Weigh in on Baker Lake sockeye fishery

By Wayne Kruse, The Herald

Never been interested in getting involved in the annual salmon season-setting process? Maybe you should rethink that position, and here’s a specific example of how public input can affect your fishing opportunity:

The preseason forecast for the uber-popular Baker Lake sockeye fishery is 35,380 fish, according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Brett Barkdull in La Conner. That’s not as good as the numbers for the initial fishery in 2012, when the run clocked in at about 48,000, but much better than last summer’s meager 18,000 fish.

So there should be plenty of sockeye for a pretty good season this year. But the guy in the back of the room raises his hand and asks, “Who gets to catch ’em?”

Will it be primarily the bank fisherman on the lower Skagit, plunking with Spin N Glo and shrimp? Or will it the boater on Baker Lake, with downriggers and trolling gear? Or should the catch be split between the two very distinct user groups? That’s the question you can help answer by being at the public meeting 6-9 p.m., March 22nd at WDFW’s Mill Creek office (16018 Mill Creek Boulevard, phone 425-775-1311).

“The public will decide,” Barkdull said. “It’s their fish, and we’re taking input right now.”

The recreational sockeye catch on the river during the 2012 season was 4,300 fish, despite terrible fishing conditions. “The river was high, cold, dirty and people were dodging trees,” Barkdull said. The catch in the lake that summer was 9,600 salmon.

The river opened June 16 and the lake on July 1 in 2012. There were not enough fish predicted last year for both a river and lake fishery, so the lake opened July 10. This year?

“Nothing’s set,” Barkdull said. “It’s a relatively new fishery, and the where and how are still shaking out.”

He said last year’s preseason discussions were influenced more heavily by a larger contingent of lake-oriented anglers. Many of the river fishermen, by contrast, were apparently afraid that if they once lost the river option, they would never get it back.

“That’s not true,” Barkdull said. “One of our management goals is to harvest more than the roughly 50 percent of hatchery sockeye caught in the first two seasons, and both a river and a lake fishery might be one way to do that.”

If a river opening becomes part of the sockeye scenario, it will not be at the mouth of the Baker River. Barkdull said that small area drew crowds and some confrontations in the past, so the fishery was moved downstream. The hot spots during the 2012 river fishery, Barkdull said, were Young’s Bar, just upriver from downtown Mount Vernon; the “soccer fields,” farther upriver; and at Gilligan Creek, above Sedro-Woolley.

Only about 6,000 sockeye were trucked last year from the power company fish trap to the lake, resulting in a slow — and short — season. If, say, 15,000 fish could be trapped and trucked this year, that would likely result in a very good fishery.


Next up in the Northwest salmon derby Series is the 8th running of the Everett Blackmouth Derby, March 22, marine areas 8-1, 8-2 and 9, offering a first place cash prize of $3,000. Tickets are limited to 100 boats, at $100 per boat (up to four anglers), and available at John’s Sporting Goods, Bayside Marine, Greg’s Custom Rods, Ted’s Sport Center, Ed’s Surplus, Three Rivers Marine, Performance Marine, and Harbor Marine.

For more information go to www.everettblackmouthderby.com.

Learn how

Tackle shop owner John Martinis and expert angler Mike Greenleaf will host an hour-long chinook fishing seminar at 7 p.m. March 19 at Bayside Marine, 1111 Craftsman Way, Everett. The free seminar will cover where to fish, rigging gear, rigging bait, selecting tackle and more. Martinis’ phone number is 425-259-3056; Bayside Marine’s number is 425-252-3088.

Local blackmouth

All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein said the fairly good fishing for blackmouth on outer Possession Bar has held up well, but that near-flood-level rivers have pumped mud, logs and other debris into the area, making getting from Everett to the outer bar a risky endeavor.

“And we had to go at least halfway across the bar to find clean water early this week,” Krein said.

Columbia River

Still no springers showing in the popular fishing areas of the lower Columbia, according to Joe Hymer, state biologist in Vancouver.

“Despite sampling 100 boats and just over 100 bank fishermen, we checked one steelhead last week,” Hymer said on Monday. “In fact, we still haven’t sampled our first spring chinook of the season.”

Farther upriver, walleye fishermen were doing much better. State checks on The Dalles Pool last week showed 35 boat fishermen had kept 38 walleye and released 21 more. On the John Day Arm and vicinity, 39 fishermen kept 22 and released nine fish.

