Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Dock Is In

Putting in the dock and taking out the dock is an easy endeavour as long as you let Mother Nature do her thing. We have a floating dock and it can be easily moved as long at the tide is 22.5 feet or higher. This morning we had a 23 foot tide so it we had no problem getting the dock in. This year we did this earlier than normal but this is because there won't be an adequate tide until late June. As our motto states, "Out of Bed...and into the Boat" and if we waited until later to put the dock in we'd have a few unhappy clients.

The bottom photo is the dock yesterday. It is high and dry and tied up to the trees on the edge of our property. The middle photo was taken at 4:30am this morning with the dock in place on the Beaver Creek channel. Notice how light it is at 4:30am. Very nice. The top photo was taken an hour later right at sunrise.
Now that the dock is you can't help but wonder when the first salmon of the year will be caught. The rumor mill in town will be in full gear before long.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Release A Hog & Take Home A Trophy Program

The Kenai River is unique king salmon fishery. In terms of the size of the run it is not considered large, but the fish in the run are the largest in the world. Eight of the top ten king salmon caught on rod and reel have come off the Kenai. The crown jewel is Les Anderson's world record coming in at 97.4 lbs caught in 1985.

Over the past ten years the numbers of gigantic fish have decreased which has been of great concern to the sport fishing public. The oldest are the 5-year ocean fish and they typically account for 2-5% of the total return
The Kenai River Sportfish Association (KRSA) has acted on these concerns and created the Release A Hog program. KRSA will pay up to $800 for catching and releasing a 50" or longer Kenai River king salmon.

Here are the official rules for the Release A Hog program.

*participating king salmon must be caught between July 1st and July 31st only.
*Anglers must hold a valid fishing license.
*To qualify, angler must catch a release a trophy fish measuring 50" long or longer.
*An affidavit of the catch and release with the signature of the guide, the angler and one additional witness will be required.
*Fish will be verified with a photo of the fish in the net next to the yardstick in the water.
*The photo and affidavit must be delivered to KRSA office within 7 days of the date of the catch.
*A certificate will be awarded to the approved angler. Upon receiving a photo of the angler with his/her reproduction, and a copy of the paid taxidermist invoice, the angler will receive up to $800.
*Only one fish per year per angler can qualify for this program
*All guides and anglers must comply with ADGF&G regulations.
*Certificates expires 18 months after date of catch and release.

Pretty good deal. You get the thrill of fighting a Kenai king and you get to hang a replica on the wall for free or nearly free.

If you know me at all you know I can get side tracked and easily digress, so, allow me this moment to tell you a story about a potential Release A Hog. Nine years ago I was guiding a repeat client but instead of fishing with his family he decided to come with his college buddies. I explained to them the Release A Hog program and they all decided they wanted to be part of it if they caught a large king salmon. Fishing was slow but in the last half hour Don finally catches a fish. It was large, just over 50", and while it was in the net I asked him what he wanted to do. Without hesitatation he said, "BONK IT!" I get the fish in the boat, bonk it, and we take pictures and high fives are exchanged all around. Fifteen minutes later, after the adrenaline has subsided, Don asks how he can be part of the Release A Hog program. I told him it's called Release A Hog and not Bonk A Hog so if you want to get a replica made it will have to come out of his own pocket. The following year Don told me that he was caught up in the heat of the moment and he kept the fish because he wanted to be the top dog in his group of buddies. He's regretted that decision and in subsequent years has yet to catch another one over 50".

Ultimately it's up to you if you want to release a trophy salmon and I hold no ill will if you choose to keep it. But, there's no doubt that this is a great conservation program that allows more big fish to reach the spawning beds. Hundreds of anglers who have received replicas agree as well.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I caught one, what do I do now?

When I've been at sport shows I can't tell you how many times I've been asked, "How do I get my fish home?". The first thing I'll say is that you need to catch one before you have to worry about it, but after that you have two options. You can either ship your fish home or you can travel with it. Let's explore both options.

Part of my service is filleting your fish. I love to do it and I find it's a great wind down from a day on the water. After I fillet your fish I will bag the pieces and then it's up to you to do what you want with them. If you decide to use a fish processor, there are several close by. They will do whatever you want with the fish; fillet, vacuum seal, can, smoke, ship, or exchange. I happen to recommend Custom Seafood Processors in Soldotna for these services. Jane and I use them ourselves, but perhaps what my German friend, Thomas, said sums it up best. He tried others but said that Custom Seafood Processors did not smell fishy like the other processors. He figured if they took pride in keeping their place clean they must also take pride in taking care of the catch. He's right. Let's take a look at the cost of processing fish at Custom Seafood Processing.

fillet, vac sealing & freezing 1.35lb
vac seal & freeze 1.20lb
fillet only .75lb
vac seal only .75lb
storage of processed fish free of charge

If you decide to have the processor ship your fish to your home they will pack your fish in a "fish box" and will ship on the day that you tell them to. Peter and Claire of Magic Waters Charters tell their clients that if you want your fish processed and shipped expect that it will cost you about $6 a pound. I've found this advice to be fairly accurate. One other thing to keep in mind if you choose to ship; make sure you send them to your house when you are home and not to your neighbor or a relative. It seems that if a box shows up that says "ALASKA SEAFOOD" the recipient feels the need to inspect it and sample the contents before they give it to you. What started at 50 pounds will mysteriously turn into 35 pounds.

