First of two Baker red fisheries to open

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 11, 2014 

Sockeye salmon bound for the Baker River system beginning Saturday, June 14, will be the focus of a 16-day personal use angling opportunity in the lower Skagit River.

Predictions are that this year's Baker sockeye run will number more than 35,300 adults coming back as 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds.

Of this return, 7,800 fish are deemed necessary for Baker system production with some going to the remaining artificial spawning beach at the upper dam, others to the hatchery egg take and a third batch going to lakebed and tributary spawning in the upper reservoir.

The balance, or about 27,500 fish, are available for harvest on a 50-50 split between treaty and non-treaty fishers.

To balance this equation, the lower in-river hook and line fishery will be one of two options anglers will have on this year's run of Baker reds returning to the hydroelectric managed aquatic complex north of Concrete.

The second will be in the upper of two Puget Sound Energy reservoirs when Baker Lake opens Thursday, July 10, for the taking of adult sockeye for a month and a half.

As of now these will likely be the only Western Washington options for sockeye this year as Lake Washington's run is forecast to be well below the spawning escapement goal.

Skagit anglers of old should take note that the former on-again, off-again sockeye fishery in the Skagit below where the Baker ports into the Skagit at Concrete has been discontinued.

Instead, they will have 17.5 miles of lower river from the Memorial Highway Bridge (State Route 536 span) in Mount Vernon (at river mile 11.4) upstream to the mouth of Gilligan Creek (at river mile 28.8).

River mile measure starts at the mouth, sometimes designated by monuments but always defined as the line drawn between the two outermost points of exposed land on the right and left banks of the stream where it enters saltwater.

For reference the Gardner Road ramp at Burlington is 18 run-of-the-river miles upstream from the Skagit's mouth while the Highway 9 Bridge southwest of Sedro-Woolley at river mile 22.5.

ON THE ANGLING MENU

Two sockeye salmon (12 inches or longer) are the daily or bag limit for this special salmon fishery.

All other salmon including chinook, whether clipped or not, that are brought to hand by anglers must be immediately released unharmed without removing them from the water.

Besides the brace of reds, on the gamefish side of the ledger, anglers also may keep two trout, a minimum of 14 inches long, each day including hatchery (adipose fin-clipped) steelhead (20-inch or longer sea-run rainbow) or wild bull trout that are 20 inches or longer.

Under statewide conservation rules, sturgeon that are caught must be released.

When fishing this section of the Skagit, anglers may use bait, however the anti-snagging rule is in effect.

The foul-hooking reg restricts terminal tackle hook set-ups on non-buoyant lures to one single-point hook with a maximum gap (between point and shank) width of 3/4 inches that must attached to or below the bait or lure. The anti-snagging rule also dictates where sinker weights may be attached to the terminal rigging.

The night closure rule also governs this fishery restricting angling only from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset each day.

You'll find the anti-snagging rule verbiage together with other legal definitions on pages 10-11 of the 2014-15 Fish Washington sport fishing pamphlet.

WHERE AND HOW

As with pinks and chum, the luck of timing is in play when river sockeye fishing.

Reds 'run' lower river areas quickly, so being on the river with gear in the water when a school of sockeye passes through is critical to success. This implies that patience is a virtue as well.

Whether in a boat or on the bank a significant number of Skagit sockeye anglers will be using either No. 4 wing-bobbers or No. 6 Corkies in orange, red and pink colors garnished with whole sand-shrimp.

Also, instead of the soft bait, anglers can accent the hard bait with a small hoochie skirt or cloak of yarn in matching red/pink shades.

Being conservers of energy, sockeye on the move will exploit the fringes of current including cutting across the shallower upper contours of river bend bars, faster, deeper areas of the river are not as productive as the so-called 'soft' water reaches.

Access for both dry-foot fishers and those afloat is quite good in the Skagit'sMount Vernon to Gilligan Creek reach.

In part, this is due to the municipalities (Mount Vernon, Burlington and Sedro-Woolley) that secured and set aside portions of their river banks as parks. Also, another lengthy portion of this river section that's quite popular with fishers has a county road running along the top of its embankment.

