While some returns of wild stock king salmon in Southeast Alaska have been historically low this year, some hatchery produced Chinook are showing up at sites near Petersburg this month. Those include kings making their way back to the Crystal Lake hatchery on southern Mitkof Island and a new release near City Creek on the north end of the island.
Seventeen and a half miles south of Petersburg, the Crystal Lake Hatchery releases nearly 600-thousand king salmon smolts into Blind Slough. It’s too early for an estimate of the return this year as the fish are just starting to make their way through the fresh water of Blind Slough and back to the hatchery. Alaska Department of Fish and Game sport fish biologist Patrick Fowler said the forecast is for 2,500 kings to make it back to the terminal harvest area in the Wrangell Narrows and Blind Slough.
“Which is a little bit less than last year but a pretty good year and those fish have been intercepted in pretty good rates throughout the winter, especially the winter troll fishery,” Fowler said, adding, “leading us to believe that the forecast is coming in pretty much on what we guessed, pretty accurate. And yeah, so far we’re seeing pretty good numbers of fish in Blind Slough itself and kindof the lower portion of Blind Slough there. Some pretty good catch rates in the Wrangell Narrows terminal area. So it looks like it’s coming in pretty good.”
Those kings are caught by sport anglers casting from shore at Blind River Rapids and from boats trolling in the Wrangell Narrows. They’re also caught in commercial fisheries. This summer’s cool rainy weather is better for those kings surviving the journey through Blind Slough. In hotter summers the rapids have seen the die off of most of the run and closed fishing but so far this year that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Crystal Lake is owned by the state and operated by the Ketchikan-based Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, or SSRAA. In 2014, the hatchery started up a new release of Crystal Lake kings, placing smolt in an off-shore net pen near the mouth of City Creek, about three miles from downtown Petersburg. This was the third year of releases at City Creek.
SSRAA’s hatchery manager Loren Thompson saidit went well. “We released 98,000 Chinook smolt at about 21 grams,” Thompson said. “And we released those on the 23rd of May. They were out there for about six weeks.”
The young salmon are held in the net pen to imprint the location so they’ll return in future years. This year some of the first fully grown adults are showing up from that initial release of 200,000 kings back in 2014. Thompson said he has heard about people catching fish around City Creek. “Sounds like a few times they were schooled up pretty good and people were banging into ‘em,” he said. “And that’s probably going on right now too. As well as down in Blind Slough and the Narrows and also at the rapids. There’s pretty good activity down there too. So there’s some king fishing opportunities right now.”
Fish and Game’s Fowler said the City Creek kings, marked with a coded wire tag, have been caught by commercial trollers and sport anglers. “We’ve got some good coded wire tag recoveries. Some as they were two-ocean fish and more now that they are three-ocean fish, especially like in the winter troll fishery again. We saw pretty good catch rates showing up in stock composition leading us to think that they survived pretty well. And now we are starting to see some anecdotal reports of some pretty good fishing right there in front of the net pens from Sandy Beach to Frederick Point. There’s a few anglers that have keyed into it and have kindof reported some pretty good catch rates.”
City Creek is a small drainage, with little area where kings could spawn. Nevertheless, Fowler said he’s keeping an eye on whether any of those fish get into the creek itself. “And I actually walked the creek last week and didn’t see anything in the creek itself. That’s something we’ll definitely kinda keep an eye on and see how many fish are returning to that area. If they’re milling around right in front of the creek or if some are actually coming in the creek and we might, ultimately our goal is we wanna harvest those fish and we might change sport fish regulations to provide additional opportunity if there’s a lot of fish that are showing up and actually getting into the creek.”
The release at City Creek started in 2014 and missed a year in 2015 because of a fire at the hatchery that destroyed some of the young salmon. That means kings aren’t expected back to that site next year but should return the following year if all goes well.