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Published: December 14th 2015
A cabin in Soldotna
My mother’s been a keen fisherwoman her entire life. Growing up in Horeshoe Bend, Idaho, as the only girl among nine siblings, fishing was an activity that she and her brothers enjoyed their Dad, a tall strapping outdoorsman, who hunted and fished for the family meals. When my family moved to Alaska decades ago, she immersed herself in salmon fishing and ultimately purchased a riverfront acre in the Funny River area outside of Soldotna, one of the best salmon fishing areas in the world.
This is where our family (my brother Phil, his wife, Ok-Kyung, son Alexander, daughter Sophia, my mother, Violette, Terry and myself) converged during the sockeye run in mid-July this year. We were lucky to have several days at the peak of the run. Sockeyes at the very end of their life cycle are intent on reaching their destination and are not hungry. It is illegal to snag the fish and the bait is really immaterial. It takes quite a bit of finesse and patience to get the hook in the way of the fish as it swims by and pull one out. Fishing Fiasco and Ultimate Success
night we arrived, everyone went down to the temporary dock (all must be removed in the off- season) and fished until dark. With 13 sockeyes on the line and no further light, we left them on the stringer underwater in the river as was common practice with the intent to return to clean and filet them in daylight.
The next morning, my brother Phil came back with photos of complete carnage. For the first time ever, bears had discovered the fish during the night and eaten just the heads and bellies (eggs in the females) of every one of our catch. The crime scene was strewn across the riverbank and we were at square one in our fish count.
We made up for it over the next two days when the run came in at its highest. In total, we caught 33 large, beautiful salmon. Catching them is only the first and in many ways the easiest part of the process. The next jobs are to scale them, remove any eggs for future bait, cut out the two major filets and toss the rest back into the river, wash and vacu-seal the final filets and freeze them. Phil’s
experience and Terry’s knife skills as a chef were brought back into service for many hours!
Some notes on salmon cycles in Alaska
For someone who enjoys salmon fishing, the Kenai River in Alaska is the Holy Grail. As the river snakes its way inland, there are thousands of homes, fishing resorts, campgrounds and day areas all devoted to catching the salmon as they swim upstream to spawn.
Salmon have a very unique lifecycle (see diagram). They begin in fresh water, smolt (adapt to salt water) when they reach the ocean, then undergo a complete physical degradation as they return to spawn or reproduce and die in their original freshwater birthplace. How they know their particular home location is still unknown but it is a boon to anyone who loves salmon, bears and people alike, that they struggle mightily upstream to return.
At the mouth of the river, along the Cook Inlet, gillnetting or dip netting is allowed during certain months. A whole community of RVers and campers populate the beach in the town of Kenai and put their huge nets into the inlet. There is also halibut fishing available in Kenai throughout
the whole summer with the traditional fishing method.
There are multiple salmon runs during the fishing season in Alaska and Alaskans follow the fishing reports intently. The previous days counts give an approximation of the volume so it varies year to year but the general patterns are these:
King – mid-May to mid-August
Red (or sockeye) – mid-July to mid-August
Silver (or coho) – late July to late September
Pink humpback & Chum Salmon – mid-July to mid-September
The King are the trophy fish that can be from 35 – 85 (and higher) lbs. You need a guide and a power boat to go up the middle of the river to catch these monsters. The other types tend to swim in packs along the river banks so these are most common catches. The sockeye and the coho, along with the King are considered the best eating; the pink are not preferred and are mostly used by the canneries. The reds or sockeyes in particular are desired for the rich red color of their flesh.
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Hi Becky! These pics of you enjoying time with your family are nice ... I'm glad you were able to connect with everyone. Family time - my absolute favorite. :)
Terry & Becky OBrien
Thanks! Wonderful to share new experiences with those you love!