Some of the king or chinook salmon being caught during the 2003 Spring King Salmon Derby are from the Chilkat River near Haines and the Macauley Salmon Hatchery in Juneau. But by far Taku River kings dominate the sport catch near Juneau each spring.
Studies have shown most spring kings caught near Juneau through mid-May are in fact bound for the Taku River just south of Juneau. In some years the Taku River can produce amazing numbers of salmon and in 1997 the Taku had the fifth largest chinook salmon run on the entire West Coast, an estimated 125,000 fish.
I remember that year well and in particular I recall one hot afternoon when I headed south of town with a couple of buddies to do a little fishing. In less than two hours we landed six kings, five of which were in the boat within 30 minutes.
That day I learned that the Taku River can have a huge influence on my freezer space.
The first spring kings show up in late March. These fish are quite different than the feeder kings that have been patrolling the inside waters throughout the winter. Anglers targeting these fish usually fish shallow near the water's surface whereas winter kings are normally fished deep.
A herring trolled at very slow speed is the typical method used; however, a variety of other gear is effective.
By mid-June, the majority of Taku River chinook salmon have entered the river to spawn and local hatchery fish and those from Hidden Falls and Little Port Walter hatcheries comprise most of the local catch. This holds true throughout the summer and on average about 1/3 of kings caught during the Golden North Salmon Derby are from the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery.
This year biologists expect an above-average run of larger Taku River chinook salmon and the hatchery outlook also is promising. This bodes well for anglers interested in catching the big one as these larger fish run 20 to 45 pounds and occasionally a fish will exceed 60 pounds. Additionally, a huge run of smaller chinook is expected, which is an early indication that fishing will be even better next season for the larger fish.
As Alaska's state fish, the king is probably the most revered of the five Pacific salmon. They can get huge and the largest king ever weighed was a 126-pound monster caught in a fish trap near Petersburg in 1949. The world's record on sport gear is 97 pounds for a Kenai River fish landed in 1986.
Kings spawn from California to Japan and some stocks will swim more than 2,000 miles upriver to spawn, the longest freshwater salmon migration in the world. Salmon stop feeding once they enter freshwater and must rely on stores of fat to survive their freshwater journey. Thus, salmon with long freshwater migrations, like those found in the Taku, have very oily and rich meat and that equates to better taste.
There is one week left in the Spring King Salmon Derby and we are in the peak of the Taku run. Rest assured this means plenty of big fish are swimming in our local waters.
With any luck you'll be the one who lands the big one and chances are that big one will be a Taku hog.
Ed Jones is a fisheries biologist who loves to fish. For further information concerning sport fishing opportunities or regulations in the Juneau area, call the Division of Sport Fish at 465-4270.