Guidelines for Netting a Salmon or any Large Fish

Netting a salmon or any other large fish for that matter, is something some of us seasoned fishermen take for granted, while others shutter at the chance they may knock a good fish off. It is a task that is learned, so if you have the chance, pay close attention when someone else is doing it. Watch how it is done by guides or experienced fisherpersons. There are specific things needed in the equation to have it go smooth and successful.

The fisherperson has to do their part also and part of this may be do not bring a hot/wild fish into the boat to soon. Set the hook, reel in keeping tension on the fish, let the fish run, tiring it out with the drag on your reel, but try not to bring it in near the boat (if possible) until it is tired out. A hot fish near the boat can result in it becoming tangled in the prop/transducer etc.

It has been said many times that most fish that are lost are within 10′ of the boat. From personal observation, it appears that this may be divided about equally between the rod handler’s and the netter’s responsibility. The percentage of lost fish goes up dramatically in direct relationship to the decline in fishing/netting experience. Then occasionally the fish gods happen to smile on some of us, no matter what we do wrong.

Fish have, and will be netted in nets where the bows and bags were many different colors. But think about it especially if you ever get into the situation where you are alone and need to net your own fish. The net bows can be plain aluminum, anodized gold, blue or black. Net bags also come in different colors. If I was setting out to purchase a new net, ideally a neutral color like light gray or brown, which would be hard to find, therefore as a second choice, I would look for a dark, preferably black bow and bag. The reason is, in my estimation, you want a color that would seem to have the least chance of the fish seeing and be spooked if it is either slightly above the water or in the water.

Another thing I do that has nothing to do with netting, but may save the day, is to use the “foam in a can” that is used for household crack insulation. Pull the net handle’s end caps off. Place a 3/16″ plastic tube about 2′ long on the spray snout, reach in as far as you can and spray this insulation INSIDE the handle, backing the plastic tube out as you spray. Turn the handle around then do it from the other end, filling the handle with a foam floatation. Otherwise complete nets have been known to sink if dropped / lost overboard.

The difference between a good netter and great netter is that a great netter has learned to compensate for the lack of skill of the guy handling the rod. Which in and of itself, is at least 50% communication of expectations between the two.

Number One ; You have to net the HEAD of the fish, don’t worry about the body, it will follow IF you are fast enough to close the bag. Fish do not have a reverse gear, but can turn on a dime and give you 9 cents back. Concentrate on the front part of fish, but it really helps if the majority of the fish is headfirst in the net at the end of your swift scoop. Concentrate on getting the head in the net, and if you do a good follow thru, usually the rest will follow if you do your part. You normally will want the fish to tire out before you try to net it, however sometimes you have to take the fish when the opportunity presents itself.

By carefully watching others, after a while you will get the hang of how each different specie of fish will react when being fought and landed. This is important in the fact that you will, after a while be able to anticipate what the fish will do, and possibly be ready to intercept it.

 

Lead him in a little closer

Turn him around, I can’t net his tail

 

 

 

 

If you are fishing in an area where you do have to release a fish, because of selective harvest regulations, it is best to be able to identify the specie while it is still in the water way before the netting time. Here it takes studying the characteristics, markings and just how the fish reacts. If it is a non targeted fish, (like a non clipped adipose finned Coho) there are other less stressful methods of releasing a fish without netting them. Under this non targeted fish situation, some state’s regulations say that you are not allowed to raise a fish above the gunwale of the boat.

Here is the place to use a dehooker instead of the net, and not take the fish out of the water. CLICK HERE FOR LINK

If you have to net the fish and then release it, you can hold the the netted fish against the side of the boat. Here it has been found that if you roll the fish over onto it’s back while still in the net but just at water level, it will usually calm down enough to unhook it without taking it out of the water, then you can flop the net over, releasing the fish.