Anglers should be aware that on diked stretches of river where it looks like you can get ever-so-close to the water's edge, either the diking district itself or the landowner on which the levee is located restrict or deny access. Would-be fishers are obligated to know the status of riverbank property and always seek permission before venturing out to fish.

At Mount Vernon, Edgewater Park on the west side of the river just below the Memorial Bridge provides boat fishers access to the lower end of the sockeye fishery. Be careful not to keep sockeye until you are upstream of the bridge, though.

The fish and wildlife department's Young's Bar access, also in West Mount Vernon, and the city's Lion's Park off Freeway Drive are alternative sockeye accesses.

In Burlington, ample bank space can be had in the city's lengthy Skagit River Park complex that starts just above the Burlington Northern Santa Fe bridge at Johnson's Bar and runs up to the Roger Tjeerdsma Access and its broad concrete ramp at the foot of Gardner Road off East Rio Vista Avenue. Additional street accesses to this park are off Whitmarsh and East Gilkey roads.

Sundstrom says that one of the best river sections for boat-borne fishers is the broad, slow-moving stretch of water just above and below the Gardner Road launch.

Sedro-Woolley-area fishers should look to southside river banks along the South Skagit Highway upstream of the State Route 9 crossing for the best places. Anglers can start at the bank under the state bridge itself and virtually every pull out at the top of the bank east of there, except those with homes and the Tarheel Bar, which is owned by the Wildcat Steelheaders, is available to fish.

Besides the few private homes along that stretch, anglers may not fish within 100 feet of the Skagit County PUD intake building.

On the north side of the river in the vicinity of Sedro-Woolley, the venerable Stink Hole at the foot of Fruitdale Road is the best spot for unrestricted access. Elsewhere on the north bank, tribal and private ownerships predominate.

The City of Sedro-Woolley's Riverfront Park on River Road east of Township Street also has a good launch ramp, though it can be in the current sometimes.

The Skagit's sockeye opportunity lasts 30 days or up to Sunday, July 15, when the Skagit including both this reach as well as the up-river spring chinook reach will close to all salmon fishing until the first of September.

THE LEGAL NECESSITIES

Youth age 14 and younger may fish for free without paperwork however all older anglers, both resident or non-resident alike, to legally reap the benefits (fish) in this opportunity must have some form of a 2014 Washington fishing license.

These include annual versions of the combination (salt- and fresh-water) or freshwater only documents. Temporary (one- to three-day, lower priced) fishing licenses will do as well.

If you already bought a categorical license - either a freshwater or saltwater one - the department has an upgrade deal going until Sunday, July 20, in which for an extra $27 you may increase the spread of your freshwater or saltwater chit to the coverage of a combination fishing license. That amounts to the same cash outlay as if you'd bought the combination to begin with.

Also, to be able to keep sockeye brought to hand, anglers must obtain and carry a free multi-species (for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and halibut) catch record card. CRCs must be used by all anglers regardless of age and license status.

Immediately upon creeling a Skagit sockeye, fishers must write on the catch card where they caught it and the date. Cards documenting an angler's harvest of these four species must be turned in each April.

REDS AT BAKER LAKE

Wednesday, July 16 around the time the very first returning adult sockeye fish start splashing into its waters, Baker Lake legally opens for the taking of the bigger, ocean-running version of sockeye.

The minimum keeper size for adult sockeye in the lake is 18 inches.

Kokanee, the landlocked form of the sockeye species up to 18-inches in size, have been creelers since the spring trout season opened Saturday, April 26.

Trapped at Concrete below Shannon Dam near the town of Concrete, homing adult sockeye are regularly hauled (often daily during peak recruitment) via Puget Sound Energy's tanker truck to the hatchery/spawning beach complex below Upper Baker Dam.

Those adult reds not destined for either the artificial spawning beach or the hatchery's egg-take will go into Baker Lake. Those loads are typically put into the lake at West Pass Dike just north of the upper dam complex.

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