Every year I host friends and family in Kenai in July. Every year there is someone who has not ever caught a single fish in their life, let alone a king! These are the tips I send them. Constructive criticism is welcome!!!
1) Check your gear every time you put it in the water. Especially check the last 10’ of your fishing line and your leader for nicks. Make sure your hook is sharp. Check your drag. Clean the grass off the terminal tackle so the spin and glow and swivels spin and the sliding weight is free to move.
2) The biggest advantage we have over other anglers is our bait. Try to prevent it from touching anything. When we reel up to move to the top of the fishing hole, hold your weight and leader so the bait doesn’t touch anything. Avoid touching the bait with your hands after you bait your hook. We got plastic gloves if you want them. The bait should be placed with the skin side facing out and as much of the skin as possible between the swivel and line.
3) Become intimately familiar with your reel. There are 2 drags. The main star drag should be set fairly tight, but not over tight. The second is the casting drag. This should be set to help avoid backlash. A rat’s nest can really ruin your day. Whenever the bale is open and you let the line out to get to the bottom, make sure you keep your thumb on the spool! The casting drag will help minimize a rat’s nest, but will never prevent it completely. If you are unsure, ask me to show you how to use it. If you get snagged and tighten the drag to get un-snagged, make sure you loosen it again!
4) Stay on the bottom. If you are not on bottom, you are not fishing. We have different size weights, most common 8, 10, and 12 oz. Use the lightest weight you can consistently find the bottom with. Change it as the tide affects the water current or you get more confident. Start heavy until you get comfortable. Let line out and reel it in to account for changes in current and depth. Try to keep the rod tip as low as possible to allow for a good hook set. Check the weight the people fishing directly in front and behind you are using. You must use the same weight or, if you are behind the person (closer to the bow/front of the boat) you must use a heavier weight. If you are closer to the stern/back of the boat, your weight must be the same or lighter than the person behind you. If we need to switch folk’s seats to accommodate their weight preference, let’s do it.
5) Presentation. The reason we fish like this is twofold. One, it is by far the most fun. This is the only King fishing method where you feel the fish strike and you set the hook. Two, it allows for excellent presentation which makes it the most productive. The object is to ‘bounce’ the weight (and bait) slowly down river. The boat will often be moving in such a way that it makes it difficult to keep the proper presentation. It’s your job to minimize the affect of the drunk or hung-over captain, and keep the bait in the right place. This can be done by quickening your bounce, or slowing it, or moving your rod tip in any direction, or letting line out. This can not be adequately explained, it’s something you need to visualize and experience. Most guides tell their guests to keep their rods in a constant slow bouncing motion. I agree this helps keep the weight from getting snagged and the bait in the right place by feeling constant contact with the bottom. However, depending on the boat’s action, I prefer to let my weight rest on the bottom for a second or two if I can. When the weight is on the bottom, the line is free to slide and you can feel the smallest strikes. I can then often “feed the fish” if it doesn’t take the bait by dropping my rod tip towards the water and then I am ready to set the hook hard. Whatever works for you is fine. As long as you are on the bottom you are in the game.
6) SET THE HOOK. There are many different opinions. One of the best guides on the river says he sets the hook the very first time he feels the fish. I usually wait for the second tug unless the first tug almost takes the rod out of my hand. By waiting for the second tug, I know for sure the fish is there and I am more ready to set the hook. Usually I have also dropped my rod tip (feeding the fish again) allowing the fish to take the bait w/o feeling the weight of the cannonball and giving me a good range of motion to set the hook. I keep my thumb on the spool the first time I set the hook. Many people will tell you this is not correct and it might not be, but it works for me. I know when these fish are fresh from the ocean they have very hard mouths. They are not trout or catfish and you will not rip their lips off. Hit them as hard as you can. Depending on what the fish does, if I can, I will then set the hook again, this time without my thumb on the spool. This lets me confirm my hook set as well as check the drag. The fun has now begun.
7) I don’t think I need to tell any of you to keep the line tight. But keep the line TIGHT. Put constant pressure on the fish. We are using extremely good gear and heavy line. Horse ‘em to the boat. I don’t believe in playing the fish out unless it is a monster. If the fish runs under the boat, or at another boat, dunk the rod straight down in the water. Bring it back up high as soon as you can so everyone can see where the fish is and you can keep tension on the line. If you have to move around the boat do it. The captain will try to keep the fish on one side of the boat, but especially at the start of the fight this is tough if not impossible. Many fish are lost when they run right at you. Be ready to reel as fast as you can. Try not to reel if the fish is taking line – you will burn up a drag washer quickly. This is the time to yell FISH ON or BOOOOYAAHHH or whatever the hell comes to mind.
8) When someone else hooks a fish reel up quickly. Put the rod in a safe position preferably under the gunwale or between the seats and the side of the boat. If you are close to the net, extend the handle and hold the net high in the air. This alerts other boats we have a fish on.
9) Netting the fish is not easy. The best position for the netter is to be downriver of the guy with the fish on. I try to position the boat so this is the case, but sometimes it is necessary for the angler and netter to move themselves. When the fish is ready and you can reel all the way down to the weight, control the fish so that it is moving head first with the current downriver towards your net man. Do not thumb down on the spool unless you don’t care if you lose this fish. Chances are it will make several runs from the boat. Don’t lift the fish’s head out of the water. Drag the head towards and then drop the fish into the net. Drag the fish’s head parallel with the boat, not directly at you b/c if the hook comes free that weight can knock you out. The net man should hold the bottom of the net bag with his bottom hand on the handle and not place the net in the water until the last second. Do not stab at the fish; make a fast strong sweeping attempt at netting. Always head first. When you get him pull the net hoop over the side of the boat to trap the fish inside the net but do NOT lift the fish out of the water until we decide to keep it.
10) If you are the bonker, aim for the spot right between the eyes. You’ll see the eyes go dead if you hit him right. Placement, not power is the key. Hit the fish, not the net or boat or your hand or your buddy. Put him in the box. Cut his gills. One king a day so you are done fishing. Mark your license and drink or smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. I promise we’ll take photos later. When we’re on the boat and the fish are in the river it’s time to bounce!