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Yuasa Looks Back At 2019 Salmon Seasons, Towards 2020’s

Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.

By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association

The holiday “to do” list has pretty much taken priority over getting out on the water, but if you’re like me that also means it’s time to reassess salmon fisheries in 2019 and start thinking about what lies ahead in 2020.

I had a chance to chat with Mark Baltzell, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Puget Sound salmon manager, and Wendy Beeghly, the head WDFW coastal salmon manager, who provided insight about the future and a somewhat forgetful past.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

“I believe the best way to describe Puget Sound salmon fisheries overall in 2019 is a mixed bag,” said Baltzell. “We had some unexpected good salmon fishing and returns while others were as poor as the preseason forecasts had predicted.”

“Summer chinook fisheries were for the most part better than we expected despite the reduced seasons,” Baltzell said. “Early on we saw some really good chinook fishing in May and June in southern Puget Sound (Marine Catch Area 13 south of the Narrows Bridge).”

It wasn’t uncommon for Area 13 anglers during those months to hook into a limit of early summer hatchery kings, 10 to 18 pounds with a few larger, off Point Fosdick and Fox Island’s east side at Gibson Point, Fox Point in Hale Passage, northwest corner at the Sand Spit, Toy Point and Concrete Dock “Fox Island Fishing Pier.”
In the past few years, central Puget Sound (Area 10) starting in June has become a hot bed for resident coho – 2- to 4-pounds – and this past summer was no exception to the norm. On certain days you’d find hundreds of boats from Jefferson Head to Kingston and in the shipping lane.

“We had a coho fishery in Area 10 from June through August that was really good and has turned into a successful early summer salmon fishery,” Baltzell said.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The Tulalip Bubble Terminal Fishery within Area 8-2 opened in June and was another location that proved to be fairly decent for early summer kings in the 10- to 15-pound range.

When July rolled around the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 5 and 6) opened for hatchery kings and was off and on for much of the summer.

The San Juan Islands (Area 7) had a brief hatchery king fishery from July 1-31, which saw plenty of fishing pressure and a much higher than expected success rate.

Preliminary WDFW data during the July Area 7 fishery showed 5,310 boats with 11,739 anglers kept 3,019 hatchery kings (10 wild fish were illegally retained) along with 451 hatchery and 982 wild chinook released. The best fishing period occurred from July 1-14. WDFW test fishing showed the Area 7 legal-size chinook mark rate was 84.6 percent and overall mark rate was 78.6.

The summer hatchery king fishery in northern and central Puget Sound (Areas 9 and 10), started off poorly from July 25-28 due to extreme low tides. Once the tidal fluctuation improved as more dates were tacked onto the fishery catch rates picked up rapidly.
During an 11-day fishing period from July 25 to Aug. 4, the success rate in Area 9 was a 0.23 fish per rod average with a total of 7,779 boats with 17,147 anglers keeping 3,446 hatchery chinook (six unmarked were illegally retained) and released 1,124 hatchery and 756 wild chinook plus 697 coho kept and 747 released. WDFW test fishing showed the legal-size chinook mark rate was around 88.0 percent.

The Area 10 hatchery chinook fishery was open daily July 25 through Aug. 16 and a total of 7,606 boats with 15,900 anglers kept 3,200 hatchery chinook (17 wild were illegally retained) and released 994 hatchery and 1,579 wild chinook plus 2,013 coho kept and 463 released. WDFW test fishing showed the legal-size chinook mark rate was around 50.0 percent.

Summer hatchery chinook action in south-central Puget Sound (Area 11) stumbled out of the gates when it opened July 1 and was peppered with a few glory moments until it closed Aug. 25 for chinook retention. In Area 11, an estimated 12,264 boats with 22,818 anglers from July 1-Aug. 25 retained 212 chinook and released 164 hatchery and 465 wild chinook.

“We saw a lot more legal-size chinook in Puget Sound than the FRAM (Fishery Regulation Assessment Model) had predicted and more legal hatchery fish around than we had seen in past years,” Baltzell said.

In general, the wild chinook stock assessment seemed to be somewhat better in some parts of Puget Sound. Places like the Tumwater Falls Hatchery in deep South Sound even had a few nice 20-pound females return.

Heading into late summer, the Puget Sound pink returns were off the charts good here and there while other pink runs were downright dismal. Salmon anglers chasing pinks managed to find some excellent fishing from mid-August through September.

“In some places it seemed like we had twice the abundance of pinks and others didn’t get as many as we had thought,” Baltzell said. “The Puyallup did really good and a decent number of pinks pass(ed) over the Buckley fish trap and was up into the historical day numbers. But, the Skagit and Stillaguamish weren’t so good for pinks and it was the same for coho too.”

“At this point were going to be OK in places like the Snohomish for coho,” Baltzell said. “Both the tribes and state did all the things necessary to help ensure we’d exceed our hatchery coho broodstock (goals), and that did eventually happen.”

Other locations like the Green River met coho broodstock goals although that didn’t occur until late last month. In Hood Canal, the Quilcene early coho return came back less than half the preseason expectation and the size of jack coho was much smaller.”

“There was a size issue throughout the Puget Sound area and the lower returns had us taking a precautionary move to a one coho daily limit,” Baltzell said. “It was the right move in retrospect and helped us move more coho into the rivers.”

The mid- and southern-Puget Sound and Hood Canal chum forecast of 642,740 doesn’t appear to be materializing and at this point WDFW downgraded the run to almost half the preseason expectation.

“It is really hard for us as fishery managers to pinpoint the cause for all of it,” Baltzell said. “We can point the finger to marine survival and conditions in the ocean like the warm blob that sat off the coast up to Alaska for a while. We also know the Canadian sockeye runs tanked this year and saw it in our own like Lake Washington that virtually got nothing back.”

The ocean salmon fisheries from Neah Bay south to Ilwaco between June 22 through Sept. 30 encountered a mixed bag of success.

“Fishing was pretty much what I expected it to be,” Beeghly said. “The chinook fishery was slow except up north off Neah Bay where it was pretty good this past summer. The majority of chinook we see in ocean fisheries are headed for the Columbia River and their forecasts were down so the poor fishing came as no surprise.”
Close to a million coho were forecasted to flood the Columbia River this past summer and that too was a downer.

“The coho fishing wasn’t quite as good as I had expected, but we saw some decent fishing at Ilwaco and Westport,” Beeghly said. “The Columbia coho forecast didn’t come back like we originally thought but better than the past three or so years. The hatchery coho mark rate was lower than anticipated.”

Coast wide only 51.1 percent of the hatchery coho quota of 159,600 was achieved, and 41.4 percent of the chinook quota of 26,250 was caught.

Areas north of Leadbetter Point saw a coho mark rate of somewhere under 50 percent and Ilwaco where data was still being crunched might come out to be a little higher than that.

Once the fish arrived in the Lower Columbia at Buoy 10 it appeared the catch of hatchery coho fell well short of expectations with a lot of wild fish released although some glory moments occurred early on.

Coastal and Columbia River chinook forecasts should come to light around the Christmas holidays. The Pacific Fishery Management Council preseason meeting will occur in mid-February. That is just ahead of when Oregon Production Index coho forecasts will be released.

As Baltzell rubbed the crystal ball looking into 2020 it still remains pretty foggy at this point but general expectations aren’t rosy.

“It would be fair for me to say that I wouldn’t expect anything much better in 2020 than what we saw in 2019,” Baltzell said. “We have no forecast information at this point but I wouldn’t expect a rosier outlook as far as chinook goes for next year.”

State, federal and tribal fishery managers in 2020 will be faced with a lot of same wild chinook stock issues as in recent past years like mid-Hood Canal and Stillaguamish. Add on top of that killer whale orca issues as well as the pending Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan that has been looming a dark cloud for the past three years with no end in sight just yet.

“If I had to gauge things out my gut reaction is we’ll likely have to take a more cautionary approach again next year,” Baltzell said.

