Baker Lake Fishing: Great Sockeye and Kokanee Fishing

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These days Baker Lake is one of the very best (and for many, also the closest) sockeye salmon fishing destinations in Washington.

Also known as Baker River Reservoir, this spot in northwestern Washington’s beautiful Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest also is known for its excellent kokanee fishing and has a couple smaller fisheries for rainbow trout and mountain whitefish.

Baker Lake is open seasonally, beginning in late April. It also has some specific rules set around protecting salmon and trout in the reservoir, so make sure to check the regulations carefully before fishing here.

We’d also note that while the returning sockeye swim up Baker River, that stream is closed to fishing. There’s also a closure near the pump discharge a the southern end of the reservoir.

There aren’t any services immediately on Baker Lake (there are some businesses in the general vicinity), so plan ahead as you pack.

Also plan on a fantastic time in the wilderness not all that far south of Canada.

Tent and RV camping and resorts are available, or you could just sleep on the boat!

Any way you approach it, you’re going to love your time here. (See the Planning Your Trip section after reading about the fishing.)

Salmon Fishing

Both the anadromous and landlocked (kokanee) forms of sockeye salmon flourish in Baker Lake’s cold mountain waters.

While the kokanee fishing is legal throughout the regular season here, the sockeye season at Baker Lake opens on an emergency basis.

Essentially, if the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife determines there are plenty of sockeye heading there, it will announce the opening of a season.

Sockeye Salmon Fishing

Thanks to building numbers of sockeye heading to Baker Lake many years, the season openers have been relatively common. If WDFW does open the lake to sockeye, expect to hear by early summer and the season to likely open in July or thereabouts.

Whenever the sockeye season is opened up, expect the lake to be packed with anglers. This fishery gets popular quickly because it’s a blast and many anglers are successful.

Catches in July in recent years have risen high into the thousands. Fishing may continue good into the early part of August.

Bear in mind this is a short season so the best way to catch your fish is to go when the fishing is good.

Additionally, due to its rising popularity, try to go up to Baker Lake during the week and get out fishing early.

The Noisy Creek area is one of the most popular spots for sockeye. They hold in the area before heading up to spawn, making your chances at catching them good here.

Honestly, that’s not a secret so the Noisy Creek area also will likely be fairly crowded.

Target the old riverbed as well. If they aren’t biting at Noisy Creek (or if it’s too crowded), this is a good option.

While fishing for sockeye, don’t be surprised if you bring in a few kokanee.

Kokanee are everywhere in the lake, and by the time the sockeye season opens, the kokes have moved down near the thermocline depths. 

Most of the sockeye are going to be in 25 to 70 feet of water. Set your downriggers and troll through the area until you find them.

If nothing’s happening, try the start/stop method. Get up to speed, then stop. You’ll be surprised how many fish you can pick up that way.

Use a rod and reel that can handle the strength of one of the larger 8- or 9-pound sockeye, along with the proper tackle.

Trollers often employ chrome and mylar “O” dodgers followed by pink mini hoochies.

Check out our article covering how to catch salmon for more pointers.

Kokanee Salmon Fishing

As mentioned, kokanee are everywhere in Baker Lake. They are in such good numbers that some salmon anglers can get annoyed when it’s “just another koke,” instead of a large sockeye.

Kokanee fishing is often good right out of the gate when the fishing season opens in late April and continues strong through May and June. In the spring and early summer, kokanee hold in shallower water.

At this time of year, you may even have a chance of catching them from shore, but that’s not guaranteed at all and by far the most kokanee are caught by boaters.

In the summer, kokanee go deeper, and there’s no realistic way to target them from the bank any longer, but boaters can often find and reach the schools of fish with fish finders and downriggers.

Kokanee fishing can pick up again in the fall, after the hubbub from the sockeye run fades away and before the season closes at the end of October.

Troll slow for kokanee, typically in the .6 – 1.0 mph range.

