Today we conclude our series from Bryan Whiting on his family’s trips to Alaska West. Bryan has made 3 fishing trips to Alaska with his family, and was gracious enough to write a 6-part series for us on the trips. Thanks so much, Brian!
This last chapter is focused on what Brian and his family learned about the fishing in Alaska.
- Strike like you mean it; this isn’t 6x Frying Pan fishing. Both strip and rod strike at the same time. You will be using tippet that can handle your strike. Our first trip, the guide our first day, after we had lost a couple of fish, told us “strike like you were mad and closing the door.”
- Have both your salmon rod and your trout rod rigged at the start of the day; you will switch often
- Check the regulations. In many places in Alaska you cannot fish with two flies at the same time.
- We improved our ability to play very large fish which has even helped us back at home.
- If the salmon jumps, extend your arm and point your rod at the fish. Bowing is too slow and doesn’t provide enough slack out by the fish
- If the fish is running, again point your rod at the fish. Don’t make the fish pull the line out of the reel over the circumference of the rod. It increases the chance the line will catch even momentarily on something and your fish will be gone.
- If your fish has 150 yards of line out and you need to recover line, put the tip of your rod straight down directly in line with your fish then reel. The fish will follow like a dog on a leash. After he gets up to you he may take off again, but that’s ok. That’s the fun. This is easier to do if you are in a boat in the river, but if you are on shore just wade out into the river and it will still work. I had never seen this technique before we went to Alaska. It has saved me innumerable large fish back home that went way downstream in heavy current and I typically lost.
- Don’t be afraid to adjust your drag many times playing one fish.
- If a salmon is going under your boat, stick the tip of the rod in the water and literally spin the drag back. It’s faster than trying to strip line off by hand and will place less stress on your rod.
- Keep the fulcrum of the rod at the base of the rod, virtually under your hand. Not only does that utilize the full power of the rod to fatigue the fish, but rods tend to break when the fulcrum rises up the rod toward the tip. To see what I mean, take your rod outside, have a friend hold your line 10 yards or so away from you. Hold your rod at a 45 degree angle to the ground and have them pull on the line. Notice how the rod bends but the force of the pull is absorbed in the base. Now have your friend give you slack, raise and pull the tip of the rod up and back to where the rod is at 110-120 degrees from the ground. Again, have the friend pull on the line slowly. Notice how the fulcrum of the rod is up close to the tip probably close to the joint between the 3rd and 4th section, or 2nd and 3rd section in a three piece. Up there the rod has little strength and the force of the pull is absorbed in the thinnest part of the rod. If your friend jerked on the line right now your rod will break regardless of where you have the drag set. Even the best drag won’t typically react fast enough because there is too much friction around the curve of the rod. You might say, I never let my rod get there, but watch people land fish sometime and almost everyone has a tendency to get their rod in that position. At home with a 14” trout it doesn’t matter, but in Alaska if you are landing a 15 pound silver or the silver all of a sudden decides to take off it can cost you a rod.
- Keep your rod low and to the side when fighting a fish. It can’t get too low. This not only activates the full strength of the rod, but also makes it even easier to keep the fulcrum of the rod low as we just discussed.
- Don’t be concerned if you lose a fish or miss a strike. The next cast or two will probably produce another fish.
- It’s a waste of time to count fish. A lot is a lot. The last day of our second trip, the guide was curious as to how many silver salmon the two of us would catch before lunch. We beached the boat at 8:15 am, fished the same location until 12:30 pm. The number was 61 landed and released. As you can see, why bother.
- At least once during your trip do a shore lunch. It’s ok to pause to eat a salmon you caught 15 minutes before. You will remember it a lot more than a PB and J. The only trouble is you may never order salmon in a restaurant again.
- Fishing magazines, books, photos, DVDs and the Saturday morning fishing shows do not do justice to the strength, power and explosiveness of the silver salmon or any fresh salmon for that matter. Over the years we have been fortunate enough to catch many significant trout whether it be a five pound cutthroat in Wyoming, the 10 pound rainbow in Colorado or Gray’s Reef , or the 15 pound brown in Yellowstone. Without exception and with no disrespect to the trout we love, a comparable salmon runs farther, jumps higher, fights longer and has more strength and power. Even a 6 pound pink salmon would literally beat up the toughest 6 pound brown. My words are equally insufficient. No matter the level of your expectation, salmon will exceed it.
- When stripping along the river bottom, most silver salmon and most other salmon will not savagely strike your fly and take off; your fly will just stop. It will feel similar to when your fly hooks a sunken log. Don’t wait, strike. Even the take of most king salmon is far more subtle than you would imagine. If you are swinging a fly, it can often be just like nymphing in that you will just see your line hesitate.
- Chum salmon will try and rip the rod out of your hand, take off like a dragster and head for the next county.
- Salmon enter the river and travel as the tide rises. They rest in the river as the tide drops. Amazingly this tends to hold true even if they are 30 miles from the ocean.
- Salmon will school up and cruise the ocean in the area close to the mouth of the river as the tide is dropping and they wait for the tide to turn. This is a great place to catch salmon with a fly rod from shore, because they typically will be cruising around close to the surface.
- Each species of salmon not only enters the fresh water at a different time of the summer, but travels in a different part of the river, rests in a different part of the river, spawns in a different part of the river from every other species of salmon.
- In regard to salmon, bears eat what we prefer last. It’s interesting to watch a bear initially hold down the tail of a salmon with one of its paws, while peeling back the skin and eating it. After that the bear will use its claws to crack open the top of the salmon’s head and eat its brains. Then the guts are ingested and lastly the meat, the filets. Many times we saw the bear eat the skin, brains, guts and throw or carry the skeleton with the meat to their cubs. Occasionally, if they were surrounded by hundreds of salmon, the bear would just disgard the salmon after they had eaten the skin, brains, guts.
- Everything eats salmon: bears, wolves, fox, eagles, hawks, ravens, bluejays, mice, voles, rainbows, dolly varden, insects and people.