 

This fish is not ready yet Not even

 

 

 

 

If the fish is a legal keeper, still in the net at the side of the boat and thrashing around, you may want to “Bonk” it on the head, with your “Welcome Aboard” Billy club. Otherwise bring it aboard, then bonk it while still in the net. Remove the hooks, take your pictures etc. To make for better eating of any fish, it is best to bleed them as soon as possible. This is done by cutting or pulling some of the gills out. Some fisherpersons who do not have special fish-boxes built into the boat, then may tie a rope thru the gills, out the mouth and drag it over the side of the boat for 10 min or so, allowing it to bleed out and keep the blood out of the fishbox. This however can be a good way to loose the hard earned fish to a seal or shark, or forget to bring it in when you pickup and run to make another pass.

Most well prepared fisher-persons will put them in a chest cooler that has ice in it. Sure you will get blood accumulate in the bottom, but there is usually a drain plug in these coolers. Many fishermen make a slightly raised slatted false bottom in the cooler, so the blood and water will drain down, allowing the fish to still be in the non contaminated ice. If you happen to know a retailer who uses the shopping carts that have the plastic square grating on the bottom and sides, see if they have any damaged ones then if you can get one, cut the bottom out to fit the size of your ice cooler bottom.

 

A 26# Chinook the net, with the bag closed, note the downrigger swung rearward out of the way A nice 20# Chinook in the net at Johns river 2012.    This photo was being taken while the resisting fish was still in the water, but snapped just as guide Nic Norbec scooped it in.  A lucky photo shot.

 

 

 

 

The pictures using the black net bag were taken at Sitka Alaska in May of 2005 fishing with L&M Charters with the exception of the above RH photo. The Alaskan raingear was standard even during a nice day as the skipper could hose down the deck along with any bloody pants of the crew to keep the boat clean.

 

 

A nice Coho in the boat Smiles, with photo taken in Sitka harbor

 

 

 

 

One thing you will see in these pictures is that the skipper is wearing Polaroid glasses. This helps him see into the water better, cutting out the surface glare. This allows him to see the fish better and to help anticipate the fish’s moves.

DO NOT put the net in the water and hope the rod handler can lead the fish into the bag. Hold the net at ready just above the water with your leading hand hold the bottom of the bag lightly with a finger, this keeps the bag out of the water preventing scaring the fish AND/OR getting tangled on something. When you make the pass to get the fish, the net will pull out of the finger’s light grasp.

Under most conditions, the fish will have to get tired out enough to be able to be led into the net. As shown above the netter will have to wait for the right moment. Then he can quickly jab the net into the water in front of the fish, when the fish is in the bag, jerk the handle back and up, closing the bag. For most salmon, do not try to lift the net plus the fish horizontally out of the water and into the boat. You can bring the net close to and against the side of the boat with the handle pointing up, this will trap the fish against the side of the boat, somewhat immobilizing it. Then if the fish is large and or legal, you can get ahold of the upper net hoops and lift it in that way. Otherwise you put a lot of strain on the net handle and the bow, thereby running the chance to loose a nice fish when the net breaks.

Not the recommended way to bring the fish aboard, and can be rather hard on net hoops as the net designers never dreamt it would be used this way.  Pretty obvious the netter was a novice.

 

After being hooked, some fish will want to stay on one side of the boat, or to go one certain direction. This could be caused by just were the lure’s hook is located in the fish’s mouth. If they want to go to one side of the boat, let them, not because you are right handed and prefer one corner of the boat to do the netting your way. But trying to make a fish go to the other side of the boat if it does not want to, can create problems in itself and can very well contribute to loosing the fish. Been There – Done That. Or if possible, maneuver the boat to the opposite side of the fish more to YOUR advantage so you can take it on the side that helps you. Or learn to net left handed.

If the fish heads under the boat, have the fisherman place the rod tip or even the whole top section even to the reel if need be, in the water deep enough to clear the hull and prop. You do not want the line dragging across the bottom of the boat or to get snagged in the prop, rudder or even transducer. If the fish wants to stay under or go to the other side, have the fisherman keep the rod in the water deep enough to clear things, then have him move around to the other side and resume fighting the fish. Maybe not possible on some boats, but do the best you can. Some salmon (especially ocean Chum) may even want to hide right under the boat.

