Defending Spring King Salmon Derby champion Joseph Castillo said he isn't particularly worried about this season's dismal king salmon forecast.
He spent dozens of hours last May fishing from the rocks off False Outer Point in North Douglas to reel in the prize-winning 38.2 pound chinook.
"I went eight days without a single strike, but I can't complain," he said of last season. "Some guys went 12 days, three weeks, without a single strike. Yeah, it was pretty tough last year."
The 12th annual Spring King Salmon Derby sponsored by Tlingit and Haida Central Council begins Thursday, May 1. Tickets are $35 through April 30, or cost $40 during May. Proceeds from the month-long derby go toward higher education scholarships for Alaska Native students.
Brian Glynn, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Juneau Area management biologist for the Division of Sportfish, said scientists are forecasting a return of nearly 38,000 king salmon this year to the Taku River - the predominant source of fish for the month-long derby. Past chinook returns to the Taku River ranging from 35,000 to 45,000 fish have produced a sport harvest of about 1,500 and 2,100 king salmon, he said.
"That is about 25 to 45 percent lower than the average sport harvest over the past 20 years," Glynn said.
But there are lots of variables that play into the data, such as weather, experience and time on the water, that make it difficult to predetermine how successful angling for king salmon will be each year, he said.
"These are just rough figures," Glynn said. "We're not saying the catch rate is going to be 25 to 45 percent lower than average, it's just what we've seen in the past when the return was on the same magnitude on lower than average."
In fact, the highest estimated king salmon return to the Taku River was 125,000 fish, but that was not the year with the most successful fishing, he said.
"The highest (sport harvest) we'd ever seen was about 6,300 fish and that occurred with a return of 77,000 Taku River kings," Glynn said.
Glynn said he does not think the recent regulations determined by the Pacific Salmon Commission reducing the catch limit from two to one fish this season will have any drastic affect on the May derby because of how challenging it can be to reel in one king a day.
"People are concerned that the bag limit's only one fish per day," he said. "I think for the Juneau area, that's not a big impact. Very, very, very few people who fish in Juneau are able to catch more than one king salmon a day."
Castillo said he isn't particularly worried about the regulation changes this year because he is still planning to spend up to 12 hours a day to catch as much food for his family as he possibly can.
"I'll just get what I can," he said. "I'll get my quota, all that I can. Like I said, I got to fill the freezer. It's a lot of hard work but it's fun too."
Castillo said he doesn't use any angling secrets, but he does fish by a three-part philosophy.
"It's about 90 percent preparation, 5 percent luck, and the rest is up to the fish," he said.
Derby founder and official Archie Cavanaugh said he doesn't think the regulations will impact derby ticket sales.
I'm a fisherman from my beginnings," he said. "If there was a report from Fish and Game that there would be a very little return of kings, I would simply want to go out and compete to try my professional hand at trying to catch that lonely 40-pounder out there."
Plus, the proceeds go to a good cause and people can spend time relaxing with friends and family out on the water, Cavanaugh said.