The annual September run of coho salmon, coupled with the pleasant weather this week, has provided anglers with ample opportunity to get a few more rod hours in before the end of the season and one last chance to fill the freezer with fish for the approaching winter.
Whether fishing the banks of rivers and streams or trolling the straits and canals, many anglers are reaping the rewards of the final weeks of a memorable and unusually warm fishing season. Some local residents have already pulled their boats out of the water for the winter; others are preparing final batches of smoked salmon, while some are hoping to swap the last bit of their bait for an extra salmon or two in their freezer.
"I think it's been a great season," said Juneau resident Dennis Cole, while fishing at Kowee Creek, a coho hot spot near Echo Cove. "Best summer since I've been here in '93. Best weather I've seen."
Kowee Creek in fall is memorable for its gentle winds sweeping alder leaves into the creek like large yellow raindrops, Devil's Club drooping in decay and fresh brown bear tracks.
"There's three brownies up there kind of fighting for fishing holes with some fishermen this morning, so we decided to stay here near the bridge," said Cole Friday morning. "We didn't bring any protection really."
Not only have Juneau residents and tourists been competing with brown bears for ideal locations, they've been competing with each other for parking spaces. Shoe prints and paw prints clustering the muddy trails are evidence of the high human and animal traffic in the area.
"It seems like right now it's just starting to roll in pretty good," said Cole. "Probably another week before it starts getting heavy. Probably another two, three weeks before the end of the run."
According to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game fish counts, it currently takes four rod hours to catch a coho in salt water, down from five hours last week. At this time last year ADF&G said it took three rod hours to land a coho in salt water, but the five-year average is four rod hours. ADF&G has not done any fresh-water counts in the Juneau area.
"The fish seem to be really fresh at Kowee Creek, they still have some sea life on them," said Jason Gasper, assistant area biologist for ADF&G. "I would expect the fishing to get better upstream as fall progresses."
Although there has been less water in the creeks and rivers due to the dry weather this summer, Gasper said this season was a good year over all.
"I'd say the coho run looks strong this year," he said. "The fishing's been good."
Gasper said that bait fishing for coho, also referred to as silver salmon, opened Sept. 15 for most fresh-water creeks, including Kowee Creek, and will close Nov. 15. There is no bait fishing allowed on Montana Creek, another popular coho fishing spot that is located closer to town.
Not only is the coho run providing food and fun for local anglers, it is also generating a few more dollars for the local economy as the tourism season winds down.
Jon Poetzl and five others traveled from Pennsylvania after three of them had an enjoyable time in Juneau last fall while fishing for cohos.
"This time of year is beautiful, I mean the weather is perfect," he said. "We love any time on the water, period, so it doesn't particularly matter what we fish for."
Poetzl and several of his fishing buddies had caught a number of cohos at Kowee Creek Friday morning and said they enjoy the area because of the "lack of pressure." He said he usually fishes in Pennsylvania for salmon, steelhead, trout and smallmouth bass.
"It took us a day or two to get on the fish, but once we find them we get them figured out," Poetzl said.
Juneau resident Dan Schultz was out at Kowee Creek Friday morning for the first time since he's lived in Juneau. He caught one coho in about five minutes, he said, but decided to take it back to his truck due to bear activity in the area.
"I saw some really fresh sow and cub brown bear tracks down there by myself so I figured I would come back put the fish away and go back and try to get another one someplace else," he said.
Schultz said he enjoys fishing cohos for the meat.
"I'll probably smoke it up," he said.
Cole said he enjoys fishing at Kowee Creek in September because it gives him a chance to get out of the boat and do a little fresh-water fishing near the end of the season.
The fishing season is, "Pretty much winding up," he said. "Usually in September we do a little Kowee fishing and then back in the boat and start deer hunting. About two or three weeks and we're kind of finishing up fishing and then start deer hunting, filling the freezer."
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