Bob, 87 years young, & his son Robert fished with me two days prior to traveling to property they owned in Dillingham. Bob had lived in Alaska from 1937 through 1955. In '37, Bob hopped a freight train somewhere in the Midwest and eventually arrived in Seattle, ending up at the docks. Viewing a hardy group of passengers disembarking from a recent arrival, he thought that these people "looked as if they've been somewhere" and queried where they had come from. "ALASKA!" was their response. Bob paid a $24.00 fee and was on the next "steamer" bound for Juneau, Alaska.
Over the two days Bob & Robert fished with me, I was treated to many stories concerning their time in Alaska. I learned that Bob had owned 6 acres of property on the Kenai River near Bing's Landing but had never caught a Kenai River king salmon. Because king salmon fishing success on the Kenai River has been very unpredictable during June in recent years, I had suggested we fish the first day on the Kasilof River, to insure they took home a couple kings, and try our luck on the Kenai River the second day.
The kings were biting on our Kasilof River outing but were not cooperating with our plan to harvest them. Bob & Robert fought and lost several fish throughout the day. Finally, Bob landed one at Power Line sans adipose fin, which we put in the box. I was a little concerned as the waters of 100%, Satellite and Last Chance slipped behind us with out any action. The bait tasted fine but the kings apparently weren't interested. About half way through Desperation, Robert's rod bent as a king took the bait. After a brief struggle, I netted Robert's catch, a chrome bright hatchery king salmon. A very long day ended successfully as the two fish we landed were the ones we were able to keep. Floating to the takeout, I could only wonder what my initial 2004 charter on the Kenai River held in store for us the next day.
We met at 6:00 a.m., relaxing my usual 5:00 a.m. meeting routine in deference to Bob's longevity. While launching the boat around 6:30 at Eagle Rock, another guide, Jack O'Neil, motored in with a single angler. "We're finished!", they exclaimed. They had made one pass back trolling a spin-n-glo above Eagle Rock and hooked and landed a king. Very encouraging. As I motored out into the main channel, two other boats were sideways in the current with their landing nets extended in the air as a warning to passing boaters that they were fighting a king. I altered my plan to motor up to Falling In Hole to begin our fishing day and started back trolling our lures alongside the island above Eagle Rock. Midway through our first pass, while watching a client in one of Tim Berg's guide boats fight a fish above us, Robert's rod folded in the holder as a king took his Beau Mac cheater. After a fight that seemed like an eternity compared to those of the day before, I netted the king. Prior to July 1, anglers are only allowed to harvest fish between 20-44" and over 55" in the Kenai River. King salmon between 44-55" must be released without removing them from the water. I have a fish ruler vinyl decal, designed by a couple local guides and made by Sherman's Signs in Soldotna, affixed to both sides of the boat at the waterline to assist in determining if a king is harvestable. This one looked to be close. The celebration began in earnest when we measured it at 42".
Not wishing to pull the rod we had just caught a king on, Bob made the next pass with the tackle Robert had just enticed his to bite on. Near the end of the pass, we pulled our lines to get out of the way of the same guide whose client had also been fighting a king while we tangoed with our first. This was their boat's second king on a green K-15 Kwikfish. I decided to change tackle and swapped our proven cheater for a battle scarred chartreuse Magnum Wiggle Wart, recalled to duty from a time when I fished the Lower Kenai River king fishery much more in June than I do nowadays. The veteran plug came through as a king grabbed it on the very next pass. Bob remained seated as we worked the king down river, away from the other boats fishing and close enough to be netted. This king appeared smaller lengthwise than our first so I knew it was harvestable but Bob had been talking about fighting a 50-60+# so I didn't know if he would want to end that quest in favor of keeping this king. In the net, I measured it at 40" and asked if he would like to keep or release it. He remarked that he thought that was about all the king salmon he could handle and decided to harvest it and call it a day.
I was elated to have been able to assist Bob and Robert, who had spent so much time on this river many years ago, finally experienced the thrill of catching one of the Kenai River's most prized species. Bob and Robert's kings are pictured here. It was the end of our fishing day but we took a run up river to the B&B they had stayed the previous evening. Much has changed. Yet, Alaska in general and the Kenai River in particular, still hold the same allure and instill the same sense of adventure in many as it did in Bob in '37 and has for countless others ever since humans encountered it.