An Outdoor View: How to catch kings

By way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of catching my first king salmon, I thought it would be fun to remember some of the more unusual methods and means I’ve seen used to catch Alaska’s State Fish during the past half century.

It took me a while to learn how to catch king salmon, but I was insanely determined. What I learned is that kings, being near the top of the Fish World food chain, apparently are accustomed to eating or biting anything they want.

One Memorial Day weekend in the early 1970s, I was drifting down the Kenai in my 12-foot john boat, dragging a Les Davis Bolo spinner with a 3-inch fluorescent-orange vinyl tail. I knew almost nothing about fishing for kings, but just upstream from Eagle Island, a 30-pounder fell for that outrageously garish offering.

During the 1980s, some king salmon anglers were spraying their baits with WD-40. They swore by it, and used it religiously. The way I figure it, that WD-40 worked the same way religion does: If you have faith and believe, it helps. I shied away from WD-40, putting my faith in Mike’s Shrimp Oil for some years. Ever the black sheep, I eventually strayed from Mike’s to become a disciple of Dr. Juice and his Trout &Salmon Super Concentrate Scent. Whether scents help or not, I haven’t a clue, but it couldn’t hurt.

A few years back, while fishing off Pogibshi Point out of Homer, I was jigging for rockfish with one of the heavier Krocodile spoons. I had let my line go slack, allowing the spoon to drop, when something grabbed it and yanked hard.

“This rockfish has some shoulders on it!” I said.

The “rockfish” turned out to be a 50-pound king.

I once saw a 15-pound king caught on a 14-ounce lead-head jig, a lure meant to attract large halibut. While fishing for halibut, I’ve had kings follow a hunk of herring on a circle hook all the way to the boat. A good-sized king once followed a bare circle hook right to the boat, bumping its nose against the hook all the way. I have yet to hook one on halibut gear, but many people have.

As kings approach spawning time, they become even less particular about what they bite. I’ve hooked them on tiny Glow Bugs, flies meant to fool trout. I’ve caught them with Fat Albert flies on Kodiak Island’s AyakulikRiver, and with freezer-burned salmon roe on the Nushagak.

Whenever I start thinking that maybe catching king salmon requires special mojo or skill, I recall one day at the Kasilof River. A line of a dozen or so of us who thought we knew how to fish for kings had waded out about 20 feet from the gravel bar and were casting toward the far bank. No one was catching anything. I was about to leave, when a little old lady walked down to the shoreline behind us, unfolded a chair and sat down. I thought she was just going to watch us fishing, but no, she baited a hook and cast it a few feet from where she sat. She was fishing behind us.

A guy next to me snickered and said, “That old lady is fishing in less than a foot of water. Should we tell her she won’t catch anything there?”

A few minutes later, that little old lady hooked a good-sized king salmon, pulled it up on the beach, whacked it on the head with a stick and left us standing there, shaking our heads in wonder.

The moral of this story: If your line is in the water, you’re fishing for kings.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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