Fishing the Breadline

Why is this stretch of Lynn Canal so fertile?

Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2003

The Juneau area has an abundance of places to fish, but few are as consistently bountiful as the Breadline.

Often, the question asked is: "Why is the Breadline so productive?"

The Breadline begins just outside of Tee Harbor and stretches several miles along the eastern shore of Lynn Canal, past the Shrine of St. Therese. It features a shelf that drops off 400 to 500 feet, and salmon congregate along this shelf.

Ed Jones, a fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said there are three main reasons why the Breadline is ideal for accumulating game fish.

The first reason is the structure. Millions of years ago, glaciers carved out Lynn Canal and made it the longest fjord in North America and one of the deepest in Southeast Alaska. When the ancient glaciers receded, they left behind the sheer drop of the Breadline.

"It's deep water that comes to an abrupt shoreline," Jones said. "It's a major breach and anything heading east has to move up. Usually, the fish will hang by the structure."

The second main reason why the Breadline offers good fishing, according to Jones, is the amount of baitfish present. Salmon follow the herring schools, and the herring are found in abundance all along the Breadline.

"It's got good bait," Jones said. "The herring stocks move up and down the shoreline from Tee Harbor, past Indian Point and all the way up to Berners Bay."

Jones said the Breadline also is a major overwintering area for herring. He said big stocks congregate around Poundstone Rock in the winter months.

The third reason for the Breadline's productivity is that it lies along a natural channel that hatchery and wild salmon follow to spawn, Jones said.

"The salmon either go south around Admiralty Island to get to the Taku River or the hatcheries, but most go to the north to Berners Bay and come around the back side of Douglas," he said.

This sends the fish right along the Breadline, making it an ideal place for salmon fishing most of the summer.

However, between the spring king salmon run and coho run later in the summer, there is a lull in which it can be hard to find fish.

Although charter and commercial fisherman Mike Millar isn't convinced that the majority of the salmon migrate north instead of south around Admiralty Island, he agrees that the fishing is good throughout most of the summer.

"(The Breadline's) very good for spawning kings in the spring," said Millar, who's been fishing out of Tee Harbor for 25 years. "And in August we start seeing the cohos and feeder kings, but it's dead in July."

But there's always someplace to fish, with Handtroller's Cove and the back side of Douglas Island typically being more productive in July.

Another side note to the Breadline is that it not only attracts salmon, but halibut as well. As the halibut migrate to inside waters in the summer, they too run into the sheer drop of the Breadline.

"People have seen halibut go around Point Louisa every now and then," Jones said.

Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sportswriter; he can be reached at 209-7427.

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