The WDFW general salmon forecast public meeting will occur Feb. 28 at the DSHS Office Building 2 Auditorium, 1115 Washington Street S.E. in Olympia. The first North of Falcon meeting is March 16 at the Lacey Community Center and the second meeting is March 30 at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites. Final seasons will determined April 5-11 at the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, WA.

Final summer ocean salmon sport fishing catch data

Ilwaco (including Oregon) – 44,297 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 4,018 chinook (56% of the area guideline of 7,150) and 53,377 coho (67% of the area sub-quota of 79,800).

Westport – 23,465 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 2,336 chinook (18% of the area guideline of 12,700) and 20,221 coho (34% of the area sub-quota of 59,050), plus 700 pinks.

La Push – 2,076 from June 22 to September 30 caught 449 chinook (41% of the area guideline of 1,100) and 1,752 coho (43% of the area sub-quota of 4,050), plus 206 pinks. Late-season fishery October 1-13 saw 240 anglers with 164 chinook (64% over the fishery guideline) and 16 coho (16% of the fishery quota).

Neah Bay – 10,116 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 3,895 chinook (75% of the area guideline of 5,200) and 6,223 coho (37% of the area sub-quota of 16,600), plus 869 pinks. Chinook retention closed July 14.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Dungeness crab fishery reopens in Areas 8-2 and 8-1

The east side of Whidbey Island (Marine Catch Areas 8-1 and 8-2) has reopened daily for Dungeness crab fishing through Dec. 31. WDFW says crab abundance remains good indicating that the quota could be increased in-season. Crab pots must be set or pulled from a vessel and is only allowed from one hour before official sunrise through one hour after official sunset.

Dungeness crab fishing is also open daily through Dec. 31 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 4B, 5 and 6); San Juan Islands (Area 7); and northern Puget Sound (Area 9 except waters north of the Hood Canal bridge to a line connecting Olele Point and Foulweather Bluff).

NW Fishing Derby Series hits refresh button in 2020

After 17 wonderful years since the derby series began in 2004, we’ve decided it’s time for a change and rebranded it to the “Northwest Fishing Derby Series.”

Our hope is that anglers will like the direction as we diversify the fish species our events target while boosting the number of derbies to 20 in 2020 up from 14 events in 2019.

New events are the Lake Stevens Kokanee Derby on May 23; For the Love of Cod Derbies in Coos Bay/Charleston areas and Brookings, Oregon March 21-22 and March 28-29 respectively; Father’s Day Big Bass Classic on Tenmile Lake at Lakeside, Oregon on June 21-22; and the Something Catchy Kokanee Derby at Lake Chelan on April 18-19.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The highlight is a chance to enter and win a $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. One of our newest sponsors of the derby – Shoxs Seats (www.shoxs.com) – has provided a pair of top-of-the-line seats that are engineered for maximum comfort in the roughest of seas.

The good news is anglers who enter any of the 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat and motor package!

A huge “thank you” to our other 2020 sponsors who make this series such a success are Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; Scotty Downriggers; Burnewiin Accessories; Raymarine Electronics; WhoDat Tower; Dual Electronics; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine.

First up are the Resurrection Salmon Derby on Feb. 1-2 (already 50 percent of tickets have been sold as of Nov. 13); Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. A new website is currently being designed and will be launched sometime in mid-December but for now, go to http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

In the meantime, take a break from holiday shopping and hit up a lake or open saltwater areas for a feisty fish tugging on the end of your line.

I’ll see you on the water!

From Salmon To Perch To Crab To Derbies, August Has Lotsa Ops: Yuasa

Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.

By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association

In the blink of an eye, summer has shifted past the midway point but that doesn’t necessarily mean anglers should throw shade on late-season fishing opportunities.

In fact, the horizon looks very bright in August when salmon fisheries come into play at Buoy 10 near the Columbia River mouth, Willapa Bay, inner- Elliott Bay, Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Freshwater fish seekers also can set their sights on abundant yellow perch in many statewide lakes!

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

First off, the pink – a salmon that returns mainly during odd-numbered years and often referred to as “humpies” for a distinct hump that grows on their back near spawning time – forecast is a paltry 608,388 which could be among the lowest runs on record dating back to 1959. Returns soared above 1 million in 2001 and peaked at more than 10 million in 2009. The strong pace continued when it hit 6-plus million in 2011, more than 8 million in 2013 and dipped to 4 million in 2015.

In 2015, the pinks went from bloom to gloom as they faced a monumental drought period and extremely warm water temperatures in rivers. Winter flooding followed leaving very few young pinks to make it out to the ocean where they eventually ran into “The Blob” a large mass of warm water that wreaked havoc on sea life.

That lead to a dismal 2017 with an actual return of around 511,000 (1.1 million was forecasted) pinks, which was less than 82 percent the historical 10-year average.

While the pink forecast is conservative – this summer’s unexpected strong return of chinook and coho – we just might see a late fourth quarter comeback for humpies too. In fact, some early pinks began showing up in catches back in July so don’t give up on them just yet.
“There have been a lot of pinks caught (at Neah Bay and La Push) and many of them are nice size fish,” said Wendy Beeghley, the WDFW coastal salmon manager.

An unexpected large return of pinks were also showing up in other places like Sekiu, outside of the Freshwater Bay closure zone and in open areas off Port Angeles in the Strait of Juan de Fuca as well as the San Juan Islands (which closed Aug. 1 for salmon fishing).
The Puget Sound pink run usually peaks in mid-August, and in southern Puget Sound the last week of August and early September are best.

Pinks aren’t the only game and so far, the coho and hatchery king fisheries have been a pleasant surprise from the coast clear into open areas of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The party lights began flashing for coho in June when places like central Puget Sound (Area 10) reopened for off-the-charts good action on resident coho. Then good king action began happening last month in the San Juan Islands (now closed to fishing in August), Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Tulalip bubble fishery and south-central Puget Sound.

It was the same scenario in the ocean when catches ramped up in late June from Neah Bay south to Ilwaco and have remained good this past month. Most of this is likely related to a strong forecast of 1,009,600 coho to the Columbia River compared to a 2018 forecast of 349,000.

Look for coho success in open areas of Puget Sound and Strait to only get better in August and build to a crescendo in September. In Puget Sound the total coho return for 2019 is 670,159, which is up from last year’s 557,149.

There will be a short inner-Elliott Bay king fishery from Aug. 2-5 and additional days may occur if in-season data shows the run to be stronger than expected. That won’t be the only crowning moment as areas from Whidbey Island south to Olympia have seen an uptick in catches of hatchery kings and should see good fishing this month in places that remain open.

WDFW extended the hatchery king salmon fishery in northern Puget Sound (Area 9), which is open through Saturday (Aug. 3). Central Puget Sound (Area 10) also remains open for hatchery kings as does south central Puget Sound (Area 11). Look for the latter two to produce some stellar fishing heading into this month.

Lastly, before heading out the door, check the WDFW website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/ for any possible emergency closures this month and also what marine and freshwater areas are open or closed for salmon.

Yellow perch options bloom in the summer heat

There’s nothing better than getting a first-time angler or youth hooked on fishing and yellow perch is one of those prime options.

Lake Washington – which is 20 miles long and covers more than 22,000 acres – is one of those places that comes alive in August for yellow perch.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Their population levels in this large urban lake is very robust and they continue to have yearly strong recruitment and survival rates that won’t make the slightest dent on production.

Most yellow perch average 7 to 10 inches along with some “jumbos” hitting the 11- to 12-inch range.

WDFW experts say it is only a matter of time before the official state record could come from Lake Washington. The current state record of 2.75 pounds was caught by Larry Benthien at Snelson’s Slough in Skagit County on June 22, 1969.

The reason behind this possibility is due in part to the ample feed and room for yellow perch to grow in Lake Washington, which is the second largest natural-bodied lake in Washington. Female perch are the largest and tend to grow much faster (usually maturing in three to four years) and can live if 8 to 10 years.

The best time of the year to fish for yellow perch begins around July when the water heats up, and peaks from August through October.