And above the Tri-Cities, the Ringold-area steelhead fishery has finally come on. State personnel last week checked 14 bank and 12 boat fishermen, with 18 hatchery steelhead. Anglers averaged between six and 16 hours per fish.


Recreational smelt dipping in the Cowlitz on Saturday was excellent, state biologist Joe Hymer said. Most dippers were harvesting their 10-pound limit in only a few dips.

Smelt were reported as far upstream on the Cowlitz as Blue Creek, and also reported in the North Fork Lewis and as far up the mainstem Columbia as Vancouver.

No more recreational smelt fisheries were scheduled, as of early this week, Hymer said.

Record walleye

A record Washington State walleye was caught Feb. 28 on Lake Wallula (McNary Pool, Columbia River) by John Grubenhoff of Pasco. The fish weighed 20.32 pounds, was 35.5 inches long, and had a girth of 22.75 inches. Grubenhoff was trolling upstream along a current break in 22 feet of water, using a Rapala J-13, six feet behind a 2-ounce bottom walker.

The previous record walleye was also caught in February, 2007, in the same Columbia pool, by Mike Hepper of Richland, and weighed 19.3 pounds.

Wolves stable

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released over the weekend its official annual count of gray wolves living in the state: 52 individuals; one more than found in the 2012 count, and the same number of breeding pairs as reported in 2012. Wolves in eastern Washington were federally delisted a few years ago, but they are still protected under state endangered species laws.

Free seminars

Cabela’s Tulalip store presents Spring Great Outdoor Days this weekend, March 15-16, offering free seminars, turkey calling contests, Dutch oven cooking, bow fishing and more.

Highlights include: Introduction to Reloading; Dutch Oven Meals; Turkey Calling Techniques and Fine Tuning Your Hunting Skills; Applying for Out of State Tags; and Spring Bear Hunting and Calling Tips & Tactics.

Upper Skagit tracks sockeye’s preferred prey

zooplankton-survey_11-300x200Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe is sampling zooplankton in Baker Lake and Lake Shannon to track the availability of food for juvenile sockeye salmon.

The results will let fisheries managers know whether the reservoirs can support an increase in sockeye production at Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) Baker River hatchery. The Upper Skagit Tribe took over zooplankton monitoring from PSE two years ago, after the utility’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license was renewed.

“Sampling zooplankton, the preferred prey of sockeye, will let us know what time of year they become most abundant,” said Jon-Paul Shannahan, biologist for the tribe. “That way, we can manage the sockeye hatchery releases when the most food is available.”

Tribal natural resources staff collects zooplankton from the lakes during spring and summer, the primary growing season for sockeye salmon. The samples are sent to a lab in Idaho that identifies the types of zooplankton and calculates the abundance and biomass in the two reservoirs.

PSE’s Baker River Hydroelectric Project consists of two dams on a tributary to the Skagit River. Built in 1925, the Lower Baker Dam created Lake Shannon, and in 1959, the Upper Baker Dam enlarged and raised Baker Lake.

Recently, the Baker River hatchery increased production of sockeye salmon from 1 million to 5 million fish in Baker Lake, and began releasing 2 million fish into Lake Shannon.

“In a 2010 study of Baker Lake and Lake Shannon, there was a noticeable decline in the preferred zooplankton biomass as numbers of sockeye increased,” Shannahan said. “The tribe wants to make sure the food source will be able to sustain a larger number of fish.”

Sockeye fishing at Baker Lake tougher this year

Baker Lake SockeyeSource; FishwithJD.com
Baker Lake Sockeye
Source: FishwithJD.com

By Wayne Kruse, Special to The Herald

July 25, 2013


Baker Lake sockeye anglers are scratching a little harder for fish so far this season than in 2012, and that probably means predictions for a somewhat smaller run are proving accurate.

“Historically, about half the run has been counted at the (Baker Dam) trap by July 19,” said Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington. “The count at that point this year was a little over 9,000 fish, and if you double that, you’re getting close to the prediction of 21,000 fish.”

That would be down from last season’s total trap count of 28,410 sockeye, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t fish to be taken.

“It has actually been fairly good,” John said. “The numbers seem to be holding true, so it’s going to be a little tougher, but that only means moving around, watching for ‘showing’ fish, using a sounder, spending a little more time on the water.”

John said salmon are scattered, mostly above the bend, and at different water depths as well. Heavy morning fog recently delayed the morning bite, he said, and fishing didn’t really pick up until more light was on the water.

