Story last updated at 6/3/2009 - 12:15 pm
If there ever is a time for fly rodders in Southeast Alaska to stop and think "king salmon," it is now. The month of June offers the best opportunities for recreational sport anglers to intercept and enjoy these large and robust salmon, particularly on fly gear or medium-weight conventional tackle.
Although most, if not all, of the king salmon caught around our local communities during the month of June will be hatchery stock, these fish can still easily peel off a hundred yards of fly line and backing from your reel in a single, blistering run. Furthermore, these notorious "kings" of the salmon family will not only challenge the skills of even the most seasoned and ardent fly-fisher, but they will also shamelessly insult and abuse even the best tackle.
These hatchery kings represent a program by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game Sport Fish Division's efforts to enhance sport-fishing opportunities in select Southeast Alaska communities. The Sport Fish Division has focused its efforts on king salmon because their surveys suggest that king salmon support a majority of all the angling effort in our region, and second, hatchery reared king salmon do not contribute to the strict quota of king salmon harvest numbers under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. As a result, hatchery kings allow the ADF&G to provide anglers with more liberal harvest regulations that do not affect our precious and limited wild king stocks.
Targeting kings on fly gear is exhilarating. Although you are still using a fly rod, the fly rods designed for kings are high-tech angling tools. They are equipped with enough back bone to tame and curb large, angry fish in open water and are also light enough to cast all day in windy conditions while tossing big and often times heavy, bulky flies. King rods also have highly refined fast action or progressive tapers that allow them to generate very fast line speeds requisite for casting tight loops. Given these criteria, I recommend a fast action, progressive taper 10-weight rod in an 8-foot, 8-inch to 9-foot 6-inch length.
King fly reels are also more specialized than their trout counter parts, as they must be able to reliably endure the rigors of big game angling. They must be large enough to hold at least 200 yards of 30-pound test backing and also be equipped with a smooth, highly adjustable drag system. Another feature that I strongly recommend is the large arbor. Large arbor reels allow the angler to rapidly pick up line with each retrieve rotation. This feature is critical when targeting fast swimming big game fish such as king salmon in our estuaries or open salt.
King salmon are the crown jewel of the heavy weight division for Southeast Alaska fly fishers. Their robust size and relentless strength pose significant challenges to any fly rodder from beginner to advanced. Although I am a firm believer and strong advocate of wild strain fish, I must confess that each June I nervously await the arrival of our region's local terminal king salmon fishery. It's their fresh arrival that marks the commencement of summer and the gateway to yet another season of angling opportunities here in Southeast Alaska.
Rich Culver is a fly-fishing freelance writer and photographer and member of the Scott Fly Rod Company's Pro Staff. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.