Look for schools of yellow perch in shallow water, 15 to 35 feet, and close to the shoreline. They will school up in shaded locations just outside the cover of weed beds, milfoil, aquatic weeds and lily pads or under docks, piers and overhanging trees and brush.

Yellow perch are active throughout the day and the only time they seek out covered areas is at night when predators are lurking.

Popular locations to fish are Seward Park; Kenmore log boom and pier; Juanita Bay; Magnuson Park shoreline; Andrews Bay; Newport area and slough; Yarrow Bay; Gene Coulon Park in Renton; Mercer Island near Luther Burbank Park; and off Leschi Park, Madison Park, Stan Sayres Pits and Mount Baker Park. Areas from the Montlake Cut into Lake Union are also good especially off Gasworks Park.

A light-to-medium-action trout fishing rod with a spinning reel attached to 4- to 6-pound test line works best. Use a worm and drop-shot (egg-style) weight attached to a three-way swivel or Sniper Lure Snubs – a colorful tiny 3-inch plastic worm. Live maggots, a skirted crappie jig work well. After you catch your first perch cut a small chunk of the meat or even a perch eyeball as bait.

Other good perch lakes are Sammamish near Issaquah; Kapowsin southeast of Puyallup; Beaver and Pine near Issaquah; Sawyer northwest of Black Diamond; Harts southeast of Yelm; Goodwin northwest of Marysville; Stevens east of Everett; American near Fort Lewis; Angle in Sea-Tac; Desire in Renton; and Meridian in Kent.

Dungeness crab fishing opportunities providing fairly decent catches

The Dungeness crab fishing success has been somewhat better than expected although many are having to still throw back some soft-shelled crabs.

Areas east of Bonilla-Tatoosh Island boundary line (Marine Catch Area 4), Sekiu (5), Port Angeles (6), east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2) and northern Puget Sound (9) are open through Sept. 2 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week).

Central Puget Sound (10) is open through this Saturday, Aug. 3. The shorter season is due to an overage in last year’s crab catch.

Hood Canal (12) north of a line projected due east of Ayock Point is open through Sept. 2 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week). Areas south of Ayock Point are closed this summer to help rebuild crab populations.

The San Juan Islands (7 South) is open through Sept. 30 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week). San Juan Islands (7 North) opens Aug. 15 through Sept. 30 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week).

South-central Puget Sound (11) and southern Puget Sound (13) are closed this summer to help rebuild crab populations.

NW Salmon Derby Series loaded with events in August

The derby series kicked into high gear with the Lake Coeur d’Alene Big One Fishing Derby on July 24-28 seeing a good number of anglers turn out despite the  tough fishing. Top angler in the adult division was Bret Hojem with a 13.54-pound chinook; and top youth angler was Cooper Malcolm with a 9.82 chinook.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Prior to that the Puget Sound Anglers Bellingham Salmon Derby was held July 12-14. A total of 392 adult tickets and 72 youth tickets were sold with 164 chinook weighed-in for the event, which was 10 more fish caught than last year.

Tom Hartley of Anacortes took the top prize of $7,500 with a 21.90-pound hatchery chinook; second was Chris Wilson with a 21.60 worth $2,500; and third was Adam Beardsley with a 20.62 worth $1,000.

Other derbies on the horizon are the South King County PSA Salmon Derby, Aug. 3; Brewster Salmon Derby on Aug. 1-4; Gig Harbor PSA Salmon Derby, Aug. 10; Vancouver, B.C. Chinook Classic, Aug. 17-18; and Edmonds PSA Coho Derby, Sept. 7. The Columbia River Fall Salmon Derby on Aug. 31 has been cancelled due to expected low salmon returns.

Drawing for the grand prize boat takes place at the conclusion of the Everett Coho Derby on Sept. 21-22. New at the Everett Coho Derby is a second weigh-in station located at the Edmonds Marina.

The grand prize $75,000 Weldcraft 202 Rebel Hardtop boat from Renaissance Marine Group in Clarkston will be making the rounds to each derby. The boat is powered with a Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motor on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer.

The boat is rigged with Burnewiin accessories; Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; a custom WhoDat Tower; and a Dual Electronics stereo. Other sponsors include Silver Horde Lures; Master Marine and Tom-n-Jerry’s; Harbor Marine; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Sportco and Outdoor Emporium; and Prism Graphics. It is trailered with a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado – not part of the grand prize giveaway – courtesy of Northwest Chevrolet and Burien Chevrolet.
In other related news, anglers can also start looking at 2020 with dates finalized for Resurrection Salmon Derby on Feb. 1-2; Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15.

Details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

Summer is sneaking by quickly so it’s time for me to jump on the boat and get into the fishing action. I’ll see you on the water!

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Columbia Sockeye Run Downgraded Sharply

Columbia salmon managers have downgraded their expectations for this year’s sockeye run by nearly 42 percent, and it could come in as the smallest in a dozen years.

The Technical Advisory Committee now believe only 58,000 will return to the mouth of the big river, well below the preseason forecast of 99,400.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH CHARTS THIS YEAR’S SOCKEYE COUNT AT BONNEVILLE (RED LINE) AGAINST LAST YEAR’S (BLUE LINE) AND THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE. (FPC)

It’s the opposite direction of last year’s run, which was initially forecast at 99,000 but came in above 210,000.

So far 31,889 sockeye have been counted at Bonneville, and if a Fish Passage Center graph based on daily counts at the first dam on the Columbia is any indication, this year’s run has peaked and is on the downhill slide.

It’s a far cry from just a few years ago, when 512,455 and 651,146 sockeye entered the river, but this year’s run’s parents were also poached by the Blob’s very warm waters in early summer 2015, with large numbers likely dying in the reservoirs and Okanogan and Wenatchee Rivers well before they reached their spawning grounds.

In 2007, just 26,604 returned to the Columbia before runs mushroomed following habitat work and better flow management on the Canadian side of the Okanogan River.

There is no scheduled recreational sockeye (or summer Chinook) fishery on the mainstem this season. Preliminary figures from today’s fact sheet show a tribal platform, ceremonial and commercial catch of just under 800 sockeye so far.

Meanwhile, Lake Washington’s sockeye are also coming in low. After several 0-fish days that made the graph look not unlike a rock skipping across the water, the count has picked up, but the best case scenario is that the all-time-low forecast of 15,000 and change is topped.

Right now 1,124 of the salmon have gone through the Ballard Locks.

LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE COUNTS. (WDFW)

That system’s issues are largely linked to smolt predation in the lake and poor adult survival due to disease after the salmon swim through the warm ship canal.

But to the north on the Baker Lake system the count is tracking fairly tightly to the five-year average of just under 21,000 to the Baker River trap.

This one will be watched closely in the coming days and weeks.

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Lake Sammamish ‘Warm Water Test Fishery’ Netting Raises Questions

Lee Getzewich had heard that there was some gillnetting going on on Lake Sammamish, a water he’s fished for more than 25 years, and it gave him some pause.

But believing it to be just a “study,” the Issaquah resident decided to hit it earlier this month anyway.

A MUCKLESHOOT NET BOAT SITS MOORED TO A DOCK AT THE LAKE SAMMAMISH STATE PARK BOAT RAMP. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“What we love about it is that it is such a diverse and quality fishery,” Getzewich says of the 4,900-acre King County lake. “We regularly target warmwater species such as bass, crappie, and perch, but we also enjoy the great cutthroat trout fishing, particularly during colder weather.”

When fresh fish is on their menu, yellowbellies and sometimes specks are the target, but that midspring weekday morning, he and his neighbor planned to catch and release cutts and smallies.

“This time of year, when the trout are keying in on the smolts, we regularly catch 20 to 30 cutts in a day, some going over 25 inches,” Getzewich states. “Twenty-seven inches is the biggest I can recall.”

The plan was to cast into the pods of coho just released from the state salmon hatchery in hopes of catching cutthroat preying on the young fish, but after launching at Lake Sammamish State Park’s southeast corner boat ramp they saw nets being deployed off the mouth of Issaquah Creek.

