- Cast across and slightly downstream. You certainly need to read the water you’re fishing and adjust accordingly, but in general if you’re fishing a broad, gradual gravel bar, the most effective presentation is across and maybe 20 degrees downstream from perpendicular to the flow.
- Mend big. No delicate mends here. In your typical king swinging water, a big upstream mend immediately after the fly lands will result in the best presentation. Mend big – use the whole rod. Move the whole fly line.
- Mend slack. If you shoot all your line on the cast and then make that big mend, you’ll be pulling the fly back towards you, rather than taking advantage of the beautiful long cast you just made (right?). Hang on to that last 5 feet or so of running line when you make your cast, so that when you mend you can let go and mend slack– positioning the line and the fly properly, not pulling the fly back towards you.
- Maintain a straight line to the fly. Kings want a long, slow, steady swing. In most water this is best achieved by keeping your line as straight to the fly as possible. Don’t worry about perfection – make a few big mends to keep the line straight, and then just let ‘er swing.
- Don’t set until you’ve got a steady pull. The classic king take goes like this – Yank…yank…pause…deep pull. Wait for the deep pull to set the hook. We’re not always sure what going on underwater during a take, but we know you need to wait for the deep pull. Of course, if line just suddenly starts screaming off you reel, you don’t need to wait for much of anything.
- Set low, hard, and towards the bank. A lazy rise of the rod tip will not get the job done here. After you get the deep pull, give a hard, quick jab downstream and toward the bank with the butt of your rod. If your knots are tied well you’re not going to break him off– set hard.
- Don’t try to stop them. Particularly on the first couple of strong runs, let them run. If they’re headed downriver and you clamp down to try to halt the run– here’s where you are going to break them off. Unless you’re staring at your arbor knot and you’ve got no choice, let them run and work hard to retrieve line once they stop. Besides, this is the fun part!
- Put the heat to ’em. Once you’ve got the hook set, and after the mayhem of the first couple of runs, fight them hard. These are big, strong fish, and if you’re not working hard, they’re resting. The longer the fight lasts, the longer the hook has to work itself free, and the more time the fish has to be come dangerously exhausted. Fight them hard! You should be breathing hard after landing a hot king – really.
- Walk backwards to land them. When the fight is nearly over and the fish is ready to be landed, the easiest way to end the fight is often to keep a tight line to the fish and slowly walk backwards until the fish is in shallow water. If you’re not in a spot where you can walk backwards (like up against a brushy bank), you may just have to get creative.
- If you’re going to take a picture, leave the fish close to the water. If not in the water, that is. It’s much easier on the fish and it just looks better!
Whether it’s a choker king fresh from the Dean Channel or that gagger Alaskan Chinook melting away yards of your backing, one thing’s for certain: This is no time for a Junior Varsity track meet.
When that mega-king blasts off into hyperdrive—and make no mistake, it will— there’s always the temptation to chase it down, so remember this: Always stand your ground. Don’t chase it on foot.
Plant your feet and work the fish back to you gently. Listen to your guide. Nine times out of 10 that fish will run out of steam before you run out of backing (and we want to be there to see your face if and when that 10th time happens!). Chasing the fish just gives them what they want, that being an advantage. What’s more, sooner or later that gravel bar’s going to end and with it, your chances of ever holding that fish.
If and when it does come time for a boat chase, just give your guide “The Look ”- the one that says you have absolutely no control over what’s on the end of your line. They’ve seen it before, they live for that look and there’s a better than average chance they’ve already got the boat in hand, just below you with the motor and a net ready.
More on Fighting Fish
Our king salmon seasons in Alaska and British Columbia are fast upon us, so today we present you with a friendly reminder of one of the most common mistakes made when fighting big fish on spey rods – not putting enough pressure on the fish!
Take the photo above taken of Alaska West guide, Ben West, while hooked up to a hefty king. Notice how the rod is being pulled low and to the side? Good. Now, notice how the butt section of the rod, including the cork handle, has a deep flex to it? Great.
Believe it or not, rods are made to bend this way!
When fighting big fish like king salmon on spey rods, its absolutely crucial to exert maximum pressure on the fish throughout the fight. After all, kings pull hard, and if you’re not pulling hard back, odds are they’re resting, thus prolonging the fight, and increasing the chances of coming unbuttoned. However, longer spey/switch rods can make this more difficult, requiring more effort to bend the butt section of the rod – where the most power is. That’s why we really like the down and dirty approach to fighting fish – keeping the rod low and to the side, allowing the fish to be fought with the bottom half of the rod, rather than the tip section (the result of pointing the rod straight up in the air).
Get that rod low, pull hard, bend that butt section, and you’ll bring more brutes to hand.
More on Fly Fishing for King Salmon
What’s the only thing better than landing a king salmon on a two hander? Landing two king salmon on two handers at the same time. Yes, really.
Sound good to you? We still have a few prime-time spots left! Drop us a line to get in on the action!
