Catching Kings Traveling up the Deshka River
by Cecil Sanders
Deshka River – I don’t believe in luck. I don’t believe in karma. I believe that the world spins on its axis and nature takes its course. I believe that things do happen for a reason. That reason usually is determined by our relation to the circumstance at hand. When catching or not catching a fish is the circumstance, the relation is dependent upon a skill set, information, patience and perseverance, of which I am lacking greatly in each.
The very best fishing I have experienced was during the three years my family spent living in Bethel, Alaska. The Kuskokwim, Kisaralik, Kwethluk and Johnson Rivers can really give you a false sense of skill set and ability. It’s as if fish there prefer death by club and slashed gills, as opposed to spawning out. At times it felt like they sought out your lure or hook.
In those years, 1991-94, I felt as if I was a pretty good fisherman. Since then, I’ve had a change of opinion. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but it seems like those were the good old days.
Our family would motor up and down those Western Alaska waterways in our twelve foot John boat, catching fish often and in great proportions. Just toss in a Blue Fox pixie and, quick, grab a camera.
Fast forward 20 years and go east about 400 miles and I’m on a charter fishing trip with my cousin, Ethan, floating down the dark, teak colored waters of the Deshka River in Southcentral. The grassy banks, patchy sky and distant thunder make for a harmonious setting.
“We are here to rip lips and slime the coolers,” calls out local fishing guide and expert Chinook (king) fisherman, Pat Donelson.
Looking through Pat’s online fishing album before the trip, I felt as if success for me was a real good possibility. It’d been years since I last caught a king. I’ve tried many times, but was either in the right place at the wrong time, or the wrong place at the right time. Either way, no slimey coolers.
Pat had us trolling backwards, casting forward and doing a walking-bob up and down the shoreline. Each fishing hole is unique. Experience and knowledge of these waters is what gives you the optimal chance of tightening your lines with a chrome colored pig.
Our schedule only allowed for a quick midday trip. One thing I do know about fishing is, midday and a lot of sun greatly decrease your chances of a fish strike. Many boats were out on the Deshka and anglers were casting with no return. They were fishing, and not catching. Pat navigated us from hole to hole and his methodology would create results.
“Fish On!” I heard Pat yell. “Set the Hook!”
Someone must have got a bite, I thought to myself.
“You, with the pink float, set your hook…” Oh! I have a pink float, I better set the… Too late, he was gone. I had been drifting off, staring at my reel, watching for an eagle, probably thinking about food, and had completely forgotten to pay attention to the task at hand. I looked up just in time to see a large salmon roll away with a mouth full of bait. Pat gave us a quick pep talk about what it takes to land a big one and I was back at it, determined to not let another good chance pass me by.
A few holes later
A few holes later, Pat’s instructions on water depth, bait type, and visual indicators helped put a king on my line. With feet planted on the rocky shoreline, my indicator was telling me a fish didn’t like what I was throwing in the current and bit hard, out of pure meanness. Natural instinct took over. Those long days on the Kwethluk River, suffering from sore arms and cold feet, came racing back to memory. Rod tip up, line tight, loosen the drag, let him tire. He rolled left, cut right and dashed back to the current. After a few minutes of battling, with net in hand, Pat and I were ready to get this fish on the bank. While not a big fish by most standards, it was perfect for me. A one king limit would put me out of fishing for the rest of the day, but, that is what I chose to do. More fish could be caught, but with a slow run, hot sun and the time of day, I wanted to make sure I brought back some meat.
While I am sometimes still unsure about the word destiny, I do know one thing … this king had lived for the past two to three years feeding in the ocean with a large school of his kind. Instincts told him the time to head to fresh water was at hand. He swam, dodging many obstacles along the way, forty miles from his saltwater vacation, back up the Cook Inlet to the Big Susitna River, on into the Deshka, his home, and now was sunning on the beach next to me. You could say he had bad luck, or maybe destiny favored me. Or you could say I was in the right place at the right time, fishing with the right gear, and being instructed by the right guide. I was happy. It’d been too long since my last king.
by Cecil Sanders
If you enjoyed this article, check out this one about fishing for arctic grayling.