OUTDOOR OUTLOOK: Baker Lake finally open for sockeye

  • Wed Jul 21st, 2010 3:40pm
  • Sports

By Wayne Kruse Special to The Herald

The first ever, never-been-done-before, pristine, untrammelled sockeye salmon fishery on Baker Lake opened this morning, inviting local anglers to sort of put their footprints on the moon.

“People have been waiting for a long time to be able to fish for sockeye in Baker Lake,” said state biologist Brett Barkdull at the Fish and Wildlife Department’s La Conner office. “This year’s run isn’t huge by historical standards, but we’ve exceeded our goals for both hatchery and wild stock returns.”

As of Tuesday, Barkdull said, some 6,500 harvestable adult sockeye, over and above spawning needs, had been trucked to the lake from collection facilities below Lower Baker Dam (there are no fish ladder facilities on either the lower dam, which impounds Lake Shannon, or the upper dam) by Puget Sound Energy personnel. The fish should have adapted to their new conditions by now, he said, since many of them have been in the lake for a couple of weeks.

Although the surplus fish will be shared with tribal commercials, there should still be enough to provide a solid sport fishery. But since the event is the maiden run, where and how become the questions.

The best bet, according to knowledgeable sources, is a fishery very similar to that in Lake Wenatchee. This scenario calls for most of the sockeye to head uplake and to hold off the mouth of the Baker River, where trollers working in 20 to 40 feet of water will score with the well-known setup involving a chrome or white size “0” dodger, short 10- or 12-inch leader, and either single or double bare hooks in red, blue or black.

Downriggers and a sounder will be the most efficient gear with which to fish these smallish salmon, which tend to “stratify” at certain depths, but a 4-ounce crescent sinker should also get you down where they live, at least early in the day. And remember that a very, very slow troll is a critical factor.

Barkdull warns boaters that there’s a big, shallow flat off the mouth of the Baker River, covered with stumps.

If the fish don’t immediately head for the River, said Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington, they could hold for a while off Baker Lake Resort, where they were released, or move on uplake to the mouth of Swift Creek, with both places worth a try. The lake is sometimes unfishable in hot weather due to glacial silt, John said, but as of Tuesday it was in good shape.

Turn north off Hwy 20 at Birdsview, between Hamilton and Concrete, onto Baker Lake Road. It’s about 15 miles to the first of the better launch facilities on the lake, Horseshoe Cove campground, which leaves about a seven-mile boat run to the mouth of the Baker River. It’s another three or four miles to Kulshan campground, a launch roughly four miles from the river mouth. The launch closest to the river — Shannon Creek — has severely limited parking for perhaps 6 or 8 vehicles, Barkdull said, recommending the Kulshan launch as probably the best bet for most anglers.

Baker river sockeye

The three-day sockeye fishery on the lower end of the Baker River and a portion of the adjacent Skagit last weekend was crowded and only minimally productive, according to Kevin John. Barkdull noted that most of the run is probably over on that part of the system, and it may not be productive to reopen the fishery late this week, as had been discussed.

Puget Sound chinook

After everyone — yours truly included — predicted that the hugely popular summer selective chinook fishery in marine areas 9 and 10 would probably concentrate on the Midchannel Bank/Port Townsend/Point No Point/Pilot Point shoreline, guess what happened? Close-to-home Possession Bar proved the hot spot on the Friday morning opener and over the weekend, as it was on the first such season, three years ago.

“A lot of guys started at Midchannel,” said All Star Charters skipper/owner Gary Krein of Everett, “but word got around quickly that Possession was hot. By Sunday morning there were probably 200 boats on the bar, like the Buoy 10 fishery at its worst.”

And these were heavy, high-quality kings, Krein said, with many in the 10- and 12-pound range, but a surprising percentage in the high teens and low 20s. He said a green flasher followed by a number 4 Gold Star Kingfisher Lite spoon in either black/white or one of the greens, was a productive setup, fished early on the incoming tide, 50 or 60 feet deep over 90 to 100 feet of water, going out to 120 or 130 feet of water later in the morning.

Midchannel, Pilot Point, the Kingston area and Jefferson Head all put out some fish, Krein said, but not as many as Possession.

State personnel checked 467 anglers at the Port of Everett ramp on Saturday with 106 chinook and 3 coho, and on Sunday, 316 with 78 chinook.

There are more chinook coming down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, evidenced by a check Sunday at Ediz Hook outside Port Angeles, where 50 anglers had 13 kings.

San Juan chinook

The season since the July 1 opener in the islands has been slow by the numbers, but much better by the pound. State personnel checked only one chinook for 42 fishermen Friday at the Washington Park ramp in Anacortes, but the Bellingham Chapter, Puget Sound Anglers’ derby the weekend before was won by a 28-plus-pounder from the Sucia Island area, and all the top-10 chinook were over 20 pounds.

Of the spots closer to Anacortes, Thatcher Pass remains probably the most productive.

Samish fishing permit

It’s just a hair early for the Samish River chinook fishery to turn on, but if that’s one you’re interested in you should know that you will need a permit to park and fish the east side of the river mouth, which is privately owned. Because of problems the past few years with littering and property damage, access is being limited. To purchase a permit, e-mail samishriverguy@aol.com.


Some of the best recreational crabbing in the general area, the south and east portions of the San Juans, including Samish and Padilla bays, opened last week and results have been very good so far.

The state scheduled a series of public meetings to discuss potential changes to Dungeness crab fisheries in Puget Sound, but the only one left in this area is July 26 at the Skagit County PUD, 1415 Freeway Drive, Mount Vernon. That’s between the freeway and the river, south of the College Way exit toward old town Mount Vernon.

Staff will discuss the three potential management plans available Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Olympia, Aug. 6-7. For more information, contact Steve Burton at the Mill Creek office, 425-775-1311, ext. 126.

Coastal salmon open daily

A lack of fishing pressure on the coast, perhaps caused in part by bad weather, has raised fears that recreationists may not harvest their quota this summer, so salmon managers are scrambling. The state has abandoned its five-day fishing schedule and opened Westport, LaPush and Neah Bay to daily salmon fishing, joing Ilwaco which was already on a seven-day schedule. Through July 18, anglers had taken only 8.3 percent of the 49,000 chinook quota and 9.5 percent of the 67,200 coho quota on the coast.

Anglers may keep up to two chinook in their two-salmon daily bag, either hatchery or wild, but must release wild coho. Fishing is scheduled to continue through Sept. 18 at Neah Bay and LaPush, through Sept. 19 at Westport, and through Sept. 30 at Ilwaco.