Anglers fishing the first weekend of the annual Haines Sportsman’s Association King Salmon Derby turned in 15 fish – including seven caught in Chilkoot Inlet – but organizers and biologists expect the derby haul will improve this weekend.
“With all the pessimism going around, I’m happy for the 15 fish we were able to get after the first weekend,” said Toni Dewitt, derby co-coordinator.
Jeff David Jr. of Haines leads the derby with a 28.15-pound king he hooked Monday near Chilkat Inlet’s Glacier Point.
Biologists said most of the Chilkoot fish are likely hatchery-raised kings from Skagway’s Pullen Creek or ones from a pen release in Lutak Inlet. Last year, one- fourth of the 25 fish turned in during the derby’s first weekend came from Chilkoot.
“I encourage people to continue to fish on the town side,” said Brian Elliott, a sport fish biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “It will give us a better understanding of the diversity of our fishery.”
One tagged fish was caught near Skagway, and research was pending on its origin. Derby fishing area does not extend to Taiya Inlet.
During the week leading up to the derby, anglers were averaging 114 rod hours. That compares to 59 rod hours leading into the derby one year ago. Biologist Rich Chapell said required effort seems steep, but is an improvement from fishing previous to May 19, when no kings were caught. “At least we’re on the scoreboard.”
Chapell said it’s too early in the run to say much about this year’s return. Some of the kings caught in Chilkoot Inlet may have been feeding, immature kings or wild or hatchery-raised fish from other areas of Southeast , he said. “The big Chilkat spawners really haven’t showed up yet. “
In a typical season, 25 percent of king salmon caught are hatchery-raised fish, according to agency creel surveys, Chapell said.
Fish and Game tags about 10 percent of wild Chilkat kings each year. Twenty percent of hatchery kings released at Lutak were tagged and 10 percent of Pullen Creek kings are tagged. Some tagged fish caught here may also be wild or hatchery kings from other areas.
DeWitt is hoping for improved derby returns this coming weekend. “The weather was great for this past weekend,” said Toni Dewitt. “But I hope it holds up and that more people get out this weekend.”
The derby is estimated to sell around 80 annual tickets and close to one hundred daily tickets by the end of the event, according to Dewitt. The tickets can be punched only at Letnikof Cove to be accounted for in the derby.
The King Salmon Derby will continue Saturday and ends 6 p.m. Sunday.
Derby leaders this week included: 1) Jeff David Jr., 28.15 pounds; 2) Charlie Dewitt, 26.65; 3) Glenn Hart, 26.10; 4) Bev Klanott, 24.95; 5) Connie Staska, 19.45; 6) Leonard Willard, 17.8; 7) Barb Warner, 16.8; 8) Lucy Harrell, 16.15; 9) Gregg Richmond, 13.8; 10) Sandra Weatlen, 12.75; 11.) Deedee Hart, 10.88; 12) Evelyn Collinson, 10.5.