Samish fall king fishery under twin pressures

With greater uncertainty than usual, the Samish River’s often-controversial personal use salmon angling season officially got underway in Saturday, Aug. 1 from Bayview Edison Road bridge upstream to Interstate 5.

Even before it legally opens and the salmon really start arriving at the end of this month, this fishery is fraught with a degree of concern — some even say foreboding — over the issue of angler comportment.

State officials, fish and wildlife officers, neighboring landowners, bystanders, even anglers themselves wonder how much illegal snagging will go on? How crowded will the tiny stream’s banks get? How many complaints for trespass will there be? And will anglers and their pets foul the water by defecating on the banks?

But this year the level of angler outrage is not the only issue in doubt.

With drought effects worsening, managers are wondering if there will be enough water flowing in the channel to allow the big late arriving kings to swim the 10.5 miles up the small Skagit County stream to the state hatchery trap and keep them there.

This chinook stock though prized by net and personal use fishers is not classified as native thus it’s not protected by federal law. The ancestral lineage of the Samish’s fall run of kings stretches back decades to the Green River and the old Department of Fisheries long-running and highly productive hatchery program there.

While the Samish trap holding’s vessel has the physical space to retain thousands of these salmon ranging in size from jacks of several pounds to older adults up to 25-30 pounds while waiting to be spawned, there might not be enough flow volume to circulate through the pond to fill it to capacity with fish.

The egg-take goal for Samish Hatchery is more than five million eggs. The vast majority of young falls chinook produces are released each spring into the Samish to perpetuate the run. A small portion of each year’s brood also is released into the lower Nooksack River.

In producing this stock and maintaining the run, the state is fulfilling obligations to treaty tribes here under ongoing co-manager agreements.

The secondary environmental concern regarding stream conditions is how warm these waters will get as the volume drops. Rising water temperatures often foster parasite, bacteria and virus caused diseases that can decimate a run.

Insofar as the anglers behaving badly scenario is concerned, state fish and wildlife officials have said in the past they’re not averse to shutting down the opportunity if order can’t be maintained. In 2013 they put personal use participants on probation warning that if compliance with fishing regulations as well as trespass, parking and public sanitation laws did not improve, the balance of the season would be canceled.

Going into 2015 season, that hammer is still there joined by the added trip lever of stream conditions that could force a closure so adequate numbers of salmon can migrate and assure the hatchery program is met.

Personal use (recreational) fishers should routinely check the fish and wildlife department’s regulations Web portal at fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/ or the agency’s Region 4 office at 425-775-1311 or Olympia headquarters at 360 902-2500.


After several years of attempting to craft finely-tuned regulations governing terminal tackle rigging and presentation technique specifically for the Samish to coerce angler behavior the rule is now simply worded: “Only fish hooked inside the mouth may be retained.”

Below Interstate 5, the bag limit is two salmon a day and, for now, anglers may fish from one-hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset daily (night fishing ban). Also anglers in the salmon section may only use one single-point hook on their lines.

The so-called new ‘hoot owl’ fishing hours rule (angling allowed only between midnight and 1 p.m. daily) invoked on the Samish and other selected streams several weeks ago to combat temperature stress applies to open gamefish (trouting) waters upstream of Interstate 5.


The Samish is not a boat fishers river, rather its cozy confines are considered a ‘boot’ angler stream fish-able on foot.

In fact, anglers afloat would be risking bombardment with lead sinkers or being flayed within an inch of their lives by a host of hooks, if they tried to drift these waters.

Anglers must approach the banks via adjacent uplands on foot and trod along dikes that for the most part are in private ownership.

Unless entry is made at a few select points (public road bridges or the WDFW land west of the river above the Bayview-Edison Road) and anglers confine their stays to the public property and movements to the channel’s bottom, they will not be able to avoid running afoul of state and county trespass laws. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks also are posted against trespass and may not be used as an access.

Again this year a number of lower river landowners between the Bayview-Edison and Farm-to-Market roads will band together in a business entity call Samish River Services.

Spokesperson Tony Breckenridge said that for a $100 annual fee (or $20 for a day), anglers who buy in will get a permit granting legal daily access to selected tracts of private property including east bank dike sections and the access routes to them between the first of August and the end of the season or the first of October, whichever comes first.

Besides this, the firm will establish a disabled persons access on the southeast side of the Bayview-Edison Road bridge, provide some of the portable toilets at the lower road crossing and arrange for a limited amount of off-road parking also at the lower end of the fishing reach.

Applications can be obtained by emailing a request in care of samishriverguy@aol.com or by writing to Samish River Services, P.O. Box 277, Bow, WA 98232.

There also will be no arrangements for access to lands above Farm-to-Market Road and some landowners from there upstream to Interstate 5 often post no trespassing signs on their properties and ban public access.

Anglers should first read and understand the state’s criminal trespass laws including RCW 9A.52.010 before deciding to enter or cross any land.


Practice sessions for upcoming bird hunting pursuits currently may be undertaken on fish and wildlife department lands here in Whatcom County.

It’s now permissible to put bird dogs through their paces in the field and those rehearsals are especially facilitated this month on the Lake Terrell unit of the Whatcom Wildlife Area.

Ring-necks that are produced naturally on the unit occasionally are augmented with just enough released birds to twitch a nose or two toward the end of this month and into September.

These are pursuit-only exercises in which the wild and state-produced gamebirds may be chased and flushed, but otherwise not harmed.

Each canine hunters’ primary human companion must, for this training, be carrying a valid, appropriate Washington hunting license and the Western Washington Pheasant Permit.

The same daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. limitation governing pheasant hunting during the kill season applies to training. And on the Lake Terrell unit birders are asked to refrain from entering the farmed grain fields.

Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald’s outdoors correspondent, since 1983, has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at bellinghamherald.com/outdoors-blog.

This week’s Skagit hatchery and flow info

FACILITY (Stock/Species)

Baker Lake Hatchery (Baker sockeye): 26,764 sockeye trapped & transferred (19,209 to Baker Lake, as of July 14, 7,786 to hatchery). Same week total in 2014 – 5,848 adult sockeye to hatchery.

LAKE LEVEL – Upper Baker Reservoir

Recent: As of Saturday, Aug. 1 the reservoir surface was at 724.01 feet above sea level, with steady with daily fluctuations the past two days.

Forecast: No prediction for this gauge. Full pool is 727.77 feet above sea level.