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.
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.
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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