I was glancing at an outdoor magazine the other day and they had a call-out headline on the cover that said “Epic Fish Fights.”
Not having read the stories within, I wondered if one of the epic battle stories was of the gentleman who hooked and fought the potential world record salmon on Alaska’s Kenai River some 30 years ago.
If I remember the story correctly a man hooked what he and others thought could be the first 100-pound king salmon to ever be caught on rod and reel and proceeded to fight the beast for hours and hours.
Local news crews showed up and people lined the river to watch as the man fought the big fish. Hooked on a Wednesday, he fought the fish through the night, and all day the next. For 36 hours he and the big fish went toe-to-fin, before somehow the giant salmon got unhooked, leaving everyone to wonder if the man had truly lost the new world record.
If he had successfully landed the fish he also would have set the new world record for the longest battle with a sportfish. The then current record was a 32½ hour fight with a 1,600-pound marlin in New Zealand.
Hearing stories of those lengthy fish fights made me wonder when the poor guys were able to take on nourishment. And it made my arms sore and legs weak just thinking about it. They also brought to mind battles with some of the biggest fish I have ever caught in my life.
My biggest fish ever was a giant sturgeon caught in the Hells Canyon portion of the Snake River. Sturgeon have lived in the Columbia and Snake Rivers for ions, and because they can live for decades, they can grow incredibly large.
There are photos in the museum of anglers dragging huge sturgeon out of the Columbia with teams of horses, and stories of sturgeon dragging teams of horses into the dark depths of the river never to be seen again.
Today, people still catch and release sturgeon that are 10, 11, even 12 feet long.
The fish I caught on the Snake 23 years ago measured 9 ½ feet, and was estimated to weigh in the neighborhood of 450 pounds. And let me tell you, it took everything I had to bring that thing to the boat.
When we finally did get the fish subdued enough that I could jump into the water to have a quick photo taken with the monster, my arms were numb and shaking. In fact, my whole body was shaking.
The funny thing is I don’t remember the fight lasting all that long. If I were to guess, it was probably somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour.
One reason it didn’t last longer is every time I tried to rest my burning arm muscles, the captain of the charter boat we were on hollered at me. He kept screaming “every time you rest, the fish rests, NOW REEL!”
I’d get the big fish somewhat close to the boat and then it would peel off a couple hundred feet of line. That happened numerous times before it finally came in and the captain was able to grab it.
It was like the giant sturgeon had finally totally given up and was very accommodating for the quick photo session. When I turned its head back into the current, it gave a powerful splash of its big tail and was gone.
The biggest salmon I ever caught was a 56-pound king. Like the giant salmon in the 36-hour battle, my big salmon was hooked on the Kenai River. Again, I don’t remember the battle lasting all that long, but I do believe what could have been an epic fight was cut short somewhat by what we call a “green netting” job by my fishing partner Doug Jewett.
He and I were on the Kenai for a week, fishing out of a borrowed boat, when I hooked the big salmon on a T-55 Flatfish. The heavy fish made a couple good runs but made the mistake of getting close enough to the boat for Doug to get the net in its way.
Doug has never been shy about netting a fish, even if it’s not quite ready, but this time it almost cost him.
The big king still had plenty of power and even though it was in the net, it made a valiant effort to swim off and almost pulled Doug overboard. Luckily he held on and I was able to help grab the net. It took both of us to hoist the fish into the boat.
Earlier that day Doug had caught a 42—pound king that put up an epic battle of its own. In fact, it fought harder and longer than my big fish did.
I’ve never caught a marlin, and I’m not sure I want to. Especially if it going to take hours and hours to get it landed. When would I get to eat dinner or breakfast? You need to consider those things.
Anyway, after catching the 400-pound sturgeon I decided I didn’t need to do that again. Fishing is fun when it’s fun, but when it turns into work, I’m good with letting the next person have a go.
• Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org