Most times if I am trolling with downriggers and get a fish on, I DO NOT shut off the trolling motor, I may slow it down some, but NEVER off, or even out of gear, UNLESS it is a BIG fish AND is putting up a fight or taking out line, which is when I may have to decide to chase it. If this is the case pull the downriggers in QUICKLY and pull the other gear up, clear the downrigger balls then take it as it may come. If the fish is really taking out line in the opposite direction, you may have to make a decision very quickly (to give yourself enough time to get your gear in) and possibly have to chase one to be able to recover some line. This doesn’t happen often, but be ready if the situation presents itself and recognize it before it is to late and you are spooled.

I prefer to have the netter standing in one of the rear corners of the boat. This gives him a better chance to take the fish on the side or slightly at the rear if need be. This also means if you are downrigger trolling and have the downrigger mounted on the rear corner, you will have to pull the cable and ball in then swing the downrigger around (usually rearward) out of the way. You can net from the center of the boat with the downrigger wire still out, BUT the netter has to be GOOD, the rod person be experienced and the fish small enough that it will cooperate. This will probably only present itself if there are more than one fish on at a time. In any case it is best to pull the downrigger wire up as soon after the fish is hooked as you do not want the fishing line tangled around the downrigger wire. All the more reason for electric downriggers with an automatic retrieve button. I will guarantee that if the ball is still in the water and you bring a fish in, it WILL become tangled in the wire (had it happen a couple of times).

Initially the fish may make a run or two, maybe even 3 or 4. Sometimes they will initially come right into the boat then decide this is not where they want to be. If it is a Chinook, usually it will make deep runs. Then it may, early on, show on the surface ONCE where you can get a chance to see it, or parts of it. Chinook will not usually jump during the fight. If it is a Coho, it will and usually stay near the surface, and will normally jump repeatedly, even right up to the time of netting. I was once in a guide’s boat on the Keni River that a Coho hooked from another client aboard, even jumped right in the boat landing at my feet before the guide had a chance to get the net out.

During this initial fighting time, the rod person usually needs to keep the rod at about a 45 degree angle to use the backbone of the rod to subdue the fish. With the reel’s drag set properly, if the fish decides to dive, run or move suddenly, between this reel’s drag along with the whippy tip section of the rod act like a bungee cord allowing the fish to do it’s thing without breaking off the leader, line or even the rod. If a large fish is not making long runs anymore, but is being stubborn and diving that you can not control, DO NOT THINK THAT YOU NEED TO TIGHTEN THE REEL’S DRAG. In many cases, just the opposite, loosen the reel’s drag slightly. Sure this may extend the fight somewhat, but it will also possibly ensure you a better chance to finally net the fish by not having it break off by a sudden move that YOU can not react fast enough to, when the fish is right next to the boat. And if you loosen the drag slightly, you can supplement this by thumbing the spool at your discretion.

In the photo on the right below, this Spring Chinook of about 25# hit the lure, missed then turned or slapped it with the tail, where it got hooked in the tip of the tail. It took us downriver about 1 1/2 miles even before we could even see the fish. Then OH $HIT when we saw the situation, then many dogged runs, but the netter did not have a chance to net the head. It finally made a run under the boat and somehow got close enough to the jet unit, pulling the hook out.

Here is a August 2010  16# Willapa Chinook Not an easy netting, & usually the odds are with the fish.
This Cowlitz River spring Chinook would probably have weighed in at about 25#

 

During the final stages of the fight, if it is a large fish, and after the fish is close to the boat, (like say possibly 20′) a good method is to drop the rod tip to near the water, now if the fish is to the right, place the rod to the left. Keep the tension the fish and keep reeling, when the fish then goes to the rod, switch sides and then place the rod to the right of the fish, continue reeling, allowing the drag to function if the fish is resisting. This prevents a large fish from diving right at the boat thereby possibly breaking a high rod because you can not react fast enough. Using this method also puts more strain on the fish and not the fisher.

