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Where are all the Juneau king salmon? That's the question asked by many local anglers this year.
Although several seasoned fishermen have had good results, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports a sharp increase from last year in fishing time needed to land a chinook.
Heading into the last week of the Spring King Salmon Derby, local fisherman Ron Taug complained about the lack of action.
"I've only caught six kings so far this year," he said. "This time last year I had at least 15."
Last week, Fish and Game reported that it took, on average, 27 rod hours to catch a king, compared to 17 hours in 2002. But this year is still better than the five-year average of 30 hours, and that leads to an interesting thought: 2002 spoiled Juneau fishermen.
In fact, last year was so good that it may be years before anyone sees action like that again. Look back to 1998 and for the same week Fish and Game reported 42 rod hours; in 2000 it was 56 hours; and in 2001, 39 hours.
This suggests what every salmon fisherman already knows: Salmon returns are cyclical. Although it's nearly impossible to predict runs, it's easy to see that some years are better than others. Last year just happened to be one of the best.
But all fishermen, by nature, are optimists. They want to believe that every time they head onto the water, they will take home their limit. And with that in mind, this season still has hope. It's definitely far from the worst year and if Thomas Lee's 42.3-pounder - the second-heaviest king ever caught in the Spring King Derby - is a glimpse of what is yet to come, we could have another stellar fishing season.
The data also suggests that the best chinook fishing is right around the corner, as June historically is the best month for kings. The five-year average peaks in the second through fourth weeks this month, and there are signs that will hold true this year.
The new fishing pier adjacent to DIPAC already is getting hot as hatchery kings are making their way home. Also, the Fish Creek terminal area on North Douglas will pick up soon, and bag limits in these areas will expand to four from two. And of course the most popular areas, such as Tee Harbor and the Breadline, will be hot spots to pick up kings.
It will be interesting to see how the next few weeks pan out, but in the meantime keep in mind that last year was exceptional and most likely will be the benchmark for fishing seasons for years to come.