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Published: Thursday, July 26, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Sockeye harvest on Baker Lake should improve

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Tuesday issued a regulation change which should increase the harvest of prime sockeye salmon on Baker Lake over the next two or three weeks. The change makes it legal for an angler who takes his/her three-salmon limit to continue fishing until the limit for all licensed anglers in the boat is reached -- the so-called "boat limit."
Not only will that eliminate citations -- and there were some apparently being written last week for that infraction -- but it's also a strong indication that WDFW biologists feel this is a very strong run of fish which will result in a large, harvestable surplus over and above spawning escapement goals.
The trap count at Baker Dam as of Sunday was 14,300 sockeye, of which 9,133 had been trucked to the lake. The pre-season forecast is for 35,400 fish, and the total trapped last summer was 27,200.
There has been no formal update of the expected run size, according to biologist Brett Barkdull, but he said "indications are that it may top out at between 37,000 and 41,000 or so. That would be a little bigger than we had anticipated, but not enough to really change anything."
Fishing was just getting really good when lousy weather hit over the weekend. Wind and heavy rain pounded the lake and many anglers decided against even trying to leave the dock. Those who went out caught fish, but they had to work for it and are probably still trying to dry themselves out.
Avid angler and Arlington resident Sam Ingram was in a party which gave it a shot, and he reported some of the sockeye being caught -- fish in the 8-pound range -- are larger than last year.
"They're nice, fresh fish so far," Ingram said, "but the lake is higher and dirtier than last year, and fishing has been tougher, at least so far."
Ingram recommends a bright (hammered nickel is good) size "0" dodger, about 14 inches of heavy leader, a double, red hook tie, and either a hot pink or one of the glow white "sardine" hoochies, both in UV, and a generous dose of krill or shrimp scent. He said all his group's fish on Sunday came no deeper than 30 feet.
"Be patient and fish hard," Ingram said, "because the bite comes and goes."
Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington also braved the storm front and found fish. He said Saturday wasn't bad, and that there was a pretty good bite at daybreak and again at about 10 a.m. He said most of the fishing effort is still concentrated from about the bend of the lake (where the "leg" of the boot turns eastward and forms the "foot") up to Noisy Creek.
"We found most of our fish at 35 to 45 feet," John said, but we also marked a bunch on the flats in 30 feet of water, as shallow as 15 feet, and with a lot of jumpers showing."
WDFW biologist Barkdull reminded anglers that the two-rod endorsement is legal on Baker, and that fish must be recorded immediately. The Catch Record Card code for Baker Lake is 825, and for further information on seasons, access sites and dam counts go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/sockeye/baker_river.html.
The fishery is being closely monitored by more than one agency, so be sure you and your equipment are squeaky legal, and you know the rules, before driving all the way up there.
Chinook fishery still producing
The marine area 9-10 selective hatchery chinook season continues to put out nice kings, with Port Townsend/Midchannel Bank remaining the hot spot, and action at Possession Bar, Point No Point and Pilot Point dropping a level from what was a pretty good opener.
WDFW creel checks at the Port of Everett ramp on July 16, the opener, showed 286 anglers with 77 chinook and 6 coho. By Sunday, July 22, that had declined to 33 kings for 283 anglers -- still a productive fishery.
At Port Townsend on the 16th, 114 fishermen took 105 chinook, while the next day it was even better, at 58 kings for 56 anglers. By last weekend, that had dropped to a still very respectable 37 fish for 97 anglers at the Port Townsend Boat Haven ramp.
All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein said fishermen at Midchannel Bank have been working 80 to 120 feet, mostly on bottom but also marking some suspended chinook. Small bait there requires small lures, Krein said, such as the white lightning or cookies 'n cream Coho Killer spoons or needlefish squid in greens or whites.
Krein said closer to home spots -- Possession Bar, Pilot Point -- will still put out fish, but anglers have to work the tide changes, look for bait, and realize that the bite comes and goes.
Skykomish River
The Sky has dropped and cleared, perhaps a little too much, but offers opportunity for decent action on chinook and summer steelhead. Kent Alger at Three Rivers Marine in Woodinville said the bite has been best under low-light conditions -- early and late (evening has been good), and overcast -- and that small, summer-run-size baits and lures are working best for both species.
Methow trout
It's not prime fishing yet, but WDFW biologist Bob Jateff said the Methow River is dropping and clearing, and attracting increasing numbers of boat drifters and shore fishermen for its popular catch and release native trout fishery. These are resident rainbow and cutthroat, he said, averaging 8 to 16 inches, with a few nicer than that, and they're available from Winthrop all the way down to the town of Methow. That stretch is also boat-driftable, he said, in convenient sections.
A few spin fishermen tossing spoons, and a lot of fly anglers, take advantage of this fishery, Jateff said, but there are special regs and some tributary closures, so know the booklet. Popular flies in the summer include hoppers, stonefly nymph patterns under an indicator, dry stimulators and a lot of others.

Good southwest steelheading
Checks last week on the Cowlitz showed 99 fishermen with 60 steelhead, while on the mainstem Columbia below Bonneville, 2,845 anglers were sampled with 970 steelhead and 32 adult summer chinook.
Stilly nets
Arlington angler and fishing activist Sam Ingram said the sight of nets in the mainstem Stillaguamish last week brought some adverse comment, but he said it was a completely legitimate tribal fishery. "They were trying to get chinook for their First Salmon Festival," Ingram said. "It turned out they fished 10 days and netted only five chinook -- one 33-pounder and the rest 10 or 12 pounds -- and had to buy some fish to fill out their requirements."
Island crabbing
Recreational crabbing opened in the south portion of Marine Area 7 -- the San Juan Islands -- on July 15 and Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington said some crabbers have been doing well. "Bait is critical," he said. "You have to stay away from the half-rotten leftovers and go with fresh, stinky bait. Oily salmon; Pautzke's Crab & Shrimp Fuel; really nasty, oily stuff."
Saddlebag Island is always a favorite spot, he said, and Samish Bay, where deeper (60-feet-plus) is better.
Edmonds fisherman pockets $500
Paul Lutovsky's charter fishing trip out of Westport last weekend netted him the $500 weekly first prize in the ongoing Westport Charterboat Association's derby for a nice chinook of just under 18 pounds.
Regulation change on Skagit
The Skagit River in its entirety is under selective gear rules (since July 16) requiring a single barbless hook, no larger than one-half inch between point and shank, until early September. No bait or scent allowed.
Story tags » Fishing

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