Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to snag and you can fill his freezer full of salmon for the winter.
As the Douglas Island Pink and Chum fish stocks begin to congregate near their artificial birth stream, dozens of hungry anglers battle for a prime spot on the beach and dock of Channel Drive Wayside to net a salmon. It might not be pretty or graceful, but snagging does put food on the plate.
"There's certainly always been a bit of an issue with the folks that want to bait fish, or between the snaggers and the non-snaggers," said DIPAC Executive Director Eric Prestegard.
"At the same time, people want to catch fish. People want to put salmon in the freezer so that they have fish to eat all winter. However they get them, they get them," he said.
Snagging is a fishing technique where anglers drag and jerk a hook, generally weighted, to acquire fish by piercing and snagging it by the body; not catching it by the mouth or gums.
"Statewide you can snag legally in saltwater. There are very few areas where you can't," said Brian Glynn, Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Juneau area management biologist for sportfish division. "Basically it's a statewide regulation in fresh water that there's no snagging, and that's it, cut and dry. It's to protect spawning fish, that's the main reason. They're very vulnerable ... in shallow water."
Glynn said that because DIPAC fish are not wild stocks and because snagging is a social issue and not a conservation issue, Fish and Game does not take a stance on the issue.
"It's something that we don't stick our nose in really," he said. "We let people decide how they want to fish. If the methods and means that they're using cause a conservation problem of a certain stock, that's where our regulations come into play."
Prestegard said he generally will have a handful of people a season come into DIPAC's office concerned about snagging at the Channel Drive Wayside.
"It's hard for us to take a stance on it. Our goal is to supply fish to all user groups," he said. "The non-snagging group, we want to supply fish to, and we want to supply fish to the snagging group. And obviously we want to do it in the best way possible."
Many Juneau residents snag as much for the food as they do for the exhilaration of the catch.
"Snagging in saltwater is quite legal and I like to have fresh fish and I don't really care as long as I can get it any legal way," said Gerry Crossley, who was out snagging for the first time this season on Friday afternoon.
DIPAC has runs of chinook, chum and cohos return each summer.
"We're going to have a hundred to two hundred thousand fish down there (this summer)," said Prestegard. "So there's a lot of fish."
The abundance of fish not only provides fresh food, it also provides a classroom for up-and-coming anglers.
Juneau resident Walter Ullmayer brought his daughter, Claressa, and her friend, Kirstian Eyre, out to Channel Drive Wayside on Friday afternoon to learn about fishing for Alaska salmon.
"We thought that we'd come down and snag down here and do a little fly casting, see if they could catch anything here today. It's a nice day to fish," he said.
"We're trying to slowly gravitate (Claressa) into learning to fish and enjoying fishing and I think this is a good place to start with. Hopefully, we can catch some fish and she'll be thrilled and continue to fish in the future."
The end of the school year also attracts more of Juneau's youths looking for a healthy and wholesome activity.
10-year-old Tyler Mathews was out with a group of friends Friday and caught his fifth salmon of the season.
"You just cast out and you start yanking and they're in pretty close," he said of his technique.
Because the wayside is one of the more popular roadside fisheries in Juneau, the fishing traffic can get a bit heavy at times, said Prestegard.
"People get to fishing and they get a little crazy at times and so we have to have it signed pretty heavily because there are closed areas also," he said. "People need to be on the beach and down toward the dock, not on the rocks, for a number of reasons. One, it's dangerous to be on those rocks, and two, that's closed waters."
As the abundance of king and chum salmon starts to pick up in the coming weeks, anglers should be aware of their surroundings, Glynn said.
"One other consideration in an issue like snagging here would certainly be safety concerns," he said. "And again, it's somewhat of a social issue, opposed to a biological issue."
With more anglers comes more fishing hooks hovering about.
"Everybody's pretty good, they take turns, they watch," said Crossley. "But you know, accidents can happen so you just want to be careful. You want to watch for flying hooks.
"It isn't really a war zone by any means, it's usually quite safe as long as everyone is kind of thinking," he said.
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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