Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fish Stories

020(Chuck) One of the many things that we hoped to accomplish on this Alaska trip was to experience Alaska Salmon fishing. Alaska Salmon come in five species. Chinook Salmon (Kings), Sockeye Salmon (Reds), Coho Salmon (Silvers), Chum Salmon (Dog), Pink Salmon (Humpies). I don’t know why they have two names, but I do know that the Reds have a very red meat. Kings are the largest and considered to be the most tasty. Reds are far more plentiful and are also excellent to eat. Silvers return in August and provide great acrobatics. The Dogs are used for sled dog food, and the locals don’t seem to think the Humpies are edible. 021

Each of these Salmon species hatch from eggs fertilized and deposited in certain Alaska streams and lakes. The fry may spend a season in the fresh water and then venture out to the ocean for several years. When mature they will swim thousands of miles back to the same river and follow the very stream that they were hatched in years before. They then go through the mating ritual and soon die. This process is repeated each year.

Kings are quite large. They will commonly be twenty to fifty pounds and the record is 97 pounds. IMG_0114King Salmon numbers in the Kenai River have been severely diminished in the past years. There are probably several reasons for the lower numbers and it is a great concern for the commercial guides and sport fishing in Alaska. People pay thousands of dollars to travel to the state and hope to tie into one of the best fighting fish in the state. While fishing for Reds in the Kasilof River I hooked a King. It was one of the most exciting times that I have had with a rod in my hands. The drag screamed as he took off into the current of the river. I slowed him down and fortunately he turned my way and we had a tug of war for quite some time. I was fortunate to be able to get him to shallow water and Jack expertly netted him. I did not have a King stamp and it was a natural raised fish, so it was returned to the water. Rules state that the fish should not be removed from the water so the photo does not show the fish well. Jack said it was about twenty five pounds. It was a thrill to have landed him. They will commonly get into the current of the river and break the line.002

The Reds come to the Kenai River in two major runs. The early run is the last three weeks of June. The majority of these fish go to the Russian River and provide sport fishermen with the first taste of “combat fishing”. They stand in close quarters and employ the “Kenai flip” to toss out the weight and hook. The second run is the last three weeks of July and the fish count is much larger. The limit of three fish was expanded to six as the numbers revealed a very large run of Sockeye (Reds). We nearly filled the freezer and have also smoked some of the catch. It is a thrill to hook a Sockeye. They weigh about twelve pounds and give an exceptional fight. They are very acrobatic and will jump in the air and splash water all around.

006Jan and I each purchased an Alaska fishing license. A non-resident license costs $145 and it was easily worth the experience for us. We each caught our limit on this trip to the Kenai River.

The salmon that reach the sport fishermen in the rivers are survivors. The bulk of the fish have been harvested in the ocean by large factory boats. Next are the drift net fishermen in the Cook Inlet. They employ gill nets up to a quarter mile long. Next are the family oriented set net fishermen who use gill nets of 300 feet which are set near the mouth of the rivers of the Cook Inlet. Alaska residents also have the opportunity to capture large amounts of salmon at the mouth of the rivers with dip 001nets. This is derived from the historical use of the salmon as subsistence food. Alaska Fish and Game provide an excellent web site to monitor the fish counts and to determine run timing at It is an excellent resource for determining fish activity. According to Alaska Fish and Game the resource of Alaska Fish is worth over six billion dollars per year. The industry is well regulated to provide for the sustainability of the resource. This is a serious matter to the state and is written into the constitution of the state of Alaska.

(Jan) Okay, so we got a fishing licenses and I decided to give this salmon fishing thing a try.  For over 2 weeks Chuck & I, along with our other friends, went down to the Kenai River either at Centennial Park or near our camping spot to learn how to navigate the fast flowing water in hip or chest waders and practice our Kenai flip. I did get good enough that no would laugh and point but I didn’t catch any salmon. Chuck did catch several. 012

Well, then it happened! The second run started, half the population of Anchorage moved to Soldotna to fish and our local friend Jack said, “it’s time to get serious’. Jack, Chuck, Ron and Gregg got their limit of 3 salmon very quickly last Tuesday morning at Rotary Park access and I decided to join them on Wednesday morning. However, my hip waders weren’t going to work to get to the ‘good’ fishing hole at Rotary. You have to hike about 1/2 mile and go down 45 steps into a hip deep part of the river. 007Thanks to Jack and Robin’s loan of Guide Pants & Boots, I navigated (holding hands with Chuck) the stream out to the Island and was set for one of those thrills of a life time! Amazing!  I managed to ‘hook up’ several times before I actually managed to get a salmon firmly hooked on my line! It pulled so hard! My rod bent way over & I wondered if I was going to be able to bring it into shore. ‘Start backing up’, ‘Hold Firm, Rod tip up, Don’t let your line go straight, You’re in shallow water now, Rod tip down & to the side’ and I did manage to drag that fish on shore! Oh My! What a thrill….Chuck took care of the fish & put him on our stringer and then said, ‘go out there and get another one’! Second fish, same as the first but this one fought harder and as I was backing up, I landed on my backside in a foot or so of water but I did land my fish! Fish #3 was shortly added to our stringer along with Chuck’s catch!  Cleaning the fish came next and then the climb/hike back to the Jeep. Thursday and Friday we were back out there at 5 A.M. On Saturday we took a break. The limit was raised to 6 that week-end so Jack, Chuck & Ron went out at 3:30 A.M. on Sunday.  Others in our group came with us or fished at our camp site last week and were all successful! Each fishing venture ended with time in the kitchen trimming & vacuum packing fish. Our freezers are pretty full of salmon and the halibut from Ninilchik.

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Sunday Dean & Judy, Ron & Bernita, Gregg & Sally and Chuck & I were invited to Jack & Robin’s home to smoke salmon. We all brined fish the night before and then rinsed the fish, racked them and then used their smoker. We combined smoking with a Pegs & Jokers and Jigsaw Puzzle day and later a delicious potluck including salmon caught that morning. Jack & Robin have been so good to us and the smoked fish is delicious!

P1040630Girls lunch SoldotnaLast Thursday evening we had a fun gathering for Sandy’s birthday with salads & salmon dishes. Also we had a girls luncheon on Saturday at St. Elias Brewery, pastries for desert from The Moose is Loose and a tour of several gift shops that were featuring marvelous quilts for the 2013 Quilt Show. Lovely Day!

(Chuck) After 30 days at a wonderful boondock spot near the Soldotna Airport, we have moved down the Kenai Peninsula to the Homer Spit. We are on a beautiful spot overlooking the water in Mariner Campground which is run by the city of Homer. The cost is a modest $15 and well worth every penny. We will be here three nights and then return to Soldotna for the week-end before heading on to Seward.


Jim & Nanc said...

Great post!! Love the fish stories. Hope to get there next year. Travel safe!!!

Sharon Del Rosario said...

It's great to see the comments the two of you made on the fishing. Jan, you're much braver than I am! Glad you're enjoying your trip so much, and we're enjoying it vicariously. Thanks so much for the wonderful post.

Nancy said...

What great storytelling! Loved reading about your fishing adventures and the preparation, too.

Nancy said...

What great storytelling! I was right there with you guys when you're describing the excitement. And then you had fun preparing all the catch for your enjoyment in the next year or so!

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