Lack of fish at Baker Lake ‘concerning’

  • By Wayne Kruse Herald Columnist
  • Wednesday, June 25, 2014 5:29pm
  • Sports

Are there a lot of sockeye in the Baker River trap? Nope.

Are there a lot of sockeye down in the Skagit River, making their way upstream to the trap? Nope.

Is Brett Barkdull worried? Yep.

“Maybe ‘concerned’ is a better word,” said the state Fish and Wildlife Department biologist charged with, among other things, overseeing the production and return of salmon to Baker Lake. “The fish are already late. They should have been here by now. The latest date on record for the peak of the run at the trap is July 25, and it’s possible we won’t make even that this year.”

The total trap count as of Monday was 34 sockeye, 17 of which had been trucked to Baker Lake. In 2011, the total trap count for the season was 27,200; in 2012, a great fishing season, 28,400 sockeye came back. Last year proved a poor fishing year, and just 12,500 fish were trapped and transported. It’s possible we won’t even see that many this year.

There are two possibilities: The fish are late or they’re not coming. Which is it, Brett?

“If we haven’t seen significant numbers by July 1, I’ll be pretty much convinced they ain’t going to show,” he said.

Baker Lake is scheduled to be open to recreational fishing from July 10 through Sept. 7. The Skagit River sockeye fishery has been open for three weeks, and closes Sunday on what has been a poor catch. Bardull said the total catch estimate in the Skagit through Sunday is a miserly 79 sockeye. In 2012 at this point, anglers had taken 1,340 fish.

So how’s the huge Fraser River sockeye run, forecast at 30 million fish, shaping up as a comparison? Late? On time? Fewer than predicted?

“The Canadians have just started their test netting schedule,” Barkdull said, “and it’s too early for them to come up with useful data.”

The Lake Washington sockeye run is predicted to be well below the numbers needed to both provide for spawning escapement and open a tribal commercial/non-tribal recreational season.

The Lake Wenatchee run is still in limbo, said biologist Travis Maitland in Wenatchee. No sockeye have been seen yet at Tumwater Dam, where counts determining season/no season are made.

“We should be seeing appreciable counts by the first or second week of July,” Maitland said. “The preseason forecast was for 60,000 fish at Tumwater. In 2012 we got about 65,000 fish and were taken by surprise at the strength of the recreational fishery. We opened with a three-fish limit, and then upped it to five fish late in the season, when it became obvious there was a whole lot of harvestable sockeye still in the lake.”

Maitland said he remains hopeful the predicted strong run will show up and a generous limit established to harvest surplus numbers of the small salmon.

Stay tuned.

Wenatchee springers

Meanwhile, Maitland said, spring chinook fishing remains strong in both the upper Wenatchee and the Icicle. The bulk of the Wenatchee River catch, he said, is in the short stretch between the mouth of the Icicle and the Highway 2 bridge in Leavenworth.

“Fishermen, however, are starting to learn the slots and holes in the lower river, and beginning to catch chinook,” Maitland said. “It’s a learning curve for a fishery we haven’t had for a long time.”

Most of the chinook are running 10, 12, 15 pounds, he said, with a few in the 20-pound range. Quality remains good, although a few fish are starting to color.

Boaters do the best, Maitland said, but bank anglers also score well near the mouth of the Icicle and in the Icicle proper. Depending on the water, bankies drift eggs, tuna balls or herring, or plunk with a Spin N Glo setup. Boaters also plunk the deeper holes, or back-troll herring-wrapped diving plugs. Herring remains most anglers’ bait of choice, Maitland said.

“This fishery has been a big success,” he said. “Not only on the Wenatchee itself, but also by pulling some of the pressure off the Icicle.”

Summer salmon

The fresh new salmon season opens on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and in the San Juan Islands on Tuesday, and what state salmon managers are calling “possibly the best all-around salmon fishing we’ve had in the state in a long time” is expected to extend from the coast to the inland waters. Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington said north Sound anglers are excited about the new season, partially at least because it includes a bonus limit of two sockeye this year.

“Nobody knows quite how or where to fish for sockeye, since we haven’t had the opportunity before this,” John said. “I imagine a lot of the guys who want to target sockeye will start on the west side of San Juan Island and will probably be using traditional humpy gear, at least at first.”

That means a size “0” or “1” dodger and a pink or red squid, trolled very slowly.

“There’s been some talk about putting more gear in the water for sockeye, since they’re definitely a schooling fish,” John said. “Guys are thinking about running two or three lone dodgers off their downrigger cable, to imitate a school.”

Predictions for chinook in Marine Area 7 (the islands) are pretty good this year, John said, and all the usually productive spots should produce on the opener — Point Lawrence, Tide Point, Eagle Bluff and Thatcher Pass. Popular setups include small herring in a helmet, flasher/squid, and Coho Killer spoons in white lightning, Irish Flag, or cookies ‘n cream.

Speed crabbings

The second edition of Eddie Adams’ Puget Sound Speed Crabbing derby is on tap Saturday, July 19, at the Port of Everett ramp, with no entry fee, a generous donation to a worthy charity, and what Eddie calls “seriously sweet prizes.”

The event this year will pay $2.50 to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for every pound of crab weighed in by contestants.

The idea, basically, is for a two-person team to catch and weigh in two limits of crab more quickly than, and heavier than, other teams, but you have to visit the website to really get a feel for the upbeat, slightly hokey, nature of the beast. Sounds like a good time will be had by all.

The derby website is For more information, send an e-mail to or call Adams at 206-713-7207.

Fly fishing classes

Cabela’s Tulalip offers “Fly Fishing University,” a hands-on fly fishing class every Saturday from June 28 through August. Instructors cover rods, reels, lines, leaders, tippets and flies, and the class will move outdoors where proper fly casting technique will be taught. Even better, all equipment will be provided and the class is free of charge. Preregistration is suggested; call 360-474-4880.

For more outdoors news, read Wayne Kruse’s blog at

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