The Last Fishing Frontier

Hail to the King
By Gary Laden for Quest Global Angling Adventures

Although the season had ended prior to our trip, the mighty king or chinook salmon, largest of the Pacific salmon, is most readily available during the middle of June. According to King Salmon guide Aaron Ratkovich, this typically coincides with water temperature in the river reaching 44 degrees. When this happens, it is not unusual to observe hundreds of large king salmon holding in eddies and behind rocks on the Naknek, waiting for an incoming tide to resume their upstream migration.

From mid-June through the first week of July, King Salmon Guides, the outfitters I fished with, operates a wilderness outpost camp on the Nushagak River. This river receives the largest run of king salmon in the world—around 150,000 fish generally make their way upriver during a four-week stretch. After arriving in King Salmon, anglers are flown, via bush plane, to the outpost camp for week of rustic king-wrestling.

The most productive technique for tempting kings is back-trolling crankbaits. Fishermen cast Magnum wiggle warts (pink or orange on sunny days—chrome when it's overcast) 40 to 50 yards behind the boat, and drift downstream until the lures are among a school of salmon. Then the guide holds the boat in position until they hear the tell-tale screech of the drag as another king strips out line. The guides recommend using long, stout casting rods and baitcasting reels capable of holding 120 yards of 20-pound-test line. The fish average between 10 and 65 pounds (the I.G.F.A. all-tackle record is 97 lb, 4 oz).

Experienced fly anglers will also have a good shot at landing chinooks. The most effective technique is drifting a large attractor pattern with a 10-weight outfit and fast-sinking tip lines. Fly fishermen can also cast from shore, but boat fishing seems to be much more productive. At the same time the kings are running, anglers can also catch chum (dog) and sockeye salmon to provide a well-rounded fishing experience.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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