Fishing was closed unexpectedly Thursday, Aug. 27, in various areas of the Nooksack River Basin as the drought continues to take its toll on fish.
As the drought reduces river flows to a trickle in places and water temperatures increase, spring chinook are dying off in high numbers, many before they can spawn, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“The water temperatures are so high it’s stressing the heck out of the chinooks,” said Brett Barkdull, district fish biologist for Fish and Wildlife.
In some areas temperatures have been measured in the 70s; 68 degrees is considered lethal for the fish, Barkdull said.
Fish and Wildlife has closed all current seasons for game fish and upcoming salmon seasons in certain parts of the Nooksack basin.
No fishing is allowed in these areas:
▪ North Fork Nooksack from the mouth to Nooksack Falls;
▪ All tributaries draining into the North Fork Nooksack from the mouth to Nooksack Falls;
▪ The Middle Fork Nooksack from mouth to the city of Bellingham diversion dam;
▪ All tributaries draining into the Middle Fork Nooksack from the mouth to the diversion dam;
▪ The mainstem Nooksack from Slater Road to the forks.
Though rain is in the forecast over the next several days, it’s unclear when the ban will be lifted.
“This may be a short-lived closure or it may not be,” Barkdull said.
Enough rain could lead to lifting the ban, but if the water remains too warm it will stay in place. It will depend on how the fish react, Barkdull said.
This ban is in addition to previously announced restrictions and closures of the South Fork Nooksack from the mouth to Skookum Creek and the South Fork from Wanlick Creek upstream, including Wanlick Creek and all tributaries.
Not that many fish are in the South Fork. The water there is so warm that the chinooks that normally spawn there are staying away, Barkdull said.
While there have been drought years before, Barkdull said he’s never seen conditions like this in his career or even in his lifetime living in Washington state.
“It’s way more extreme this year,” he said.