OLYMPIA - For the first time, anglers will be able to fish for sockeye salmon in Baker Lake, where the fish are returning in significantly higher numbers than expected.
From July 22 until further notice, anglers can retain up to two adult sockeye salmon that exceed 18 inches in length from Baker Dam upstream to the mouth of the Baker River.
All other salmon must be released, and no fishing will be allowed between the dam and the log boom at the lower end of the lake.
More than 10,000 sockeye have returned to hatchery facilities and artificial spawning beaches on the lake, exceeding this year’s 6,300-fish escapement goal, said Brett Barkdull, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
"People have been waiting a long time to be able to fish for sockeye salmon in Baker Lake," Barkdull said. "This year’s run isn’t huge by historical standards, but we’ve exceeded our goals for both hatchery-reared sockeye and naturally spawning fish needed for production."
Harvest opportunities for returning fish will be shared by recreational and tribal fisheries, he said.
Barkdull said improving ocean conditions have helped to boost survival rates for young sockeye returning to the watershed. Meanwhile, the installation of a juvenile-collection facility at the upper Baker Dam has improved the transfer of out-migrating smolts downstream to Puget Sound, he said.
But the biggest boon to area sockeye fishing may be the completion of a new hatchery facility on Baker Lake, Barkdull said. Starting next year, smolt production in the watershed is expected to increase significantly at the new facility built by Puget Sound Energy as part of a 2008 hydroelectric licensing agreement.
"We hope to eventually produce enough sockeye fry to bring 75,000 adult fish back to the watershed," Barkdull said. "We’ve been working toward that goal for a long time and we know what it would mean for sockeye fishing in the watershed."
In addition to the upcoming opening at Baker Lake, anglers can also catch sockeye salmon on the Baker and Skagit rivers today (July 16) through Sunday (July 18) under rules announced earlier this week by WDFW.
The Baker River open to sockeye fishing from the mouth to the Highway 20 bridge. The Skagit River is open from the Dalles Bridge at Concrete to a point 200 feet above the east bank of the Baker River.
The daily limit in those areas is two sockeye salmon. The anti-snagging rule and night closure are in effect in both areas.