Grades for 2019
Coming up with grades for a season that runs from mid-May thru mid-September presents a challenge. We see ups and downs every year, but 2019 seemed particularly prone to peaks and valleys. Grading the season is an exercise in averaging 110 days of fishing into a single score that will look low to those who fished when times were hot and high for those who hit a low spot. It remains a fact that low grade in Sitka would be an A+ in other ports. A group that fished on my boat in the first three days of August, a time when the silver grade was a D, still came in with 6 or 8 silvers, a limit of rockfish, a limit of halibut, and a couple blackcod. Not exactly a skunking.
Kings – B: Better than forecast – a solid comeback.
We began the season with very modest expectations based on the low forecast. From day one of the season, we were delightfully surprised to find the kings more abundant than the very challenging 2018 season and they were robust fish. Most kings were in the mid to high teens, we boated fish up to 45 pounds and released a few that were guesstimated at over 50. We saw a couple dozen over 30 pounds. There were days of quick limits, days of working hard for a limit, and days (not many) of slim pickings. At least three times as king fishing seemed to be building to white hot, then they’d nearly disappear for a day or two. The regulations were set conservatively to protect the forecasted weak number of kings and we had an unwelcomed 2-week closure in early August followed by an unexpected reopening in mid-August. We’ve fished Sitka for nearly 3 decades – the solid king fishing in late August and early September was an unusual and welcome treat.
Silvers – C: Great peaks, unfortunate valleys.
Grading the silver run presents a serious challenge because when it was bad, it was bad. When it was good, it was good. When it was spectacular, it was truly spectacular. The run started late with few silvers showing in June. July continued to go slow until mid-month when quick limits were the rule for a day or two. Unfortunately, the fish did a disappearing act in late July and early August. By the second week in August catching heated up again – not lights out, but half limits to ¾ limits were the rule. Then came late August and the first 11 days of September when the big silvers showed in force. Saving the best for last, on September 10, our boats got limits of silvers that ranged from 10 to 18 pounds in a couple hours.
Halibut B+: Fast usually, dependable almost always.
Reliable best describes the 2019 halibut season. We found spots with fast limits some of the time and at other times we worked for them a little harder. Limits were the rule, not the exception and by the end of the season we had a spot were the 20-minute limit made it fast, furious and fun. I’m not giving halibut an A for 2019 because of the occasional day when getting the limit didn’t happen or took much longer than expected.
Rockfish – A: Fast and fun:
Fishing for rockfish remains a great way to end the day or provide a break in the midst of the day. If you want 20 or 30 minutes of sure-fire biting and action, these fish almost always oblige.
Lingcod – C: Great fishing, tough regulations:
Catching lingcod is pretty much a slam-dunk but finding lings that fit into our narrow slot limit of 30-35 inches makes for a challenge. Some days the “slot cod” seem fairly easy to come by, other days you can spend hours sifting through undersize and oversize lings looking for your prize. So, you either take them as an incidental bonus or you go after them once you’ve caught limits of everything else.
Blackcod – A: More and more of them.
Blackcod are not a fish we target most days. The most reliable depths for finding the big ones is well over 800 feet and that’s a lot of cranking. What we saw in 2019 is an increasing number of 2 to 5-pound blackcod mixed in with our halibut catches in 500 to 700 feet of water. The limit is 4 per person per day and we managed that on some days. Getting a couple blackcod mixed in with your halibut catch was more the common and most welcome given how good these fish are on the table.
Weather – A++: Calm, clear, sunny.
We’ve never seen a more consistently calm, clear, and sunny summer in Sitka. We saw very few days of rain, only a handful of truly blustery days, and the ocean was as flat as a lake for days on end throughout long stretches of the season. If there was one complaint, it was that calm, clear weather aids in fog creation, and we did have a few stretches of low visibility. But that’s nitpicking. The weather can’t get better than what we saw in 2019.