I headed out fishing at first light. As usual, everyone was busy so I went alone. It was a dreary day with wind near town and a cold, cold rain. Luckily the wind was light further south of town where I fished.
Winter king fishing around here is more fishing than catching. I don’t know many who catch fish every time, or even most times. Mostly, it’s something to do after deer hunting closes until spring hooter and black bear hunting, and in the past, spring king salmon, which has been closed for years now due to low returns.
I put out a flasher only on each cannonball of the downriggers, then a king kandy lure. This is the way my friend in Wrangell showed me how to do it, except he uses herring instead of a lure. I had trolled most of the way down the channel when I looked back to see I had something on. What a surprise, but it didn’t look like much. When I get back to the rods. I thought it was a little juvenile trout-sized salmon or a cod or something.
When I grabbed the rod and started to reel, I could see the line near the surface slicing the water. Then the fish started talking some line, so I figured I had a king salmon, but maybe it would be too small to keep.
As I got it near the boat, I saw it was a good fish. I’m not sure how many minutes the fish was on the rod before I saw it, so it was probably already a bit tired from being towed behind the boat. Now I had to get ready. I held the rod in one hand and pulled down the net from under the punt on the roof of the galley behind me. Then I cranked up the downrigger, put the cannonball on deck, and rotated the downrigger out of the way for netting the fish.
I got the big fish up to the boat and saw it had only the little trailer hook of the lure hooked in the corner of its mouth. Now I was really nervous. I would reel the line up as far as I could – to the swivel connecting the rod line to the leader of the lure, which was about 6 feet. Then I’d try to lift the rod and put the net under the fish at the same time, but of course as I leaned down to put the net under the fish, the rod would also go down, and I would miss. I tried some 4 times, and I just could not get the fish up far enough to get the net under the fish, and all the time thinking I’m gonna lose it, as it sure didn’t seem very well hooked.
FINALLY, I got the net under the fish…and dropped the net!
I returned to the rod, and opened the door to the swim step with just my crocs on (and my lift jacket) and gently reeled in the fish and net very gently, just enough to keep up with the boat drifting back to the fish.
When I got the fish and net up to the boat, with full focused concentration, I conked the fish right on the nose, and lit laid right over as kings do with a perfect blow. I went to gaff it and whiffed. I thought – you’ll lose this fish yet. Concentrate. I successfully gaffed it on the second try, and carried it up through the swim step door with the net still attached.
I got the rod, fish and net all on deck and shut the door before I did anything. Nearing 60, I have learned to secure the fish first, and not to trust that it wouldn’t start flopping and go right back out the door and into the water.
Then, lots of screaming ensued. Later, it got even better. When I dressed the fish, it was a white king. It weighed 16 lbs dressed weight. What a day.
The only other winter king I’ve ever caught in the channel was a similar sized fish. I was with Doug on his boat, and as he’s reeling in the fish, he looks at me sideways and says “did you bring a net?”. “No!. I said. “You don’t have a net on the boat?. “Nah”, he said. “I never catch nothing.. I rooted around the boat and found a pair of pliers, which I swung open in the shape sort of a boomerang. I had been trolling for several years by then, so knew how to land a fish by hand. I figured we had one chance. Doug brought it alongside the boat after tiring it out well, I lightly grabbed the line and guided it on its side over to me, and made a perfect conk on the nose. It laid right over, and I grabbed it through the gill and hauled it onboard. I might have even put a hook in my hand grabbing it, but didn’t feel it with all the adrenaline.