Young Christopher Salinas enrolled in the short course of becoming a fisherman Saturday at Fishtrap Lake.
The lessons nearly wore out his uncle, Ted Urban of Spokane, as they joined the cast of thousands for the opening day of fishing at many of Washington’s trout lakes.
Elation shifted to disbelief and despair as Salinas, 6, lost his first rainbow to a broken line. The kid gathered himself and focused hope in a new hook and bait.
Undeterred by setbacks – such as wrapping the next four casts around a cable – Salinas succeeded in the fifth try and assumed the on-point position of an angler waiting for a strike.
Meanwhile, in a two-minute span, Urban untangled his nephew’s line, rescued his niece – who had cast over a boatload of anglers – pulled a hook out of his thumb and baited two hooks.
He was re-rigging his niece’s rod when the line snapped on his own rod as it was snagged by a boat motoring out of the docks.
“I’m thinking it’s about time for my two brothers to come down from camp and help,” Urban said, mustering a smile.
But he didn’t have time to call in reinforcements because both kids soon were screeching and reeling as their rods bowed to the water.
Urban deftly netted the first rainbow. His nephew dropped his rod, threw up his arms, cheered for all to hear on the docks and held his hands apart – a good three times wider than the actual size of the trout.
A fisherman was born.
“Opening day is all about the kids,” said another angler on the dock. Indeed, anglers younger than 15 do not need a state fishing license.
But opening day goes far beyond kids, said Irma Almond, 85.
“This is my 50th year fishing opening day,” she said from her usual position in a lawn chair on the dock at Klink’s Williams Lake Resort.
“I started coming out here when my boy was about 6. He’s 57 now, and still fishing with me,” she said, pointed to her son, Larry, and his wife.
“It’s a tradition,” she said. “The beginning of the camping season. Getting together with family and friends. I wouldn’t miss it.”
However, many of the region’s anglers weren’t so determined to endure a stiff, cold wind that rendered lakes uninviting.
“We estimate the turnout was down roughly 50 percent,” said John Whalen, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fisheries manager. “The (National) Weather Service reported 25 mph winds with gusts of 30. That makes it tough.”
“We have all our boats rented but most of them are still here at the dock because people are hoping the wind dies down,” Jerry Klinkenberg at Klink’s Resort said at 10 a.m.
“The little electric motors a lot of people have aren’t cutting it today,” said Diane McHenry at Bunker’s Resort, also on Williams Lake.
“I was cutting head and arm holes in plastic garbage bags to give some of the kids more protection,” she said.
But Jay and Lucia Janssen of Spokane each had five-fish limits of trout as they hauled their small boat up the Bunker’s ramp.
“Took us two hours,” Jay said.
“Our kids are still out there trying,” Lucia joked. “They’re the ones bobbing around in the big, fancy boat with the electronic fish finder.”
Klinkenberg said poor weather on opening day is a blessing in disguise.
“Everybody here is catching fish, but overall they’re not catching so many as usual,” he said. “That leaves a lot more fish in the lakes for tomorrow, next week and next month.”
As recently as the 1980s, opening day was a spectacle of crowds, long lines of vehicles waiting at the boat launch and combat fishing on the docks.
Nowadays the scene is much more relaxed.
Many Washington lakes are mixed species waters that are open year-round, Whalen explained. “Some lakes are open only in the winter, and some open March 1, while still others open April 1,” he said. “We try to spread out the action so there’s not such a rush on the traditional last Saturday in April opener.
“And there’s also the other factor, that there’s a lot more competition for a family’s time and interest.”
Top lakes surveyed5>
Spokane-area lakes normally are among the best opening day trout producers in Washington. However, because of windy conditions, Badger, Williams, Fishtrap and West Medical gave up an average of just two fish per angler on Saturday. Northeastern Washington lakes, such Starvation and Deep, averaged three fish per angler, according to state surveys. The best fishing in the region was at Cedar and Rocky in Stevens County, producing nearly a full limit of five fish per angler. Notable opening day catches included several tiger trout running 22 to 27 inches long at Fish Lake in Spokane County.