I used to have a charter boat in Southeast Alaska, and I can remember the fishing of a lifetime. From king salmon to halibut and snapper to lingcod, it was the best fishing I can remember. I still go back every summer and relive the memories. Early in the morning traveling between numerous islands heading to the fishing grounds where the wildlife comes alive. The whales breaching, the birds and fish beneath working together to have a great breakfast on the baitfish—I think to myself this is a great day and I haven’t yet even put a line in the water. I’m heading to one of my favorite spots on the edge of the open ocean and I’m passing the shore of another little island when I notice a whale working the surface. Then I see a sea lion a couple hundred yards further along some kelp. When I see a dozen diver ducks popping up near the whale, it cements my notion. I pull back and come to a motoring crawl fifty yards behind the whale. Studying the depth sounder from top to bottom I come upon the jack pot of all schools of bait. If there are any salmon in the ocean there have to be some of them taking advantage of this meal.
I pull up past it closer to the kelp ahead and shut down the engine. The serenity with the whale’s blow is enough to make me just stop and listen for a moment. I put the kicker down, start it, and let it warm up as I put bait on my pole. I like using a 9 foot G-Loomis rod that handles a 4 oz. weight nicely. You can feel anything with it and yet it has a lot of backbone to handle the deep water and heavy fish. I have an Abu Garcia line counter reel with 25 lb test outfitted with it, and a 5-6 ft leader tied to a 4 oz. lead. I tie all my own leaders and this one is 40 lb test with 4/0 Gamakatzu octopus hooks. When I tie them I space the hooks just far enough apart that will allow you to put one hook on each side of a cut plug herring. I cut the herring on a compound miter behind the gill plate of medium size herring. The miter should be a 20 degree tilt and a 30 degree angle of the knife. Then I pull the guts out of the herring so it won’t foul the spin. After it is cut and ready I take the bottom hook and pull it through the cut on the shorter side of the herring above the backbone coming out on the opposite side. Then, I do the same with the next hook passing it through the same hole. After both hooks are through the hole made, I put the lower hook on the longer side of the bait first, placed in the center of the herring. Then I put the upper hook on the shorter and opposite side of the herring so the line ends up wrapping around the top of the herring to the first hook. Now I’m set.
I test the spin of the herring and it’s perfect. The front of the bait is just turning on the axis of the line and the tail has a beautiful flop to it. I put the kicker in gear and start dropping my line as I look at the sounder and see the bait ball beneath appearing 30 ft above bottom at a depth of 145 ft. I check my line counter and it shows I’m at 80 ft, 90, 100, 110, 120 ft and stops as if I hit a false bottom. I stand up off the gunnel and start reeling as fast as I can and sure enough the line goes tight and I can feel several quick jerks. I reel down as my pole tip touches the water, the line is good and tight, and I jerk the pole up with all my might to set the hook. With three or four quick jerks the line goes slack and I have to start pealing in line as fast as possible to keep it fairly tight. I reel in nearly all my line and he shows himself to me about 10 ft from the boat—he’s a 50-60 lb slug of a king. My knees get a bit weak, I’ve been hoping to hook one like this for years, and he decides to run. The line is now pealing out at a rate that would burn your fingers and even with 200 yards of backing on the reel, I start to worry he is going to take it all. I put the kicker in gear and give it full throttle. It is still taking my line, but with me chasing him with the boat, it starts to slow, and then he tires enough to bring in several yards. He changes direction and I have to flip the boat around and give it full throttle in another direction trying to regain any line I can. I now at least can’t see my spool which gives me a little more confidence as my heart is racing. I slow the engine and start working him back to the boat. I can stop the engine now, but he’s still nearly a hundred yards away. I slowly work him back in closer until he’s had enough and takes another run. We battle it like this, back and forth, for several more times. And I think I’m going to bring him in this time. I manage to work him in closer and get the net out. I reel him up as close as I can and start with the net. A moment before I can reach with the net, he decides he hasn’t had enough. He makes another run and takes out another 150 yards. I can’t believe it; is he going to stop? He’s obviously tired now and I pull him back to the boat, this time it’s obvious, he lays over on his belly admitting defeat and I slide him into the net.
Pulling him into the boat, I can’t believe it. I let out a cry of glee and try and hold him up in the glistening morning sun. This 67 pounder has the distinct fresh king salmon smell and my other memories of catching a king come in for a moment and then disappear as I just made best one…