer.

The boat is rigged with Burnewiin accessories; Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; a custom WhoDat Tower; and a Dual Electronics stereo. Other sponsors include Silver Horde Lures; Master Marine and Tom-n-Jerry’s; Harbor Marine; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Sportco and Outdoor Emporium; and Prism Graphics. It is trailered with a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado – not part of the grand prize giveaway – courtesy of Northwest Chevrolet and Burien Chevrolet.
In other related news, anglers can also start looking at 2020 with dates finalized for Resurrection Salmon Derby on Feb. 1-2; Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15.

Details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

Summer is sneaking by quickly so it’s time for me to jump on the boat and get into the fishing action. I’ll see you on the water!

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Some Puget Sound Pink Salmon Runs In Trouble

This year’s low return reminds us that despite the explosion of odd-year salmon in increasingly developed Pugetropolis, humpies are still affected by floods, ocean conditions.

Editor’s note: This is an expanded and updated version of an article that appears in the October 2017 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine.

By Andy Walgamott

You may not recall Sunday, October 20, 2003, but it sticks in my memory for two reasons:

1) At shooting light – or what passed for it that gloomy-ass day – while sitting in the rain under a leaky poncho I flubbed an excellent opportunity at a nice Methow muley due to the puddle in my scope.

2) Indeed, it rained like hell that day – several inches there in western Okanogan County, 5 inches at SeaTac Airport, 10 and change on the slopes of Glacier Peak.

I went home venisonless; on the other side of Washington’s North Cascades, freshly dug Skagit River pink salmon redds were utterly destroyed.

Yes, it’s all ancient history now, but if you’re wondering what happened with Puget Sound pinks this year, the Day of the Deluge is a useful starting point.

A Duwamish River pink salmon thrashes on the end of the editor’s line during 2015’s run. Humpies bit amazingly well in the salt and rivers that year, masking what was a smaller run that was then hit hard by repeated floods, leading to this year’s forecast of just over 1 million, the fewest expected in Puget Sound in nearly 20 years. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THAT FALL, SOMEWHERE around 867,000 humpies made it back to the gravel on the Skagit and its tribs. (Just under 310,000 were harvested beforehand.)

By Oct. 19, most had spawned and were well on their way to assaulting the olfactory organs of everyone from Mount Vernon to Marblemount.

Then Oct. 20’s atmospheric river hit. An atmospheric river is what meteorologists call the long, continuous band of moisture that gets sucked out of the central Pacific and is jet streamed to the Northwest, where it becomes terrestrial rivers that run willy-nilly. (Pineapple Expresses are those that originate near Hawaii.)

Floodwater, silt, sand, trees – all sorts and manner of debris washed away or covered the redds.

It was a disaster for Skagit pinks. Two years later, 2005 saw a run of just 83,000 limp back to the mouth of the river, with an escapement estimate of a mere 60,000.

The next run of the odd-year fish improved, with 300,000 hitting the gravel, though harvest actually declined to roughly 15,000, state stats show.

It wasn’t until six years after the big flood, 2009, that the Skagit was back in business as a prime producer of pinks, thanks to a run of 1.6 million.

The U.S. Geological Survey gauge for the Skykomish, an undammed river pouring out of the Cascades east of Everett, shows the four fall 2015 floods that hit pink and other salmon species’ redds. Scientists say repeated scour events like these are increasing to the detriment of the fish. (USGS)

FALL 2015 WAS not unlike Oct. 20, 2003, in several ways. It didn’t see one monster flood; it saw four big ones, all again after that year’s pinks had spawned. The first downpour arrived on Halloween, with another two weeks later, followed by a third just four days after the second, and the last coming in mid-December.

Flood heights vary by river system and where each storm hits, of course, but to use the Skykomish as an example, 2015’s quartet crested at Gold Bar at 70,000 cubic feet per second, 60,000 cfs, nearly 100,000 cfs and 80,000 cfs, respectively. Not all-time records, but not insubstantial either — flows on the South Fork were the third highest on record. The average for the Sky that time of year is between 3,000 and 4,000 cfs. Systems controlled by dams saw similar surges.