AN ANGLER FISHES OFF THE MOUTH OF ISSAQUAH CREEK, PROBABLY FOR CUTTHROAT TROUT OR SMALLMOUTH BASS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Motoring over to learn more they began talking to the two-person crew. Getzewich says they were shown totes with the previous night’s catch.

“He held up and showed us a sucker fish about 1 pound, but I could see several smallmouth bass and what looked like small crappie in the bin,” Getzewich recalls.

The crew told them that the fish were all being kept so their stomach contents could be studied, and that they were just doing what they’d been told to by biologists.

Getzewich and his neighbor left and fished elsewhere on Sammamish. The day was slow, and they only caught a few small perch and saw some small bass in the shallows at the lake’s north end, where the slough forms.

Afterwards, though, he talked to a buddy with a fisheries degree about what he’d seen and now he isn’t so sure it can be considered a study.

“What I really want to know is, Why is this permitted? Who said this was OK? Why aren’t the people being kept in the loop about this? Where is our DFW?” asks Getzewich. “There is going to be a serious revolution amongst sportsmen if it keeps going.”

A FISHERMAN WATCHES HIS LINE FOR BITES AT LAKE SAMMAMISH STATE PARIK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

ON A MISTY MAY FRIDAY MORNING I decided to go check out things on Sammamish for myself.

With my luck I figured that if any nets were in the water, they would be halfway down the lake, well out of my smartphone camera’s range, so I grabbed my big Nikon and a telephoto lens and headed for the state park.

I parked at Sunset Beach, near a long row of upturned picnic tables, then wandered out on the trail to the mouth of Issaquah Creek, where a wading angler stood in water midthigh high about 30 yards offshore, casting and retrieving a lure.

With his tackle box back on dry land, he kept a wary eye on what I was up to as I peered into the murk for buoys marking strings of nets, but the only ones to be seen were the floats delineating the swimming area. Over on the other end of the string, an angler sat fishing the edge of the lily pads.

Turning around I went back and struck up a conversation with a plunker set up next to a long since fallen cottonwood. He said he was fishing for cutthroat and as we talked some salmon smolts began breaking the surface of the little bay he was on.

He told me that earlier in the day he’d seen a couple larger fish swim by together, but wasn’t quite sure whether they were trout, bass or something else. More and more of the young fish started jumping and as I zoomed in, there were a couple big swirls among the pod.

The angler didn’t really have anything to say about the netting and seemed more focused on trying to catch the fish making those swirls, so as the mist turned to a light sprinkle I left him to it and drove over to the boat ramp.

BUOYS MARK THE EDGE OF THE SWIMMING AREA AT LAKE SAMMAMISH STATE PARK’S SUNSET BEACH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

IT’S BEEN A LONG, LONG TIME SINCE I’VE USED this launch, though back when my dad lived in North Bend we’d put in his aluminum boat and fish it somewhat often.

I remember catching a really, really nice trout one time while we were anchored up just to the right of all the ramps. We ate that one as well as some bass we caught another time.

The last time I was on Sammamish was maybe 15 years or so ago with fellow F&H News staffer Jamie Parks. We hit the other southern corner that early spring day to fish for largemouth then zipped north to smallie waters, and on this morning three bassers were launching two boats.

Moored at the end of the leftmost dock was a net boat.

As he readied his craft, I asked the lone angler if he’d heard about the netting and after initially drawing a blank, he recalled fellow anglers mentioning some being dragged through the water.

The other two gents putting in were far more in tune with what’s been going on and they were not exactly happy about it.

As he swiped through pics on his phone of beautiful — and big — bronzebacks, Chris Senyohl, who operates a fly fishing guide service called Intrepid Anglers, told me that the nets had wiped out one of his best smallmouth spots.

His buddy said I’d just missed the net crew and that he’d seen them lift two largemouth out of their boat.

He said they’d been on the water every day during the work week, which is when he said he prefers to fish Sammamish.

HUNGRY PREDATORS GATHER AT THE SOUTH END OF LAKE SAMMAMISH IN SPRING TO SNARF DOWN JUST-RELEASED SALMON SMOLTS LIKE THESE COHO THAT SPILLED OUT OF THE BELLY OF A TROUT CAUGHT BY FAUSTINO RINCON. (FAUSTINO RINCON)

SLIGHTLY DAMP I CALLED IT A MORNING, drove past BMC West, where I worked for awhile after college loading lumber, fighting with customers over bent boards and drawing cartoons at the back gate, and headed in to my office.

I started working on this story on May 9, the day that the Muckleshoot Tribe sent out a notice showing they were intensifying their test fishery for warmwater species on Lake Sammamish and, coincidentally, the day that Lee Getzewich and his neighbor had fished there.

The notice showed that the effort could be expanded from two boats to three, with the maximum number of 3.75- to 6-inch-mesh gillnets tripling, from eight to up to 24.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that happened, but the regulation restated that the nets could be fished from 6 a.m. Monday until 6 p.m. Friday, by which time they’re to be removed for the weekend.

I left a voice mail on the Muckleshoot Fisheries department’s phone not long afterwards, but it hadn’t been returned as of Tuesday morning, May 28, so to figure out what’s going on, you have to zoom in on a couple different documents.

Probably the most important source of information is inside the LOAF — the 2019-20 List of Agreed Fisheries that was concurred to and signed on April 22 by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission coming out of the annual North of Falcon season-setting process.

The LOAF essentially lays out all of Western Washington’s salmon fisheries in salt- and freshwaters negotiated between the state and 20-plus tribes, and in the back are a number of appendixes.

Pages 83 to 85 detail what is termed the “2019-2020 Warm Water Test Fishery” to collect data whether a directed fishery on spinyrays in the Lake Washington watershed could be “commercially viable” while also avoiding impacts on Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead.

“Using large mesh gillnets will eliminate impacts on age-0 Chinook and any potential steelhead smolts migrating out to sea,” the project description states.

The Muckleshoots also state they want to “instrument” walleye they catch with acoustic receivers to see how much their range overlaps with outmigrating coho smolts to target those areas in the future.

Another document, the tribe’s 2016 watersheds report, adds context: “A recent tribal study found that fewer than 10% of coho smolts released from the Issaquah Hatchery survived their freshwater migration to Puget Sound. The Lake Washington basin’s miles of docks, bulkheads, rip-rap, warm water, and the many native and exotic fish predators favored by those degraded conditions are likely at fault.”

Their announcement that they were increasing netting efforts roughly coincided with this month’s release of millions of coho as well as Chinook smolts — the fish I saw jumping in the mist.

SALMON SMOLTS LEAP OUT OF THE LAKE, PERHAPS JUST HAPPY TO HAVE BEEN RELEASED FROM THE NEARBY ISSAQUAH HATCHERY OR MAYBE ATTEMPTING TO FLEE PREDATORY FISH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THIS IS THE THIRD YEAR THE MUCKLESHOOT test fishery has been going on — it initially included Lake Washington — and it follows 2015’s unexpected discovery of more than a dozen walleye, including an egg-dripping 13-pound hen and six males close by her.

To paraphrase a retired state fisheries manager, whomever recently put walleye (and then northern pike) in the system was no friend of fellow anglers who’ve chased warmwater species for decades, but the Muckleshoots are more blunt; they use the word “criminal” to describe the act.

Besides its many native stocks, crappie have been in the watershed the longest, in Lake Washington since at least 1890, followed by largemouth in 1918, and smallmouth there and in Sammamish since sometime in the 1960s, perhaps earlier.

Lake Washington is ranked as one of the top 100 bass lakes in the entire country by Bassmaster magazine, and is 16th best in the Western U.S.

Local clubs regularly hit it and according to WDFW tournament fishing records, the average bass landed there during the last 10 years weighed 2.22 pounds; the average on Sammamish was 2.31 pounds.

