Cover photo: Kevin Orton, Josh Hughes and Kent Danjanovich with a “Bonus” stringer of nice sockeye’s.
By Kent Danjanovich
King salmon fishing has a mystique all its own. The allure of hooking into the largest of the salmon family as they enter freshwater is nothing short of exhilarating and being able to accomplish that feat from the shoreline, even more so. Well, that is exactly what was in store for Kevin Orton and I as we made our way the first week of August in pursuit of the big boys with Josh Hughes and Kingfisher’s Perch on the Klutina River in the famous Copper River Valley of Alaska.
Now, I know that all of you fishermen that have had the chance to frequent Alaska and other areas to fish for king salmon know the ropes pretty well, but I want to lay a little background for those that are still sitting on the fence and need a little more information that will hopefully get them on their way to one of the most exciting ventures of their lifetime. So let’s lay-out a little more information here for the novice.
In my travels, I have fished some of the best king salmon river waters in Alaska. They include one of the best kept secrets, the Togiak River in Bristol Bay, the Nushagak River which hosts the largest run of king salmon in all of Alaska, of course the world famous Kenai River and now the Klutina as well. I have also caught a few kings on my fly rod on the Ninilchik too, where the run is much smaller and though special in its own way, doesn’t compare to the opportunities available on these other more well known waters. Now even though the Togiak and Nushagak Rivers have what you would call milky colored water, they are not totally glacier fed in the extent that the Kenai and Klutina are, but each water greatly benefits the wood-be angler in being able to get up close and personal in pursuit of the mighty king salmon.
The Klutina is also a very fast moving river, with speeds averaging over 13 mph, prompting most of the river to be classified as Class-3 rapids and higher for those adventurers out there. Now some may think that all of these things don’t sound like they add up to the perfect king salmon fishing waters, but believe me, you would be dead wrong!
I hooked up with Kevin in Anchorage and we loaded our gear in the rental car and set out on our 200 mile drive north to the town of Gakona, Alaska. We then made our way to our destination for the next three days, KingFisher’s Perch. Now there is one thing that I forgot to mention. My flights didn’t go as smoothly as hoped for and we found ourselves arriving at the lodge at about 2:30 am. As we pulled up, Josh Hughes, owner and head guide of KingFisher’s Perch, met us at the door and gave us two choices; one being that we hit our beds for a few hours of sleep and then head out to the river for some afternoon fishing and the other one being changing into our waders, loading into the truck and being on the water in less than an hour. Well, we were up, well past the tired phase and itching to see if everything Josh had told us about the Klutina was really true. Do you even need to ask which option we picked?
By 3:30 am we were loading our gear onto the jet boat and heading up to Josh’s favorite hole. One of Josh’s guides, MJ and his cousin Frosty were already at the spot, holding the position on the river for us and already fighting the first king of the morning. Kevin grabbed the video equipment and Josh handed me a rod, quickly getting us into position, all the while tutoring us on the techniques that we would need for the experience we had travelled far to partake of. Well, it didn’t take long, as on my third cast I found myself hooked into a ball of Klutina River pure muscle.
I guess you can call it beginners luck, but years of fishing experience probably didn’t hurt either as Josh excitedly guided me in the art of landing a big king in fast water. I just can’t really describe to you how strong these fish, coupled with the force of the water, really are. You have to keep constant pressure on the fish, leveraging the angle of fight, using the rod for maximum power and letting the drag help you to wear down your adversary. After a 10 minute fight, my first Klutina River king reluctantly made its way into the net. Needless to say, hoots and hollers, along with crisp high-fives rang out through the morning air as everyone engaged in the exhilarating, magical moment. A dozen more kings made it to the net in the next few hours, with the biggest netted estimated at nearly 50 pounds. And as expected, another dozen hook-ups ended in either break-offs or the fact that we merely ran out of shoreline to land the monsters on the end of our lines. Our first day was a rousing success and we headed back to the lodge to wind down, eat some food and hit our beds for some well earned and needed sleep.
We again found ourselves loading into the truck at 3 am the next morning and heading back to the river. Our day started out fishing in the same spot we had hammered them in the day before and another seven or eight kings posed with us for a few photos before being released back into the water. We then headed up river to three or four more of Josh’s favorite spots, with the success rate at each almost as high as the first. We then unloaded the raft we had loaded into the jet boat and proceeded to get prepared to navigate the waters as we headed back down to the take out.
Well, as you can see, this experience was way more than just a fishing trip. It was a lifetime of excitement thrown into a three-day period. MJ proceeded to maneuver the raft through the rapids and around other obstacles in our path and we soon found ourselves easing into an eddy that looked to have quite a few sockeye salmon moving through. We quickly grabbed our fly rods and strained our eyes as we searched the water for a flash of red. MJ gave a yell and pointed to a small group of fish darting up stream. I flipped my fly upstream at an angle and let the line do the rest. The line went taunt and I set the hook and the fight was on. Now king salmon undoubtedly pose a great fight, but pound for pound, sockeye (Red Salmon) have to be the hardest fighting, knuckle busting salmon on earth. The next hour produced 15 fish in the seven to eleven pound range and MJ and Josh would soon be making quick work of some awesome, bright fillets for the cooler. Day two was coming to an end and our great mixed bag of kings and reds had us anxiously looking forward to our last day on the water.
Morning found use sleeping in a little longer, as Josh had another group of anglers joining us on the river, so we made our way to the water at about 6 am. We worked our way to our favorite spot and found that the other group had already landed a half dozen kings. Josh, MJ, Frosty, Kevin and I quickly traded places with them on the bank and the other group headed up river to be dropped off with their guide to float and fish all the way back to the take-out. We again started right in on our assault, with another 10 hook-ups in the next two hours. Then it happened. That dang Kevin set down the camera for a minute and grabbed a rod. On his third cast, he hooked into a big king, literally only a few yards in front of him in a piece of quick water. At first he thought that it was a small king, but all of the sudden it surfaced and realized it was hooked and started to make a mad dash for the middle of the river and quickly started tearing line off of Kevin’s reel.
Seeing that trouble was brewing, Kevin handed Josh his rod and Josh yelled for MJ and the rest of us to jump in the jet boat and pick him up and start the chase or what’s better known as “THE RODEO”. Now what transpired in the next half hour is too unbelievable to explain and you will just have to experience it for yourself to get the true picture, but let me just say, “WOW”! Even though we didn’t land the fish in the final scenario, the experience only made it more clear that this would definitely not be our last trip to the Klutina with Josh and his crew at KingFisher’s Perch.
Well there you have it. I will have to say that our trip to KingFisher’s Perch was one of our most exciting ever and plans are already being made to partake of it all again, possibly on the clear waters of the Gulkana River also, along with a giant rainbow and grayling float trip and an ocean voyage with their operation in Valdez. We are proud to welcome KingFisher’s Perch into our Platinum Approved Outfitter family and can’t encourage you enough to give them a call today to book your next exciting Alaskan fishing adventure. KingFisher’s Perch, check them out on our website or at www.alaskakings.com or give them a call at 907-822-2574.