Then approaching net time, the rod can still be used right or left but slightly raised more upright to raise the fish enough for the netter to accomplish his task. But at this point, the rod handler also needs to be very conscious as to what the fish may do, like make possibly another deep run, if so, the fisher needs immediately drop the rod yet keeping tension on the fish and let the rod take up the pressure.

If the rod is held high and straight up when the fish decides to dive, the rod WILL probably be broken as it can not flex enough. This is called High Sticking. It is about impossible to bring a fish to net with a 7′ rod and 10′ of gear/leader to the fish unless the fisherman is a VERY tall person.

On the final stages with the fish at the side of the boat, the fisherperson should not pull hard enough as to lift the fish’s head out of the water. Fish seem to get very excited when this happens and could pull the hook out (unless they are completely tired out). Again, the fish needs to be at the surface but not out of the water for the netter to do best. A NO -NO for the rod person if they can not control the fish and raise it to the surface during the last phase just before netting is DO NOT reach ahead of the rod’s cork front handle, hold onto the rod’s lower section to gain leverage. This puts a lot of strain on the rod and again IF the fish decides to make one last run, can very well break even the best rod.

At the final netting time is also the time for the fisherman to step rearward (toward the center of the boat) to bring the fish closer to the boat while at the same time not put any extra stress on a high rod. With the fish in the boat, you can look and admire it all day, but trying to do so before it is netted as it swims near the boat, the rod handler will usually allow the rod tip to drop, releasing tension on the fish and with barbless hooks could result in a lost fish right at the boat.

As soon as the fish is in the net, the fisherperson needs to drop the rod tip down, then strip some line off the reel, giving slack so that after the netting, then getting the fish aboard that the rod tip does not get broken or the hooks pull out and impregnate someone.

The rod man and the net man must have a common objective in placing the fish in the ideal location to seal the deal. For many experienced fishermen, that’s about an 8 ft radius from where the skipper/netter stands to also be able to run the kicker. As the fish is being reeled in, you don’t want that fish to surface anywhere INSIDE that zone when it first comes to the top. In fact the preference is the fish come up about twice that distance and have the rod man skate it across the surface listing on one side into the magic 8′ zone as seen in the photo below. However many times miracles happen as fairy tales situations go, but real world happenings are rare.

A beautiful example of tiring the fish out, then sliding it into the net headfirst.

 

It’s a 50/50 deal between the rod man maneuvering the fish and the net man maneuvering the boat to put the fish in the ideal position for the slam dunk net shot… fish on its side, approaching that 8 ft radius headfirst toward the waiting net man.

Another good method is the net man must time his forward thrust of the net perfectly, pushing the hoop HEAD FIRST directly in front of the fish’s flight path … BUT … the rod man MUST follow through with the all important rod DROP the instant the fish’s gills clears the net hoop! Instinct tells the rod man to keep pulling, but a friendly reminder from the net man to the rod man to DROP the rod never hurts. When the rod man drops the rod tip, giving the fish slack, the fish will instantaneously lunge for freedom, but right into the bottom of the bag. Now it’s just a matter of the net man closing the bag by pulling straight back on axis with the handle. So remember, PUSH … drop …. PULL…. and it is all over.

With all the above said, there will be exceptions. This could be if you can see the hooks are not well hooked, like in the skin of the outer jaw and may tear out at any time. In this case you will have to make some quick decisions. This could be IF the fish gets close enough AND IF you are a good netter, then within safety reaching limits of the net handle, possibly try to net a little farther away from the boat if the fish will not come near enough. Or for the netter to make a quick jab in front of the fish if the timing seems perfect, but before the fish is tired out or really ready to net. However this can lead to loosing a fish IF the fish is not cooperating and timing not perfect.

Coho hardly ever give up unless they have jumped and rolled enough to tangle themselves in the leader. However do not rely on this as I have seen a number of nice ocean Coho in the 15# range fight just like a Chinook, so much so that they were brought aboard without even double checking for telltale spots or gum-lines of a Chinook.

