Trout Unlimited, others ‘tagging’ lake fish to better understand endangered salmon
June 16, 2009
By Dallas Cross
If you listen carefully with your head underwater or place a sonic microphone in Lake Sammamish, you might hear some clicking fading in and out.
No, it isn’t freshwater submarine sonar. The clicks are from acoustic tags emitting information from fish recently caught and released. Tagging was conducted by a task team led by the Bellevue-Issaquah chapter of Trout Unlimited working with the King County Department of Resources, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Save Lake Sammamish organization.
In a continuing effort to understand different life-cycle elements of the possibly endangered kokanee salmon-trout, Trout Unlimited volunteers and members of the public initiated a program to tag several fish species in the lake. Although partially supported by a grant, funds still are needed to complete the project. The local Trout Unlimited chapter has initiated an “Adopt a Kokanee” fund raising program described on its Web site, www.tu-bi.org.
I recently joined volunteers and kokanee sponsors to fish for kokanee and cutthroat trout in Lake Sammamish with barbless hooks. When a fish was caught, it was placed in a container with aerated water. A cell phone call was then made to a pick-up boat to which the fish was transferred and ferried to a fish biologist’s work station on shore.
At the work station, fish were examined and fitted with an acoustic device that broadcasts continuously. After holding fish overnight to assure their fitness, they were released back into the lake for monitoring.
Listening monitors have been strategically placed in the lake to record the position of each tagged fish and its ambient temperature. Task team members regularly download data from the monitors for processing. Trout Unlimited plans to catch and tag additional fish during the summer, including Northern pike-minnow (nee squawfish) and bass.
Biologists hope to fill in missing pieces of the life cycles and habitat preferences of the tagged fish. Kokanee in the lake are alarmingly decreasing in numbers. It is hoped that this study will provide information about kokanee that choose to spawn on gravel beaches in the lake instead of in creek beds.
A complimentary study is under way, manned by Trout Unlimited volunteers. They are wrapping up a month of cold and rainy nights trapping and counting newly hatched kokanee fry returning to the lake down Lewis Creek. This census will add to a two-year database helping biologists to determine the extent of decline of this genetically-unique run of fish.
This spring, 187 returning kokanee fry have been counted to date; as compared to 195 in 2008 and 2,232 in 2007, when the survey was made daily instead of three times per week. Only a few fry have been seen recently and this may be close to the final tally for this year.
My initial experience with kokanee fishing was on Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho. Kokanee were planted in the lake as forage fish for large Kamloops lake trout and quickly multiplied such that 200 was set as the initial fishing limit. When I fished, the limit was 50 and we caught them trolling with pop gear and wedding ring lures baited with small corn kernels, the same gear we used to capture kokanee for the Lake Sammamish tagging project.
The reward for successful kokanee fishing in Lake Pend Oreille was wonderful. You could walk into a saloon, plop 50 fresh kokanee on the counter and the barman would shove back 25 nicely smoked ones with a plate of crackers. Together with a cold beer, this made a hearty lunch.
In the 1970s, I fished for kokanee in Lake Sammamish and observed the fishing methods of Issaquah’s good old boys. On the way to the lake, they would stop at the Darigold Creamery and pick up a bucket of small cheese curds. After chumming the curds in the lake, they trolled the milky trail catching kokanee with meal worms on a spinner.
Hard-working and dedicated individuals, such as those comprising the multigovernmental Kokanee Conservation Work Group, have expressed a goal of once again having a public fishery for kokanee in Lake Sammamish. I am stocking up on crackers and beer with hope to celebrate their success.
Reach Dallas Cross at FishJournal@aol.com. View previous articles at www.FishJournal.org. Comment on this column at www.issaquahpress.com.