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Magazine story of illegal fishing technique raises Alaska anglers' ire

Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2002

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Two sentences in the latest issue of ''Outdoor Life'' magazine are causing quite a stir among Kenai River rainbow trout anglers.

In the February-March issue fishing editor Jerry Gibbs generates the big deal in describing how to use plastic beads, usually bought at craft stores in the sizes and colors of salmon eggs, to imitate salmon eggs to catch Kenai trout.

''The bead is toothpick-pegged an inch above a size 8 or 10 octopus-style hook,'' he wrote. ''If you peg the egg at the hook-eye, you'll get fewer strikes.''

Bead fishing for rainbows has long been a contentious issue in Alaska. Some true-blue fly anglers consider it unethical, arguing beads are too often used as snagging tools. And nearly everyone agrees snagging, or hooking fish in places other than the mouth, is unsporting.

The fishing technique he describes is specifically illegal on the Kenai. But biologists aren't sure the ban is needed and it may even be rescinded by the time prime fishing season begins.

''In all flowing waters of the Kenai Lake and Kenai River drainage, beads (attractors) must be either fixed to the lure, fly or hook, or be free-moving on the line or leader,'' according to the 2001 Sport Fishing Regulations Summary for Southcentral Alaska. ''You cannot fish with a bead fixed to the line.''

If a bead is placed up the line from the hook, the bead can cause the hook to flail and snag the fish. If the bead is placed at the hook or if it is placed so it is free sliding, which Southcentral regulations allow, then the fish is less likely to get clobbered by a flailing hook.

Several anglers have complained to state Fish and Wildlife Protection troopers about the article, and troopers are looking at it. But Sgt. Dennis Chan in Soldotna notes that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech.

Where the law comes into play is when troopers catch people fishing illegally or can find witnesses to prove someone was fishing illegally, he said.

Gibbs, in an interview with the Daily News, said he doesn't remember fishing the Kenai illegally with pegged eggs. In fact, he said, he's pretty sure the eggs were free-sliding.

''They were moveable up and down,'' he said. ''They were sliding.

''I guess the description is a little off.''

In Outdoor Life, Gibbs implies his bead-fishing advice for the Kenai comes from Curt Trout of Alaska Troutfitters. They are named at the top of a single column of print -- ''Follow the Bouncing Egg'' -- that runs along with Gibbs' story: ''Alaska Adventure -- Cheap Thrills.''

Curt Muse of Wasilla, the owner of Troutfitters, however, said he doesn't think he or any of his guides taught Gibbs the illegal technique.

Soldotna biologist Bruce King of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which writes the regulations and is responsible for managing the fishery, said all scientific evidence indicates that pegging beads within two inches of the hook doesn't cause any more fisheries problems than pegging beads at the hook or letting them float free.

The department's concern is so small that by the time fishing season rolls around this year, there is even a good possibility that what was an illegal technique described by Gibbs in Outdoor Life will be a legal technique.

But some anglers were very upset about beads because of the ethical question of snagging and the possibility for increased injuries to trout caught over and over again in catch-and-release fisheries.

''It's not really an efficiency issue,'' said Mac Minard, the regional supervisor for sport fisheries in the Interior. ''It's a hooking issue. If you place that bead, pegged, say within six inches (from the hook) or in excess of that, what you're doing is essentially snagging the fish.''

Some anglers who see snagging as something near the moral equivalent of catching fish with explosives or in-river gillnets complained about that. Those groups claimed that in popular and world-famous Alaska trout fisheries like Lower Talarik Creek on Iliamna Lake, anglers were seeing far too many fish with scars on their gill plates -- sometimes even missing eyes -- from being foul hooked.

They blamed beads pegged far above the hook. Fish that simply moved to take a look at the bead, they said, came within range of the hook bouncing nearby and ended up getting snagged somewhere in the head.

But the consensus now, he and biologist King agree, is that pegging the bead at the eye of the hook or within two-inches of the eye of the hook doesn't make any difference.

So now the Cooper Landing advisory board has joined others calling for standardizing the bead-pegging rule at two inches.

That could mean that by the time readers of Outdoor Life start fishing in Alaska, the illegal fishing technique described by Gibbs could be legal.

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