Give back October

An outdoor view

Posted: Friday, January 07, 2005

When the Board of Fisheries meets in Anchorage later this month, I hope we get October back.

For years, we could fish for Kenai River coho (silver) salmon until Oct. 31. In March 1997, with little biological justification, the board said we couldn't fish for coho after Sept. 30.

That hurt. Those of us who live in Alaska year-round need all the fishing opportunity we can get. Our fishing year is six months long, at best. To take away a month without good reason was wrong.

For one thing, it's arguable that the Kenai cohos needed "saving." Even if the board was favoring the conservation side, due to a lack of spawning-escapement data, the October closure saved an insignificant number of cohos.

At best, October offers only a few days when fishing is possible. The weather is windy and cold. It sometimes snows. Your line freezes in the guides. Toward the end of the month, if you're fishing below Skilak Lake, you may have to break through ice to get back to the lower Skilak boat launch. If you make it, the ramp will be a sheet of ice.

When we do brave the weather, few of us target cohos. We're after rainbows and Dollys. By October, the water has cooled considerably, and maturing coho are sluggish, and not much fun to catch. They're living on their fat reserves, and they aren't prime table fare.

That said, we catch an occasional bright coho, and it's nice to be able to take it home for dinner. Take away our ability to do that, and you chip away a piece of why we live in Alaska year-round.

The fish board will be considering four proposals that bear on this subject. Prop. 160 proposes a "residents only," Oct. 1-Nov. 30 coho season. Prop. 163 would allow only unguided anglers to fish for coho from Oct. 1-Oct. 31. Prop. 165 would extend the existing coho season to Oct. 31. Prop. 168 would set the season at July 1-Dec. 31, and restrict guides from using power boats.

I prefer Prop. 163. Guided anglers would still be able to fish for trout, but they wouldn't be able to target cohos. This would help to ensure that these cohos wouldn't be over-exploited by our growing sport-fishing industry. At the same time, it would help to ensure that residents can take home an occasional salmon. It would give October back.

Les Palmer is a writer who lives in Sterling.

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