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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

July 15, 2011 at 3:57 PM

Be patient: Baker Lake sockeye fishery still remains to likely happen soon

For those who’ve got ants in their pants waiting for word on the Baker Lake sockeye fishery you’ll just have to a little while longer on a final decision.

In the meantime enjoy plenty of other salmon fishing options brewing over the weekend on the coast, Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands, Hood Canal, and northern and central Puget Sound.

They’ll be plenty of time to think about the Baker sockeye later on.

“We are still committed to opening Baker Lake, but we are still in a wait and see mode,” said Brett Barkdull, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “We decided we weren’t going to do anything this weekend, and we’ll look at it again Monday morning.”

Barkdull says the sockeye count at the Baker fish trap was in the low 100s the last couple of days, and today (Friday, July 15) it jumped up to 716.

“Hopefully today was the front edge of that burst of sockeye, and we’ll know by tomorrow,” Barkdull said. “We need at least a couple days of big numbers to show, and they will get here eventually.”

“They really are not late at this point, and usually the midpoint or 50 percent of data is July 14, and the latest it can be is around July 15,” Barkdull said. “Last year between July 15 and July 20 we had 12,000 fish show up at the trap.”

Barkdull says having a big bunch of fish show up like this is the norm.

“They (the tribal fisheries in the river) probably took a big chunk out of the early part of the run, and this appears one of the reasons why they are a day or two late, but I think there are a lot of fish still out there sitting in the Baker River,” Barkdull said. “For several days now we’ve had jumpers all up and down the Skagit. We just need everyone to be patient.”

Through July 15, 4,460 sockeye have returned to the Baker fish trap, and 804 have been transferred to Baker Lake. The sockeye forecast this summer is 23,954.

Last summer, 14,239 were counted at the Baker trap, and 22,500 actually returned (preseason forecast was 4,500). The fishing season opened July 22 through Sept. 19 – the first ever on the 3,100-acre impoundment in Skagit County.

Barkdull says fisheries will give folks at least a 48 hours notice of the opening.

Puget Sound Energy completed construction of a new fish hatchery and an advanced upstream trap-and-haul facility on the Baker River, increasing chances for a good return.

In the spring of 2010, an all-time high of more than 520,000 fingerling salmon, mostly sockeye, were transported downstream.

Since the 1920s, adult sockeye returns have averaged about 3,500. In 1985, just 99 fish returned. A cooperative fish-recovery effort produced a sockeye return of 20,236 fish in 2003 that was a record until last year.

The latest improvements should produce future sockeye returns substantially above last year’s mark, with the ability to generate 11 million salmon fry annually. Potential future expansion increases that number to 14 million. Biologists hope this will produce enough sockeye fry to eventually return 75,000 adults.

For more details on Baker Lake, go to state Fish and Wildlife website.

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