The Northwest is of course floodprone, especially in mid to late fall as the jet stream migrates back south for the winter and we get rain-on-top-of-snow events the deeper into the season we get. Salmon have evolved to deal with that, spreading their spawning runs out, but scientists say we’re seeing increasing numbers of sharp flow fluctuations this time of year. That’s not good news for fall salmon – even for pinks, which have adapted to spend very little of their lifespan in freshwater.

“Nooksack, we have a preliminary estimate of 24,000. Just barely got done with surveys there. We are not done (theoretically) with spawning surveys on the Skagit, but by the time we can get back visibility, the fish will likely be done spawning. Doesn’t matter, it’s bad. Best guess is about 40,000, but don’t hold me to it. Last night’s storm probably wiped half of what spawned. Upper Skagit tribs all blew up. Sauk blew up … We have a huge hole to dig out of now.”

–WDFW Nooksack-Samish-Skagit Fisheries Biologist Brett Barkdull, October 19, 2017

Fall 2015’s four floods probably had an outsized impact on pinks for two more reasons. If you recall, that year was the height of the Blob, which really ought to be a four-letter word around these parts for what it did to Northwest fish, wildlife and habitat. That year’s run was starved at sea, and so they came into Puget Sound smaller than usual. The females produced fewer eggs. It’s also likely the fish weren’t able to dig as robust redds as usual.

Meanwhile, the previous winter had been warm, with rain falling even in the high mountains, leading to a failed snowpack, with spring and summer runoff setting new all-time lows. By fall, pinks had no place left to lay their diminished supply of eggs except in what essentially was the middle of river channels, where scour is typically greatest. And scour the floods did that fall. This year’s paltry preseason forecast of 1.1 million pinks is largely a reflection of that, say state biologists.

That’s not to discount the ocean, so important in the pinks’ lifecycle. While the Blob faded and we rejoiced, as it turns out, it left the Pacific with a massive hangover – species in the wrong places, prey-switching up and down the coast – that also affected this year’s Columbia Basin sockeye and steelhead runs. Unlike those stocks, however, pinks are almost entirely wild, so how long it will takes the runs to rebuild is a good question.

A WDFW graph shows the brief spike of Puget Sound pink salmon returns in the mid-1960s and the spike in the 2000s as South Sound rivers came on line as the basin’s primary pink producers. (WDFW)

WE WERE SPOILED beyond imagination, we Puget Sound pink salmon anglers, by the flood of fish. We had it good – better than good. We witnessed the most productive and greatest expansion of humpy fisheries of the modern era. It is unlike anything seen in the Northwest salmon world.

Since 2001, the Dawn Of Humpydom, in which yours truly recalls sitting in a leaky canoe off downtown Snohomish with a friend and utterly killing it one day, this millennium has provided a streak with no equal in WDFW records that stretch back to 1959.

There’s just a single spike in pink runs and catches in the 40 years between the end of the Eisenhower Administration and the end of the Clinton Administration, and a whole lot of blah not unlike this year’s forecast and fisheries.

Outside of 1963’s where-in-the-hell-did-that-come-from? run of 7 million, the best years produced 2 million and change, while the worst years – 1969, ’75, ’81, ’97 – barely reached half a million or fell decidedly short of that mark.

But starting in 2001 with Humpzilla and Humpzilla’s slightly bigger brother, Puget Sound became the Bristol Bay of the humpy world.

We saw returns of 3.8 million pinks that year, 3.3 million in ’03, 2 million in ’05 and 3.2 million in ’07, when the standing state-record 15-plus-pounder was caught.

Then things really got sideways: ’09, 10.3 million; ’11, 5.3 million; ’13, 8.75 million; and ’15, 3.7 million. Those last four runs alone – 28 million fish – roughly equal how many returned between 1961 and 1999.

