Some Salmon

A small collection of salmon vignettes from previous posts…


Coho (O. kisutch)

Big coho—silvers—get some funny looking faces, rivaled only perhaps by male Atlantic salmon. Sure, sockeye and other Pacific salmon get some gnarly curled snouts and wicked teeth, but the coho just looks like it could double as a kitchen implement of some kind.

I must admit that coho/silvers are my overall favorite salmon to catch, whether in the estuary of an Alaskan river or from the riffle of a Lake Michigan trib. I love their aggressiveness (fish ON!), their fight (fish REALLY on!), and their size (big enough, but not too big). They aren’t bad to eat, either!

My favorite fishing for silvers is for the estuary, or “just-in” fish—still shiny and with sea-lice firmly in place. The greatest day I ever had with silvers was slinging and stripping streamers for those “just-in” fish. I don’t remember how many fish I had to hand, but it was enough to wear me down. I can still feel the sling of the long casts, the cold water dripping over my hands as I retrieved, the heaviness of the hoped-for takes, and the yanking runs of the still-salty fish. Some of those silvers ended up on the table, and while not quite the same as a shore-lunch, they always brought back the true flavor of that special day…


Sockeye (O. nerka)

The sockeye (Kokanee in landlocked form) is my favorite salmon to illustrate due to its brilliant palette and snaggle-toothed visage (at least once it gets into the fresh). It is such a symbol of wild places to me, and of angling memories that stretch back many years. What would Alaska, or really the whole Pacific salmon world, be without the Sockeye?

I distinctly remember the first sockeye that I ever caught. I was by myself on a quiet back-channel of a remote river, where I felt as if I were the only person alive. The big salmon was just parked by itself, holding quietly in the thin water. I made a cast and the fish simply turned and mouthed my offering. I was probably as surprised as the fish when I found myself firmly attached.

I was using a light rod that I had brought for grayling, so the salmon felt like a warbling sheet of bright-red siding as it swam, but I just lowered the tip and pulled. In the small water, the fight was short, and after a few pix with my old Olympus (yes, the kind that shot that crazy stuff called “film”), the fish gave a surge and was back in the river.

I’ll never forget that fish, and I’ll never forget that place. Maybe someday I’ll return to that river and make my way back to that same quiet braid. Maybe somewhere there, waiting for me, will be another crimson salmon. And perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to relive that long-past day once again…


King (O. tshawytscha)

Big kings (Chinook) are a bit like big Taimen in that they tend to look wrong when parked front-and-center in a stream. By wrong, I mean that they look like they are a goldfish in a teacup—too much fish, not enough cup.

A 40 or 50-pound slab ‘o salmon is a serious hunk of meat, and even more serious when it makes a move toward your fly. Yes, I know that a 150-pound tarpon is way bigger, but it’s the relative environment that seems to throw things out of whack.

For me, kings have been perhaps more of a Great Lakes fish than a Pacific Ocean fish. I think that stems more from my usual time to fish places like Alaska than anything else. I have typically ended up in the 49th state toward the latter-half of the season, looking more for rainbows and silvers. The kings I have caught in Alaska have been big fish (the biggest of my salmon), but never in large numbers. With the Great Lakes king run in Wisconsin (my home state), it was a matter of an hour and 45 minutes to the coastal rivers, and the kings were often thick.

In any case, the king is a spectacular fish, especially when it’s attached to your line in a teacup that’s just a little bit too small…


Chum (O. keta)

Chum salmon sometimes get the short (ugly?) end of the angling stick. But, to me, they have a beauty—primarily a “yank-your-arm-off” type of beauty.

My father and I had a morning in Alaska one year when we could do no wrong on a huge pool full of chums. It wasn’t pretty fishing—mostly down and dirty, swing and retrieve—but the all-business takes and locomotive pulls made me forget about anything else for a few hours. My father even managed to blow up a favorite salmon rod when a trying to “walk a dog” a little too hard!

Anytime someone says, “The chums are in, wanna try for ’em?,” you know what my answer usually is…


Pink (O. gorbuscha)

The first salmon that I ever caught was a pink, on a Lake Superior tributary many years ago. I strongly remember that brilliant, fish-filled morning, and I also remember the first day that I caught an Alaskan pink half a decade later. It was on the famed Kanektok, a river that is better known for silvers and big ‘bows.

Perhaps the biggest pink that I have ever caught came from Russia’s Kola Peninsula, where it was not a welcome guest. The fish took a swung fly in the sea-pool of the Sidorovka and dogged hard, making me wonder if I had hooked an Atlantic salmon that had a personal aversion to jumping. When the fish finally surfaced, its hooked jaw and humped back was an immediate give-away

A few days later, a couple of kilometers up-river, I would blow the set on the largest Atlantic salmon that I have ever had to the fly, but that’s another story…

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