They say there’s a nice big jag of upriver brights poised to hit the Columbia and a hella batch of silvers lurking in the ocean just behind them, but the salmon story of the summer in the blue state of Washington is all about red fish.
Where preseason forecasts for spring and summer Chinook were busts, the predictions for four different sockeye runs have been busted bam bam bam bam, and anglers from Longview to Brewster to Plain to Concrete have been enjoying barbecued bliss.
The latest news is that biologists now expect “over 40,000″ of the salmon back to Lake Wenatchee, according to biologist Travis Maitland, a minimum of 11,000 more than originally foresoothed, and among the four best returns ever.
That stock is part of the overall Columbia run which set a new record of over 520,000, coming in somewhere around 60,000 fish above expectations. Baker Lake will see around 10,500 more than predicted, and, in the how-you-like-me-now! category, Lake Washington killed it with 99,000 over the forecast.
Biologists credit big smolt production out of Baker Lake and BC’s Okanagan River and apparent great at-sea survival for all stocks — which has also done wonders for sales of stocks of hooks, dodgers, Spin-N-Glos, squid and shrimp across Washington.
While there still weren’t enough sockeye for a fishery on the Seattle lake, there have been so many elsewhere in the state that managers have gone bonkers, allowing six-fish limits on the Upper Columbia, and OKing not only three a day at Baker, but also two-poling and boat limits.
Indeed, the word “limits” seems to be rolling off more than a few salmon anglers’ lips this summer, including Maitland’s.
“We got our limits — three of us in the boat, got our nine fish,” he says about a day on Lake Wenatchee during last weekend’s opener.
The socks are still biting too — he reports that Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Rollie Schmitten, who lives on the lake, limited Wednesday, despite strong winds.
Some folks are running hoochies, but others, like Maitland, are just using the ol’ bare-hook setup, in his case, three of ‘em in a row quick behind a dodger. Reader Scott Fletcher has been finding them at 30 feet down.
It’s tended to be an early morning bite, and through Friday, anglers were expected to have caught 4,600, Maitland reports.
“Everybody’s having a good time,” he notes.
Across the Cascade Crest and to the north, the Baker system is seeing its biggest sockeye return yet.
“We’ve got a new record,” says biologist Brett Barkdull in La Conner Thursday afternoon. “We raced past it by 7,000.”
Officially, he expects a final run size of 46,029, but suspects it will actually top 47,000 as the return continues to defy expectations — 481 sockeye showed up at the Baker River trap yesterday.
“The numbers should be turning off. They’re not. They keep piling in,” Barkdull says.
They’ll keep piling in in future years thanks to fish passage and other work in the system as part of dam relicensing that have made for easy smolt passage out.
Of the 25,627 back to the trap on the Baker River, secondmost to last year, 15,606 have been hauled up to the lake, he says.
Back on the Upper Columbia, when we spoke to him in late July, manager Jeff Korth said that the 26,000 sockeye retained through that part of the season from Priest Rapids into the Brewster Pool was more than twice as many as ever had been landed before.
They might be the smallest sized of this year’s salmon stocks, but sockeye are providing more than their share of action and meat in Washington this summer.