As of Tuesday, July 27, I'd fished the Kenai for king salmon four times this year, about 20 hours total, with about as much success as Congress has had in reducing the national debt. On Tuesday, with only four days left in king salmon season, I caught a 15-pounder, which I gently and respectfully put in the fish box. One doesn't release what will likely be the only king salmon one catches in an entire season.
That this has been a poor year for king salmon returns isn't news, but it does make for a lot of conversation among fishermen. I caught my king at Big Eddy while fishing with local old-timers Dillon Kimple and Roland Cusson. Because the regulations forbid you to fish after harvesting a king, I spent the next two hours conversing, with king salmon the main topic.
I mentioned that in the 1970s, anchoring was my favorite method of fishing for kings, and Big Eddy was my favorite hole. I told about the time a bunch of big, feisty kings had sauntered into the hole one night and beaten me to a pulp, spooling my reel and leaving me shaken, and how I had rearmed and returned the next morning and caught two that weighed about 70 pounds apiece.
Kimple, seldom outdone in the story department, launched into his No. 173, which both Cusson and I had heard so many times before, our eyes glazed over as we heard it being told yet again. I can't recall the details, but you can be certain the story involved the overcoming of great odds and the catching of several large king salmon.
Cusson told one I'd never heard before, about the time he and a friend caught and released 12 kings at Big Eddy, and then ran down-river to The Horse Pasture and caught some more, after being up all night.
I don't think anyone would say it's any stretch to say these two guys are among the best king salmon fishermen on the Kenai. Tuesday, along with several hundred other anglers who tried to catch a king that day, they went home skunked. We saw a few nets up and fish landed, but not many, considering the hundreds of people fishing.
I'm through trying for kings this year. With enough effort, I might catch another, but it's just not worth it.
The Kenai has no monopoly on poor king returns. This year, king runs are depressed all over the state. Biologists attribute say the cause is "ocean related." I believe it.
I also believe that whatever has happened will eventually swing back, and the good times will roll once again. I just hope I'm still around to see them.
Les Palmer lives in Sterling.
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