By Joseph Robertia
One of the oldest clichés in the fishing phrase book is, “There’s a reason it’s called fishing, not catching.” But sayings such as this get passed around for a reason. The king salmon season is still weeks away from reaching a boil, and anglers typically have to work the water hard while waiting for still-simmering salmon runs to reach their peak. That’s what makes Jacob Gauthier’s catch last week so remarkable.
“We picked up three kings in one evening,” said the former Kasilof resident, who has recently moved to Anchorage for work.
He returns to where he was raised on weekends to drift the Kasilof River in the hope of seeing a slab of silver on the end of his line. While floating along in the lower river with two friends for the first time this season, he did what few others that evening were able to.
“We weren’t seeing many come in. We saw six or seven other boats and only a few guides were having some luck, so we were a bit surprised to pick up so many so early. We were just getting out to see what was going on.”
The water was low, as it usually is the time of year in the glacially fed Kasilof River. The young men had put in miles upriver, and had seen little action. It wasn’t until they were nearing the mouth that their luck began to turn with the tide.
“It was about three hours before the tide was to fold in. Everyone has a different opinion about when the best time is, but I’ve always believed the fish flood in with the high water, so a few hours after high tide is a good time to be out,” Gauthier said.
They had tried a variety of proven tackle — Kwikfish plugs and other assorted items — but it was when they switched over to back-bouncing setups of Spin-N-Glos and cured eggs that the fish began to show interest. The use of bait, which can dramatically increase an angler’s odds, opened May 16.
“When we switched over, we started getting hit. They weren’t hard bites, though. They just sort of picked it up with their mouth and kept swimming. We’d see our line going upriver and pull on it and there would be a fish on,” Gauthier said.
The salmon they caught were two 15-pounders and a slightly smaller 10-pound fish. All slightly small by king salmon standards, but not out of the norm for this early in the year and in the Kasilof River, which is much smaller and shallower than its world-famous kin to the north.
“They all looked good,” Gauthier said. “These early ones are always smaller, and this is the Kasilof, not the Kenai. A 25-pounder would be exceptional right now, while on the second run 35- to 40-pounders are more typical, with occasional 50-pounders coming in.”
Of the three fish they caught, two were wild fish, meaning naturally produced king salmon recognized by the presence of an adipose fin, the small fin between the dorsal fin and tail. The other was a hatchery fish, which is recognized by having no adipose fin, since these are clipped off before the fish are released into the wild.
In the Kasilof River, wild fish can only be kept on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and since Gauthier and his fishing buddies were out on a Thursday evening, they were legally allowed to keep all three kings they caught.
As many anglers do with the first fish of the year, the young men decided to never let the succulent pink meat touch ice. Back on shore, they made a meal of their piscatorial prize.
“We filleted and grilled that first one. It’s always a tremendous way to celebrate that first fish of the year, and we enjoyed every minute of it,” Gauthier said. “It was a female, too, so we got the eggs out and cured them up for next time.”
Doing so well on what initially was a reconnaissance mission, Gauthier chalked up his group’s success to lots of time on the water over the course of his life.
“Growing up here you figure out what works,” he said.
But, still, the cliché stands true for even the most experienced anglers, as Gauthier found out less than 24 hours later.
“We went back the next day and didn’t catch a thing,” he said.