The unexpected

The unexpected can make a fishing trip memorable.

By “unexpected,” I don’t mean the times when the outboard quits and can’t be resuscitated. I mean the pleasant kind. The kind you want to remember.

One time when the Kenai River was near flood stage, I was fishing for silvers in the Sterling area. The outlook was grim. The high water had changed where the fish were holding, so my usual fishing spots weren’t producing. I’d tried every lure in my tackle box. Nothing. Ready to call it a day, I was reeling in fast. My spinner was at the surface, ready to pop out of the water, when a salmon came up and grabbed it.

That isn’t the way spinner fishing is supposed to work. Salmon don’t take spinners on the surface, so that surprised me. Even more surprising, that salmon was a sockeye. In all my years of fishing, I’ve never caught another one on a spinner. That suicidal sockeye was the only fish I caught that day. I’ll never forget it.

Another time, while fishing off the south end of LaTouche Island, my fishing buddies and I were jigging while the boat drifted along in the tidal current. With three of us fishing, the fourth guy was busy netting and unhooking lingcod and rockfish, and stowing them in the fish box. In less than 30 minutes of fishing, we had all the fish we wanted.

That was some of the hottest fishing action I’ve ever seen. As often as not, two or three hungry-looking lingcod would follow a hooked one to the surface. When you hooked a rockfish, if you didn’t reel it in fast enough, a lingcod would grab it. But as good as that fishing was, what I remember best about that trip was something else.

I’d been bottom-fishing with jigs for lingcod, halibut and rockfish for years, on private and charter boats. In all that time, I’d never caught a salmon on a bottom-fishing jig. On that day off LaTouche Island, we caught a king and a silver on bottom-fish jigs. Those salmon not only added variety to the fish box, they were a complete surprise.

One spring day seven years ago, four of us had only one small king to show for a long day of trolling on Kachemak Bay. To me, it looked as if this would be the third trip in a row I’d be going home without a king. The captain had tried every trick he knew. The situation looked hopeless.

The time to return to Homer grew near. The captain, encouraged by a glimpse of a king that had rolled near the boat, said he’d give us a few more minutes.

We were trolling off Anchor Point in 21 feet of water. Two lines were on downriggers. I was holding a third rod, rigged with a chartreuse Coyote spoon behind a Deep Six diver.

Minutes passed. Nothing. Our time was up. Sounding discouraged, the captain told us to reel in, adding that I could leave my line in until the downrigger gear and other rods were stored. I stood in the stern, holding my rod, trying to stay out of the way. Finally, the captain told me to reel in. My line was halfway in, the spoon near the surface, when something pulled on my line.

“Hey! I’ve got a fish!” I said.

From the way things had been going, my first thought was that it was only a small halibut or rockfish. But then I saw the silver side of a large salmon in the clear water, not 20 feet astern, and felt the strong pull on my line.

This was one I didn’t want to get away, and it didn’t. This 31-pound king made our day. It was my first king of the year, and completely unexpected.

Lots of things make fishing fun, but there’s nothing like the unexpected to make it truly unforgettable.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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