Fred Wigg stood on his favorite rock at False Outer Point on Wednesday afternoon, anxious for another shot at landing a king salmon.
He was surrounded by a handful of other die-hard rock jockeys, explaining how he just lost the last king he hooked when a sea lion snatched it away.
It couldn't have been a nicer day for fishing on the eve of the 7th Annual Spring King Salmon Derby. The sun was shining brightly with temperatures in the 70s and a slight breeze blowing off the water. But it's just another day at the office for Wigg and company.
"We're just getting in a little pre-derby fishing," Wigg said as he slowly reeled in his rolling herring.
Anyone who knows anything about fishing in Juneau knows False Outer Point is the hot spot for spring king fishing. On any given day in May, the small cove can be filled with 50 boats, and every rock on the shore is taken by anglers vying for that one fish that will make them an instant local celebrity and a few thousand dollars richer.
Unlike August's Golden North Salmon Derby, the Spring King Derby lets anglers fish from shore to the delight of the "family" of anglers who make False Outer Point their second home for the month of May.
"I'm out here every day. Sometimes I put in 16-hour days," Wigg said. "There's a group of us die-hards who are always here."
From a boat, the spectacle of 100 fishermen on shore looks like chaos - especially in a sport that is traditionally every angler for themselves. But the rock jockeys have their own unwritten laws that are abided by almost everyone.
"We're like a family out here," Wigg said. "Everyone helps everyone else out and if you don't, you get black-balled."
Just then, Wigg gets a tug on his line and yells out "fish on." The people fishing near him immediately reel in their lines and Greg Isturis, last year's second-place Spring King Derby winner, readies the net.
The salmon makes a run left, then right, but eventually Wigg is able to wear it out and get it close to shore where Isturis nets it. As soon as the fish is on shore the lines are back in the water because where there's one king salmon, there's more.
Wigg is the prototype rock jockey. He works a night job that enables him to fish all day long. He doesn't own a boat and doesn't plan to ever get one.
"I catch more fish from shore than most people do from a boat anyway," he said.
One of the most interesting aspects of the False Outer Point area is the rivalry between the fishing boats and the rock jockeys. Most boats must keep their distance from shore not only for courtesy to the shore fisherman, but because of necessity due to hidden rocks that could damage boats.
"Most of the boaters are very courteous and keep their distance," Wigg said.
And it's also a toss-up of which is more productive - shore fishing or boat fishing and the reasoning can be debated over and over without a solid answer.
"Some days the shore is just killing them, and other times the boats do - it can go either way," Wigg said.
But most of all, the rock jockeys are happy to be included in the Spring King Derby and wish the Golden North Salmon Derby will eventually have a change of heart and someday include shoreline fishing in its rules.
"It's prejudice," Wigg said. "We can fish almost all the same places boats can from shore and just think of all the scholarship fish they could pull in from us. It just doesn't make any sense."
For now, Wigg will put his time in for the Spring King Derby and hopes to hook into the salmon that will get him somewhere on the leader board.
He also says anglers shouldn't be afraid to come out and fish on the rocks. He says the best way is to just stand back for a little bit and try to talk to someone and not just squeeze in next to someone.
"We're all friendly out here - it's almost always the same people," Wigg said. "And it's great to see people come back every year who you haven't seen since last May."
Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sportswriter. He can be reached at 209-7427.
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