A dry season

Juneau fishermen complain about poor sport king catch rates

Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2005

Juneau resident Mich-ele Kirk dug her heels into the beach at False Outer Point on Wednesday, determined to catch a king salmon if it took all evening.

"There's still a chance," she said, optimistically flinging out her line at 5:30 p.m. She had arrived at the beach at 2:30 and planned to stay until 9 p.m.

Kirk is one of many Juneau fishermen who have been stymied by poor luck so far this season.

Despite a forecast of a healthy run of Taku River kings and liberalized fishing regulations - including a three-fish limit and two poles per fisherman - the first few weeks of the sport king season didn't turn out well in terms of catch rates in Juneau and some other parts of the northern Panhandle.

The success rate of Juneau sport fishermen never seems to correlate with the strength of the Taku River salmon runs, according to local biologists.

"We've had poor catch rates around Juneau but the (Taku Inlet) gillnet fleet and the in-river (fishing) is going well," said Mike Jaenicke, who coordinates regional angler surveys for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

This year started poorly in Juneau, according to Fish and Game's Juneau catch rate charts. Between late April and May 15, it took 60 hours or more, on average, for an angler to catch a king. The average catch rate for the early part of the season has been about 30 hours per king in recent years, according to Fish and Game.

As of last week, however, the local catch rate had improved to normal for this time of year, with 25 to 30 hours of effort to catch one king, Jaenicke said.

In his years of fishing at False Outer Point, "this is the worst," said Mitchell Blackwell, a Douglas resident.

"It's almost getting to the point of depression," said Nick Vonda, who was fishing with bobbers on Tuesday at False Outer Point. May 11 was the last time he caught a king.

Ramon Isturis was one of the few lucky ones on Wednesday. He caught a relatively small king.

"I've been waiting a long time for this," Isturis said.

The king season also started slow in Haines, according to a state sport fish biologist there.

"What was curious to me was that even the catch rates in Icy Strait seemed to be low. Typically their rates are pretty good," said Randy Erickson, the Fish and Game biologist in Haines.

"People are definitely talking about it," Erickson said, referring to speculation among fishermen about the slow pick-up of the season.

"It's certainly been a drier, warmer year, but I don't know if that would affect the fish," he said.

In Juneau, the sport king season will not peak until June, when hatchery fish arrive in Auke Bay and Fritz Cove.

"That's when those numbers really shoot up," Jaenicke said.

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