As popular as they’ve become, the times they are a’changing. The plight of the orcas and their primary food has put a target on the fins of spinyrays.

Earlier this month Gov. Jay Inslee signed Second Substitute House Bill 1579 which primarily — and finally — gives WDFW some actual teeth to protect shoreline habitat for Chinook and their forage fish.

It also contains a clause that the Fish and Wildlife Commission must now “liberalize bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all anadromous waters of the state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.”

The latter idea came out of the governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force’s recommendations last year and it echoes current regulations on the Columbia.

Limits were dropped on the three species in the big river system several years ago following pushing from federal fishery overseers.

How WDFW and the commission interpret “liberalize” and “anadromous” has yet to be determined (no limits? using SalmonScape?), but the bill goes into effect July 1 and will surely include Lakes Sammamish and Washington.

I’m no biologist, but my bet is that bass really don’t have much to fear from sport pursuit because of current support, Northwest anglers’ general preference for other fish on the table and conservation practices, and health advisories.

In other words, it’s a feel-good measure, though with more and more efforts throughout our region to supress or kill off nonnatives like lake trout, northern pike — even rainbow trout — this also feels like it could be a potential inflection point.

LAKE SAMMAMISH STRETCHES FOR 7 MILES FROM ITS NORTH END AT REDMOND TO ITS SOUTH AT ISSAQUAH, WHERE A SALMON HATCHERY RAISES AND RELEASES COHO AND CHINOOK FOR STATE AND TRIBAL FISHERIES. BUT THE SMOLTS MUST FIRST TRANSIT A LAKE FULL OF HUNGRY FISH. (JELSON25, WIKIMEDIA, CC 3.0)

ONE GROUP THAT ESSENTIALLY SUPPORTS the netting on Lake Sammamish is FISH, the Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, a nonprofit that leads tours at WDFW’s most-visited production facility and does a lot of youth education with third- and fourth-grade students.

But the organization has also been moving into the realm of advocacy lately, said Larry Franks, its vice president and longtime salmon and steelhead angler.

“We’ve tried to identify things that benefit fish,” he said.

Franks, who retired from Boeing and also has a fisheries degree from the University of Washington, said that despite 2.5 million Chinook being released from the hatchery, last year saw a return of just 1,800 adults, or .07 percent survival.

Part of that is the productivity, or lack thereof, of the North Pacific, as well as harvest by all fleets, but primarily low smolt survival, just 8 to 10 percent from Issaquah to Shilshole Bay, outside the Lake Washington Ship Canal, he said.

“The deck is stacked against them. Our goal is to have better returns,” Franks said.

One problem, he said, is the increasingly narrow band of Lake Sammamish that salmon must swim through between too-warm surface waters and its anoxic depths.

The other is the predators that sit and wait in the zone for the smolts to swim through, then chow down.

Franks believes that the number of warmwater species in the lake and their populations have grown, and that that is impacting salmon outmigration and thus returns that are “dropping precipitously.”

“We’re of the position these are cause and effect, not correlation,” he said.

He acknowledges the growth of the state bass fishery and that smallmouth and largemouth anglers are every bit as dedicated as he is to chasing salmon. He believes that WDFW doesn’t want to piss off spinyray anglers either and is afraid to act — at least without more hard scientific data.

“It comes down to a choice: If you want to retain bass fishing, it’s going to be hopeless, in Larry’s opinion, to save Chinook,” Franks said.

A state staffer close to the situation didn’t want to be quoted for this story, but if official WDFW comments during its recently held Walleye Week on Facebook are any indication, they will be managing salmon and steelhead waters for salmon and steelhead first, and spinyrays where it makes the most sense.

(WDFW is also in the third year of a Lake Washington Ship Canal study to determine abundance and diets of smolt-eating fish there.)

Another option might be trucking Issaquah Hatchery’s smolts and Franks said experiments are ongoing. But anecdotally, it didn’t produce bigger returns last year, though more results are expected this year and next.

That leaves removing the predators, like the Muckleshoots are doing.

“We’re supportive of efforts that would increase the Chinook return,” said Franks.

ISSAQUAH CREEK ENTERS LAKE SAMMAMISH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

AS FOR HOW MANY FISH ARE BEING GILLNETTED in Sammamish, the LOAF — that marine area by river by lake rundown of agreed-to fishing state and tribal seasons and constraints — contains a short statement that caught my eye.

It says that with “the potential for interaction with the public,” the Muckleshoots propose providing monthly reports on their test fishery, including gear used, where it was fished and for how long, to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

So I asked NOAA for that information, and a week and a half later a federal spokesperson provided me with summaries of catches in March and April for what are known as Zones 7 and 8, the northern and southern halves of the lake.

According to the figures, nearly 2,850 fish were caught and removed from the system during those two months, roughly 60 percent of which were native species, 40 percent nonnatives.

Just over 53.5 percent of the overall catch (1,525) was comprised of largescale suckers, a native fish, followed by introduced smallmouth bass (577) at 20 percent and fellow transplant black crappie (258) at 9 percent.

Other species caught include:

Northern pikeminnow (146), 5 percent, native
Brown bullhead (126), 4 percent, nonnative
Cutthroat trout (85), 3 percent, native
Largemouth bass (78), 3 percent, nonnative
Peamouth chub (24), 1 percent, native
Common carp (11), .4 percent, nonnative
Yellow perch (10), .3 percent, nonnative
Hatchery-origin Chinook (3), .1 percent, native
Mountain whitefish (3), .1 percent, native
Hatchery-origin coho (1), .03 percent, native
Rock bass (1), .03 percent, nonnative
Walleye (1), .03 percent, nonnative

No rainbow trout or natural-origin Chinook were caught, NOAA’s catch breakout shows.

Kokanee, which are at low levels in the lake but also a pelagic, or open-water, fish were not listed in the catch tally.

Under the terms of the test fishery, if three wild steelhead are netted, the effort will be shut down immediately. In the LOAF, the Muckleshoots state that there is a “very low to zero” chance of any turning up, and if one did, they suggest it would probably be a Green River stray.

Gillnetting is set to run through June 15, and I am interested to see what turns up in the catch during the final seven weeks of the program, what with the release of all those coho and Chinook smolts into the system — will the catch percentages change?

The test fishery is also scheduled to resume next January through April.

FEDERAL FISHERY OVERSEERS PROVIDED THIS TABLE SHOWING HOW MANY NATIVE AND NONNATIVE FISH WERE CAUGHT DURING WEEKLY GILLNETTING ON THE NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN HALVES OF LAKE SAMMAMISH. LARGESCALE SUCKERS DOMINATE THE CATCH, BUT SMALLMOUTH BASS COMPRISE A QUARTER TOO. (NOAA)

SOMETHING LARRY FRANKS SAID STUCK WITH me after our talk:

“It’s a thorny problem.”

Understatement of the century.

As a salmon angler, like many other Northwest sportsmen these days I’m howling that something, anything needs to be done about predators — be they sea lions, harbor seals, Caspian terns, cormorants or piscivorous fish — to get more smolts out and more adult fish back.

That means there’s no way I can support killing pikeminnows in the Columbia, northern pike everywhere in our region, birds at the mouth of the river, and pinnipeds at Bonneville and Willamette Falls without also giving the thumbs up to removing smolt-eating fish in Lake Sammamish.

At the same time, my inner spinyray angler is revolted by what feels like a targeted attack on a fish I like — I literally nearly went bankrupt trying to write a story inspired by catching a huge smallmouth on the Grande Ronde — one that’s widespread across the Northwest and is a great entry-level fish that’s easy to catch.

I’m all for hatcheries, but, holy sh*t, here’s a species that doesn’t require the world’s largest fish production infrastructure to perpetuate in perpetuity, plus they’re ready-made for climate change.

Yet as a Washington native, tell me why our fisheries have to be exactly like what you can already find in Michigan, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Quebec, Tennessee, Iowa, New Jersey, Minnesota, New York, Ontario, Missouri, the Dakotas, New England, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana? We’re not the Old Northwest, this is the Pacific Northwest, home of silver fish, not green ones, and proud of it.

