Southcentral Saltwater Chinookby: theangler
Years ago my circle of friends consisted of those I worked with in the North Slope oil industry and those which I considered “close” friends were those who also fished and hunted around the state on their “R&R’s”. In the 80’s I had the opportunity to explore and discover lots of what the state of Alaska had to offer.
Many of my close friends had grown up in the state and knew practically all of the rivers which you could get to by road and many of the fly-in fresh waters of Southcentral and Southwest Alaska. Early on we hit ‘em hard, with Slope wages we could afford to charter planes and be like Capt. Kirk on the Enterprise and feel like we were “going where no man had gone before.”
But, for me, something was missing. I had grown up an ocean boy and while thoroughly enjoying and appreciating each trip and adventure, there was always a part of me longing for the sights and smells of a marine environment. That yearning was about to be conquered.
After a couple of seasons of touching down in some of the most remote and un-scathed parts of Alaska, I caught wind of something fishy, ocean fishy that is. Another “Sloper” (as we liked to call ourselves) who I didn’t really realize the mistake he had made of talking a little too loud a chow one night and I heard the words “trolling” and “kings” mentioned in the same sentence. Hey, all is fair in love, war and fishing.
It seems that Whiskey Gulch (and the almost entire eastern shore of Cook Inlet) was one of nature’s interception points for north and east bound salmon heading to the Kenai River, Mat-Su drainages and many other natal streams. It seemed a little strange to be trolling in twenty feet of water for giant Kings in the saltwater, but I quickly got used to it.
Before Deep Creek made the charts as one of Alaska’s premier destinations for halibut and saltwater kings, there was Whiskey Gulch. As stated earlier, I was raised an ocean boy. I already knew how to connect with ocean run salmon; I just needed to know when and where… and now I knew. Poor salmon.
Eventually this quest led me to give up a serious “corporate” job and enlist in the ranks of Alaska’s charter boat fleet and become a professional captain. After serving time as captain at a remote southeast lodge and even more time as a Kenai River lodge’s “halibut” boat based out of Seward, I stepped up to the plate and started my own charter company.
The strongest motive of all I had for becoming my own boss was the fact that I could choose my targets and develop my own clientele that held similar interests. As much as I love bottom fishing, the salmon (especially the Kings) had always lingered at the top of my list of worthy opponents.
When I had accepted the job in Seward (Kenai) I had a lingering dread that my days of king salmon fishing had been numbered. As most anyone who reads this magazine will know, Seward if one of the top spots on the planet for saltwater Coho fishing. I figure that perhaps sheer numbers of Coho would offset the king withdrawals. Imagine how happy I was when I learned of Montague’s Kings.
With the natural counterclockwise spin of the offshore Gulf of Alaska waters and the immense plateau off of its southwest corner known so well by halibut fishermen, Montague entices Chinook salmon to make a stopover here on their inbound migration. These natural factors also draw immense schools of baitfish drawn by the plankton rich waters flushed in and out of Prince William Sound twice a day, thus completing the circle of life.
In these waters we’ve landed the copper tinted giants that make the Kenai River famous as well as the white-fleshed kings popular in Canadian streams. Many, many strains of Chinook pass through this region including the Copper River King which has enjoyed the limelight in recent years in the wake of one of Alaska’s most successful marketing programs.
There are general areas out here to fish but no real “pinpoint” locations which are so important when bottom fishing. Usually within a mile or two of shore on the southwestern corner of the Island you can find the fish. It may take a little lookin’ around but they’re there. Each day as we land our first fish, I’ll make a mark of it on my GPS and continue doing figure 8’s trolling across the mark.
After a few days these marks then collectively become my “general” area. The marks can then also be looked at on a time scale to give an indication of the direction they are heading, if any. We’ve found in the past that there can also be several pockets of kings out there at the same time so if we don’t find ‘em where they were yesterday or the day before, there are additional areas to investigate as well.
However, the techniques do run with the familiar. My personal favorite is to troll with downriggers on four lines and use the last two lines as flat lines off the stern with three or four ounces of banana weight. Being a 6-pack boat I can get away with this. Larger charter boats are pretty much restricted to mooching (drifting) or motor-mooching (power drifting) so that all clients can fish at the same time.
Our hardware consists of the forward rod running a herring dodger attached to 30 pound mainline, followed by about four or five feet of 25 pound leader material and plug-cut herring run through with a set of 4/0-5/0 Gamakatsu octopus hooks. This rod is downrigged down to about 40 feet, which again might not seem deep enough to the traditional king fisher but we’re generally fishing water between only sixty and eighty feet deep. The next rod back is the same except sans dodger, the leader being tie via barrel swivel directly to the mainline.
Our flat lines in back are straight cut herring with again just a banana weight of three or four ounces between the mainline and leader and back behind the boat anywhere between 100 and 150 feet. While on a hookup we need to clear the other downrigged lines quickly, these long (flat) lines can be left alone and many times they will entice a strike on their slow, spiraling decent as the boat slows.
Times can be fast and furious out here at Montague, last year I had just set the fourth line in the rod holder and was turning to prepare a flat line when… 1, 2, 3, 4, just like that, all four lines tripped and began screaming drag. I was sure we had hit a school of exceptionally large and mad rockfish. However, as line kept peeling from the reels I became increasingly sure I was wrong.
Times can also be a little tougher out there as well. After scoring good on fish for several weeks running, we returned to our usual haunt on day and trolled through sterile water for about two hours without a strike. Then, just as we were about to give up and head for the halibut hole, a pod of nearly two dozen Orca surfaced just off our port side.
After thoroughly enjoying the close up acrobatic and aerial show of twenty Orcas within a football field of us, we collected the lines and ran about four miles to the inside corner of the Island. Here we had done well in previous years but had not yet had time (nor needed) to check out this alternative. Within minutes we had our first King on and proceed to boat several more before it really was time to head for the halibut hole.
Captain T.A. “Tat” Tatterson has over twenty five years experience fishing the salt and fresh waters of Alaska. He operates charter boats in Seward, Alaska; San Jose del Cabo, Mexico; and Panama. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his websites at: www.pacificfishing.us; www.pfishmexico.com or www.pescapanama.com
Added: Wed Apr 18 2012
Last Modified: Mon Apr 23 2012