State records for pink salmon started falling fast in 1999 when in the month of August alone, at least seven topped the standing saltwater record, then in 2001 freshwater records started toppling before Adam Stewart set the benchmark at 15.4 pounds in 2007. (WDFW)

The explosion of salmon primarily occurred in three rivers. While the North Sound’s Snohomish, Stillaguamish and Skagit had long accounted for all but the tip of the pinks’ hump when it came to production and harvest, South Sound rivers suddenly came into their own.

There is literally no catch data for the Duwamish until 1999 when five dozen pinks were recorded. That figure and all those in this section include sport, commercial and tribal catches in the river and marine areas. It was followed by 790 in 2001, then 8,646, 18,491, 30,249 and in 2009, things went nuclear – 393,806.

There appears to have always been pinks in the Nisqually and Puyallup but numbers didn’t blow up until recent years. All of one fish was recorded as reaching the former river during 2001’s run, but by 2013 it produced a harvest of 101,676. The Puyallup’s 1999 take was just 179 fish. By 2009 that figure climbed to 298,485 and it still has yet to drop below a couple hundred thousand. Well, until surely 2017.

And it wasn’t like those North Sound rivers gave up either. The Nooksack lit up, producing back-to-back harvests better than any seen in Whatcom County in 50 years. The Snohomish yielded 1.13 million alone in 2013, the Skagit 720,000 that year.

Our Little Chiefs couldn’t keep up with the bounty; all the salmon smoking we did helped push CO2 levels over the 400-parts-per-million mark. Not really, but still.

WDFW Sunset Falls (SF Skykomish) Pink Salmon Count*
Oct. 19, 2017: 1,205
Oct. 15, 2015: 17,293
Oct. 17, 2013: 54,644
Oct. 20, 2011: 23,643
Oct. 22, 2009: 98,158
Oct. 18, 2007: 41,168
Oct. 13, 2005: 17,595
Oct. 16, 2003: 18,822
Oct. 18, 2001: 12,444
Oct. 21, 1999: 962
* Passage is typically greater than 99.7 percent complete by mid-October

THROUGH THAT LENS, there was no way 2017’s return was going to be anything but the redheaded, warty, mutant, split-tongued bastard cousin at the barn dance. The preseason prediction was the lowest since 1999, which produced a sport catch of just 35,067 for those hucking Humpy Special spoons and other OG lures.

I’ll be honest, I went ahead and bought Buzz Bombs anyway, along with 1/0 and 2/0 hooks and two different kinds of pink hoochies. I’m weird like that; it makes tackle shacks happy, and probably gives them a laugh about the fool and his money. But I’m an optimist and I had visions of catching pinks off my local beach all summer long. In the end I hooked coho and kings, but no humpies. It wasn’t just me: WDFW’s daily saltwater creel checks rang up a ridiculous number of goose eggs in the pink salmon column when the Straits and Sound should’ve been boiling with the buggers, even with a low run.

“We haven’t done preliminary estimates yet for the Snohomish or Stillaguamish, but all the indexes showed feeble peak counts. It’s going to be well below the forecast which was 171,000 Snohomish and 40,000 Stillaguamish, and much worse than the parent year of 2015 which had escapement of 389,000 Snohomish and 91,000 Stillaguamish.

“This coming weekend’s rain, with predicted flood stages on Monday, should be the end for pink spawning this year and will likely not be kind to eggs in the gravel.”

–WDFW Snohomish-Stillaguamish Fisheries Biologist Jenni Whitney, October 19, 2017

My initial late summer forays on the Duwamish River were also desultory, to say the least: one snag-up and someone dropped a deuce in my high-tide spot. Eventually I did begin catching some, big bucks easily twice the size of 2015’s.

It’s probable the fish just didn’t need to feed in our saltwater like two years ago, and when they get in the rivers they can be notoriously lockjawed. With far fewer coming back, it’s no wonder we caught so few. It was also a humbling reminder I wasn’t exactly the angler I thought I was.

