Not a sturgeon!
A few seasons back, Nor Cal guide Mike Moore had a group of dudes out salmon fishing on the famous Klamath River when heartbreak came calling.
Klamath kings generally run on the small side and most folks who target them drag eggs on light spinning gear – which is exactly what Moore’s clients were doing when they hooked a really big fish that morning. After some initial excitement, the fish turned out to be a foul-hooked sturgeon.
Awhile later, they hooked another heavy fish that fought just like the sturgeon. Figuring it was another diamondback, Moore had the angler put as much pressure on the fish as he could to try to expedite the fight so they could get back to the business of catching kings.
“We fought that thing extremely hard for 20 minutes,” said Moore. “And then Mark Warner (of the American Fishing Foundation) floated by us in his boat and got a good look at the fish and shouted at me to not break it off. It wasn’t a sturgeon…it was what Warner called the biggest king he’d ever seen on the river.”
At that point, Moore had his client back off the pressure and fight the fish a little more seriously. Eventually, the behemoth tired and got close enough for the skipper to get a good look at it.
“It was dime bright and clearly over 60 pounds,” said Moore. “I’ve had clients get a couple over 50 pounds in the Valley and this one was nothing like those – it looked like something from the Kenai.”
The problem was the light spinning stick that was rated up to 15-pound test just didn’t have the power to lift such a huge fish out of deeper water. So, Moore decided to try to work the boat and the fish over into a few feet of water where he thought he might have a chance to get the net under it.
Just before the fish was in range, the line went slack and the monster was gone. Moore said that when he got back to the camp where all the guides lived that afternoon, he was so torn up about the incident that he just went to bed without telling anybody about how close he’d come to catching one of the biggest kings ever on the Klamath…
Gone in the blink of an eye
Veteran Kenai River guide Greg Brush has seen his share of monster king salmon (he’s had clients catch them up to 86 pounds) in his 20 plus years of running charters on Alaska’s most famous stream, but it’s the one he never saw that still bothers him 6 years later.
“It was the third week in July – the peak of the Kenai’s late run of kings – and we were backtrolling Kwikfish just above Beaver Creek in a hole called Lower Crossover,” he said. “The river was in great shape and feeling really fishy – and the fishing was good. That day, we’d already caught several nice kings in the 40- to 50-pound range and then we got the most unbelievable takedown…”
Brush said that wasn’t one of those “wait, wait, wait…okay get him” kind of grabs. Instead, the rod was instantly pegged to the cork and line smoked off the reel at warp speed.
“That fish burned line off the reel like it was nothing,” said Brush. “That time of year, I run my drags super tight, too. To test them, I wrap the braid around my hand twice and if I can just barely pull some line off, that’s where I like it.”
By the time Brush’s client got the rod out of the holder, the fish did a lightening fast 180 and came screaming back at the boat. “Reel! Reel! REEL!” Brush shouted, but the client couldn’t keep up with the fish. “I was full throttle on the kicker, trying to get the big motor started and yelling to him to get the rod tip in the water to try to clear the line from the boat.”
But it all happened too fast. The kicker prop went through the 80-pound braid like it was Christmas ribbon and the fish was gone. At the instant the line popped, the massive king swirled right off the bow of the boat. Nobody saw the actual animal but the amount of water it pushed was enough to make captain and crew weak in the knees.
The whole incident lasted 6 seconds…maybe 8 at the most. But it was enough to haunt Brush for life.
“We just stood there speechless,” he said. “We just got our a@% collectively handed to us. That was not a 50 or 60 pound fish…”
Well, I’m not sure if these stories are making you feel any better or not. As I was writing this, I was thinking that this whole process was kinda like therapy…that it was helping to exercise some demons. But, come to think of it…I think I feel worse now!