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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

June 29, 2012 at 9:16 AM

Lake Washington sockeye exceeds the preseason forecast with the third largest single-day count on Thursday

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All it took was 16 days of counting at the Ballard Locks for the sockeye numbers to exceed the preseason forecast 45,871.

Through Thursday, June 28, the inseason count is now up to 47,781, and the single-day count was the third largest so far this season at 5,080.

“The sockeye counts from the Locks continue to rise to levels well over recent historic returns,” Bill Robinson a member of the Seattle Public Utilities Cedar River HCP Oversight Committee said in an email.

“If I do my calculations correctly, I think that the peak of the return occurs around (July 17) with fairly solid returns through mid-August,” Robinson said. “Followed by a dropoff into September.”

“We can all hope for a continuation of the strong returns for the next several weeks,” Robinson said. “While these numbers won’t lead to a fishery, they will “seed” both the Cedar River ecosystem and the north Lake Washington, which will perhaps lead to future harvestable numbers of sockeye returning.”

Many are wondering if this is just some anomaly, but there have been only two days of counting where the sockeye numbered 687 (June 13) and 532 (June 14). Since then the counts have stayed above 1,515 and the biggest single-day count was 6,421 on June 20.

Usually peak counts vary each year, but occurs between July 7 and July 15.

The single-day counts are: 1,633 fish on June 12; 687 on June 13; 532 on June 14; 2,183 on June 15; 3,062 on June 16; 1,724 on June 17; 1,515 on June 18; 2,241 on June 19; 6,421 on June 20; 3,548 on June 21; 1,839 on June 22; 1,883 on June 23; 4,100 on June 24; 5,823 on June 25; 1,780 on June 26; 3,730 on June 27; and 5,080 on June 28.

Those monitoring the returns say the majority of sockeye are made up of bigger wild five-year-old sockeye. When these fish were in the freshwater environment they encountered decent water conditions and no major flooding, which probably led to a stronger survival rate. Add to that good ocean conditions when they migrated out.

During this same time frame in 2006, 44,168 sockeye had returned, but the bulk ended up surging in quite later than normal. That year, 470,000 sockeye allowed an 18-day sport fishery.

Other fisheries occurred in 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2004.

Anything can happen at this point, but one person who has been keeping an eye on the Lake Washington sockeye stock for many years says by extrapolating from the 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 runs would produce estimates for 2012 of 140,317, 90,435, 279,835 and 149,462, respectively.

He predicts the this summer’s Lake Washington sockeye run would be between 100,000 and 150,000.

The big urban lake has an escapement goal of 350,000 sockeye before any fisheries are considered.

Some are saying the goal is much higher than needed, and should be more in the range of 150,000 to 200,000. Those close to the Lake Washington sockeye management issues are planning on meeting in the fall or early winter to discuss the goal figure and other topics related to the fish.

Since 2006, sockeye returns have dropped close to historic lows, and the run last summer ended up at about 43,000.

Back in 2009, the sockeye fry entered the lake in low numbers so this summer’s adult return wasn’t expected to be that good.

One positive factor is these fish could be reaping benefits from an excellent ocean and freshwater conditions.

The new permanent hatchery on the Upper Cedar River just below Landsburg Dam can produce more than 34-million fry, but last year it only got 25 percent of that figure from spawned adult sockeye. A run above 100,000 this summer could raise the bar in production number of spawning fish at the new facility.

(Photo by Mark Harrison, Seattle Times staff reporter)

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