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Pedaling and paddling for salmon

Posted: Thursday, July 05, 2001

When Darin Fagerstrom wants to catch a fish, he hops on his bike.

Seated between the seacycle's plastic pontoons, Fagerstrom pedals quietly through kelp beds. A rod holder attached to the seat holds his pole, trolling for kings.

"That's just my way of getting away from the fumes and motors and such," said Fagerstrom, who has fished from his seacycle for almost five years now. "I don't have to mix gas or breathe gas fumes or rinse my motor out when I'm through."

Though fishermen in bigger boats often give him odd looks, Fagerstrom has some company on the water. A few other anglers prefer the simplicity of a small craft to the comfort of a cabin cruiser.

"More and more fishermen are turning out there with their rowboats and doing well," said Bill Audette, who has fished eight seasons of salmon derbies from of his canoe.

"I fished out of canoes all my life or decked over boats like that," said Audette, who grew up in Northern Vermont. There fishing out of a rowboat was standard. So when Audette moved to the West coast he kept fishing out of canoes, pulling kings out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

His 10-year-old Old Town Canoe is set up with a rowing cockpit, making it stable and similar to a kayak. Audette stands up to jig, wedging his feet against the sides of the boat.

"It's almost like skiing and it really, really works good," Audette said. "You can ride chops and everything."

Mostly he sits though, cushioned by a Thermarest air mattress seat.

"The chair is a big part of it," Audette said. "That offers you extra buoyancy, along with extreme comfort."

One of the pluses of such a small boat is Audette doesn't need a fish finder to show him where they are, Audette said. He can feel how the currents are moving and see the fish in the water below.

"You're right at the water level. You see what's going on. Nothing else is distracting you," Audette said. "There's a lot of signs out there that definitely tell you where the fish are."

The lack of a motor keeps the crafts silent, too, making fishing all the more tranquil.

"I really, really enjoy the quiet out there, not having the constant drone of a motor," Fagerstrom said. "Plus you feel so stealthy. You sneak around there and kill king salmon."

The seacycle has an advantages over canoes and kayaks too, Fagerstrom said.

"It's really unique, because most of the other craft you're rowing or paddling or what have you," Fagerstrom said. "This enables you to keep your hands free. That's what really sort of sets the bike apart."

On the other hand, he does get marked as a curiosity as he pedals by other boats in Auke Bay.

"A lot of people don't take me very seriously, but I'm over it," Fagerstrom said. "Most people just snicker."

But they stop when he pulls in a 30-pound salmon. The bike barely rocks.

"It's a lot more stable than you might think, and it's not like your getting towed around by the fish either. You're able to backpedal," Fagerstrom said.

Plus, unlike a canoe or rowboat, the seacycle leaves his hands free to work the fish while his legs steer the boat, Fagerstrom said.

"It's very maneuverable. It's not like you're at the will of the fish," Fagerstrom said.

The seacycle rides like a mountain bike, Fagerstrom said. Two-foot waves are just small bumps in the trail.

"It doesn't even get really interesting until it gets rough. If you have any mountain biking experience it's a piece of cake," said Fagerstrom, whose taken the seacycle onto the open ocean outside Sitka.

Usually he and others in small crafts stay close to shore though, seeking out the corners of sheltered areas larger boats don't reach. Fagerstrom likes Tee Harbor and Auke Bay. Sometimes he uses his cabin cruiser to get farther off, then launches the seacycle.

"That craft is not much for going super long distances," he said. "You need to be pretty energetic to go very far, so I'm thankful the hatcheries made all this fishing nice and close."

Going small doesn't mean going alone. Audette's 14.5 foot canoe can carry up to three people, plus gear and fish. A foam core makes it durable and buoyant.

"They said you'll run out of space before you'll overload this boat," Audette said. "It's been a producer."

He's also fished alongside friends in kayaks and Fagerstrom on his seacycle.

"Everybody caught a lot of fish," Audette said. "Those things did really well, super stable. They have positive buoyancy, so they're never going to sink."

The seacycle can carry up to 400 pounds, Fagerstrom said. When he goes out overnight he straps a cooler on one side and a wet bag on the other. He's even taken his whole family out on seacycles, binding two of the bikes together or towing a raft behind to carry overnight gear.

And even if they don't catch a fish, at least Fagerstrom and Audette get some aerobic exercise while they're fishing.

"You're not just sitting around all day," Fagerstrom said. "You can benefit from going fishing."

Kristan Hutchison can be reached at khutchison@juneauempire.com.



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