A buck returns to the Duwamish to continue on its way upstream. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THE PINK EXPLOSION suggested, in a sense, we could have our pie and eat it too. Puget Sound Chinook, coho, sockeye, chum and steelhead runs are in increasing trouble from a king tide of habitat destruction, lack of political will to do much about it and an ever-growing human population that’s less and less attached to the water but is still willing to fund fixing things with “guilt money.”

That’s the term Oregon State University Professor Robert T. Lackey used in a decidedly pessimistic but perhaps more honest paper than what you otherwise hear from those of us in the trenches, whether at the state, tribal, federal or NGO level, or in the fishing industry.

Indeed, you can’t be a hook-and-bullet magazine editor and believe the sky is falling. It just doesn’t work well. I want to believe recovery really is possible. I want to believe the gravel parking pad my family had turned into a rain garden – and many, many more like it – will help, that a couple of the juvenile coho my boys have been stocking in a nearby tributary return and make more, and those will make more, etc.

Meanwhile, pinks were bucking it all.

Or at least did until flood and ocean conditions caught up with them too.

“Pink salmon are still spawning in the Green River and we haven’t finalized an escapement estimate yet. Our forecast was for about 120,000. The survey crew tells me it seems like a pretty robust pink return this year. Sounds like the pink run has a good chance of coming in close to, or slightly below our forecast — maybe this year’s escapement will be around 100,000 pinks. That’s the best guess I can hazard for now, though.”

—-WDFW Green-Duwamish Fisheries Biologist Aaron Bosworth, October 20, 2017*

No, they’re not one of the glamour stocks. They’re an every-other-year oddity that created a cottage industry for the makers of small spoons, hoochie jigs and other tackle. They provided big-number days for anglers of all abilities. They brought heaps of marine nutrients home.

Here’s hoping Puget Sound pinks recover faster than how long it took for the Skagit’s to get back on track after October 20, 2003. 

* Editor’s note: Upon further consultation with Green-Duwamish River stream surveyors, WDFW district fisheries biologist Aaron Bosworth downgraded his expectations for pink salmon returns to the system and his quote was updated to reflect that.

Begorrah! Humpies Hooked In Ireland

Pink salmon catches have been very light so far this month in our waters, but not so in a very, very unusual place.

The other side of the Atlantic.

Don’t worry, it’s unlikely Puget Sound’s humpies have lost their way.

IRISH FISHERY OFFICIALS ARE SCRATCHING THEIR HEADS ABOUT A FLURRY OF PINK SALMON CATCHES ON FIVE SYSTEMS THIS MONTH, THOUGH NONE HAVE HAVE BEEN AS BIG AS WILL LUTZ’S 2011 SNOHOMISH HUMPY. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

But their cousins are being caught in fishing beats on five rivers in Ireland this month, including a 5-pounder that reportedly bit a prawn.

And “unprecented numbers” are being landed in rivers across northern Scotland as well as England, according to a TV report yesterday.

Before you get too excited about tapping into a brand-new market, Mr. Figgins, Irish and Scottish fishery officials worry about impacts on native Atlantic salmon and are encouraging anglers to record catch locations and keep any pinks they land. They want scale samples to determine the nonnative fish’s origin.

As for where the pinks came from, it is improbable that they’re strays from the Sky or Skagit.

“It seems unlikely that these fish made a migration due to their small size,” Dr. Greg Forde of Inland Fisheries Ireland said in a press release.

Apparently, the Russians planted some at some point in their Barents Sea rivers and they have since spread to Norway, on the other side of the North Sea from the British Isles.

If this is anything like The Great Humpy Outbreak Of 2011, when 3,828 probable strays from Puget Sound were counted at Bonneville Dam, it may be a function of a large return to those systems.

In the end, that did not lead to a run of pinks establishing itself in the Columbia, but the Green-Duwamish return is most likely the result of colonizers from North Sound rivers.