One instance where you may want the net in the water is for Piggybacked Ling Cod that have swallowed live bait, is to have the netter put the net as far in the water as possible and hide it under the boat (before the fish comes up). Then holds the net very still until the Ling is in the crosshairs, and then nets it in one swift, accurate, upwards scoop.

Comment on a Tail Hooked Fish : Salmon commonly attach bait by ramming it with their body or turn and smack it with their tails, hence the possibility of a tail hooked fish.

As you can see in the photo above on the right, a tail hooked fish is rather difficult to net from the head end. Now let us explain WDFW regulations here. If this happens in salt water it would be legal to retain the fish IF you could net it, but if the same situation occurs in fresh water then it would be illegal. This is apparently to enforce the anti snagging rule where fish can stack up in confined areas. Apparently WDFW thinks that in salt water it would be about impossible to intentionally snag a fish.

I have seen a tail hooked fish netted from the tail, by a well experienced salmon fishing guide. This fish however was only 13#, and came into the boat very quickly and backwards of course so probably it never realized what was happening. I was the fisherman and by holding enough tension on the fish to pull it’s tail out of the water, (decommissioning it’s power) the guide made a deep plunge from the rear and then a fast upward pivoting motion so the bottom rim of the net popped up right in front of the nose of the fish and we had it.

After having this fish on and being successful, AND also having the estimated 25# fish shown above my thoughts would be that the only way to land a larger fish like this would be for the fisherman to be amid ships. The kicker motor would have to be operated in a aggressive manner so that the stern of the boat be pushed toward the fish so the fish would then be parallel to the side of the boat with the netter standing near the stern, thus allowing the netter to have a chance of netting it along side the boat from the head.

Netting From Being Anchored in a River: Here a few hints that a more experienced fisherman has shared for successful anchor netting. Wearing a lifejacket is important.

One thing… netting a fish on anchor IN CURRENT is probably one of the most stressful encounters you can put a fish thru. So don’t net fish if you don’t plan to kill it. If you have to release one of these fish …. always try to position the fish with its head upriver. This will encourage the fish to lay straight, minimizing the amount of profile against the crushing current. Some experienced fishermen will just grab the lower lip pull the fish upriver then using pliers remove the hook. Or just tire and then release with pliers or dehooker, leaving it in the water as the law requires

First off, resist the temptation to net a fish directly downstream of the boat, no matter how easy it might look. Yes, it can be done with very experienced hands (on both the rod and the net) but not doing it solo. Thrusting a net downriver puts all of the mechanics of netting in current AGAINST the net-man.

Then the current is pushing the fish AWAY from the net. When it’s time for the net-man to make his move, instead of an open parachute to freely admit the fish, the current wants to immediately close the bag… there’s simply no place for the fish to DROP. And when the rod man does drop his tip, the fish doesn’t just drop, it drops DOWNRIVER… away from the net! If something goes even slightly wrong in the netting sequence, the chances for recovery are slim to none as the net is now in the most disadvantageous position for a rescue maneuver. The fish tends to get crushed against the mesh. The mesh does not want to stay open for easy access to the fish for de-hooking/release. It’s just a real struggle to handle a fish in the water under such conditions.

And NEVER net from the tail. All the more reason for a boater to drop off a hog-line to fight and net a large fish.

