Drew Perine/The News TribuneBob Olsen, Gene Brenzel, Don Erickson and Brenzel's Australian shepard Heidi co-star as part of the Boathouse gang, a group of fishermen that meets to chat and reminisce each morning at Point Defiance. When the word comes that the fish look good, the men shove off in their own boats.
The day begins early at the Point Defiance Boathouse Marina.
The tackle shop and the boat elevators open at 5 a.m. When the tides are right, there is a pre-dawn wait for the elevators that lower boats from storage lockers to the water.
That’s usually the time Sung Kim arrives to fish from the dock. The 78-year-old was catching small flounder on nearly every cast one recent June morning. The fish weren’t for Kim and his wife, but their three cats.
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“If I buy them cat food, they won’t eat. I’ve spoiled them,” he said as he kept an eye on the end of his rod.
“I got ’im,” he said as he quickly lifted his rod to set the hook. “No, I lose it – son of a gun.”
Kim quickly rebaited his hook with dried herring and flung another cast into Puget Sound as a small seal played in the water below.
Each day for the past six years, Kim has gotten out of bed at 4 a.m. to greet the opening of the dock.
That morning, he caught his flounder and put them in a small cooler to take home, all while watching boats leave the Boathouse and the nearby launch. He pointed out the good salmon fishermen as they passed. But Kim has no desire to join them.
“I’m too old to go out there, I’m scared,” he said.
As the sun began to warm the morning air, another group of regulars made their way into the Boathouse.
They gather each day to sip coffee, share stories, rib each other and wait for the fishing to improve before getting out their own boats.
Taking advantage of the sun, they congregate on benches in front of and behind the Boathouse. Out front, there’s a pecking order to who sits where. The eldest of these angling statesmen get the preferred seating, like Ed Kearney and Clarence Bundrock, a onetime manager of the Boathouse.
Metro Parks Tacoma archivesOnetime Boathouse manager Arthur Akin shows off an impressive catch - a chinook - in this circa 1930s photo. Today, the Boathouse regulars still know the best fishing spots.
When the 93-year-old Kearney arrives, he’s greeted by good-natured verbal jousting. But there’s admiration behind each joke.
“These are the only friends I’ve got because I’ve outlived all my other friends,” he said.
Kearney has fished the Tacoma area for about 80 years, but stopped two years ago. Still, that doesn’t stop him from swapping stories. He also has an advantage over the others when the fish tales get stretched.
“All I have to do is turn my hearing aids down,” he said with a laugh.
George Ablan is one of the youngsters. At 61, he’s been coming to the Boathouse for 40 years.
“It’s the atmosphere,” Ablan said. “You know all the guys, and they’re all good fishermen. Of course, we’re all sitting in here drinking coffee.”
But the group was waiting for the action to pick up in a week or two.
“So far the regulars aren’t getting many fish. I don’t go out there until I start hearing some good reports,” said Gene Brenzel.
For now, he and his Australian shepherd Heidi are content to go for their morning walks along the water and then join the group.
Like many days, the discussion turns to the lack of fish and the efforts of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The theories as to what has happened to the fishery are plentiful.
Yet it is obvious the anglers share a passion for salmon fishing and for fishing off Point Defiance.
“It’s definitely the best spot in the South Sound, if not the whole Sound,” said Tom Lines of Tight Line Sportfishing. “It’s a popular spot. There’s a big group of guys you can see out there just about every day.”
Many factors contribute to the area’s attractiveness with salmon, such as chinook and coho, and with the anglers who pursue them, said Hal Michael, a fish biologist for the fish and wildlife agency.
“We put a lot of fish there, the fish get concentrated and that makes them accessible. Plus, you’ve got some good launch facilities in some relatively protected areas. It’s accessible to a lot of people in a variety of boats,” Michael said.
The calm waters on the Sound that June morning attracted plenty of anglers. The half-dozen boats on the water at 5 a.m. quickly multiplied.
Back at the Boathouse, the conversation rolled on. Late arrivals were greeted with a chorus of barbs.
Bob Olsen goes to the Boathouse each morning after stopping at Tower Inn & Lanes in Tacoma to talk fish with a group there.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years. They’re just nice people,” Olsen said.
That’s a sentiment shared by Heather Paup, who works at the Boathouse.
“They’re just really cool. It’s one part of what makes this job so much fun.”
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640