Coho derby at midway point, water conditions pose difficulties


October 13, 2022

Come warm weather or high water, the annual Haines Sportsman’s Association coho salmon derby advances.  Canadian Paul Hearn leads the overall competition with a 12.2 lb coho and local Steve Anderson follows with an 11 pound and 10.85-pound coho.  This year’s derby winner will be awarded a $1,250 check and $200 gift card to Outfitter Sporting Goods.  

The competition has faced some challenges this season, as heavy rains and warm weather make fishing difficult.  High water burdens fishermen with more surface area to cover while dirty water keeps fish from noticing lures.  

“Water conditions have been really tough,” Alaska Department of Fish and Game sport fish biologist Richard Chapell said. “Ideally this time of year it would start to get cold, glaciers would quit melting and producing so much silt, and the rivers would start clearing up. That will happen eventually, but it’s just a matter of time.” 

The 9 Mile Chilkat River fish wheel yielded an above average number of cohos late last week, according to Chapell.  However, rumors of poor fishing still flood town.  While the coho run met the state’s escapement goal, rough catching conditions have their consequences.  

“Even if they are coming in in decent numbers, they’re still hard to catch,” sport fisherman Gabe Long said.  “We’ve had just a fraction of the fish caught than we’ve seen in the past years.  One of the Canadian guys was at Chilkoot Lake all of Saturday and Sunday and didn’t catch a single coho. It’s fairly troubling.”  

Based on NOAA data, temperatures have been warmer than average, with temps so far averaging in the low 50s compared to the low 40s last October.  

“Usually when you’re out coho fishing you can’t feel your fingers,” Long said. “Now I’m out there, I can feel my fingers and I can’t catch fish.” 

Regardless of the conditions, derby ticket sales have been high.  The last two years the Haines Sportsman’s Association sold a record number of tickets--this year’s derby is the first since 2019 with Canadians also in the game.  

“There’s a bunch of Canadians that have been here and there’s more that still want to come down,” Alaska Sport Shop owner Doug Olerud said.  “I’ve had a lot of people say ‘give me a call when the water levels go down, there’s more fish in the river and things clear up’, then they want to come down.”

As for the rest of the categories, Calvin Zaremba currently holds both spots on the fly rod board, with 7.45 pound and 5.25-pound fish.  Alex Weerasinghe and Auden Kelly share the board for kids ages 11-15, both with 7.3-pound fish.  The derby continues through October 29th and will be followed by an award ceremony on November 4th.    


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