If landing solo from anchor, dropping off the anchor (if possible) creates more “soft water” and denies the fish to turn away from the net at the last minute and in general, makes solo netting simpler. While playing the fish make sure to position the boat with the kicker so that you will remain clear of downstream hoglines, boats or shore obstructions so when the big moment comes, you are unhindered and ready to focus completely on the net job. When clear, and the fish seems to start to get tired, turn the boat and get fish on down river side in the break created by the hull. It is much better in the softer water

Netting If You Are Fishing Alone : Here, another set of guidelines come into play. If you are anchored, drop off the float for the reasons outlined above. Fishing solo, complicates matters immensely, as you have to handle the rod, the reel and the fish, plus the net and usually even maneuver the boat all at the same time. There are three prerequisites that will help improve your odds considerably. (1) Beforehand, shorten your leader to 3-5 ft. long and or distance between the flasher/diver/sinker so that the fish can be closer to the rod. (2) Use a slider sinker so you do not get it tangled in the net, and use a light enough sinker dropper line so it/you OR the fish can break it if need be. (3) Do not use a wimpy no backboned or a short rod, but one at least 8′ 6″. You need something that allows you to manipulate the fish on your terms when the time comes to net.

MAKE SURE TO NOT TANGLE THE LURE’s HOOKS INTO THE NET ON THE SCOOP!!! Go deep enough under the fish. If you snag a lure’s hook with the net you’ll push the second hook right out of the fish’s mouth, or prevent the fish from being able to enter the net. Having a scared fish attached to the outside of the net is not what you want to have happen.

Here we will cover two types of solo netting, (A) areas where there is no, or minimal current, even drifting with the current (B) areas where you are netting in a current like being anchored in a river. The above will change depending on the size of the fish, as a smaller fish that you can control would not require dropping off a anchor.

Be patient! No wild swipes at hot fish. Expect it to take a little bit longer to net your own fish than it would if you had help. Get the fish NEAR the surface (but NOT with it’s head out of water) and heading toward you with good momentum parallel to the boat and FROM upstream if there is a current (not from downstream or straight in).

Here is where preparedness pays off, as you will have to have the net handle extended and locked in place, the DECK CLEAR OF CLUTTER, also to be able to operate the trolling motor if necessary. This is where a separate electric start tiller operated trolling motor really comes in handy.

Again, knowledge of just how each specie will react when coming to the boat will only be learned by experience. But possibly some of what you read here will get you to thinking to your advantage when the time actually comes.

You need to tire the fish out to the point that it can be led into a net that could possibly be partly in the water this time. Yes, I know in the previous instructions I said not to put the net in the water and try to lead the fish in, well here MAY be the exception. However, here still hold the net bag with the finger if possible until the last second. When fishing alone, some will fold the bottom of the bag up using a large rubber band to secure the bag so it isn’t dragging in the water. Or, Scotty builds a “net minder” which is simply a small downrigger clip which is attached to the net handle. This clip can then be clipped onto the bottom of the net bag. Once the fish is in the net the weight of the fish pops the rubber band band or the clip, and into the bag the fish goes.

In tiring out the fish, (usually a Chinook) when they lay over on their side as you bring them to the boat is a sign that they have given up. However it may be beneficial for you to be prepared before that, if the fish comes in close enough, and is in the right position before being completely tired out AND you have a small window of opportunity where you can make your move. As said before, how well it is hooked may also be a deciding factor in your decision when to net, as you may have to net sooner if you can see the hook is close to possibly being pulled out.

What works well for me since I am right handed and will be holding the net in my right hand, is to try to fight the fish on the front 1/2 of the Starboard side with me standing near the stern. This places the fish along side of the boat’s forward side, if the fish decides to go under the boat no real problem, as compared to heading in and under the motors if I was on the Port side. However, fight the fish farther forward than the normally just straight out from the side of the boat. Manipulate the boat’s position with your motor to allow you to do this. I have my kicker on the starboard side, so that gives me a chance to manipulate it to position the fish where I want it. This allows you to force the fish to swim toward you along side of the boat so you can net it head on, instead of having just a tail shot if coming straight in when it turns right or left as it nears the side of the boat.

You may also practice netting left handed for a partner just in case you need to do that alone. Also you might consider a longer handled net, so you can reach the fish farther away from the boat. However by using the Scotty net minder, this allows your hand to be farther to the rear of the handle, which does extend your reach up to a couple of feet.

The positioning the boat by your trolling motor as mentioned above will pertain only if you are not anchored and have to fight the fish in the current all at the same time, so you may have to come up with your fine tuning methods for this.

