Fish for the winter

Channel Drive fishery provides food, camaraderie

Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2002

A different kind of market has been operating this month in Wayside Park near DIPAC's Macaulay Hatchery on Channel Drive. Coho salmon, most of them weighing around 8 pounds, are being pulled out of the "grocery store" of Gastineau Channel at a surprisingly fast rate.

"I got these two in 10 minutes," said one fisherman, standing at the top of the city-run dock in the park.

"Six, in 45 minutes," said another, standing on the shore.

The fish are cohos, and, according to most of the people catching them, they're pretty tasty.

"You just pan fry it up or throw it on the barbecue with some spices and it's great," said Crystal Jordan, who accompanied her friend Jason Morgan as he fished Tuesday morning.

Morgan grew up hunting, fishing and trapping in the Canadian bush, so he prefers getting his fish from the channel rather than from a market.

"It's a lot cheaper and more fun to come to the grocery store here than to go to the real thing," he said. He used a lure on Tuesday morning to catch six fish from the shore near DIPAC, four of which he gave to tourists and other fishermen on the shore.

Fishermen, and most of the people lining the shore are men, are allowed to catch up to six fish a day - a limit reached by most, especially the snaggers, fairly quickly. Snagging fish is not much more complicated than the technique's name implies - the fisherman casts his hook in the water and jerks it in until it jabs a passing fish. Lyle Williams, who snagged six fish in 45 minutes on Tuesday morning, said it's like grocery shopping. "It's really easy."

It's also economical.

"This is a place for those of us who don't have boats to get fish to feed our families," said Larry Buzzell, who has lived in Juneau for 24 years and has been fishing off the docks near the DIPAC hatchery since they were built. "It's a harvest fishery."

Acquiring cheap food seems to be the underlying theme of the fishing this time of year near DIPAC, but that's not the only reason many come to the park day after day.

"It's ... what would you call it? It's just a bunch of old guys getting together," said Harold Wheaton, who said he has been fishing off the shore for nearly 40 years. "Sometimes I'll see people here that I haven't seen in years."

Like a lot of these fishermen, Wheaton will give his catch to family or friends. "I've got enough fish, so I'm fishing for the ones that can't."

Although snagging fish is easy, strategy is still a topic of discussion in the park. Ben Olson, fishing next to Buzzell on Tuesday, prefers to fish off of the dock during the high tide.

"I stand up on the ledge here to get that eagle vision," Olson said. "And the sunglasses cut the glare so you can see the fish through the water." Despite the rainy, cloudy weather, every fisherman on the docks Tuesday afternoon was wearing sunglasses.

Buzzell said he prefers to fish in the middle tide, because the fish are too far away during the low tide.

"The only secret to fishing here is that you have to be here when the fish are," Buzzell said.

Charles Buggs, an artist who fishes near DIPAC almost every day, had a different thought on when the fishing is best.

"I like to fish in the low tide," Buggs said. "You have the same number of fish, but less water."

Ken Coate, one of three fishermen using a lure among the snaggers Wednesday morning, said with snagging the tide doesn't make a difference.

"You're going to get the fish anytime." He said that as a sport fisherman and hunter his freezer is already full of fish, so he doesn't need the high yield of fish the others are catching.

"If that's the only way you have to put meat in your freezer, though, well, it's just like using a gillnet," he said, referring to the commercial fishing technique in which nets are hung vertically in the water to entangle fish by their gills as they swim by. "The definition of an ethical harvest here is up to a man's opinion."

Diane Andre, who has lived in Juneau for 20 years and in Alaska her entire life, said she uses the fish she snags on the dock, along with deer meat, to feed her family through the winter.

"We don't waste anything," Andre said. "We even use the backbone in stew. A lot of these guys will just leave the backbone on the shore, but there's still a lot of good meat on it."

John Carter, director of Douglas Island Pink and Chum, the hatchery that releases the fish caught on the city dock, said he is happy hatchery fish are going into people's homes.

"That's why we're raising them," he said. "It's very exciting to see all the people there fishing."

He does, however, have some reservations about the safety of snagging. If a hook is only loosely snagged on the fish, it could come loose as the fisherman jerks the line and injure the fisherman and others in his vicinity.

"Snagging appears to be dangerous," he said. "The fishermen crowd up by our ladder there and they're so compressed."

DIPAC has submitted a proposal to the state Board of Fisheries to reinstate a ban on snagging that applied to the original DIPAC dock that was dismantled when the state built the new, larger dock. The proposal would ban snagging between the Macaulay Hatchery and the dock, said Brian Glynn, area management biologist for the Sport Fish Division of Alaska Department of Fish and Game. A decision on the proposal will be made by the Board of Fisheries in February.

Whether or not snagging is banned, Wayside Park will remain an important fishing area. Louie Morge, a cruise ship passenger who visited DIPAC on Tuesday, reminded one of the fishermen of the advantages of life in Alaska.

"The salmon are a gift from God to the people of Alaska," Morge said. "You're so lucky up here."

Christine Schmid can be reached at

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