Nushagak River – June 19 – 23, 2011
Anticipation was high this year as we ventured on our third annual Steelhead University/Jake’s Nushagak Camp trip. The kings were starting to trickle in and Alaska Fish and Game announced no commercial opener for Kings or Sockeye until after the escapement had been reached. This was fantastic after last year’s commercial slaughter in which they caught over 40 thousand kings as “bi-catch” during the sockeye harvest. We had a dozen fishermen in our group this year and would be joined by another 18 bringing the camp to full capacity. I would be fishing with my friends Terry Fors and Jefry Norwood which would give us a solid hardcore lineup looking to put our knowledge to test against what has been known as Alaska’s great king salmon run.
Day 1 – Yes Virginia, even in Alaska you can find a Skunk!
Last year was a down year due to the commercial overfishing but there were at least several hundred coming though each day. Now we're less than 100 a day in a very large river which flows over 280 miles.
Day 2 – Could it be a repeat?
Day 3 – Captain Fred puts us on a few fish
Day 4 started out with an absolute bang – a triple to start the day. OK, now we could be getting somewhere. As we came down through the tailout Fred asked if we wanted to pick up and return to the top, “Just another minute Fred, this looks like good water.” Fred had explained that it was snaggy in the past but that he did notice a new sandbar formed on the side. I think all that sand created a trench and we hit the slot perfect - fish on, fish on. A double and we’re at 5 fish the first drift.
We’d matched our daily total from the day before in four hours of fishing so on we went in for lunch. Of course we tried talking Fred into skipping lunch, but he didn’t think Eli would appreciate that. Come on Fred! Didn’t work.
After lunch, back to the same drift and it was lights out! Now we were getting at least one fish a drift and most drifts between 3 and 5 fish. Doubles were the norm and several triples. The boats from other camps that were back bouncing just kept shaking their heads in disbelief, we were on fire!
As the 90 fish mark approached we were all aware of how close we were to that legendary 100 fish mark, but also well aware of how little time we had left to achieve this milestone.
“Don’t worry Fred, Eli said not to come in until we get 100”.
“We still have over an hour left Fred, Eli said 7:00 was fine since you got us out late”.
We tried every excuse but Fred just smiled. We had a 6:00 deadline.
5:45 and we just finished a drift with a triple putting us at 99! Are you kidding me?
“Fire ‘er up Fred and let’s hit it”. Luckily Fred didn’t hesitate and were back up to the top of the hole.
Immediately we got a double – that’s 100 and 101. Number 102 came just minutes after.
Fred said “OK boys, one last drag through our new snag hole and we have to reel them up”. Woo Hoo – we end the day with a triple and count that as 105!
That hole is now known as the Double TJ hole (Terry, Terry, Jeff).
More importantly, Steelhead University graduated Fred to the title of Professor! We’re going to make you a legend Fred.
After getting back to shore, rumors were already flying. Although Fred could barely move we worked him so hard, he was grinning from ear to ear. Yeah Buddy!
Oh, by the way, 2,238 fish past the sonar today. We expected much higher numbers with the catch we had, but at least it’s a good number.
Just as a note – we also landed over 70 kings from shore this night and numerous chrome bright chum. The Nush at its finest.
Day 5 – Another Professor in the Making?
We had hoped to get Professor Fred back for a third day, but that’s not the way Jakes works. Every day they rotate guides so everyone gets to fish each guide. With Eli feeling better he’s back in the mix so the normal rotation is on.
We get to fish with School Teacher Ron today.
I’m sure one of the skills Ron teaches is to pay attention to detail. First thing he asks us in the morning is, where are we going, how fast and how deep? Now that’s a great guide! He wanted to follow exactly what the Professor had led us to the day before. How likely was another 100 fish day – well not likely as most guides that have been up there haven’t been close. In fact Fred’s record before us was 48 fish, Ron’s is at 85.
We follow the same pattern as we did the day before and let Ron know how we wanted to fish it. Didn’t take much convincing for him to follow our philosophy as we released 8 fish in the first drift. That also included a triple in the Double TJ hole. He had said just like Fred, it’s all snaggy in there. Well, not any more. Soon other boats would follow us through the slot and it became the “hot” hole. Remember, that’s Double TJ folks.
We told Ron we were skipping lunch and staying out until we broke Fred’s record – he, like Fred, just laughed. Hey, we're serious! Not going to happen though.
By lunch we had touched the leader on an outstanding 73 fish. That’s 1 boat, 3 guys fishing for 4 hours – 73 KING SALMON!!!
At lunch we had to tell Fred where we were – sorry Fred. “Oh, well, at least I had the record for a day” he said.
But don’t count on it too fast. After lunch our first run we didn’t touch a fish. What happened? We were getting so many hookups were almost expected at least one fish per pass by now, each. Second drift and we did hit 1. The bite just plain died.
We contemplated moving downstream to find some fresh fish but didn’t want to leave fish to find fish. At this rate, were we actually leaving fish though? As it turns out that would have been a bad mistake. Just about an hour of a fish here and there and then it turned on again. Seemed like the other boats didn’t have as much confidence in our slot so they took off. Maybe the reduced pressure was all it took. We were back in the groove with doubles and triples
We gave the school teacher a good workout going from one side of the boat to the other releasing our fish. At the end of the day – 124 fish brought to the boat.
The School Teacher is now a Professor as well!
Two days in a row we brought over 100 fish to the boat – now that’s legendary and something I never thought I’d see.
Count the fish we boated from shore and were pushing 200 fish in a day. This is unreal – it’s the truth, but simply unreal.
Where else in the world can you catch this many King Salmon?
Oh, sonar count for the day, 7,473.
King Salmon – 8 to 30lbs (teener average)
Jakes Nushagak Camp