Then again, I’ve also read my King of Fish: The Thousand Year Run of Salmon — with all the problems that our kings, silvers and steelies face, you tell me that smallies and their Midwestern and Southern cousins aren’t what’s going to come out of the other end of things here as the sole survivors.

The utter mess we have made of this region obliges us to do our best to fix it.

At what cost, pray tell?

So as you can tell, I’ve got mostly mixed feelings here.

I do, however, have a problem with the illegal release of walleye in Lakes Sammamish and Washington, and northern pike in the latter. Doing so was among the most asinine, destructive and disrespectful things perpetrated on the watershed since the Great Glacier smothered it. I’ll tar and feather the a@$hole bucket biologist(s) myself.

The comanagers aren’t talking, but I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t doubt for a second that those crimes were among the tipping points that set their test fisheries in motion. And now everybody but the guilty are paying.

A BLUE HERON WAITS FOR PREY TO SWIM BY. MANY THINGS PREY ON LAKE SAMMAMISH’S SALMON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I’M DOUBTFUL THERE WILL BE A “COMMERCIALLY VIABLE” fishery for bass in Lake Sammamish or elsewhere in the system some day, but I could be wrong.

I just hope that the netting shows whether targeted removals of smolt predators at select times and places is worthwhile for increasing salmon survival and expanding harvest seasons — while also preserving native and nonnative fish and fisheries that aren’t going away any time soon.

I’m willing to put a nickel down that while introduced exotics like the bass do have an impact, it’s mostly limited to the two months or so that the young coho and Chinook are transiting the system, and that like over on Lake Washington with sockeye smolts, cutthroat and northern pikeminnow are the actual primary predators.

Again, I could be wrong, but I’d love to learn what is in the stomachs of the thousands of fish the Muckleshoots pull out of the lake this spring. I’d hate to see this all go to waste.

THE SOUTH END OF LAKE SAMMAMISH FROM POO POO POINT, THE TAKE-OFF SPOT FOR HANG GLIDERS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Support For Lake Washington Sockeye Restoration Assessment At Meeting

With a show of hands last night in Renton, anglers and others asked a longtime Lake Washington sockeye advocate to request WDFW look into what it would take to recover the salmon stock and restore the fabled metro fishery.

ANGLERS AND SOME CEDAR RIVER COUNCIL MEMBERS RAISE THEIR HANDS IN SUPPORT OF HAVING FRANK URABECK (STANDING AT LEFT) ASK WDFW TO ASSESS WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO RESTORE LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It’s a long-shot proposition with seemingly all factors now lined up against the fish, and two of the people who’d gathered in the Red Lion conference room supported just throwing in the towel instead.

But nobody was in favor of the status quo, which is modeled to lead to the extinction of the run in 40 years time — perhaps as few as 30 with this year’s lowest-ever forecast of just 15,153 back to the Ballard Locks is any indication, according to the local state fisheries biologist.

“The reality is, it’s going to be very, very, very tough to get all the players to do something,” acknowledged Frank Urabeck before calling for the vote from the 40 or so members of the public and 10 members of the Cedar River Council.

Not everyone held up a hand for any option, but Urabeck’s plan is to approach WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and ask that the agency conduct a feasibility assessment on what can be done and how much it would cost to bring sockeye back to fishable numbers.

Urabeck said it would likely require “a massive effort, a huge amount of money.”

But even as predation on smolts in the lake grows and more and more adult sockeye are dying between the Ballard Locks and the Cedar River, there are still some glimmers of hope.

The meeting followed on a similar one last year but which did not include Seattle Public Utilities.

Last night, SPU was at the table in the form of watershed manager Amy LaBarge, who gave a presentation about the utility’s Landsburg mitigation hatchery, completed in 2012 with a capacity of 34 million sockeye eggs, but which has only ever been able to collect 18 million due to low returns.

And since that 2018 gathering, Urabeck indicated that there had been talks going on behind the scenes too.

“I can’t say if I’m optimistic, but there has been dialogue,” he said near the end of the two-hour meeting.

Other players in the issue include the Muckleshoot Tribe and WDFW, the latter of which operates the sockeye hatchery for SPU.

Brody Antipa, the regional hatchery manager for the state agency, was in house and he talked about how he began his career as the guy who “lived in a trailer down by the river” at the old temporary facility on the Cedar, which was opened in the early 1990s over concerns that the run at the time was faltering.

The system produced reliably high returns of as many as 400,000 spawners into the river in the 1960s and 1970s, at the end of the era when Lake Washington was thick with blue-green algae that hid the smolts from predators.

Following cleanup efforts, water clarity went from as little as 30 inches in 1964 to 10 feet in 1968 to up to 25 feet in 1990, according to WDFW district fisheries biologist Aaron Bosworth.

Native cutthroat and northern pikeminnow primarily but also nonnative bass, yellow perch and other species suddenly had the advantage over the young sockeye.

The years of 400,000 reds on the redds were over just as anglers had figured out how to reliably catch sockeye in the lake with just a plain old red hook.

In the 1990s, Antipa said that testing at the hatchery determined that feeding the young sockeye was helpful before turning them loose to rear in the lake a year to 14 months.

By the early 2000s, fisheries went from once every four years to once every other year — 2002, 2004, 2006.

But since then there’s been nothing but a string of increasingly bad years, with last fall seeing just 7,476 of the 32,103 sockeye that went through the locks reaching the Cedar, despite no directed fisheries and only a small biological sampling program operating at Ballard.

IF WE DON’T GET OFF OUR COLLECTIVE ASS, THAT FLAT LINE REPRESENTS THE FUTURE OF LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE, BUT A FEW ARE READY TO THROW IN THE TOWEL WITH THE ENORMITY OF THE JOB AND CHALLENGES THE FISH FACE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The rest died from prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that may have become more deadly and prevalent due to warmer water in the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

During last night’s question-and-answer period, the audience and Cedar River Council members focused on tweaking the hatchery operations — whether or not Baker and Fraser sockeye could be used to reach full eggtake capacity; if the facility was able to hold the fry longer for a feeding and later-release programs that show promise; and if it could be used to just raise coho and Chinook instead.

The short-term answer to all that was “no” — the current management plan that the hatchery operates under doesn’t allow it.

So, asked a member of the council, how do we change that plan?

LaBarge, the SPU staffer, said that would need to go through stakeholders to get buy-in.

“The conversation is starting about that,” she said.

Another issue is all the predators in Lake Washington.

Antipa said that where once just getting 40 million fry into the lake all but guaranteed a fishery a few years later, the 70 million that swam out of the Cedar in 2012 didn’t result in anything.

Partly that’s due to the circular feedback of PSM issues affecting how many eggs are available at the hatchery and in the gravel , but rock bass have joined the suite of piscovores, along with walleye and at least one northern pike.

A bill on its way to Gov. Inslee’s desk would require WDFW to drop daily and size limits on largemouth and smallmouth in Lake Washington, along with all other waters used by sea-going salmonids in the state.

Realistically that won’t do diddly to bass populations, but gillnetting efforts the Muckleshoots have begun more seriously next door in Lake Sammamish might.

TWO THUMBS UP FOR SEATTLE SOCKEYE FROM THIS ANGLER DURING THE 2004 SEASON. (RYLEY FEE)

Before the show of hands, Max Prinsen, the chair of the Cedar River Council, recalled how in 1979 he came north from California at a time when bald eagles and condors were “gone” in the Golden State.

“But with changes we made as a society we brought those species back,” he noted.

After Urabeck’s vote, he spoke again.

“These fish aren’t just important as a fishery, but as a part of Northwest life,” Prinsen said. “I think it’s important to conserve this resource. It’s great to see this much interest.”

