“Don’t you just love the joy on their faces?” a visitor exclaimed. We were watching children fishing for trout during the annual Methow Valley National Fishing and Boating Day Celebration (known more affectionately as Kids Fishing Day) at Winthrop National Fish Hatchery. All around us, youngsters were squealing with delight as adults helped them reel in their catches. Others awaited a nibble with intense focus. As I snapped a photo of a delighted young lady dancing with her trout on a stringer, I smiled and answered, “Yes, I do!”

In a world where virtual activities claim an awful lot of attention, still nothing beats a wriggling, live, slimy, glittering fish on the end of a line. This event draws people from the Methow Valley, and also from cities and towns throughout the region. One girl I photographed in 2016 insists on returning every year all the way from Everett, her parents told me. Her first fish was nearly as long as she was tall.

This year’s event was at risk when, after winter ice melted, staff discovered otters had consumed every one of the trout in the hatchery kids fishing pond. The Confederated Tribes of the Colville came to the rescue, re-stocking the pond with handsome, healthy rainbow trout. There were 538 people that came to enjoy the event on June 8.

While fishing is the centerpiece and primary draw, local nonprofits, volunteer groups and agencies set up booths and led educational activities focused on fish and water. Visitors could try rolling programmable spheres along a painted river to imitate migration, guided by North Central Regional Library staff. Other activities included casting practice with fly rods, listening to fish stories read inside an inflatable salmon tent, sampling smoked salmon, learning about watersheds and recycling and examining live macroinvertebrates.

A different event happened at Entiat National Fish Hatchery in May and June. Manager Craig Chisam designed a program with the Entiat School that brings four grade levels out to the hatchery, each on its own day. Classes are broken into smaller groups and rotate between three stations: archery, ecology and fishing. At the fishing pond, massive rainbow trout await: the biggest catch this year was over 15 pounds! The fish are cleaned and packed on ice for students to take home to their families, sharing their experience in a direct, tangible way.

Joy was also found at Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, where this year’s returning salmon fortunately exceeded some dismal expectations. Perhaps as few as 750 spring Chinook salmon were predicted to return out of a usual 4,000. Happily, the minimum number needed to start the next generation made it home. As more fish continued to arrive, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and both the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Yakama Nation were comfortable opening a late spring Chinook fishery on Icicle Creek.

Since the purpose of our hatcheries is to keep salmon and steelhead numbers high enough to support fishing, we are happy when we are able to support even limited fisheries in tough return years like these.

I cannot let a year go by without eating local salmon. I can count on Ralph Kiona of the Yakama Nation to cook up some of Winthrop NFH’s spring Chinook to share at Kids Fishing Day, teaching about tradition and culture. As I plucked a chunk of delectable, hot-smoked salmon from his table and popped it into my mouth, we both grinned. There is no finer way to celebrate the coming of summer than to enjoy the flavor of fresh-caught fish. Take a kid fishing this summer, and discover the joy of the season as they reel in living treasure.

Julia Pinnix is visitor services manager for Leavenworth Fisheries Complex.