All of 58 sockeye were swimming around Baker Lake as of yesterday, June 28, but the Forest Service is preparing for thousands upon thousands more to be trucked up to the reservoir in the North Cascades and the potential for another fishery this summer.
Should that happen — and we’re crossing our fingers it does — the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest issued a press release reminding anglers they’ll be sharing the lake with other recreationalists, that their boat ramps are right next to campgrounds, the launch closest to the lake’s hottest spot at Noisy Creek will be closed to all users except those camped there or have cartoppers, and that parking fees ranging from $5 to $9 are in effect at their lots.
They’ve posted a map showing ramp locations, how many spots are available at each one and other rules.
Last year’s first-ever fishery here was based off a return of 14,239 sockeye to the Baker River trap, fish which were then hauled up to the lake and released. This year’s forecast is for nearly 10,000 more, and while the salmon first have to actually show up, it’s “pretty likely” there will be a season, according to the state fisheries biologist.
There will likely be many more seasons.
Puget Sound Energy, which operates Baker Lake Dam and the Kulshan Campground and ramp, has been enhancing the system for salmon over the years as part of dam relicensing and boldly predicts runs of 50,000 to 75,000 sockeye in coming seasons.
And WDFW biologist Brett Barkdull indicates that there’s a potential for limits of up to four sockeye — if a fishery is OKed this summer, he tells Northwest Sportsman he’ll push for a daily bag of three.
All fantastic news for anglers and sporting goods stores and other businesses in the North Sound.
But last year’s unexpected opener last July caught the Forest Service by surprise, and now district ranger Jon Vanderheyden is scrambling to satisfy families out for a quiet campout at their facilities in the mountains and anglers who want to get on the water for the first-light bite.
“We had folks running around at 5:30 in the morning looking for parking spots. There were definitely some ticked-off campers,” he says.
Vanderheyden says that this year workers have paved and striped additional parking at their Panorama Point Campground and are hoping to do similar at Horseshoe Cove Campground.
“Once one fills up, you’re going to have to go to another launch,” he says.
There will likely be increased Forest Service patrols and ticketing for parking in bad spots.
One other thing of note is that while USFS will not issue any new commercial guiding permits for the lake, five guides who were granted one-year permits last summer will be able to use theirs until they expire.
“It’s going to take a little while for all of us to work the bugs out. It’s good to see a fishery, but we’ve got to respect the users and the resource,” he tells Northwest Sportsman.
With the sockeye runs that PSE and Barkdull expect in the future, angler cooperation will go a long way to keeping things running smoothly for all parties and keep us off the TV news.
For more on this emerging fishery, see the big map feature in the July issue of Northwest Sportsman!