Nooksack River

nooksack_river_map

Species:
Chinook, Coho, Pink and Chum Salmon, Winter-Run Steelhead, Sea-Run Cutthroat, Longfin Smelt
Location:
Flows into Bellingham Bay, northwest of Bellingham
Directions:
To reach the South Fork Nooksack, exit Interstate 5 onto Highway 20 at Burlington and drive six miles east to Sedro Wooley, where you will turn north onto Highway 9 and drive 14 miles to the river. To reach the North Fork of the Nooksack, continue north on Highway 9 to Deming and turn right (east) onto Highway 542. Drive 3 miles and turn right onto Mosquito Lake Road to reach the Middle Fork, but stay on Highway 542 to reach several good stretches of the North Fork.
Facilities:
Ferndale Campground, about 1.5 miles north of the town of Ferndale just off of Interstate 5, has tent and RV sites and other camping facilities. Scottish Lodge Motel and several bed and breakfasts are also available in the town of Ferndale. Dutch Village Inn, Windmill Inn Motel, and Hidden Village RV Park are among the possibilities in Ferndale. Food, gas, restaurants, and tackle are available in Ferndale, Lynden, and other smaller towns along the river.
Fishing the Nooksack:
This vast river system, stretching from northern Skagit County nearly to the Canadian border and from Bellingham Bay to the North Cascades, is a shadow of the once productive steelhead and salmon river it was a few decades ago. In the year 1985 anglers caught more than 1,800 winter-run steelhead from the main Nooksack, but by the year 1995 the river kicked out a dismal 44 fish. The North Fork and South Fork Nooksack contributed only a couple dozen steelhead to that total. For a river that is stocked with 106,200 (2012) (down from 146,500 in 2011) hatchery steelhead smolts every year, those are some mighty poor numbers. I guess the bottom line is whether you choose to plunk the slower waters downstream of Emerson or drift-fish the main stem from Emerson up to and including the North and South Forks, steelheading on the Nooksack is a tough proposition, so why even bother.
The same goes for Sea-Run Cutthroat, which once provided excellent angling action. Local anglers do catch cutthroat here and there throughout the river from September through November, but the harvest-trout fishery certainly isn’t worth a long trip from anywhere.
Salmon fishing is a better bet, especially on the main stem of the Nooksack. Boat and bank anglers catch several hundred hatchery coho from the river during September and October each year, a catch that’s often comprised of about half adult fish and half one to two pound jacks. December can provide some good chum fishing as well.
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