The fourth Saturday of April rivals any major holiday for Washington’s angling families.
From across the state they rendezvous at designated lakes in advance, claiming campsites, often unleashing kids in the build-up to a weekend experience passed down through generations.
“The campground’s full,” said Mike Barker, owner of Fishtrap Lake Resort near Sprague said at 11:30 p.m. on Friday. He was in the resort store serving the occasional customer who needed a candy bar, ice or the staple bait-fishing combo of worms and mini-marshmallows.
He pointed to the bowl labeled “Fish Candy, 2¢.”
“We break kids into reality here,” he said. “Penny candy costs 2 cents.”
A breathless young boy ran up to the window with a flashlight in his hand and looked at Barker for an honest answer: “Do pine monkeys exist?”
As other kids and a dad scurried onto the deck, Barker asked, “Did you see one?”
“I think so,” the boy said before sprinting into the darkness. An adult following the gaggle of kids tipped his hat, smiled and said, “You all be careful of the pine monkeys.”
“That’s a big part of the payday for us – seeing the kids having fun, knowing they’ll be taking their parents fishing some day,” Barker said. “There’s so much more to opening day than catching fish.”
At 11:50 p.m., headlamps and lanterns emerged from campsites and RVs like fireflies swarming and funneling onto the docks.
Anglers claimed their spots and baited hooks under a full moon reflecting on the smooth, inky black lake.
One boy was getting an itchy casting arm. “Not yet! Two more minutes,” an adult called out.
“Fish hatcheries are the foundation for all of this,” Barker said. “Most fishermen probably have no idea of the science and expertise that goes into producing the perfect fish the (Washington Fish and Wildlife) Department releases into these lakes every year.”
Eleven-year-old Cameron Earnshaw of Kennewick caught the first trout of the year off the docks at Fishtrap Lake Resort – two minutes after the fishing season opened at midnight.
Cheers, high-fives and good-natured jeers greeted the young angler’s triumph in a scene that played out thousands of times at specially managed trout lakes across Washington.
By noon on Saturday, as the wind was building at Williams Lake, Andrea Kelly of Touchet was filleting her five-fish daily limit of trout, and her husband, Todd, had their smoker ready to cook them fresh for dinner.
“Makes my mouth water,” she said as the apple-wood smoke scented the campsite.
Quinn Connacher, 6, of Spokane, did a dance on the Bunker’s Resort dock holding his rod in one hand and a net with a wiggling trout in the other.
“It’s his first fish,” said Andy Benson, the boy’s stepfather, quickly gathering their gear and trying to keep up with Quinn’s retreat from the dock. “We have to go show everybody. This is a big deal.”
Some anglers go solo on opening day, but most are hooked by the social attraction.
“We’re all like family, except we’re related,” joked Ty Bates, pointing to a dozen of the midnight anglers on a section the Fishtrap Lake docks.
“Our family’s been coming here for 51 years,” said Cory Horntvedt, 22, as his uncle of the same name nodded his head in the light of the hissing lanterns.
Conversation between the stepbrothers drifted from how deep they should be fishing to their military deployments.
“That’s the only time I didn’t come here for opening day: when I was in Afghanistan,” Bates said.
“We buried grandpa’s ashes next to the lake over there in the trees,” Horntvedt said.