Meet the Fish: Chinook Salmon
The reigning heavyweight champ of Alaskan salmon, the chinook has earned the nickname "king" for its size, fight, and table-worthiness. Chinooks are available from May to September, with most runs peaking in late June and July. Although Chinook are available in all regions of the state, the biggest runs occur in Bristol Bay, the Kenai Peninsula, and the Anchorage-MatSu area. Chinooks can be fished in both fresh and salt water, with the best fishing occurring in the large, long rivers that they spawn in. Averaging 18-30 lbs, the chinook can reach 80 lbs or more in some river systems and represents the pinnacle of the North American freshwater fly fishing experience. For more on how to fly fish for kings check out Mike Cole's Swinging for Kings article.
Gear and Flies
The king is a large, hard-fighting fish that requires stout tackle to subdue. The weapons of choice can range from full on Spey rods for the two hander enthusiast on big water all the way to the good old 9' single hand rod with a floating line. Rods should be matched with high-capacity reels that have good drag systems. King salmon prefer to hold in deep holes and runs. Good fly line choices include sinking tip lines and multi-tip systems that deliver your fly to these deep lies. Mid to large profile flies, often tied in two contrasting colors, are the ticket for kings. When possible, most anglers prefer to strip and or swing flies for kings. There are times however where a dead drifted Egg Sucking Leech or giant egg patterns is the way to go.
Rod choice is dictated by personal preference and water type/size. For single hand rods, we look for a rod that is fast action, stout and can handle the heavy sinking lines and monstrous flies that entice kings into striking. 9' - 10' 9-11 wt rods are preferable, with a lot of anglers liking saltwater models. If you are looking to fish Spey or Switch Rods, use the following to guide you to the right rod. 13'-15' 9 or 10 wt Spey rods should be used on big rivers such as the Kenai, Nushugak, Naknek and Alagnak. 12'6" - 14' 8-10 wt rods work well on small to medium sized rivers such as the Goodnews, Togiak and Kanektok. If the Switch rod is the weapon of choice, look for 11 to 12' fast action rods in 8 or 9wts that will throw Skagit style lines with 10-15' fast sink tips.
A good king reel should be smooth and it needs to have a top quality drag with mega stopping power. Between the fish and the water current, a reel's drag will be put to the test. It hurts to lose that whopper if a cheap reel blows up! We carry some tried and true reels that can withstand the abuse.
Lines and Leaders
In Alaska, most fly fishing for kings is done in medium to large rivers. Kings tend to hug the bottom and sit in deep holes. Often, an aggressive sink tip is needed to get into the zone. For single hand rods, try the Rio 24' Streamer Line on big water or the AFFG/Rio Super Versitip for a line that can cover almost any situation. For Spey and Switch, Compact Skagit lines and Skagit Switch lines that have short aggressive heads are the norm. These lines are designed to throw big flies on heavy sink tips. For dead drifting large egg patterns, look for a good weight forward single hand line such as Rio's Powerfly and for Spey/Switch a one piece indicator-style line such as the Rio Switch Line.
If you are swinging flies, patterns like Intruders and large articulated or stinger flies are best. Other patterns like Mega Clouser Minnows are better when stripped . Swinging or stripping flies is oftn used in or near tide water and on longer, deep runs of larger rivers. For fussier kings, big egg patterns should be dead drifted and bounced along the bottom. Our King Fly Selection carries a variety of patterns to cover all of these situations.