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Tips for the catch of a lifetime

By Jeremiah Erickson | JBER Public Affairs | July 23, 2014

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — So, you've heard about the incredible salmon fishing opportunities in Alaska and you want to get in on the action? But like so many, who have just moved here or those who are visiting, you are hesitating because you have no idea where to start.

You may be asking where do I go, when do I go, or what gear should I use, and what do I do with my catch? Fortunately, you are not alone in your quest.

Planning: There are numerous resources just a few mouse clicks away to help you plan that trip of a lifetime. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game website, www.adfg.alaska.gov, has an incredible amount of easily accessible data. From the timing of the five species of pacific salmon runs to regulations and emergency orders, as well as gear and techniques, there is more than enough useful information to point you in the right direction. There are also many other resources available online that will allow you to search for almost any fishing topic these days.

Additionally, you are likely to have a friend or co-worker who has "been there, done that" who would be more than willing to pass on useful information. Finally, you can be sure that you will come in contact with a great number of anglers on the water who are happy to give sound advice.

Regulations: Once you have found a specific body of water and species to target, it's time to review the incredibly detailed and sometimes overwhelming ADF&G fishing regulations for that area. Don't be the one getting an expensive lesson at the hands of one of Alaska's fine Wildlife Troopers due to your own ignorance. "I didn't know" is no excuse.

Read the rules, follow the rules and you'll soon be safely and legally coming home with your limit and find comfort in knowing the Troopers are out there serving and protecting you and Alaska's incredible resources.

Gear: Fortunately, although it can get expensive, one does not need a truckload of gear to be successful on the river. A good rod and reel and a few specific lures are all that you need to start with. Again, it's a good idea to know your quarry.

For instance, it would not be very effective to use a whiffle ball bat in a softball game or drive a tractor-trailer in a NASCAR race. Likewise, it would not be an effective use of your time and resources to use a trout rod and reel to target king salmon.

Buy (or rent) the best gear you can afford. Personally, I lean towards the "overkill" mentality and use gear designed for bigger fish. For spinning gear, obtain a medium-heavy action rod with matching reel spooled with fifteen pound test or heavier line (don't skimp on line, you get what you pay for).

This will suffice for most salmon species--unless of course you hook into that "60-pound king" you've heard your buddies say they've lost. But, at least you'll have "the one that got away" story of your own. For the fly angler, an eight weight or heavier rod and reel loaded with matched weight line and leaders work well.

Of course, you can fight and land nearly any fish on lighter gear, but in most situations you'll be fishing waters near the road system, and so will everyone else. You will not have the luxury of fighting a fish due to close proximity "combat fishing." It's best to land a hooked salmon as quickly as possible to avoid tangling lines, losing your fish, and annoying your neighbor.

Caring for your catch: One of the simplest and effective methods I employ is to stun a salmon by hitting it (once) on the back of the head with an old hammer handle, and then promptly cutting or pulling out its gill rakers to bleed it out. This will both help to maintain the quality of the meat and slow the decomposition process, which occurs rapidly in salmon.

If I am spending the entire day on the river, I will remove the entrails as well. Once bled and gutted, try to keep your fish cool in the water, don't leave it sitting on the bank to dry out or worse, attract bears. If on an extended trip, be sure to have a good cooler with plenty of ice and get your fish in it as soon as possible.

Obtain a decent fillet knife and learn to use it properly, ADF&G has video instructions on their website that show in great detail how to care for your catch. Additional resources are readily available by performing an internet search. Once I get my catch home, I inspect and trim the fillets, dry them on paper towels and vacuum seal them for freezing.

Fillets that are well cleaned and sealed will last through the winter and provide excellent meals on those cold, icy days when you wish you were still able to get out on the river.

So, are you ready for YOUR catch of a lifetime? Get informed, get geared and fired up and get out there. Enjoy the incredible natural resources the great state of Alaska has to offer and bring someone with you. Soon, you'll be the sage angler on the river offering tips and advice.