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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

July 18, 2011 at 11:42 AM

Decision on Baker Lake sockeye fishery could happen soon

State Fish and Wildlife officials are waiting to see what kind of sockeye numbers they see today (Monday, July 18) before deciding on when to open Baker Lake for sockeye fishing.

“We are still waiting for the Monday morning count, and also on when do we pull the trigger on making the call to open it,” said Brett Barkdull, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.

“The last three days we had numbers each day in the 500s, 600s and 700s, and if it was more like in the 1,000s then I wouldn’t still be in the wait and see pattern,” Barkdull said. “We’ve got 1,300 sockeye in the lake right now, and still need about 300 more for escapement goals.”

Barkdull says usually the midpoint or 50 percent of data is July 14, and the latest it can be is around July 15. 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, and there seems to be a lot of sockeye milling in the Baker River.

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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