Tips for the Golden North

Posted: Monday, July 24, 2006

So you got your Derby ticket, got your tackle, got your boat?

Now how are you going to make the most of those three days that are the most important of the entire summer fishing season for most Juneau anglers?

First, kings are the thing.

While both king and silver salmon (and the rare sockeye) are eligible for entry, it takes the weight of a king to win. Some huge silver salmon are entered each year-like the 19.6-pounder Martin Garvin took 26th place with last year-you better be weighing in a big king if you want to finish in the top prize money.

In the first three decades of the derby, it more often took a king over 40, or even 50 pounds to win it all. And Gary Hedges still holds the all-time derby record for a 59.5-pound king he caught in 1971, a record that may stand for a very long time.

But for the past 15 years, a fish over 30 pounds was a real contender, and in 2004 Carol Munro won the derby with a 26.5 pound king.

The will be feeder kings, not spawning this season but aggressively feeding in preparation for a future spawn. They will be more aggressive and likely will be deeper than their spring run cousins, which are often caught in the top 20 feet.

Interestingly, while many of us think of August as silver season, a solid one-third of the fish entered in the 2005 derby were kings-125 out of 404 fish. Those kings averaged a respectable 16.65 pounds, while the 279 Cohoes entered while the 279 Cohoes entered averaged 12.3 pounds.

The smallest Cohoes were smolts, from .1 to .4 pounds, while the smallest kings were 10.4 to 11.3 pounds.

Second, put in your time.

Derby rules allow anglers to fish every minute of the full three days of the tournament. And while few anglers have 72 hours of non-stop fishing (or enough gas in their tank) to fish that long without a break, the more time you've got a bait in the water, the higher your chances of success.

Safety is always most important and don't be foolhardy if foul weather kicks up. But just sticking to daylight hours will give you 16 or 18 hours a day on the water.

And remember that there are many ways to win beyond just catching that biggest king. For example, the 60th largest fish, in keeping with the 60th anniversary derby, will earn a substantial cash prize. And even entrants who do not weigh a fish have a chance to win special drawing prizes.

Because the fish will often be most active and most aggressive on moving tides, especially be fishing during the falling and flooding tides, which would be midday, 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the three days of the tournament.

Third, change your approach.

The feeder kings (and most Cohoes) will be feeding deeper-50 to 70 feet-around huge schools of herring that will be jammed into traditional hotspots. Watch f or feeding whales, which are a sure tip-off that massive clouds of herring are in the area.

Because the derby is confined to a relatively small area of nearby Juneau waters, a few hotspots get most of the pressure, because these are also the spots where herring school in massive shoals in August. These include South Shelter Island, Point Retreat, the backside of Douglas Island and Aaron Island.

But remember that not every school of herring holds feeding fish.

"There is just so much feed out there," long-time guide Mike Duby said. "They're just stuffed with herring, so they only bit once in a while. There are tremendous schools of fish (herring). You just have to travel from school to school until you find feeding fish."

While Duby is a strict devotee of trolling hoochies for August kings and silvers, many anglers still rely on natural plug-cut herring to seduce a big king.

"I'm never going to shun a guy who spends all day, dragging a big herring deep for one big fish," he laughed. "They catch a lot of big kings."

Duby predicted more anglers will be trolling big plugs deep this year too.

"They know last year's winner was caught on a J Silver Bullet plug trolled deep!"

Local Realtor Debbie White caught that 32.9 pounder.

There are no rules or restrictions on anglers fishing with a guide during the derby, and hiring an experienced guide who's been on the water every day before the event can be a pretty smart investment. For information on fishing with Mike Duby or one of the many other quality guides fishing the Juneau area, call Juneau Sportfishing (907-586-1887).

Finally, be flexible and watch the signs. I'm amazed at how many anglers fish the same bait, the same depth, in the same areas, year after year, because it worked once. Certainly confidence in a tactic is important, but

Example-last week I was trolling at spring-king shallow depths-40 feet and less. We were catching a few pink salmon, but not much else. After noticing lots of bait from 60 feet down all the way to the bottom in almost 200 feet, I dropped downriggers to 65 and 80 feet. Bam! In minutes we'd boated two big silvers and a fine 20-plus feeder king.

And regardless of whether you catch that winning king or just lots of quality time on the water, be safe and have fun.

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising directory of the Juneau Empire, when he's not trying to unravel the mysteries of southeast Alaska fishing.

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