Here's a whopper. Imagine spending more than 12 hours straight out on a drift boat fishing for reds and kings. With light-weight line, throw-away gear. And after snaggin' nothing but fellow fishers' lines for the better part of the day and night, something finally bites. Something big.
"It was the biggest fish of my life," said Cooper Landing resident Mark McCoy of the 67 1/2-pound chinook he hauled out of the Kenai River Monday morning around 10:30. "I can stick my head in its mouth. And my head was pretty big at the time, too."
McCoy's king measured 53 1/2 inches long and 34 inches around with a 4-inch tail.
He said he went out on his friend Libby Smith's boat with his girlfriend Kim Wilson and friend Josh Dougherty the night before and they all had been awake even longer than they were on the river.
"We'd been fishing since 9 o'clock the previous night for reds, but king fishing since 5 o'clock in the morning," McCoy said. "We'd been up for around 30 hours when we hooked it."
McCoy said bad luck had beset them through their trip, and not all the equipment was exactly the best. But the least of their gear proved up to the task.
"We had a fish on that we lost because we had lines tangled," he said. "And we were getting them untangled when it hit. We hooked it on a trout rod we found in the Kenai River last year on 20-pound test, using a Spin-N-Glow with red eggs."
He said his party couldn't make heads or tails of the fish when they first hooked it just below the Centennial Park Campground.
"We thought it was a Dolly for the first two minutes, because it was coming straight up river, then a red, then a king," he said.
And he battled the fish for 25 minutes and three miles, until...
"Three beers, two cigarettes and about two pair of underwear later, we landed it in Big Eddy," McCoy said.
But will this triumphant fish warrior feast on his prize?
"I think I'm gonna get it mounted," he said, repeating a taxidermy quote of $940 for the impending job.
This year's late-run king fishery certainly has been impressive, with 29,538 fish counted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game through Tuesday with an average of 1,116 kings passing the sonar counter at Mile 8.6 of the Kenai River each day between July 17 and Tuesday.
The sport fishery for sockeye salmon also has seen a strong return, prompting Fish and Game to issue two Saturday openings for the commercial fleet so far this season and open the dipnet fishery at the mouth of the Kenai round the clock, overriding the 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. restrictions placed on the fishery this year by emergency order. The dipnet fishery, open to Alaska residents, closes Wednesday.
In addition, Fish and Game has increased the daily bag limit for salmon from three to six. Only two of those may be coho salmon, and only one may be a king.
After the Fish and Game sockeye sonar counter at Mile 19 of the Kenai River tallied 94,761 reds in one 24-hour period on July 19, the run has tapered to more normal, but still excellent, numbers, with 26,279 fish counted by the sonar Wednesday for a total of 648,614.
Fish and Game's inriver goal is between 750,000 and 900,000 fish, and expectations are for more than 2 million fish.
For those flipping for reds with rod and reel, a sharp hook is a must, and anglers are finding success using coho flies or a hook with a piece of yarn.
After a few slow days, numbers of fish entering the Russian River have picked up, with 733 counted at the Fish and Game weir Tuesday. The Russian River as well as the waters of the Kenai River near the confluence are fly-fishing-only waters, and hook size restrictions, as well as other special regulations, apply.
A few pink salmon have been scooped up in dipnets at the mouth of the Kenai, and silver salmon should begin to enter the river this week.
Fish and Game is conducting a tagging study on silver salmon this year, and anglers that harvest a fish with a black, 2-inch radio tag with a wire antenna attached to the fish just below the dorsal fin are asked to return the tag, along with information on where and when the fish was harvested, to the department's office on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna.
Silver fishing has been excellent on Resurrection Bay out of Seward as well as in the Homer Spit Fishing Lagoon. Silvers also are expected to begin showing in the Anchor River, Deep Creek and the Ninilchik River soon, and pinks have been reported in the Anchor River. Fresh salmon eggs or small spinners or spoons work well for silvers.
Halibut fishing out of Seward, Homer, Anchor Point and Deep Creek also has been good to excellent, though some big tides on Cook Inlet will make things a little tougher on anglers looking to haul in a barn door this week.
Clarion reporter Will Morrow contributed to this report.
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