Bad news for fishing guides hoping to run trips on Baker Lake for sockeye this summer: The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest’s district ranger says he will not issue commercial permits for the 3,100-acre reservoir in Washington’s North Cascades.
Several guides have expressed interest in taking clients out to hook into the red salmon which run 4 to 6 pounds, with a few bigger than that.
While state managers must wait another month and a half or so for the sockeye to actually return to the Baker River to determine if enough are available to even hold a season in the lake, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife biologist for the watershed says it’s “pretty likely” there will be.
“We’ve had a lot more smolts going out and that really helps the odds right there – having the juveniles in the first place,” says district bio Brett Barkdull in LaConner.
During last summer’s first season ever, several thousand were caught by anglers using tactics similar to those used on Lakes Washington and Wenatchee.
It’s also likely there will be more fisheries in the future thanks to salmon-friendly enhancements to the system by Puget Sound Energy, which operates two dams on the Baker River.
But because Baker Lake is almost entirely inside the national forest, it falls under the management authority of the Forest Service, says District Ranger Jon Vanderheyden in Sedro-Woolley — same as with wild and scenic stretches of the Skagit and Sauk Rivers and other northern Cascades streams that the USFS requires commercial permits to work.
A letter from his office says that those are “typically offered in areas where there is a demand for such services that cannot be met through private means,” so things like mountain climbing and whitewater rafting trips, Vanderheyden says.
“Pretty much anyone with a raft can get out there and do it,” he says of Baker Lake sockeye fishing.
Well, can get out there and at least fish for them. In the initial season here actually catching sockeye didn’t appear to be quite as simple, and while anglers can read in magazines or online or listen to radio shows to learn from others how it’s done, there are few things that can match the expertise of a guided trip.
And on the flip side, the Skagit’s wild and scenic reach between Marblemount and Rockport isn’t exactly impossible for an angler with average drift boating skills to navigate.
Still, Vanderheyden says that last summer’s fishery on Baker “overwhelmed” the lake’s facilities, a handful of boat ramps and campgrounds.
“Our take is, why put even more?” he says.
His letter, sent out today, also says there will be “increased law enforcement presence” on the lake this summer and that citations will be issued for those “conducting commercial activities.”
That differs from how the USFS dealt with out-of-compliance guides in the past on other waters where USFS permits are required. Then, rangers educated guides rather than ticketed them, Vanderheyden says.
But with today’s notice, those caught offering trips for sale at Baker could be cited for a $125 fine while those “who knew the rules and were doing it” anyway may be hit with fines up to $275, he says.
Citations from $50 to $75 could also be issued to guides parking their rigs, he says.
As it stands, Vanderheyden says the USFS and WDFW will meet to talk about the future of the fishery. PSE is boldly predicting that runs of “50,000 to 75,000 are not unrealistic to expect in coming years” — two to three times as many as are forecast this summer.
As for what it would take to green light commercial guiding on Baker, it would start with “a needs assessment, environmental analysis and issuance of a prospectus,” the ranger’s letter says.
That would take money.
And as the saying goes, it takes money to make money.