Hatchery kings boost area fishing

Posted: Sunday, June 09, 2002

Not many people can pull this one off. But if you're lucky and know where to go, you can now reel in four king salmon a day.

What's called the terminal fishery opened Saturday. It allows residents and visitors alike to catch more kings in parts of Gastineau Channel, Auke Bay and Fritz Cove. And there's no size limit.

The extra opportunity to fill your freezer with fish comes every summer, thanks to a state program that raises and releases about half a million chinook smolts every spring. Fish and Game staffers used to hatch the fish themselves, but contracted the job out to Douglas Island Pink And Chum about eight years ago.

Fish are released from three sites - the DIPAC hatchery, Fish Creek Pond out North Douglas and near the mouth of Auke Bay's Auke Creek.

No one knows exactly how many of those tiny smolts make it back as adult kings, the sort of fish you want to gut, gill, bake whole and serve with lemon wedges so your dinner guests will say "Wow, awesome salmon, Dude." There are lots of variables, such as ocean temperature, availability of food and the appetites of the critters that eat 'em.

DIPAC's projection for this year is 8,215 returning hatchery kings. Commercial fishermen will get about 2,100 and another 2,700 or so will make it up creeks, streams and the hatchery's fish ladder.

Shore, stream, boat and dock anglers will get the remaining 3,400.

If things turn out as expected, it will be a significant increase from last year, when DIPAC says 7,750 hatchery kings returned, with about 2,770 caught in the sport fishery.

"The DIPAC fish contribute quite a bit," said Mark Schwan, area management biologist at Fish and Game.

They've been contributing recently to the fishing frenzy at Auke Bay, where some people caught kings within the boat harbor. A few have been spotted by the DIPAC hatchery, although there aren't enough fish yet to attract crowds to the dock.

Fish and Game loosens up the normal king salmon rules for the terminal fishery, which runs through most of the summer.

Instead of the usual two-kings-a-day limit for residents fishing without a guide, the terminal fishery allows four a day. And for Uncle Bob from Florida and other nonresidents, it's a great improvement from the one-a-day, three-a-season limit.

Not many people catch four in a day, but the possibility is there.

"If you hit it right and you get lucky, you can take that many," Schwan said.

One of the most important terminal fishery rules to remember is where you can go to catch all those fish. One end of the open area is the Douglas Bridge. The other is a line running from the tip of False Outer Point on North Douglas Island to Indian Point in Auke Bay.

Areas of Gastineau Channel, Auke Bay and Fritz Cove are included, but be careful. If you cast from the rocks at False Outer Point, you have to stay on the town side of the line if you've got more than your daily two. Carry your catch around the point to the west and you could be in violation if you've got three or four in possession.

And remember, the four-king limit applies to the number of fish in possession, as well as the number caught in a day. If you take a weekend camping or cabin-cruiser fishing trip, you have to drop off the four you caught Saturday at your home before heading back to hook some more Sunday. Or you can drop them off at my home and I'll take care of them, complete with lemon wedges.

While there are a few rules, Fish and Game wants people to catch these salmon. Some become part of the commercial fishery and others make it up the creeks to spawn and die, giving the crows something to eat and the dogs something to roll in.

But their main purpose is to supply fishermen with something to catch.

"When the fish come back as adults, we want as many caught as possible," Schwan said.

Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at eschoenfeld@juneauempire.com.

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