As a preface, I feel that I must inform my readers that up until this past June, my experience fishing has been confined to a few attempts to catching perch in a pond around the age of ten. The move to Alaska has prompted me to try a few new activities and fishing is one of them.
I was lucky enough to go with a friend who had acquired some knowledge of the practice and had much more experience. He was happy to pass on his knowledge and even shared some of his equipment with me.
As with any other skill or hobby, fishing is a broad subject that encompasses an almost limitless scope of subtopics and methods. My experience is restricted to Sockeye Salmon fishing in Seward, Alaska using the technique of snagging. Snagging involves attempting to catch the hook into any part of the fish as it is swimming in or out with the tide. This must be done with enough force to pierce the flesh of the fish and then draw it in to shore. There is no bait involved and this methodology relies almost entirely upon the skill, luck, and activity of the fisher.
The equipment used for this type of fishing consists of a fishing pole, line, leader, and hook. After the catch a stringer, club, cooler, and fillet kit are also highly recommended. A pair of decent waders is also vital and gives the fisher freedom to cross streams or move out deeper into the bay at will. The fishing pole should be rated medium-heavy so that it is strong enough to pull the hook quickly across the water. I was extraordinarily unsuccessful the first time I went Sockeye fishing when I used a lighter pole. The line should be rated for 30 to 40 pounds, double braided, and about 100 yards in length. The leader, from my understanding, can be either 12 or 18 inches but based on the rules of the locality in which we fished the 18 inch leader was required for snagging. The hook was three pronged and large with a weight at the center; this type of hook is known as a weighted treble hook.
These listed items are the essentials required to snag sockeye and a few extra spares of most of the items is not a bad idea (I lost one treble hook and broke another during the course of the afternoon).
The process of snagging sockeye is extraordinarily repetitive, it involves casting your line and reeling in quickly at a pace of over six times per minute. The primary method of snagging involves throwing your line out with either a sidearm motion or over the shoulder. The hook hits the water and then you quickly reel in your line. Every third rotation you hank hard on the line pulling it across the water, using your body to get the hook to move with speed across the water. The hook should not skim surface of the water but pull just above the bottom where most of the sockeye can be found. This takes some practice and I am far from perfect but as I stood on the shore of Resurrection Bay I found myself watching the seasoned Alaskan fishers and tried to emulate their movement as much as possible.
There was an alternative technique that I witnessed in the bay that the more successful fishers employed and I attempted to copy. Consequently, this was when I caught my sockeye. The technique is referred to as the Kenai Flip. The Kenai Flip is accomplished by casting your line but a short distance. Instead of reeling in the line simply let the hook sink for a second then yank it swiftly through the water. The free hand pulls part of the line in and the hand holding the pole completes a circular motion pulling the hook out of the water and then immediately casting again. The action is accomplished quickly and completed at a rate of 15 to 20 times per minute.
I assume I witnessed more success with this technique because the more frequent casts give the fisher a greater number of opportunities for success. Additionally, it seemed to be easier to pull the line in with velocity. The trade off of this method is that it can be exhausting to perform over an extended period.
Once the sockeye is snagged on the line the fisher is required to reel in the line quickly and simultaneously back up. The salmon will vigorously attempt to free itself so the more quickly one gains the shore the greater the chances of success. The sockeye will flip and flop about on the shore and is extraordinarily slippery so killing it can be difficult for the experienced and inexperienced alike. The miniature acts of violence that occur periodically along the rocky Alaskan shore can be an amusing spectacle to the bored and less fortunate fishers standing around. A small plastic club picked up from any outdoor recreation department for a few dollars is the best at putting the fish to rest but a hardy rock or a solid kick has proved somewhat successful too. Once the salmon ceases moving, the stringer is used to keep the fish on a rope tied to your belt. This allows the salmon to stay fresh and dangle off the rope in the water. It also acts as a sort of badge along the shoreline, the successful and seasoned fishers often have upwards of five salmon in tow as they move up and down the shore.
In addition to the possibility of catching well over $300 of fresh healthy meat in one day, several other benefits of fishing in Resurrection Bay become readily apparent. Resurrection Bay is one of the most scenic places in the southern portion of Alaska. Mountains can be seen on three sides, while on the fourth side the bay opens to the Pacific Ocean. A visitor is likely to see over three bald eagles per visit either landed along the shore or circling in the sky. On one lucky occasion, I witnessed the spout of some species of whale shoot up from Resurrection Bay several times. A careful and patient observer might see the head of an otter or seal pop out amidst the waves. The evolution of the shore as the tide goes in and out over the course of several hours is also interesting to witness. Based on my casual observation the tide subtly changes through the days and weeks slowly transforming the shore. To be honest fishing is not my favorite pastime but it is an activity that I will continue to pursue during my time in Alaska because I can catch valuable meat, learn a valuable skill, and enjoy the beautiful Alaskan coast.