Watch for subtle strikes. Kokes don’t always aggressively attack a lure. In fact, there are more reports on Baker Lake of kokanee biting super light than of them attacking aggressively.

Once you set the hook, it’s a different story. Kokanee are impressive fighters for their relatively modest size and can make runs that get your reel screaming. 

Try trolling pink hoochies with a smile blade. Tip them with shrimp and maybe a little scent. If you’re not getting any action, change the scent or lure.

Most of the other typical kokanee lures and fishing techniques work well here.

Some of the best areas for kokanee are toward the southern end of the lake, closer to the two dams.

Watch your electronics to find schools while searching for a bite. Once onto a school, try to stick with it for some great action.

Note that there’s a unique slot limit for kokanee on the lake that is designed to protect both their younger and adult anadromous sockeye cousins. Currently you can keep 10 kokanee between 8 and 18 inches in length.

Trout Fishing at Baker Lake

Trout are not currently stocked in Baker Lake, and as a result their numbers are moderate here.

Wild rainbow and perhaps cutthroat trout make their home here, and at times anglers hook into some fairly large trout, which may be harvested under typical state rules.

Standard techniques work for wild trout, such as trolling or still fishing. Bank fishing for trout can be good in the mornings and later in the evenings as trout tend to feed in shallower water than kokanee.

If specifically targeting trout, troll with a Wedding Ring-style spinner or Flatfish type setup and move along the drop-offs.

Target the southern and southeastern parts of the lake, and you should may have some hefty trout by the end of the day.

However, it’s likely many of the rainbows caught here come to anglers actually targeting kokanee. Rainbows certainly will strike hootchies, spoons and spinners than kokanee anglers often deploy.

Finally, there are some protected bull trout in the reservoir, and bull trout/Dolly Varden are protected throughout Washington, where biologists are trying to rebuild populations of native char.

If caught, bull trout must be immediately released.

If possible, get a picture of the bull trout to turn in to the WDFW to inform them of the location and health of the fish.

Learn more about how to catch trout in our simple guide.

Mountain whitefish tend to be in shallower water than kokanee and can be caught with simple bait or fly techniques near the shores of Baker Lake.

Planning Your Trip

A well-timed trip to Baker Lake is definitely worth your time. Finding such a beautiful lake with incredible scenery to leisurely catch fish is every angler’s dream.

The trip does take some planning since there aren’t any services at the lake proper. 

Where is Baker Lake?

Baker Lake is a little over an hour east of Bellingham but figure a couple hours or more driving just over 100 miles up from the Seattle area. It’s in the range of twice that far from the Vancouver-Portland or Yakima areas, so you might be looking more at an overnighter if coming that far.

While it’s not a quick jaunt up I-5, you’ll be glad you made the trip.

Baker Lake is about 10 miles north of Concrete, a small town with lodging, dining and other amenities, so make sure you’ve got the fuel for your boat and the fuel (food) for the family with you before you reach the lake.

Bank and Boat Access

Baker Lake has excellent access for shore anglers, and most campgrounds have boat ramps as well.

Keep in mind there are no boat rentals or marinas at the lake, so anglers here plan ahead and bring their own boats.

Bank fishing can be good for trout but isn’t recommended for the majority of fishing in the lake. Salmon stay too deep for bank anglers. 

Several campgrounds can be found on both sides of the lake, and most have boat launches, though some have additional fees for launching and parking your trailer. Check with the campground for more details.

Where to Stay

Any of the campgrounds will provide you with a memorable trip. Here’s a listing of nearby U.S. Forest Service campgrounds.

If you’d rather stay at a hotel or resort, check around Concrete or elsewhere within the Highway 20 corridor. You should be able to find what you need.

Besides fishing, Baker Lake has fantastic hiking trails to get out and explore.

Baker Lake is near the stunning North Cascades National Park. The region offers some incredible sights, so make sure to take advantage.

Washington Resources

WDFW Fishing and Stocking Reports
WDFW Fishing Regulations
National Weather Service forecasts