By Hal Herring
Editor’s Note: Conservationist blogger Hal Herring spent five days exploring and fishing Alaska’s Tongass National Forest earlier this month. This is the second of five reports.
Chad Shmukler with a medium-sized Dolly from Sheep Creek, showing a bead rig and heavy leader—the only method of keeping your rig if you hook a chum salmon by mistake.
Up until this point in my life, I’ve never tried to avoid catching the biggest fish in the creek in favor of the smaller ones. But here on Sheep Creek, only a few minutes from Juneau, the trick is to not catch the huge, green and red tiger-striped chum salmon that are spawning everywhere around you, thrashing and exploding in eight inches of water on the perfectly round redds they scooped out of the gravel for spawning, because you probably cannot land them. Valuable time will be wasted watching your bead egg rig and strike indicator disappear slowly upriver as if it were hooked to a golf cart driven by an old man with not a hurry in this world, or even worse, snagged on a giant salmon’s dorsal fin, clearly visible in some shallow pool. But every time you wade out to try and unsnag it, the fish shifts, just out of reach, or decides to head upriver and break you off that way. We are standing literally in the midst of the spawn, on a short section of creek that snakes a few times across a flat of grass and mud and ends abruptly in the saltwater of the Gastineau Channel, with passing fishing boats, tugs, even a cruise ship visible in the near distance.