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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

June 24, 2013 at 12:44 PM

As 54,064 sockeye move into Lake Washington, many wonder if a fishery is possible


(People gazing at the sockeye moving up the Ballard Locks fish ladder viewing window last week. Photo by Alan Berner, Seattle Times staff photographer)

It has been less than two weeks since the Lake Washington sockeye counts began at the Ballard Locks fish ladder, but the numbers have increased to a point where many are starting to think how big this can really be and is a sport fishery actually possible.

With the updated run size of 54,064 sockeye through Sunday, June 23 that figure has now jumped to more than twice as large of the 2006 run, which was the last time a sport fishery was held in the large urban watershed.

That means in just the first 12 days of counting more than half  of the preseason forecast of 96,866 have already returned to the lake. Last summer’s return of 145,815 waxed the preseason forecast of 45,871, and more than 20-million fry were released into the lake earlier this spring.

“This is a pretty strong signal, and so its really easy to see why people are getting really excited,” said Pat Pattillo, the state Fish and Wildlife salmon policy coordinator. “We’ve usually waited to determine the (inseason) run size until after the first of July, but that is only a week away, and the run ramps up really fast. We are being cautious and some years it really drops off after a strong front end of the run, but this year it’s already double what we saw last year at this time. Normal peak time is between July 4 and July 12.”

“The interesting this about this fishery is we really don’t need to have to start it right away, and they aren’t going to get lost in the lake,” Pattillo said. “We can have some great fishing right into August, and we might want to take our time in making a decision.”

At this point the forecast falls well short of the 350,000 spawning escapement needed before any fisheries can be considered.

“The June 23 count of 54,064 is astonishing for this point in time,” said Frank Urabeck, a member of the Cedar River Council and sport fishing advocate. “(It is) still very early to extrapolate run size for 2013, anything can yet happen. Sockeye returns always surprise us.”

“Some start out slow and continue to build,” Urabeck said. “Others start strong, and then peter out. Last year the extrapolated numbers did not begin to converge till late in July.”

Here are extrapolations based on historical runs last seven years: 2006, 1,176,600; 2007, 287,765; 2008, 215,910; 2009, 169,815; 2010, 557,412; 2011, 327,364; and 2012, 289,106.

Urabeck says based on those numbers he would guess – “and that is all it is at this juncture” – this summer’s run will come in between 200,000 and 325,000.


(This was the scene during the last sport sockeye fishery on the lake in summer of 2006. Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times photo archive.)

“(I) would be very surprised and even shocked if it reached the 350,000 current threshold for directed sport and tribal sockeye fisheries because the 2010 fry outmigration from the Cedar River was not very impressive (only 17 million),” Urabeck said. “Also, this is an odd return year. Since 1996 we have only had fisheries during even years, and not every one of them.”

Single-day counts have looked like this since counting began on June 12 it was 2,778; June 13, 2,424; June 14, 1,285; June 15, 2,430; June 16, 3,081; June 17, 3,603; June 18, 3,851; June 19, 4,638; June 20, 2,961; June 21, 3,296; June 22, 10,782 and then by Sunday, June 23 it skyrocketed to 12,936. It about the third week of June when sockeye counts usually begin to increase dramatically.

Just to compare, here are the cumulative totals of counting from past years:

2006: 247, 803, 1,217, 1,975, 2,606, 3,179, 4,656, 6,623, 9,660, 12,785, 16,162 and 20,840 (453,543 was the final season total).

2007: 412, 892, 1,343, 2,058, 2,907, 3,467, 4,302, 6,595, 8,390, 9,795, 11,048 and 13,013 (69,271 was the final season total).

2008: 236, 570, 894, 1,411, 1,774, 2,173, 2,785, 3,653, 4,530, 5,437, 6,577 and 8,439 (33,702 was the final season total).

2009: 299, 825, 1,322, 1,797, 2,425, 2,880, 3,520, 3,931, 4,394, 5,064, 6,190 and 7,057 (22,166 was the final season total).

2011: 304, 563, 866, 1,218, 1,866, 2,512, 3,134, 3,452, 4,177, 5,319, 6,297 and 7,221 (43,724 was the final season total).

2012: 1,633, 2,320, 2,852, 5,035, 8,097, 9,821, 11,337, 13,577, 19,999, 23,546, 25,385 and 27,628 (145,815 was the final season total).

The last time Lake Washington was open for sport sockeye fishing was 2006. Other dates a fishery was held included 2004, 2002, 2000 and 1996.

There have been ongoing talks between state and tribal fisheries managers about lowering the minimum spawning escapement goal. Some would like to see it as low as 150,000 to 200,000. State fisheries sources have indicated that talks have been active between co-managers.

“We are meeting with a bunch of the staff (Monday, June 24), and then meeting on Wednesday with tribes and we’ve had some frequent discussions,” Pattillo said. “People are just excited now that there is a little bit more push to the sockeye run.”



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