After an intense, 25-minute battle, a mammoth-sized king salmon was wrested from the Kenai River Wednesday morning. The near record-breaker weighed in at 89 pounds, 4 ounces and measured 57 inches, with a girth of 34 inches.
"It's a beautiful fish," said Tim Berg of Tim Berg's Alaskan Fishing Adventures. "This is the personal biggest fish I've seen in 25 years on river."
Fred Houtman of Boise, Idaho, went on a fishing charter with Berg at about 6 a.m. Wednesday. After two and a half hours with no one on the boat landing a fish, Houtman hooked the king with a red and white Spin-N-Glo while drifting just north of Eagle Rock. As soon as the fish struck his line, Houtman knew it was a big one.
"It hit my line and just started going nuts," he said. "It was just zinging across the river -- up, down, sideways, under the boat, around the boat a couple times. It was really putting on a show."
After the long morning and previous day of not catching anything, Houtman had been starting to let his guard down. That changed as soon as the fish hit.
"You get a shot of adrenaline," he said. "I was pretty sleepy at the time, but I woke up quick. You get excited to see something that big in the water, especially when it's on your rod."
The fish did not give itself up easily. According to Berg, it went back and forth across the river three times. For the first 10 minutes of the fight it headed upstream about a quarter of a mile, then changed directions and went down river.
"It really took off," he said. "Luckily it went to the opposite bank first, away from the other boats, which is really lucky or it probably would have gotten tangled in the other lines, and he would have lost the fish."
The fish came out of the water a few times during its struggle, giving all in the boat a good look at it.
"He'd take a run and come back to us," Houtman said. "He didn't go any single direction, he just wanted off that hook, that was the thing. I didn't know if it would ever run out of energy. He didn't waste any time resting."
Houtman reeled the fish in close enough to the boat for two fellow fishers to get a net on it and haul it aboard.
Although he lost track of time after the fish hit, Houtman estimated the struggle could have gone on longer than it did.
"He put on a pretty good display," Houtman said. "He wasn't tuckered out, he probably still had a lot of life left in him, we just maneuvered into the right spot."
Once the fish was aboard and measured, Berg headed the boat back to shore. In the water, the fish had looked like it was 6 feet long, Houtman said. Once it was on the boat, Houtman saw it was reddish in color and didn't have any sea lice, so he estimated it had been in the river for a while and had probably lost some weight. Even so, it was the biggest salmon either Berg or Houtman had seen pulled from the river.
At 6 feet, 4 inches, Houtman had the size and experience to handle the situation. He landed a 79-pound king on charter with Berg three years ago and has landed a 338-pound halibut, also with Berg.
Houtman plans to either have a replica of the fish made or have it mounted with the skin on it. While he decided, the fish was put on ice and displayed all day Wednesday at Peninsula Processing and Smokehouse.
An Anchorage teen-ager reeled in an 87-pound king July 20.
But Les Anderson of Soldotna still holds the record with his 97-plus-pound king salmon pulled from the river 17 years ago.
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