Sockeye finally arriving at Baker Lake

  • By Wayne Kruse Herald Columnist
  • Wednesday, July 16, 2014 8:10pm
  • Sports

Nothing’s in the pipeline just yet, but it’s looking more and more by the day that there, indeed, will be a recreational sockeye season on Baker Lake.

“Obviously the fish are late, but they seem to be coming in now,” state Fish and Wildlife Department biologist Brett Barkdull said on Tuesday. “I feel more positive about the possibility of a season on Baker Lake and, in fact, we could be on the brink of a fishery by this weekend, if the numbers keep building.”

The sockeye counts in the trap at Lower Baker Dam picked up significantly to between 200 and 500 daily, on about July 4, including 203 fish last Saturday and 314 on Sunday. Then, on Monday, “we had a good day,” Barkdull said — just under 1,400 sockeye hit the trap.

The cumulative total collected through Sunday was 3,253 salmon, and the total transferred to the lake through Monday was 1,180. Barkdull has his broodstock now, and transfers of fish to Baker Lake will increase. His rule of thumb for the number of sockeye needed in the lake for a “decent” fishery is about 3,000 fish, he said: “Although that’s just my opinion; others may have different ideas.”

The lake opened to sockeye fishing on the 10th, so when you feel there are enough salmon in the lake to provide a fishery, hit the water.

Anglers can follow the trap numbers, updated three times a week, by going to the agency’s website:, left click on “fishing reports, stocking reports and fish counts;” then scroll down to “fish counts” and click on Baker River sockeye.

Meanwhile, fishermen are gearing up. Kevin John, at Holiday Sports in Burlington, said a good, basic rig would look something like this: a size “0” Big Ring dodger in chrome (but white, 50/50 and purple haze are also good choices), followed by a 11/2- or 2-inch mini squid in pink or hot pink, with two 2/0 red hooks on a 25- to 30-pound leader between 9 and 14 inches in length. Before dropping that setup in the lake, tip the top hook with the tail of a pink or purple coonstripe shrimp and douse the whole thing in your favorite shrimp or krill scent. Then you’re loaded and locked.

But here’s the real deal, friends. If all the above seems a little iffy, you might prefer to keep your eye on the Lake Wenatchee sockeye fishery. Jeff Korth, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Region 2 fish manager in Ephrata, said it’s difficult to believe the number of salmon being counted over Tumwater Dam on the Wenatchee River.

“They’re really coming in strong,” he said. “this run has set an all-time record for sockeye in the Columbia, and the Wenatchee portion seems to be tracking right along with it. We’re anticipating 60,000 to 90,000 fish in the lake, and that’s a really big deal.”

Korth said a regulation package for a Lake Wenatchee opening is going through channels in Olympia this week, and if it gets signed off, it will open the fishery this weekend, with a 6 (that’s 6) fish limit and two more weeks than usual on the top end of the run, while the sockeye are in prime shape. In the past, the season opened aroung Aug. 1, Korth said.

Watch for an announcement on the agency’s website,, then regulations and seasons, then emergency regulations.

The fishing area is at the upper end of Lake Wenatchee, off the mouths of the tributary rivers. Parking at launch spots up the lake is limited, however, so most fishers launch at the state park ramp on the south end, and run uplake.

The Lake Washington sockeye situation is a lot less rosy. As of Sunday, the cumulative total of fish counted at the Chittenden Locks was just 30,900. That’s out of a forecast of about 167,000 sockeye total — well under the needed spawning escapement goal of 350,000.

Doesn’t look good.

A few salmon fishermen have been prospecting for sockeye in the San Juan Islands, according to Kevin John (above), from a huge number of fish predicted to be coming back to the Fraser River.

“It’s a little too early yet for that action,” John said. “Usually it doesn’t get going until the last week in July or the first part of August.”

There likely will be anglers pursuing sockeye in the islands, in part at least because of a very slow start to the summer chinook fishery there.

“It’s been a lot slower than most of us would have anticipated,” John said, “and very spotty as well. I heard that the Bellingham Derby over the weekend weighed in about 175 fish, which would be fewer than usual for that event.”

John said Rosario Strait has been the best, early, and such spots as Point Lawrence, Thatcher Pass, Eagle Point to Pile Point on the outside of San Juan Island, plus the Waldron Island/Pesident Channel area.

Bait has been small and sparse, John said, with a lot of dogfish activity, forcing fishermen to go to smaller lures such as the 2- and 3-inch Kingfisher and Coho Killer spoons, and needlefish squids.

Washington Outdoor Women

Now in its 17th year, WOW is exercising its mission to engage the next generation.

“We are bringing together women and girls (ages 9-12) for a weekend of fishing, hunting and outdoor skills education — traditions that will be passed on for generations to come,” director Ronni McGlenn said.

Scheduled for Sept. 12-14 at Camp Waskowitz in North Bend, the annual fall weekend workshop is coordinated by the non-profit group, dedicated to teaching women and girls outdoor skills and natural resource stewardship. WOW is an educational outreach program of the Washington Wildlife Federation.

The weekend offers 16 different classes, in skills such as archery, basic freshwater fishing, camping, cording, fly fishing and tying, hunting and tracking, Dutch oven cooking, map and compass, wilderness first aid, survival skills, outdoor photography, raising a backyard garden and more.

Workshop adult participants must be at least 18 years old. The fee of $375 is the total for adult and girl, and includes the weekend’s instruction, lodging, meals and use of all necessary equipment. Again this year, partial scholarships, provided by they Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, are available for adults and girls participating.

To learn more about WOW and the workshop, and to download the registration form, visit the website at or call Ronni McGlenn at 425-455-1986.


Lots of salmon

Fish managers from Washington and Oregon upgraded Columbia River salmon run predictions at a meeting July 7, and the results, if the forecasts are accurate, are impressive: The sockeye return, 560,000 fish, is an all-time record, beating the old mark of 521,000 set in 2012. The adult summer chinook return would be the fourth largest since at least 1980 (the record is 89,500 in 2002).


Public meetings are scheduled in late July to discuss proposals to treat three lake systems in eastern Washington with rotenone, a natural pesticide commonly used to remove undesirable fish species from lakes and streams.

The lakes due for treatment include the Hampton Lake chain below O’Sullivan Dam in Grant County to remove bass, bullhead, stunted panfish and tench. The chain is made up of Upper and Lower Hampton lakes, Hampton Slough, Hen Lake, Dabbler Lake, Marie Lake and Juvenile Lake.

“The goal is to restore trout populations by removing competing species that have essentially taken over the lake’s resources,” said Bruce Bolding, state warmwater fish program manager.

None of the public meetings are scheduled in this area, but the state will consider written comments received through Aug. 22. Comments should be addressed to Bruce Bolding, WDFW, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia 98501.

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