Fifteen or 20 years ago, anglers were able to reel in salmon by the minute at Bush Point and other waters surrounding Whidbey Island.
Although the salmon stock has sharply decreased in years since, anglers from the island and beyond can still be found fishing in large numbers at the famed hot spot.
For Freeland resident Jim Stach, all he needed was a few minutes to catch two pinks.
“When they start coming in, this becomes a daily ritual for me,” Stach said. “I get back from work, or sometimes before work depending on when I have to go in and depending on the tides, and it’s nice to just be able to do that all the time.”
Salmon season in Admiralty Inlet is about halfway through, as the season started in mid July. The season wraps up Sept. 4, although large crowds on the shores of favorite local spot Bush Point are only just beginning to become more common. At the peak of the salmon run, anglers can regularly be seen nearly shoulder to shoulder, all with their eyes on the prize: dinner.
According to E.Z. Rider, vice president of the Fishin’ Club, local regulars expect this week to be the season’s first big catch.
“The story from everybody seems to be that by (this) week they’ll really be coming in,” Rider said. “We’re starting to see a few more jumpers, but you’re not seeing a ton of fish out there, which means you’re probably not going to see a ton of people on the beach.”
Last Thursday evening during high tide, close to 50 people at a time could be found angling to catch pink salmon or hatchery coho, also known as silvers. According to rules set out by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, anglers in Marine Area 9, which covers Admiralty Inlet, are required to release all chinook and wild coho. Fishermen are also required to fish from the shoreline in the designated area, as boat fishing was closed at the start of August in order to “protect expected low runs of wild coho and pink salmon returning to the Skagit and Stillaguamish rivers.”
According to local anglers and Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound Recreational Salmon Fishery manager for the state, the generally poor salmon return this year has been much the same for roughly the last 10 years. Lothrop says pinks have had pretty poor recent returns, although this year is comparable to populations 10 years ago; it’s not worse today than it was then, but considerably poorer that 20 or 30 years ago.
Also, although coho returns “as a whole” have been fair, he said, some Puget Sound populations have been struggling.
“We do have some local populations of stocks that are severely depressed and have a low forecast,” Lothrop said. “That being said, Bush Point in particular remains a great spot because of its location and the beach is more steep, which pushes bait and the fish closer to shore.”
Although during peak season one can be confident of reeling in salmon, Stach has lived in Freeland for long enough to remember when the prospects were much different. As a nearby resident for 18 years, he recalls the days when the catch limit was twice as many or more than the current limit of two pinks per day. When he first started shoreline fishing, something he had never previously done before moving to Whidbey, one could catch “two pinks and two silvers,” while the chinook prospects were also better.
He added salmon could more regularly be seen jumping in Puget Sound, indicating the larger population numbers.
Nonetheless, Bush Point remains a favorite spot for local fishermen and visitors alike. A walk down the beach recently proved the spot’s popularity beyond Whidbey, as Russian and Spanish could be heard from the shoreline. Even if the prospects of a big catch are smaller than they once were, the spot isn’t losing it’s charm for Whidbey residents.
“The wife and I come down here for the sunsets even when fishing is not going on,” Stach said. “And when the season is going, I make sure to come out here all the time.”