It's not combat fishing yet, but more and more anglers are heading to the dock and shoreline near the DIPAC hatchery in search of salmon.
The first fish showed up a few weeks ago, the start of a summer-long run of four species of salmon to the Douglas Island Pink and Chum plant on Channel Drive.
"There's some kings around. We can always tell when the fishermen show up," said Jon Carter, DIPAC executive director.
The fishermen are showing up for the first full season of use for Wayside Park, a state-built, city-run dock and picnic area that replaced the old DIPAC dock. The dock and park are accessible to the disabled. And snagging is allowed, at least for this fishing season. Some new restrictions will kick in later in the summer to allow more fish to return to the hatchery.
Fishing season in DIPAC-area waters begins with kings, which stick around the longest. Next come chum, pink and coho salmon.
"In the past we've seen a fairly steady catch rate on kings through the major portion of the summer," said Rick Focht, DIPAC director of research and evaluation. "The kings tend to hang around in the area for quite a while. They're unlike the chums and the pinks that tend to swamp the ladder pretty readily once they get back."
Kings usually peak by the second week of July, Focht said.
Returns of kings, also known as chinooks, are high around Juneau this year and the hatchery is expected to be no exception. While the fish show up later than at Auke Bay, Outer Point and the Breadline, there should be more when they get there, Focht said.
DIPAC releases kings at the Channel Drive hatchery, Fish Creek and Auke Creek. Some 2,771 hatchery chinooks were caught by anglers last year while this year's projections are for 3,407 about 23 percent more.
"We are seeing a wonderful return of chinooks this year," Carter said.
A few chum salmon also have showed up by the shore and dock. More will find their way onto anglers' lures soon and the run will peak at the end of July or the beginning of August.
"It's the very, very front end of that run. We've had a few in the ladder," Focht said.
Next come the pinks, which should start showing up in a few weeks and peak around the second week of August. Coho begin arriving in mid to late August.
Pink, chum and coho numbers at the hatchery are expected to be about average this year, although projections differ for each species.
Fishing near DIPAC is different this summer because the area is under city, not hatchery, management.
The new dock at what's called Wayside Park opened at the end of last July. Built with disabled anglers in mind, it's strong and wide enough for cars, trucks and vans to drive down the ramp and park on the float. While it was used by a variety of fishermen last year, many opted to stick to shore.
"Most of the people going there are fishing on the bank," said city Harbormaster Chuck Wescott. "Not many people are fishing on the float."
Children using the dock are expected to wear floatation devices and the city will drop off life jackets soon as part of the Kids Don't Float program, Wescott said.
Two fish-cleaning tables are already in place and the city hopes to install a fish grinder to help anglers get rid of what's left, Wescott said.
"That will make it a nice facility for people getting their fish ready for the freezer," he said.
Wayside Park, built by the state Department of Transportation with $1.75 million in federal highway funds, includes picnic tables, barbecue grills, a shelter, rest rooms and parking. It is managed by the city Docks and Harbors Department.
Because of the change of management, state regulations prohibiting snagging from the DIPAC dock no longer apply, said Mark Schwan, area management biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game.
"The no-snagging regulation says no snagging from the dock and 150 feet around the dock. That regulation is defunct because the new dock is a city dock," Schwan said.
Fish and Game wants the state Board of Fisheries to remove the old regulation as a housekeeping measure, he said. A new no-snagging regulation could be written to include the city dock, but any such proposal won't come up until a winter meeting in Ketchikan.
Schwan and Wescott said their agencies have no immediate plan to ask for such a rule. Wescott said that could change if snagging becomes a problem.
New limits on shore fishing near the base of the fish ladder will be in place around the hatchery from July 15 to Aug. 31, DIPAC's Focht said. The usual no-fishing zone will be expanded to allow more salmon to return to the hatchery to provide more eggs for next year's smolts.
"That area right there tends to be a common milling area for the fish so we're just trying to reduce the fishing pressure on the area during that time," he said.
Carter, the DIPAC director, said the majority of dock and shore anglers follow the rules.
"Most people are really good, but there's always a few that don't use common sense and they want to fish at the base of the ladder and they bounce lures around our workers," he said.
Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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