The fish of the Sitka watersheds

Pictured: Salmon Lake by Justin Koller

This essay is part of an ongoing blog series on the Tongass National Forest, featuring the healthy & productive waters of the "Tongass 77." If you are interested in learning more, please see the intro page and other posts by clicking here.

By: Mark Hieronymus

The Sitka area is home to fourteen T77 watersheds: Nakwasina River, Redoubt Lake, Rodman Bay, Salmon Lake, Saook Bay, Sea Lion Cove, Ushk Bay, Mount Edgecumbe, Lake Eva, Krestof Sound, South Arm Kelp Bay, Fish Bay, Appleton Cove, and Deep Bay.

From the volcanic formations that abound in the watersheds of Kruzof Island to the small lake and creek systems of the north Baranof foothills, the T77 streams of the Sitka area are as diverse a group as one can possibly imagine. I lived in Sitka for 4 years in the late 90’s while attending college and frittered away many a classroom hour daydreaming about the fish in these watersheds. When the weekends rolled around, my friends and I would be on our way to make more daydream fodder in these watersheds armed with fishing rods, cameras, and occasionally deer rifles.

Nakwasina River by Jeff Nichols

The Sitka area T77 watersheds are all gems, but even among the gems there are some that stand out for their incredible fish value. The sockeye returns to the Sitka area T77 streams include one of the largest naturally occurring island system runs on islands not named Kodiak, and more than a few of the coho runs are significant contributors to both sport and commercial fishing tallies. Add to that nearly a million pink salmon coming back to the Sitka area T77 streams and you have a veritable salmon cornucopia. 

Sitkoh Lake photo by Mark Kaelke

Steelhead, char, and cutthroat trout are also found in many of the Sitka area T77 watersheds, and in some cases they are the stars of the show. One of the Sitka area T77 streams has one of the largest overwintering char populations in Southeast Alaska, and another was the location of the old Alaska state record Dolly Varden catch. Finals week is pretty difficult for most every college student but for a fella like me with steelhead on the brain, the late April arrival of these fish was a true test of my academic resolve. I managed to graduate on time and carry a respectable GPA, but I spent most of my waking, non-scholastic hours going to, coming from, or angling and hunting in the area T77 watersheds.

Mt Edgecumbe, photo by Justin Koller

I haven’t had the opportunity to recreate in the Sitka area T77 watersheds since I moved to Juneau in 2001, but I still have the memories from moments stolen between labs and classes. Every year, a few friends from Sitka send me pictures of big fish from these watersheds, or big deer harvested from the surrounding uplands. I admit that sometimes I get a little jealous, but instead of feeling like they are rubbing it in, I am happy that they get to enjoy these areas in the same fashion as I did years ago. The conservation measures of the T77 would ensure that these watersheds will go on making fish, wildlife, and memories for generations to come.

See more pictures from the Sitka watersheds here.

Take action today! As the United States Forest Service nears a comment period on its Tongass Land Management Plan, it is imperative that they understand the importance of tourism and fisheries programs to Southeast Alaska’s economy and the potential impacts that development has on them. TU is working to convince Forest Service leaders that maintaining traditional use and access, and the health and function of fish and wildlife habitat should be the top priorities for managing and maintaining over 70 key areas within the Tongass. If you appreciate and enjoy these places and the fish they produce and support, Tongass Managers need to hear from you. Click here to let the Forest Service know that building and maintaining tourism infrastructure, restoring salmon streams, and conserving the 'Tongass 77' are great ways the Forest Service can help keep both our national forest & local tourism industries thriving.

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