“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” – Neils Bohr, Danish physicist.
The coming season definitely qualifies as the future, but I’m willing to take a shot at the Sitka fishing outlook anyway.
Kings: The king abundance index (AI) of 1.2 is low. This signals low productivity of kings from the Columbia River and north. We’ve seen AI’s this low from 1999-2001 and again in 2008. My recollection of 1999-2001 is they were all decent years for catching kings. The year of 2008 stands out in my memory with solid king fishing during May, June, and early July. The king fishing from mid-July through the end of August was spectacular. As I’ve said a number of times recently, we don’t see a correlation between the AI and the fishing, but there is a direct correlation between AI and regulations. I think we get a better look into the 2013 season by looking at the long-term experience on the waters near Sitka and that’s the best saltwater king salmon fishing anywhere in the Pacific. So, based on our 20 years of experience in Sitka, I’ll make a very safe prediction: king salmon fishing will be somewhere between good and great.
Cohos: We don’t get much to base a coho prediction on other than word from Alaska Department of Fish and Game that coho stocks in general in Southeast Alaska are doing well. What determines a strong coho season seems to have a lot more to do with mysterious forces on the ocean, which influence bait abundance. If we have lots of bait and productivity in our waters, the coho fishing is mostly excellent. Very clear nutrient deprived water produces slower fishing. Again, more than relying on some predictive data, I find it more useful to look at the past 20 years. Over the course of those years, cohos have arrived in large numbers as early as mid-June and as late as early August. Most years they are well established by the second week of July. Typically the early run comes in fits and starts, after which we get more dependable day in, day out fishing that lasts until at least late August. How late in the season the fishing remains strong seems to depend on rain. The more it rains, the more the fish head for the home stream. A long dry stretch in August and early September often yields great coho fishing as the fish stack up on the ocean and fatten while waiting for a freshet in the rivers. How does one make a prediction when key influences on the outcome are ocean currents and weather? I’ll base it on the law of averages: solid to excellent coho fishing in July and August followed by a better than expected early September due to lack of rainfall.
Halibut: I’ll avoid complication and explanation other than to say the halibut resource is hopefully beginning torebound from lower than average levels. The rebound has been fueled by much lower catch quotas for both commercial and charter fishers. My crystal ball indicates that halibut fishing will be steady with the most dependable catches coming from deep water. Expect lots of halibut inshore near our salmon spots but many will be a bit too small for keeping.
Rockfish and lingcod: Expect a good year for both and expect some frustration with a lingcod slot limit of 30 to 35 inches. Catching lings as long as your leg is pretty commonplace these days, but you can’t keep them. This year is the beginning of a new regulation to release all demersal shelf rockfish (the species that generally stay on bottom) to depth so they recompress and can swim back down. We supported this regulation because it promises to save the lives of these very old, slow growing fish.
Intangibles: This prediction is easy. Fun – lots of it. A great AU team of captains, deckhands, hostesses, processor, and management – guaranteed.