By Randy Castello
Baker Lake sockeye 2022? Well maybe; the preseason forecast is for 27,081 sockeye which is considered to be neutral over a 10-year average. I can’t say whether or not there will be a sports fishery or how it would be structured this year. We won’t know whether or not WDFW and the Co-Managers will authorize a sports fishery before the first or second week in July. The process is pretty complicated but is heavily based on in-season run assessments, down river harvest and assuring that 1,500 natural spawning fish will be available after a potential sports harvest. You can watch the trap counts at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports/counts/baker-river#returns
Because the fishery is a bit up in the air, I’m offering a basic familiarization with the fishery. Things like launching your boat, key fishing locations, general gear and techniques, and care of your catch. We’ll start with the launches. There are 5 launch ramps on Baker Lake. They are as follows.
PSE Baker Lake (Kulshan) Launch
The boat ramp has a moderate grade. Concrete blocks have been placed along the side of the ramp for protection from erosion. No designated disabled parking. The parking lot slopes slightly. Nearby, Kulshan Campground offers campsites, a RV dump station and both restrooms and porta potties. Overnight parking is discouraged within the boat ramp parking area but is available just down the hill from the ramp. Kulshan is typically my go to launch ramp.
Horseshoe Cove Campground
The boat ramp has a gentle grade. Launching and load occur on both sides of the gravel and sand bar. The surface is uneven from wave erosion and vehicle use. No designated disabled parking. Horseshoe Cove Campground also offers campsites, drinking water, picnic area, group camp area, and vault toilets. Overnight parking is available. 4-wheel drive is advisable.
Panorama Point Campground
The boat ramp has a gentle to moderate grade, lots of parking and a vault toilet. The Panorama Point Campground is separate from the launch. Depending on lake level the asphalt ramp approach stops short of the shoreline. Additionally, a drop off has been created by wave action and the gravel is becoming rutted from parking lot run-off. With the uncertain ramp conditions, 4-wheel drive is advisable.
Swift Creek Campground
The Swift Creek launch is paved or concrete and is usable at all lake levels. There is a tall bulkhead wall on one side with a short log boom on the other side of the ramp. There is also a small marina adjacent to the ramp. The marina has limited non-reservable short term tie up but no services or fuel. Swift Creek Campground offers campsites, drinking water, picnic shelters, a group camp area, and vault toilets. Overnight parking is available. I advise that you have a capable mate at this ramp. If solo, there are no provision to tie up your boat right at the ramp. Solo, you’ll have to deal with your boat after launching and you’ll be holding up traffic. Unless you’re offering free coffee and doughnuts, generally not a good thing at 2:30 in the morning when there is a long line of headlights staring at you... Having somebody run the boat while you go park is a solid community-based plan.
Shannon Creek Campground
The boat ramp has a gentle to moderate grade. Ruts are developing around the ramp due to the run off from the parking lot drainage. Waves have been creating some erosion along the shoreline. No designated disabled parking. Shannon Creek Campground also offers campsites, drinking water, picnic sites and a vault toilet. This varies year to year, but they may be limiting launch access to campers registered at Shannon Creek Campground. 4-wheel drive is advisable and this is the best launch for hand launch boats and inflatables.
Maybe a few final words regarding the launches, campgrounds and safety. Once you turn onto Baker Lake Road there will be no services, fuel, food, or camping supplies available. Make sure your pre-trip planning includes extra fuel, ice, propane or whatever you’ll need for your trip. At camp there will be mosquitos. Not a few pesky mosquitos but a large squadron of blood thirsty flying vampires, I think they even have radar, night vision and landing lights…
Although fish can be caught anytime during the day, the Baker Lake sockeye fishery is best early mornings. I’m talking pre-dawn before the sun rises over the mountains. That said, use extra caution driving to and from the lake. Baker Lake Road is curvy and there are a number of significant dips that could bottom out your trailer. It will be dark on the way up and you’ll be tired heading home. While on the lake and running in the dark, hold off on the throttle and post a lookout. Until the lake level stabilizes later in the year there will be flotsam almost everywhere and especially at the far end of the lake.
Ok, now your boat is floating, what direction should you head? There are four ways to answer the question; 1) Head to where everybody else is fishing, 2) Locate the fish with your electronics, 3) Fish where I fished and 4) Use a combination of the first three suggestions. Fish the Flotilla is always a good plan for fishing unfamiliar waters. Just be courteous, stand off until you understand the trolling pattern and be aware the proximity of your boat to a hooked fish. These are strong surface fighting fish and are very unpredictable. Don’t be surprised if you find a log or boat between you and an airborne sockeye!
Understanding how to use your electronics will benefit any fishery. Fishing for sockeye is no exception; the fish will clearly be visible on your electronics. We’ve had numerous instances where we metered fish at a given depth, then adjusted the depth our gear was running at resulting in single and double hook-ups. Regarding locations; I have no problem sharing the general locations I’ve caught sockeye at Baker Lake. The area by the dam, Maple Grove, Silver Creek, Noisy Creek, the flats along the old river channel up at the far end of the lake and run along the Baker Lake Road west of Shannon Creek. These are high percentage areas but these fish move around and not every school you locate will be snappy.
We have limited the boat in water as shallow as 20’ in an area we don’t usually fish. We have also finished our limits out of the crowd in the middle of the lake. The lesson is; go on the hunt if the popular areas are not producing. In generalizing the where to fish question look for water 120-170 feet deep up against a hard ledge or drop-off. Finding fish is less of a problem than finding the depth they are biting at. Sockeye are very depth sensitive; a school may show on the meter ranging from 30-70 feet but only the fish at exactly 28’, 34’ or some other to be discovered depth will attack your offerings.
Over the years my Baker Lake approach has changed a bit. We started fishing a spread of gear that included a single red 3/0 hook dodger combo, a single red 3/0 hook with hot pink mini squid dodger combo and single red 3/0 hook with pink smiley blade dodger combo all tipped with shrimp. We caught a lot of fish with this approach but our offerings have evolved. Now we hit the lake with multiple gear concepts. Typically, a “0” size 50/50, chrome or pearl dodger is the backbone of the setup. We still catch fish on single red, black or blue hooks but our fishiest gear includes small spinner blades, Smiley Blades or Wiggle Hoochie inserts. Thinking outside of the box has advantages also. Sometimes the fish just don’t want the standard gear. We have had success using the kokanee size Brads Cut Plug lures, Coho Killers with an extra bend in them, kokanee/sockeye flies and have even caught sockeye on Brads Wee Warts. Start with the basics, a “0” dodger and a bare 3/0 red hook and then be prepared to make changes until you are consistently catching fish.
Downriggers are the way to go but dropper rigs rack up many of the fish caught at Baker Lake. When running downriggers beware, the lake is uncharted and there are many stumps, old structures and who knows what else to snag you downrigger ball on. If using downriggers be alert and be prepared to part company with your downrigger ball (does your pre-trip planning include an extra downrigger ball?). Especially if fishing out of a shallow freeboard skiff when the weather is up. A 10-pound hunk of lead is not worth losing your boat or giving your boat mate unwelcome swim lessons. Try to maintain your trolling speed at .8-1.2 MPH and we have found that 5-10’ setbacks from your downrigger clip are all that are required.
I wish you luck and an enjoyable trip to Baker Lake. Please be respectful of the opportunity to fish Baker System sockeye. This fishery is closely monitored and there will be multiple game wardens, WDFW and Sheriff Department personnel conducting on the water checks. If there is wide spread abuse, they will close the fishery. Be courteous, know the regulations, limits and gently release any dolly varden that find your offerings irresistible.