I would quibble with his use of the word “resource” — by chance this morning on the bus while proofing our Alaska magazine I read a quote from the author Amy Gulick about a Tlingit woman in Sitka who taught her that “The word ‘resource’ implies an end product, a commodity. But ‘relationship’ is so much deeper and multi-faceted. If you have a relationship with salmon, then you also have a relationship to a river, a home stream and the ocean. And you probably have relationships with people in your community connected to each other by way of salmon. We show gratitude for healthy relationships because they make our lives richer.”

But Prinsen was also among those who’d raised their hands, and I’ll bet something along the lines of a relationship with the sockeye was what he meant anyway.

Lake Washington, Cedar River Sockeye Subject Of Tuesday Night Meeting

Lake Washington and Cedar River sockeye are on the agenda of an “important” Tuesday night public meeting that may help figure out where the troubled program goes from here.

With increasing inlake predation on smolts and more and more returning adults dying before they can even reach the spawning grounds or hatchery, there hasn’t been a season on the big lake since 2006 and this year’s forecast of just 15,153 is the lowest ever.

LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE FACE AN INCREASING HOST OF PREDATORS, INCLUDING NATIVE SPECIES SUCH AS CUTTHROAT TROUT AND NORTHERN PIKEMINNOW, AND NONNATIVE ONES SUCH AS SMALLMOUTH, LARGEMOUTH AND ROCK BASS, YELLOW PERCH, AMONG OTHERS, WHILE RETURNING ADULTS ARE FAILING TO MAKE IT TO THE GRAVEL DUE TO RISING PRESPAWN MORTALITY. (MIKE PETERSON, IDFG VIA NMFS, FLICKR, CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0)

The “godfather” of the fishery, Frank Urabeck, says he’ll be asking anglers whether to just throw in the towel, maintain the status quo or request WDFW assess what could be done to restore the runs to harvestable levels.

That show of hands will follow presentations on the fish and hatcheries by WDFW’s Brody Antipa and Aaron Bosworth, and Amy LaBarge of Seattle Public Utilities, which operates a sockeye production facility on the system.

They will be speaking before the Cedar River Council, and during last year’s meeting on sockeye issues state research scientist Dr. Neala Kendall said that if nothing is done, her models said that the run could peter out in 20 years or so.

She said that restoring the fishery would be hard but it also wasn’t impossible.

Among the problems to overcome are smolt predation by native cutthroat trout and northern pikeminnow, as well as nonnative species such as largemouth, smallmouth, rock bass and yellow perch. Walleye and at least one northern pike are also in the lake and represent some level of threat to the young salmon.

Ocean conditions have been poorer for Lake Washington sockeye since 2006’s year-class enjoyed “insanely high” survival at sea, with one out of every two smolts that went out returning that year for an estimated Ballard Locks count of 472,000.

And in recent years a high percentage of sockeye have just disappeared between the locks and the Cedar — 77 percent last year, 80 percent in 2016 — likely victims of prespawn mortality.

The combination of too-warm water in the relatively shallow ship canal the fish have to transit before reaching the cool depths of the lake and preexisting diseases appear to be a one-two punch many aren’t surviving.

Potential solutions might include increased focus on removing piscivorous fish and trucking returning adults from the locks to the lake, but those would likely face headwinds from fans of those species and the cost.

Still, for how popular and productive the fishery once was, it would be interesting to know whether it’s feasible or not.

The April 23 meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Renton Red Lion, 1 S. Grady Way, which is exit 2 on I-405.

Recovering Lake Washington Sockeye Runs Subject Of Upcoming Meeting

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE

The Cedar River Council will host an important meeting on Tuesday, April 23. at 7 p.m. at the Renton Red Lion Hotel and Conference Center (1 South Grady Way) about the very popular Lake Washington sockeye fisheries which had been largely supported by the Cedar River sockeye run produced by natural spawning and a temporary Cedar River hatchery that began operation in 1991 followed by a permanent hatchery constructed by Seattle Public Utilities in 2011.

ANGLERS PREPARE TO NET A SOCKEYE DURING THE LAST LAKE WASHINGTON FISHERY, IN 2006. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

No Lake Washington recreational sockeye fisheries have been allowed since 2006 when more than 50,000 sockeye were taken by sport anglers over an eighteen day season. That year the number of sockeye surging through the Ballard Locks exceeded 400,000.

The 2019 run is forecast at only 15,000, the lowest forecast ever. There have been no directed harvest fisheries for the last 13 years.

The public meeting will include presentations by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Seattle Public Utilities on the history of the introduced sockeye run, fabulous periodic sport fishing from the early 1970s until 2006, and the likely reasons the run has collapsed.

The role of the sockeye hatchery will be covered. What might be done to restore the run to harvestable levels and the possibilities this could happen will be discussed.

Puget Sound Anglers and other organizations have worked hard over the years to secure recreational sockeye fisheries, and engaged as strong advocates for the permanent Cedar River sockeye hatchery.

Coastal Conservation Association was instrumental in securing funding for a Lake Washington juvenile sockeye predation study that provided important scientific data.

Tourney Catch Data Shows Central Washington Waters Shine Bright For Bass

Updated 9:10 a.m., March 27, 2019 at bottom with additional details on the impact of bass retention liberalizations on the Columbia.

Draw a straight north-south line from Oroville to Plymouth in Central Washington and it will touch the four waters producing the fattest tournament bass in the Evergreen State.

WDFW reports that the average weight of largemouth and smallmouth caught in contests at Lake Osoyoos, Moses Lake, Potholes Reservoir and the John Day Pool was 3.34, 2.74, 2.57 and 2.45 pounds.

TOURNAMENT BASS ANGLERS FISH A LAKE WASHINGTON SHIP CANAL BAY DURING AN EVENT LAST MAY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The agency posted the rundown on its Facebook page today, and it also might help noncompetitive anglers figure out where to go catch bucketmouths and bronzebacks.

In listing the top 18 waters, WDFW said that it had crunched the weights of 146,124 bass caught during events held across the state over the past decade.

Four other Central Washington waters are also on the list:

5 Bonneville Pool, 2.36 pounds
7 McNary Pool, 2.24 pounds
10 Lake Chelan, 2.15 pounds
15 Banks Lake, 1.84 pounds

Further east, far Eastern Washington posted four:

11 Long Lake (Spokane), 2.13 pounds
13 Box Canyon Reservoir, 2.05 pounds
16 Lake Roosevelt, 1.81 pounds
18 Little Goose Pool, 1.33 pounds

But the Westside has its share of lunker lakes too:

5 Bonneville Pool, 2.36 pounds (we’re calling it a liner for two regions)
6 Lake Sammamish, 2.31 pounds
8 Lake Washington, 2.22 pounds
9 Lake Whatcom, 2.21 pounds
12 Silver Lake (Cowlitz), 2.11 pounds
14 Riffe Lake, 1.86 pounds
17 Lake Tapps, 1.67 pounds

As part of receiving a permit to hold a tournament, organizers must report how many fish were caught during the event and how much they weighed.

That Osoyoos stands so far above the other waters may (or may not) be due to the relatively few are held there, if WDFW’s 2019 fishing contest calendar is any indication. It lists just two this year on the Okanogan River reservoir that stretches from Oroville into British Columbia, so a couple events with relatively hefty catches might have pushed its average up. Or not.

A pair of Grant County lakes are particularly popular with bassers; Potholes and Moses will host dozens of events this year.

WDFW’s rundown comes as a bill in the state legislature would require the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to liberalize bag limits on bass, as well as walleye and channel catfish, in all anadromous waters of Washington to reduce predation on salmonid smolts.

That would essentially extend the current no size/bag limit regulations on the Columbia and Snake systems to places like Lakes Washington and Sammamish, where the Muckleshoot Tribe has been conducting warmwater test fisheries in recent years.

There have been no restrictions on how many or what size bass you can retain on the Columbia above Tri-Cities, the Snake and their tribs since 2013, and the Columbia below Tri-Cities since 2016.

A month or so ago I asked WDFW biologists if they’d seen any effect of that in terms of bass as well as similarly affected walleye and channel catfish, but they couldn’t say as they don’t conduct creel or population samples specifically for those species, though walleye and bass are monitored by ODFW through the northern pikeminnow program.

