Welcome the King of spring

Posted: Friday, April 14, 2006

What makes spring king salmon so special? Is it the size, up to a world record 97 pounder from the Kenai River, which is only slightly larger that the 90-pounder caught in Juneau waters?

Is it that an early season, fat spring king is the best eating fish, smoked or grilled, that Mother Nature every graced with fins?

Is it that these huge specimens are right at our doorstep, from the Taku River to Auke Bay to Fish Creek, jamming in thick-shouldered schools to our eager welcome?

Or because they are so close and abundant, that as many are caught from the Douglas Island rocks by anglers with one $40 spinning rod and a pocketful of herring, as are caught by fisherman astride a $400,000 boat.

That doesn't keep hundreds, maybe thousands of boating anglers from launching their craft early and often in pursuit of a spring king.

It's a toss-up whether the Spring King tournament or the August Golden North Salmon Derby sells more boats to local anglers, but my money is on the spring classic. There's nothing like six months of winter anticipation to build the boat-buying fever to a white-hot pitch.

The good news is that with good rigging, the boat and captain do all the work, so there's no much for the anglers to do except relax, enjoy the reborn sunshine and await the first king hit.

Unfortunately that first hit may be a long time coming. Most charter boat captains and serious spring anglers agree that one king per t rip during May is a solid batting average. Fifty percent for the anglers on board is darn good and limiting out, even in the one king per angler days, is probably an unrealistic dream. But it can happen and when it does!

My first king last spring came off a rocky Juneau shoreline. The early-season 18-pounder, really just a youngster by any standards, hammered a Cyclops spoon and provided a spirited battle on light tackle for many minutes before coming to gaff.

I grilled a fillet from that fish this week, swimming in olive oil and a bit of sea salt and fresh-ground pepper. Simple, regal perfection.

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The last king of the season inhaled a spinning herring as we slowly trolled, not far of a steep shoreline, near the surface.

That 30-pound bruiser was more of a handful on a light casting rod, not much more than a Texan would use for a large-mouth bass. And I loved every minute.

In between I chased the fish mercilessly-and unsuccessfully-for two months. Including some memorable skinny water attempts for upstream fish on a fly, as far south as the Kenai Peninsula's Anchor River. You know it's a long, long shot, before you start. Just finding a pod of fresh kings, in water clear enough to fish, is an accomplish. Enticing one of those oversized beasts-far too much fish for water more scaled to a brook trout-to hit a fly is quite another. And trying to corral that Brahman bull with fins, much like lassoing a rodeo bull with a ball of sewing thread, is always a long shot.

Such is the king of spring. Rich, aloof, powerful, and always memorable.

After all, he is the king.

• Lee Leschper is regional advertising director for Morris Communications in Alaska, including the Juneau Empire and Capital City Weekly.

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