He recommends starting early in the day and dropping your gear to 20 or perhaps 30 feet to start, going down later to as deep as 55 feet or so. Rig with a big ring “0” dodger, eight to 18 inches of leader, bare red or black hooks, or a 11/2-inch pink hoochie. Add a small piece of raw or cured shrimp or a sand shrimp tail, and douse the works with shrimp oil.

The hoochie can be UV pink, John said, maybe dressed up with a smile blade or a red or pink size 8 or 10 Spin N Glo. John likes dodgers in UV white, UV purple haze, or 50-50.

The dam counts as of July 19 were 9,032 trappoed, and 4,620 transported to the lake. Check out the current trap counts at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/salmon/sockeye/baker_river.html.


The big run of odd-year humpies continues to work its way down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but it’s not here in any numbers yet. State creel checks at the Washington Park public ramp west of Anacortes on Saturday showed 59 anglers with 11 chinook, one coho and 38 pinks. On Sunday, it was 38 anglers with 21 pinks. Those are Fraser and/or Skagit fish which tend to be a little earlier than those headed for Puget Sound tributaries in this area.

Sunday’s count at the Port of Everett ramp was 10 pinks for 390 anglers, most of which were caught incidentally to the ongoing chinook fishery. Weekend checks at Olson’s Resort in Sekiu showed outstanding salmon fishing: 206 anglers with 130 chinook, 10 coho, and 61 pinks.

Local chinook

Gary Krein, owner of All Star Charters in Everett, said that after a very hot couple of opening days, fishing for clipped-fin kings in the Port Townsend area dropped off precipitously, and that Possession Bar remained fairly slow. He said a few fish are being picked up a lot of places — Pilot Point, Point No Point, Possession, Kingston, and Richmond Beach among several others — but that there has been no local hot spot.

State check numbers, however, indicate at least decent local fishing. On July 16, opening day, some 212 anglers at the Port of Everett ramp had 96 kings, 11 coho and three pinks. And last Sunday, it was 390 fishermen with 39 chinook, 10 coho and 10 pinks — still not too bad.

But how long has it been since you’ve seen success rates on adult kings better than a fish per rod? Check this out: On July 16, opening day of the area 9-10 selective chinook fishery, 169 fishermen at the Port Townsend Boat Haven ramp were contacted with 194 chinook. And that’s about as good as it gets around here.

Krein said the scattering of pinks caught already on Possession Bar is encouraging for this early in the season, particularly as they were mostly taken on spoons worked by chinook fishermen. Good-sized humpies, too, he said, some in the 7- to 8-pound range.

Westport open seven days

Marine Area 2 opened July 19 to salmon fishing seven days a week, joining the three other coastal areas already open daily. Angler effort and catch rates are building slowly, but creel checks have not yet broken the one-per-rod figure, according to Wendy Beeghley, creel sample coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The latest Westport numbers showed about one-third chinook and one-half coho per person, Beeghley said.

“That may improve in the next couple of weeks,” Beeghley said. “They’re doing better up north, on fish moving down the coast, and trollers are also reporting more fish.”

Waterfowl outlook

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its report on 2013 duck breeding populations, and while predictions are for a slightly lower total North American duck population, the numbers remain strong and well above the long-term averages. The report said its survey showed an estimated 45.6 million breeding ducks in the heart of the most important areas in the U.S. and Canada, a six-percent decrease from last year’s estimate but 33 percent above the 1955-2012 average.

Of the 10 species surveyed, seven were similar to last year’s estimates, including mallards. Scaup and blue-winged teal were significantly below last year’s estimates. American wigeon were 23 percent above last year, and mallards are 36 percent above the long-term average.

Neah Bay strong

Best coastal salmon results recently have been at Neah Bay, where anglers are averaging about one fish per rod, equally split between chinook and coho. They have been killing the pinks there, however, and when humpy numbers are added, Neah Bay anglers are scoring at a 1.6-fish-per-person clip.

Cowlitz River

Pretty good steelhead fishing on tap between the hatcheries, where 74 boat anglers last week were checked with 43 fish.

Buoy 10

The lower end of the Columbia opens to chinook and hatchery coho on Aug. 1 but, as usual, fishing probably won’t be close to hot on the opener. Joe Hymer, state biologist in the Vancouver office, said there are a few chinook in the area, but warm water temperatures and a lack of big tides early in the Buoy 10 season will probably tend to keep an improved coho run off the coast.

Hymer looks for fishig to improve, however, over the next few weeks and said the coho numbers look good this year.