June 03, 2013
By Ross Purnell, Editor
The last "real" Chinook salmon I caught were on the Alagnak River in the late 1990s. They were chrome fish from tidewater, and they had sea lice—the hallmark of strong, desirable gamefish that have not yet begun their descent toward spawning and eventual death. But we caught the fish from an anchored boat—it was the only way we could get the right slow swing into the deep soft spots king salmon prefer. And we used single-handed rods, which was a lot of hard work with the Teeny lines and heavy flies of the day.
That was before the era of Skagit lines for two-handed rods which revolutionized the way people think about Chinooks, and the way we go after them with fly tackle. For me, Spey casting is my favorite way to fly fish—possibly because there's a constant opportunity for improvement (a nice way of saying I'm a duffer), and the time between fish is time occupied by casting, thinking about casting, and constantly analyzing what went wrong on the last cast (or what went right) and how to fix it (or repeat it).
And when that grab comes, the electric surprise of life at the end of your your line is the ultimate thrill in fly fishing. To me, it's better that the anticipated rise of a trout to a dry fly, or the chase of a sighted bonefish on the flats—those things you can prepare for. When a steelhead or salmon grabs your fly at the culmination of a long swing, you are often stunned and unprepared for the pull, which draws you back from your reverie of the mountains, or of a soaring bald eagle, and makes you remember how amazing it is that a fish can roam the Pacific ocean for years, find its way back to its natal stream, and by some miracle of good planning and coincidence, find itself connected to you.
I've honed my Spey casting on steelhead for the last decade, but now I've got "a date with a king." The lower Dean River is just 3 miles of water between the salt water of the Dean Channel and a massive set of waterfalls separating the lower and the upper river. This lower section is perhaps the best place in the world to get a truly special Chinook salmon in peak physical condition—and there are early returning steelhead as well.
My guides will be April Vokey and Steve Morrow—and by "guides" I don't just mean they've watched a lot of people catch a bunch of fish, and therefore know the right spots. They've done this themselves many times—they don't just know the pools like Ross Island and Bill's Run, Cutbank, and Instant Backing. They've waded them, probed them, and caught their own salmon (see video below). Both are expert casters and can hopefully help me adapt to the heavier rods and lines needed for Chinooks that can run from 25 to 45 pounds. Fishing with them will be one of the highlights of my year.
Wish me luck, and if you've got the gumption to try it yourself, I believe there's one spot left at the lodge the week I'm there June 21-28, 2013. If interested, see the contact info at flygal.