The second I felt the jolt, I raced to take up slack line. I’d at all times dreamed of hooking a giant coho salmon on the fly, and now—wading knee-deep within the Egegik River, which feeds Alaska’s Bristol Bay—my rod was bowed deeply. Round my ft, swarms of crimson sockeyes moved upriver, however my fish was farther out, in darkish water. I attempted to realize line, however the salmon hardly budged. I used to be shocked that I’d already hooked a fats coho, a lot much less with out the assistance of bait.
To my shock, although, the fish made no huge fees for open water. After a five-minute battle, I eased the salmon into the shallows, the place I might get a good look, and noticed that the massive coho I knew I’d hooked had reworked right into a midsize humpy, the ugly sister of the salmonid household. The fish bobbed within the present, my fly snagged via one among its fins.
David Stumph, one among our guides, couldn’t hold from laughing. One other fisherman joked that he wouldn’t serve a humpy to his mother-in-law. I turned the fish free with a pang of defeat and watched it disappear into the Egegik.
This was my first journey to Alaska, and 5 fellow anglers and I had hit the salmon run at its peak, in mid August. The cohos, or silvers, had been pushing up the Egegik by the 1000’s to succeed in their spawning grounds within the tributaries of Becharof Lake, the second-largest freshwater physique in Alaska. A storm had crept over the tundra the evening we arrived, bringing with it rain and sharp winds, however we’d set out that first morning undeterred and keen. We’d fished baits and spoons early within the day, and I’d landed 4 good keepers. However I’d lugged a fly rod some three,000 miles from house and was decided to place it to make use of. After a lunch of recent salmon chowder, we’d fanned out within the shallows alongside the financial institution, the place, late within the day, I’d hooked the humpy.
We started our second morning on the mouth of a feeder creek. I rapidly caught three cohos on bait and spoons. Fooling them wasn’t tough on typical sort out, I realized, nevertheless it was enjoyable. Nonetheless, after touchdown these first few cohos that morning, I dedicated to utilizing my fly rod till I landed an actual slab.
Though coho salmon are threatened or endangered all through a lot of their historic vary within the contiguous U.S., their numbers have held sturdy within the Egegik, in addition to in Bristol Bay, the world’s largest salmon fishery. The Egegik district can be house to the world’s second-largest run of sockeye salmon; and chum, kings, and pinks are additionally bountiful. All advised, the river and its tributaries contribute north of 10 million grownup salmon to the Bristol Bay fishery annually, securing its place among the many world’s premier salmon rivers.
On our third morning, Stumph advised that I tie on a purple leech sample, an previous favourite of his. I quickly fell right into a trance of stripping and casting, stripping and casting, as I scanned the tundra. This a part of the Alaska Peninsula isn’t what you discover on postcards. Sand flats and shallow ponds pock the panorama, dispersed amongst an limitless, rolling plain of sedge and shrub. However this desolate vastness is why the area stays one of many wildest locations on earth, and explains why it’s been so fiercely defended towards growth, such because the proposed Pebble Mine.
After an hour or so, the leech fly immediately stopped on its downriver swing, and my line shot tight. The fish ripped via the water, darting proper to left. I’d by no means hooked something so bent on breaking off.
After a stable struggle, I introduced the salmon at hand—a good Eight-pound coho, lean and powerful. I used to be proud. However now I needed a fish to essentially keep in mind.
We slipped right into a rhythm throughout our week on the Egegik. We’d get up and search for recent grizzly tracks within the mud round camp. After breakfast, we’d catch a pair dozen fish amongst us, after which cook dinner a number of keepers on the shore for lunch. Within the afternoons, if we received drained, we napped on the smooth tundra moss. If we received thirsty, we drank river water from our palms. One afternoon, we nymphed for Arctic char; on one other, we explored an deserted trapper’s cabin. At evening, we poured buckets of scorching water, heated by woodstove, over our heads to rinse off.
By the ultimate morning, I might have returned house greater than content material, having landed one other seven or eight first rate cohos on the fly. I had did not hook a real trophy however had largely resigned hope of doing so.
One other fisherman and I wandered right down to a small level upriver 1 / 4 mile. I used to be casting and stripping however not giving it my full consideration. After a dozen or so casts, my line stopped and I assumed I’d snagged one other humpy; the fish had the identical type of lifeless weight to it. Irritated, I started to strip in line onerous. However the fish wouldn’t give. Then, slowly, it started to cruise alongside the underside. Every time I eased the fish to shore, it will dart towards deeper water, unzipping the road I’d simply reeled in. This was no humpy.
I’d fought the fish for 30 minutes when it made its largest push, charging towards the center of the river. After a bit extra give-and-take, the coho lastly surrendered. Stumph netted the fish and handed it over to me—16 kilos of pure, muscled silver. The purple leech fly dangled from the nook of its huge crooked kype, proper the place it must be.
TIP OF THE MONTH: The Excellent Reduce for Cohos
An excellent egg remedy begins with an intact skein, or membrane, says Scott Haugen, writer of Egg Cures, who leads a fishing faculty on the Egegik. First, lay the fish on its again to settle the skein, he says. Then insert the knife into the vent and start slitting up the stomach. As you narrow, slip two fingers into the cavity alongside reverse sides of the blade to elevate up and push aside the pores and skin. This may information the knife and assist keep away from nicking the eggs.—J.R.S.
To guide a coho journey, contact Becharof Lodge.
This story appeared within the June–July 2017 challenge with the headline “Trying to find Silver.”