Now if you really catch a lot of salmon and halibut and decide to have a processor take care of everything you'll often find the cost of this service to be more than the charter itself. If you're on a budget you may want to take care of the fish yourself. This is certainly a way to save some money. Several of our guests bring their own vacuum sealer. Others will have a processor take care of the vacuum sealing and then they'll box it themselves and fly back home with it. Not long ago many of our guests would fly back with a couple of fish boxes for free, but as I'm sure you're well aware the airlines are now charging for baggage.

A couple of final thoughts about getting your fish home on your own. Instead of bringing a cooler to Alaska I recommend that you buy a fish box when you are up here. You can find them at grocery stores or a processor and they usually run about $15-$20. They definitely pack into the trunk of a rental car better than a cooler. Another way some visitors save money is to use ziplock bags rather than vacuum sealing their catch. Unless you are going to eat all of your fish in a couple of weeks, I strongly recommend vacuuming sealing. Salmon commercially vacuum sealed will last up to a year and halibut even longer than that. To put it bluntly, you've spent a lot of money on your trip of a lifetime. It's important to not pinch pennies when it comes to taking care of your catch.

There's one alternative that I have yet to mention. Grill it fresh and enjoy every bite of it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Beginners Luck

Have you ever noticed how first time anglers have such a great success rate? Is it patience, an openness to learning, or just plain luck? Let's explore all three.

When it comes to patience a person brand new to salmon fishing unknowingly has a ton of it. They don't know what a bite looks or feels like so they sit and wait. They watch for the obvious sign, like the rod bending into the letter "C", and by the time this is recognized there is no need to set the hook as the fish has already done that for them. One of my favorite examples of this was the first time Tony Hochmayr fished for king salmon on the Kenai. We were just setting up in the troll and his line wasn't out more than a couple of minutes and a fish hit. He said to me, "is this a fish?" With the drag screaming and the rod bent in half I told him you better take the rod out of the holder because it was a fish. On the flip side, seasoned salmon anglers will usually get excited and set the hook on the first indication of a bite. Often the hook set is premature well before the fish had an opportunity to fully ingest the bait. Ummm, even today yours truly can be guilty of this mistake, that is, being impatient when a fish first bites.

Now let's look at an openness to learn or what I would call being "coachable." Growing up in Minnesota I played three sports and the one thing that I was taught was to be coachable. It wasn't the coaches that instilled that in me, it was my dad. He told me it was important to respect and listen to people of experience and if your coach told you to be the first player in on the forecheck, you were the first player in on a forecheck. Anyway, I can't tell you how many times in the boat I will have a husband and wife fishing with me and the wife will immediately announce, "I don't know what I'm doing so tell me how this works." They listen to what is being said and then they apply it. It's amazing how the husband will go fishless and his wife will catch all the fish that day. This is being coachable and I see it in men, women, and children all season long. I also see people do whatever they want regardless of the "coaching" and more often than not it results in a fishless day.

Now finally, luck. I've often said that I believe in luck, and the harder I work the more of it I get. This philosophy is fine and it's served me well, but what about beginners luck? I have the mindset that if a person new to salmon fishing uses the right gear, makes the perfect cast, and does everything right to solicit a bite there isn't a whole lot of luck involved. Whether someone told you how to do this (your guide) or you learned this on your own you created your own luck. To me luck is having everything fall into place and it's not some haphazard, randomness in the cosmos (hey mom, my philosophy minor is paying off!!!).

To sum it all up, in my eyes patience and being coachable contribute more to the overall catch rate for the beginner than being lucky.

P.S. the angler pictured is Nick. He'll tell you the reason he caught a king and his dad didn't was because of SKILL, not LUCK!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

New World Record King Salmon Caught Today!

This article appeared in the Anchorage Daily News today.

New World Record King Salmon Caught Today.

With warm weather and early break-up this year, Soldotna angler John Ohlin thought it would be a great day to float the Kenai River in search of a king salmon. He was right.

Launching his driftboat at Centennial Park with co-angler Bob Morey, the two set out for a day on the water.

"I know it's April, but I had to give it a try," said Ohlin.

After a couple of hours of enjoying the scenery and watching Morey catch several jack salmon, Ohlin decided to anchor his driftboat in the Big Eddy hole. "I was using a chrome Wiggle Wart and hadn't any luck so when I anchored I switched to a chartreuse Lirpa Sloof. My lure wasn't in the water for more than a minute when the big fish hit."

After more than an hour fight and several drag screaming runs the leviathan finally came to the boat. Said Morey, "the fish was so huge and I'm not the best at netting fish, but after several swipes we finally got him in. I just wish John would have brought a bigger net."

The two immediately left the river and drove to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna to have the giant salmon measured and weighed. Pending certificaton of the scale the salmon measured 59 1/2 inches long, with a girth of 37 inches. The unofficial weight is 99.2 breaking the previous record set in 1985 by nearly two pounds.

"I knew Les Anderson (current record holder) and he told me that it would be a matter of time before it would happen again" said Ohlin. " I know old Les is smiling down at me and telling me job well done."

A job well done indeed.