PUBLISHED: 11:05 AM on Thursday, April 24, 2008
Spring kings truly every angler's trophy
Fishing is every man's sport. The joy is in the outdoors, the chase, the quarry-all simple pleasures.

Yet in most fishing competitions today, the angler with the most toys often wins.

Winning anglers often are riding bigger, faster boats and packing more lures, newer rods, and enough electronic gear to run a Coast Guard cutter.

But not in Juneau each May.

Lee Leschper photo
  While many Derby winners are caught from shore, trolling does work, as these anglers netting a king salmon off False Outer Point prove.
The first kings of each Juneau spring, including the likely winner of The Spring King Salmon Derby, are uniquely accessible to bank fishermen.

It's believed that most of the early kings in Juneau waters are just passing through, headed for the Taku River, rather than ending up here to spawn. And for whatever reason, those big beautiful silver giants often pass local shorelines on their migration, often within yards of the rocks.

So shore-bound anglers have a better-than-equal chance to land a giant king and claim this year $5000 cash prize plus thousands in merchandise.

The 2005 Spring King Champion, Wally Frank Jr., caught his 37.95-pounder from the rocks at False Outer Point on Douglas Island.

As did Andres Soriano with a 34.6-pounder in 2006.

And Joseph Castillo with last year's 2007 winning 38.2-pounder.

"That shoreline fishery off False Outer Point is really good," said long-time Juneau charter guide Mike Duby. "They catch as many kings with herring and a two-ounce weight as we do trolling. There's always a big school of bait in there, and it's too shallow for boats to get in there (so the shore anglers have it to themselves). The water's less than 30 feet deep there and you're fishing back into 10 feet."

Lee Leschper photo
  Spring's good weather and the promise of a giant king salmon bring a flood of anglers to the popular rocks on False Outer Point. Spring kings offer a rare chance to catch huge fish from the shore, with a minimum of gear.
If you're looking for a shoreline king, rigging is also simple. A plug cut or curve-hooked herring spinning on a stout leader behind a swivel weight heavy enough to cast far off the rocks is the preferred rig. Most anglers prefer heavy spinning tackle and mule-strong heavy monofilament or Kevlar braided line.

And casting distance is not essential, with many very successful anglers never casting more than 50 feet from the shoreline.

The only draw back is lots of competition from other shoreline anglers.

Here's where courtesy and respect for other anglers is critical.

Last year a dispute broke out between a shoreline angler fighting a big king and a passing charter boat. The king ran through the boat's six trailing lines and downriggers, and broke off. It's

For the most part boaters try to stay out of range of the shore anglers, but a big fish can have its own ideas. That's why some shore anglers use tackle heavy enough to practically "skate" a 20-pounder across the surface!

My personal experience breaks all those rules. My shoreline spring kings have all come from other shorelines, on a heavy silver-and-pink Mepps Syclops spoon, cast on casting tackle.

And that's with a lot of casting-if I get one king in five trips, I'm very happy!

With the price of gasoline and diesel up threatening to break $4, there may be a few more shore anglers this year for purely economic reasons this spring, so it's nice to know it's not that big a handicap.

All that said, there will still be thousands of hours logged by trolling anglers this May, and they will catch lots of big salmon too.

For boating anglers, here are some suggestions Duby offers. For the last dozen years he has been fishing Juneau waters, first with a local lodge and the last several years as captain of his own fleet of charter boats.

"Remember this is a whole different king. It doesn't even look the same. They have more fat content, which they've stored up because they're going to be in fresh water longer. That's why they command such a high price and why they practically melt in your mouth.

"This time of year the kings are not schooled up yet. You're not getting doubles. There just are not that many out there. You are fishing where there may be only 20 fish on the whole Bread Line."

Most May anglers concentrate on the Bread Line, a sheer drop-off from Tee Harbor to the Shrine of St. Teresa and False Outer Point on Douglas Island. Both spots feature a steep drop-off and large concentrations of herring.

"These fish are often packed right against those rocks," Duby said. "The little skiffs pulling herring 15 feet behind the boat (and the bank anglers) will get most of the fish."

Anglers need to especially vigilant of tidal changes during May, he added.

"Tide changes are critical in May. There always seems to be a bite at the tide change. I like the low tide, when the bait is just coming in on the tide, but it can be either high or low tide.

Because spring kings are less aggressive, and have been feeding exclusively on herring, big fresh plug-cut herring are virtually the only bait most anglers consider. Some will use smaller whole herring, but fresh is vastly better than frozen.

"They will be really shallow, especially on the tide change. We rarely catch them deeper than 40 feet. And flat lines (trolled straight off the reel and without a downrigger) will catch most of them in 10 or 15 feet of water. I try to keep it around 20 feet."

While flashers and hoochies are effective later in the summer for more aggressive Cohoes and feeder kings, trolling a spinning herring without a flasher seems more effective in spring, he said.

"You have got to put a lot of time in. But there usually will be some kind of pattern, if you're paying attention and catch a fish. And if conditions remain the same, that same pattern will repeat itself the next day, say if they're biting at the tide change. You might get a week going with the same pattern every day."

Lee Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director for the Juneau Empire. Email him at