However, the tourney bass data does offer an unexpected window.

In responding to feedback on its Facebook post yesterday, WDFW said, “Average weights of bass weighed in tournaments have not changed significantly in the Columbia River Pools. The average since 2016 is slightly higher than the 10-year average.”

Fight Against Bucket Biologists Going High Tech

Potential good news from the fight against bucket biologists.

Montana fishery biologists using something called “forensic geochemistry” have figured out the source and timeframe that walleye were moved into Swan Lake, in the state’s northwestern corner.

OTOLITHS, A BONE IN THE EAR OF FISH, CONTAINS CHEMICAL SIGNATURES THAT PROVIDES CLUES ABOUT WHERE THE ANIMAL CAME FROM. (OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY, FLICKR)

And genetic material from northern pike in Northeast Washington is pointing to a different source than the widely assumed one.

Whether or not the new tools help lead to arrests is a good question, but they will at least serve as a warning shot across the bow of those who would illicitly move fish around.

IN THE CASE OF THE WALLEYE, managers have concluded that at least two fish were driven over the continental divide on a 200-mile journey that occurred in the spring of 2015, according to a report in the Columbia Basin Bulletin last month.

“Our findings now allow investigators to look at fishing license sales, webcams, and boat registrations around the Lake Helena area for the time period when the walleye were illegally introduced,” Samuel Bourett, an FWP researcher, told the emailed newsletter.

The species is native to the Mississippi River and lower Missouri River basins, but as was common earlier last century walleye were moved westward for fishing opportunities.

Nowadays, the tide has turned against moving nonnative fish — or at least nonsterile ones — into new locations, though decades of population growth provide a ready reservoir for those who want to continue the practice.

But fishery officials are fighting back with increasingly sophisticated means.

In early 2016, several months after two walleye were gillnetted at Swan, Bourett’s agency and conservation groups offered a $30,000 reward for information on the illicit stocking of the lake, which provides critical habitat for Endangered Species Act-listed bull and cutthroat trout.

They also began examining the otoliths of the fish, looking for chemical signatures that could pinpoint where they came from.

In 2017 they built a database with fish from 13 popular Montana walleye waters.

Out of that they determined the origin of the Swan Lake release.

“Core to edge geochemical profiles of [two types of strontium] and (strontium/calcium) ratios in the walleye otoliths revealed that these fish had been introduced to Swan Lake within the past growing season, and their geochemical signature matched that of walleye sampled from Lake Helena, Montana, located 309 road kilometres away,” write Bourett and Niall Clancy in a paper recently published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

Illegally stocking fish in Montana is punishable with fines running from $2,000 to $10,000, the loss of all license privileges and cleanup costs.

WDFW BIOLOGIST DANNY GARRETT SCOWLS WHILE HOLDING THE 13.5-POUND GRAVID HEN WALLEYE HE NETTED OUT OF LAKE WASHINGTON IN 2015. (DANNY GARRETT, WDFW)

Well to the west, in 2012 the otoliths of walleye from Lakes Roosevelt and Moses and Potholes and Scooteny Reservoirs were compared with those from Lake Washington fish for a common chemical signature but no match was found, according to state fisheries biologist Danny Garrett, who himself netted half a dozen more in 2015.

“I think there is merit in doing more of this work,” he notes.

THEY’RE NOT THE ONLY ONES TRACING where invasive fish are coming from. Dr. Kellie Carim works for the U.S. Forest Service’s National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation out of Missoula, and she’s looking into pike.

Another Upper Midwest transplant, northerns are also popular with fishermen but present a nightmare threat for Northwest salmon and steelhead managers as the species has crept its way down the Pend Oreille River and into Lake Roosevelt and is now at the mouth of the Spokane River, according to a recent story. Anecdotal reports from anglers put them further down, in Lake Rufus Woods.

With funding from a USDA Tribal College Initiative Grant, Carim has come to a rather interesting conclusion about where many of those pike actually originated.

“The history we’ve told ourselves, the simplest explanation, is that the fish are flowing downstream from Western Montana,” she says.

That is, from Noxon Reservoir, down the Clark Fork River into Idaho and through Lake Pend Oreille before arriving in Washington.

“However, what the genetic analysis says is that those in Lake Roosevelt and the Pend Oreille River are closely related to those in the Couer d’Alene drainage,” Carim says.

Rather than taking an aquatic highway, they most likely took a paved one, in a livewell up US 95 to I-90 to either Idaho 41 or US 2 to Washington 20 and the river.

From there, their population built and the theory has been that in high water years they were entrained out of the Pend Oreille into the Columbia River in British Columbia and then Lake Roosevelt.

DAVEY McKERN HOLDS ONE OF THE FIRST NORTHERN PIKE CAUGHT IN LAKE ROOSEVELT. THE SPECIES HAS BEEN LARGELY CONCENTRATED OFF THE MOUTHS OF THE KETTLE AND COLVILLE RIVERS, BUT SOME HAVE BEEN FOUND DOWNSTREAM AT THE MOUTH OF THE SPOKANE RIVER, ACCORDING TO A NORTHWEST POWER AND CONSERVATION COUNCIL REPORT. (DAVEY MCKERN)

Carim, whose work aims to identify where the pike are coming from to stop the flow into Eastern Washington, adds that DNA from other Upper Columbia and Pend Oreille fish aren’t in the database, meaning there are more potential sources out there too.

“We definitely need to collect more samples. Some fish are aren’t ‘assigning’ very well,” she says.

Next week, she will be presenting before the Northwest Power and Conservation Council on pike.

Meanwhile, state and tribal managers have been teaming up to take a hammer to the species.

According to a recent NWPCC article by John Harrison, 18,000 have been scooped out of the Pend Oreille River by the Kalispel Tribe and another 1,800 have been removed from Lake Roosevelt by the Colville and Spokane Tribes and WDFW. Anglers have also turned in more than 1,000 heads for cash through a Colville Tribes program. And hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent to protect the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars put into salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin.

While bucket biologists will likely continue their illegal pike and walleye stockings, the odds are now increasing that someone will get caught.

Tally Low: Second Smallest Lake Washington Sockeye Run

There was little hope to begin with but it was another disappointing year for Lake Washington sockeye: 2018 saw the second lowest return on record.

With the summer counting period ending earlier this week, just 28,409 red salmon were tallied at the Ballard Locks from June 12 through July 31.

LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE ANGLERS DURING THE 2006 FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

That’s more than 10,000 fewer than the preseason forecast from state and tribal managers.

Since 1972, only 2009’s count is lower, 21,718

It will be interesting to learn how many of the fish made it from the locks through the Lake Washington Ship Canal and show up in the Cedar.

Spotchecks of Army Corps of Engineers data shows water temperatures in the Montlake Cut ranging from 70 to 74 degrees at 21 feet in mid-July, and nearing 70 degrees at 35 feet in recent days.

As we saw with Columbia sockeye in 2015, high temps make the salmon more vulnerable to disease and too-hot water can just kill them.

According to WDFW, since 2014, only 20 to 33 percent of sockeye that went through the locks turned up in the river.

Earlier this year an agency research scientist said that too few young sockeye are surviving as they rear in Lake Washington before going out to sea, and the runs — not to mention the famed salmon fisheries — could peter out in 20 years or so if nothing’s done.

In June 2017, sportangling advocate Frank Urabeck called for a “token, for old times’ sake” fishery if that year’s run were to reach 100,000 at the locks. It did, but nothing was opened.

The highest counts are 2006’s 418,015, a return helped by ridiculously high at-sea survival of smolts, 50 percent.

That was also the last year we fished the lake for sockeye, an 18-day season that provided an $8.6 million boost for the local economy.

To turn the situation around and hold another fishery would start with increased predator control in the lake for rearing smolts, good ocean conditions, a far stronger return than  this year’s and a way to get them around the too-warm ship canal.