You also may want to DECREASE the reel’s drag slightly, but be able to thumb the spool if need be. This is so that since you will have other things on your mind, and if you have the line reeled in so the swivel and the snap is at the rod tip, WHEN the fish makes another run or possibly jump while being right at the boat, it can pull line out with this lighter setting, possibly from preventing a hook being pulled out or even rod breakage. If it does make a jump, drop the rod tip to lessen the chance of it breaking off when it hits the water and makes another run out again.

Another netting technique I’ve seen used successfully when fishing alone is to use the net like a teeter-totter. Tire the fish, lay the net handle on the side of the boat with the bag in the water. Guide the tired fish over the bag and then push down on your end of the handle as far as necessary to raise the net hoop, entrapping the fish in the net. Something to think about.

Remember this is where all you have worked for preparing your boat and gear really pays off when the fish is IN THE BOX. So plan your attack, and execute it as planned.

 

Story of Landing the Washington State Chinook Record Fish :

 

 

 

Chet Gausta and the Big King

 

 

                                   Photo courtesy of Poulsbo Historical Society

 

This story is told by Tony Floor 2-01-2012

What is it about salmon fishing stories that stoke the flames of the sport? At the end of the day, it’s always about the big one, the big one that got away or the big one that ended up in the net. Too often, the stories are embellished as I’ve known anglers to turn a 20 pound king salmon into a 30 pound king within 24 hours and ultimately, over time, it somehow became a monster of 40 pounds.

I’m going to spend some time, in this writing, to tell you a story about a monster king salmon that cruised our waters in the central Strait of Juan de Fuca, near Pillar Point, decades ago, that did not get away. This huge king salmon is the current and all-time largest sport caught king salmon caught and verified in Washington. It remains today, the Washington State record of 70 pounds, 8 ounces. It is, the king of kings!

Turning back the pages of time to September 6, 1964, let me introduce you to Chet Gausta, his brother Lloyd and Chet’s uncle, Carl Knutson, who were working the waters off Pillar Point, located about 7-8 miles east of Sekiu. This region was particularly famous for big king salmon during the summer months of that era, as the waters were very friendly to small boats in the 16-18 foot range. The strategy is simple: work the kelp beds early, at daylight, fishing in 40-80 feet of water, then, as the sun came up, work deeper into the 100-150 range.

Chet was fishing deep that day, using 12 pound mainline and a 15 pound leader, definitely considered light fishing tackle for king salmon, even today. His bait was a whole herring, barely a snack for the king of all kings. Similar to today, the king salmon back then averaged 20-25 pounds, some pushing 30 pounds, or slightly larger. Even back in the 60’s, it was rare to break 40 pounds and a 50 pounder might happen once or twice during the entire summer. The word of a 50 would spread like wildfire. “Who caught it? Where did they catch it? What were they using?” Some things never change.

When the big king woofed Chet’s whole herring, nothing happened. Chet thought he had hooked the bottom. Then, surprisingly, the bottom took off toward Canada. Maybe a halibut? No, it was the largest king salmon ever hooked and landed by an angler in Washington. If your breathing has shortened, your foot is now twitching and you’re focused… stay with me. According to the story, told in the Bremerton Sun (today, the Kitsap Sun), the huge king salmon made six runs, staying deep as big kings often do, and nearly spooled Chet’s reel each time. Yet, the three anglers continued to chase the big king and stayed with the fight.

In just under an hour, they saw the fish for the first time as it cruised by the boat. It was massive and they agreed, that their standard salmon landing net would not do the job. Chet continued to keep the pressure on and with the fish completely exhausted, the three anglers manhandled the fish into the boat. I said manhandled into the boat! Game over. History was made at that moment. When was the last time you “manhandled a big king into a boat?” Are you kiddin’ me! That’s how Chet told the story, reported six years ago by Kitsap Sun fishing and hunting columnist Chad Gillespie on Chet’s 90th birthday.

 

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