Story last updated at 7/3/2013 - 2:53 pm
Heart pounding, exhilarating, adrenaline rush - these are a few words and phrases that quickly come to mind and describe the moment that engulfs any angler when they are hooked up and engaged in a battle with a large Alaskan king salmon on sport gear. And if you have yet to intercept one of these prodigious and robust salmon, there is no need to fret, as there is still plenty of time in the upcoming weeks to meet the king of our Pacific North American salmon. In fact, ADFG reports still suggest that the terminal king salmon fishery in many select Southeast Alaska areas will only continue to build and sport anglers can expect to witness the arrival of bright, fresh fish for several more weeks. Given this, angling opportunities should continue to be good to very good in the weeks to come, and this is great news for all Southeast sport fishers.
Although most, if not all of the king salmon, or Chinook, caught around our local Southeast communities during the month of June will be hatchery stock, in contrast to wild stock, these hatchery king salmon should not be taken lightly as anyone of them can easily peel off a hundred plus 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 given the opportunity, shamelessly insult, batter and abuse even the best tackle.
Hatchery kings begin trickling into our local waters during the latter part of May and their numbers continue to build throughout the month of June. They represent a program by the ADFG 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 creel 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 that Alaskans are allowed to take under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Because of this, hatchery kings allow the ADFG to provide anglers with more liberal harvest regulations that do not affect or impact our precious and limited wild stock king salmon.
Sport fishing for king salmon on fly gear is exhilarating. Although you are still using a fly rod, the fly rods designed for kings are not like the fly rods most of us are accustomed to when we fish for Dollys or trout. Instead, fly rods for kinds are high tech angling tools. They are equipped with solid back bone and lifting power 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 the rod 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. Over the years, Spey rods, or two-handed fly rods have become very popular in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The added length of the "two-hander" as they are frequently called, offer the angler added benefits in making long and repetitive casts throughout the day with very little effort, further allowing you to cover and fish more water much more efficiently.
The fly reels for kings much like fly rods 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 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. Best of luck, and tight lines!
Rich Culver is a fly-fishing freelance writer and photographer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.