More on King Salmon
In a few short months we’ll be heading North to kick off our summer seasons, swinging flies for one of our favorite species of all time – Big, bright, sea-lice ridden, king salmon.
Due to their affinity for deep water, kings are a notoriously difficult species to target on the fly in many areas throughout the Pacific Northwest. However, at Alaska West, we’re really lucky to be situated on a lazy, low gradient, coastal river that’s relatively shallow under normal flows. That not only makes for targeting kings with spey/switch rods possible, but super effective as well!
Over the last couple years, our friends over at Aqua Flies have produced quite the collection of chinook worthy fly patterns, several of which were designed by friends and/or alums of ours at Alaska West!
Needless to say, they work really well on our river, so today we thought we’d share some of our favorites.
- Stu’s Chinook Intruder.Designed by our pal, and Alaska West host, Stuart Foxall, the Chinook Intruder is the ultimate tube fly for king salmon. At roughly four inches in length, its much larger than your standard steelhead fly, maintaining a huge profile in the water for big eats from big fish. Available in six popular king salmon color combinations.
- Stu’s Rhea Intruder.Tied on a 40mm shank, and modestly weighted with 5/32 brass eyes, Stu’s Rhea Intruder (also designed by Stuart Foxall) works great for presenting a medium-large profile at deep holding fish. Rhea shoulders create an extremely life-like movement in the water which works great in a whole bunch of depths and water speeds.
- Dirty Hoh – Chinook Size.A larger version of Alaska West alum, Jerry French’s innovative steelhead pattern. A combination of an intruder and a string leech, the broad composite loop front shoulder pushes water, while a hitched rabbit tail provides incredible movement. We’ve seen it in action, and trust us, it works. Chinook sizes (4 inches long) available in four popular colors.
- Hartwick’s Flashtail Tube.Like a marabou tube fly on steroids, the Flashtail Tube presents a larger profile than your standard single-station marabou tube, while remaining really easy to cast. A brass cone head helps prop up the front shoulder to maintain a large profile while under tension. The fly also uses a generous amount of flash adding more ‘sizzle’ than most the patterns listed above, which we find can work really well on bright, sunny days.
- Fish Taco.Designed by yet another Alaska West alum, Jeff Hickman, the Fish Taco is a great option when a sparser, less obtrusive, pattern is desired. Believe it or not, when it comes to king salmon, bigger is not always better! Probably best to have a few in your box.
More on King Salmon
We could talk all day long about why we love our home river at Alaska West – from our impressive run of chrome bright king salmon, to our stunning resident leopard rainbow trout, to our staggering numbers of aggressive cohos, to our, well, you get the point.
However, one aspect of our river that many of our first-time guests are pleasantly surprised by is just how easy the wading is!
In fact, when we’re asked from prospective anglers about the wading conditions at our lodge, we can’t help but tell them “It might very well be the easiest river to wade in the world.” Seriously!
Have we fished every river in the world? Of course not. But we’d be hard pressed to believe wading conditions could be less challenging than they are on the Kanektok. There are no boulders. No need for studs or felt bottomed wading boots (they’re not allowed in Alaska anyhow). Just a low-gradient river made up of substrate averaging somewhere around the size of a golf ball or smaller. Its like walking across a cobble walkway, all the time.
In fact, for sake of comparison, a rock the size of a baseball in our neck of the woods would be considered big. A rock the size of a bowling ball? Consider that so rare your guide might bring it back as a keep sake. We couldn’t make that up.
Translation: It’s super easy to wade for anglers of all ages and experience levels, and we think that’s a really good thing.
More From Alaska West
While winter may have officially just begun, this time of year our minds can’t help but wander towards one of our favorite times of the year.. King season. That’s mid-late June through mid July in our neck of the woods, and unfortunately, that’s a long time away. That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news. We’re less than 6 months away from the typical first appearance of our king salmon run at Alaska West. That means we’re over halfway through the drought of our last pull from the almighty.
Congratulations everyone, we’re half way there. Let the countdown begin!
Curious what the hype is all about? Drop us a line for more information!
More on King Salmon
No, not really.. That’s just a ‘jack’ king salmon in full spawning garb caught by our buddy Chandler Cook at Alaska West Lodge.
Many anglers are aware of the shocking transformation of our beloved king salmon as they transition from the chrome bright appearance from their years at sea, to the brilliant ‘fire-truck’ red as they approach the end of their journey to spawn.
However, many of our guests are surprised to learn that ‘jacks,’ younger king salmon (typically 1-3 years old) that have returned with their adult brethren, in our neck of the woods, actually take on a goldish/brown appearance more characteristic of the spawning colors of a brown trout or Atlantic salmon than that of a mature chinook.
We welcome the return of jacks each year to our home river, not only because we think they add to the awesome variety of our fishery, but also because they often round out the final species for a few anglers each season lucky enough to land the salmon grand slam, which we think is pretty darn cool.