Mention “Fisherman Bay” to Northwest boaters and it’s only a few moments before stories are flying about its shallow and winding entrance. The navigational challenges make many skippers reluctant to enter the narrow, though well marked, access channel. We have visited many times and can report that the 0.6-nm entrance to the bay requires caution, but not paranoia. We recommend studying a large-scale chart and tide book before entering the passage. Locate the entrance channel and potential problem areas. At a zero tide, there is only six and a half feet of water in the channel leading into the bay, making the safest passage at near high tide.
Approaching the narrow entrance of Fisherman Bay, located on the west side of Lopez Island, is done best at slow bell with one eye on the sector light and the other on the chartplotter and depth sounder. The lack of vigilance catches more than a few boats each season.
Once past the sector light located outside the bay’s entrance, head straight for the R4 day beacon on the spit, staying to the starboard side of the channel. A strong ebbing current can affect steering at this point. Once past R4, maintain a course in the middle of the channel taking the green marks G5 and G7 wide to port. Then, head straight to R8 mark. Head past R8 to starboard and you can safely head to the marinas.
While the passage will test captains’ navigation skills, it shouldn’t prevent anyone from enjoying the beautiful and scenic bay. Fisherman Bay is one of the best protected, friendliest and most attractive hideaways in the San Juans, with two marinas and anchorage amongst private moorings.
Although a bit crowded with resident boats, it is possible to set the hook in the mud bottom of the bay. On the west side of the bay, skippers must be aware of a long strip used for Kenmore Air floatplane arrivals and departures. Stay clear to avoid disrupting flights.
The original island inhabitants, the Lummi Indians, used the bay as a summer fishing encampment. Today, with 29.5 square miles and about 2,500 residents, Lopez maintains a pastoral flavor from its agricultural beginnings in the 1860s. Except for a few general stores and bed & breakfasts outside of Fisherman Bay and Lopez Village, there is little commercial development on the island.
About 1,800 years ago, Coast Salish people in the islands discovered a way to trap salmon. They called it sqw’e-lux in Lkungenung, the language spoken in the islands. Today it’s referred to as “reef-netting.”
In the shallows amidst waving eelgrass, hungry salmon find aggregations of herring, Pacific sand lance, squid, and shrimp. When the changing tide pulled salmon out of the bay and beneath the reef-net, the trick was to lure them up into the net for what salmon believed to be another meal: eelgrass woven into the net, creating the appearance of a small shallow inlet.
During the summer, it’s common to see reef-netters with their tall look-out stations anchored outside the bay and just inside the entrance to the bay, there are remnants of reef-net canoes high and dry on the sand spit.
Explore the Island
Scenic and quiet roads crisscross the island leading to farms, wineries, galleries, dramatic vistas, eight county parks and one state park. These safe, relatively flat roads make Lopez the most popular of the San Juans for cyclists. Didn’t bring a bike? Check out Lopez Bicycle Works, the oldest bike shop in the San Juans. They are located between the two marinas and offer good quality rentals as well as repair services.
Take a Walk
For us, a visit to Fisherman Bay isn’t complete without making the .8-mile leisurely walk Lopez Village, the island’s only town and center of island life. Here visitors can check out restaurants, art galleries, unique shops and a supermarket.
As we make our way along the two-lane country road to the village, we notice how friendly the residents of the island are. The occupants of every passing car give a greeting wave. This is one of the reasons Lopez has become known as “The Friendly Island.”
About halfway to the village, we stop at the Island’s garbage dump to check out the Take It or Leave It shed, locally known as “The Mall.” It’s kind of a cool place where Islanders can participate in the free exchange of goods. Wandering through the aisles, there was an amazing display of electronics, books, tools, building supplies, toys, clothing, and the list goes on and on. Who would have ever thought a garbage dump would be an island attraction?
A little further up the road, on the way to the village, is a lovely restored mansion that now houses the public library. The village is where visiting boaters can find life’s essentials, such as the post office, pharmacy, bank, history museum, and two churches dating back to the Victorian-era and a medical clinic. Village Park is in the center of the hamlet, where the Chamber of Commerce provides a public picnic area with restrooms. The village also boasts several co-op art galleries, restaurants, shops, a bookstore, and an espresso stand. You can shop for a variety of local products such as jam, vinegars, sauces, ice cream, candy, and wines; as well as many handmade arts and crafts. Every visit, we enjoy cinnamon rolls and/or an artisan loaf of bread from Holly B’s Bakery. It’s said they are “served with love and butter.”
Time Your Visit
From mid-May through mid-September, we try to time our visits to take advantage of the Lopez Island Farmers Market held Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in a grassy field in the village, featuring local artists, craftspeople, and farmers. Get a taste of the island by sampling goat cheese, albacore, sockeye salmon, chipotle sauce, and other local delicacies. We always spend more than an hour wandering our way among the displays and visiting with vendors.
A summer highlight on Lopez Island is the community’s Fourth of July celebration. Revelry ranges from a community-funded firework display over Fisherman Bay to a hamburger barbecue and downhome-themed parade through the village.
In the past, we have celebrated New Year’s Eve at Fisherman Bay. The Lopez Islander Resort & Marina welcomes in the new year with a prime rib dinner, live music, and party favors; reservations required.