Unhook Me, Please, and Once Again, Thanks

This day,day three of my trip,  my friends John Beth and Dale Thompson, were to meet me. John is the one who introduced me to costal water kings many years back, and I always love spending a day fishing with him. I was excited because it looked like it was going to be a hay-day for us. I arrived an hour before John and Dale were scheduled to arrive, to scope out the water and maybe get a fish or two up on them. I couldn’t believe it. The water looked empty. Barely a fish moving. The night had seen a powerful front roar in, as attested by the howling wind and warmer temperatures, and the fish were feeling it. I walked and looked. The kings were there, but they were sitting on their thrones and not getting involved with common folk, like anglers, for instance. Still, a few pursued their nuptial rights, and before John and Dale arrived, I took two hens that ate the egg—very softly.

I heard John call my name, and turned to see he and Dale headed my way. After our greetings, John showed me his rod for the trip—a boron pool cue that Lefty Kreh had sold him. “I promised Lefty that I’d catch a big one on it,” he told me, “and send him a photo.”

I explained that the hens seemed to want the egg fly, and to go find one that was active, rather that simply fishing to everything that was available. “Yell,” I told John, ‘and I’ll come and shoot the photo to send to Lefty.”

You need to understand, right here, that John knows how to catch kings. No coaching necessary. Within five minutes he yelled from about 50 yards downstream, and I grabbed my camera and ran down. It was indeed a big hen, and very fresh, too. “It’s the perfect first fish for Left’s rod,” I told John, and we shot photos of John hoisting the big fish on high.

The rest of day inched along, and we took a fish here, a fish there. Finally we hiked over the hill to the spot Lew and I had fished the day before. The fish suddenly got willing and we took several in a row. My hooking rate was superb, but my retention rate lacked, shall we say, much to be desired. The big kings just managed to wallow and thrash their way free before I could get their pics—as if they thought the camera would steal their souls.

John and Dale left in the later afternoon and I headed to the section of the river where I had opened my dialog with the salmon two days earlier. Sure enough, there were kings there, and they were active. The flies plopped in, and swung lazily toward the biggest male in the group, and he grabbed the scarlet-head olive leech that Dale had given me earlier. When the line tightened, the big fish rolled up, mouth open and I could clearly see the fly pinned neatly in it jaw. Easily in the 20-pound club, the big male rolled and slammed into the other male of equal size that had been courting the hen fish between them. Suddenly it was “Fight, Fight.” The two had at it as if one fish being hooked had no impact on their primitive behavior.

The line jumped and thumped, and then the fish separated, I was no longer attached to fish number one by its jaw, the fly was now snagged in the tail of king number two. In their dust up, the second fish had hit the leader and dislodged the hook, which then caught in its tail. Very bizarre, indeed. I managed to pull the fly free without losing it. Now for the rest of the story.

When a fish is so eager for the fly, I typically rest it for a half hour or so, and then try again. When I eased into position, they were back on station and acting like, “Fly? What fly?” So I heaved the leech back out for them to look at. Danged if that big male didn’t take it a second time. Again it rolled up, mouth open, and I could see the fly secure in its jaw. “This time, I got you,” I mumbled under my breath.

Never mumble under your breath at a king. Bad things can happen. It spun and slammed into the second male once again, as if somehow the second fish were the cause of it all. Again they leapt into the fish-fight ring and duked it out. Yup, you guessed it. The second fish managed to free the first one, but this time avoided getting the hook in its tail. I quit. No telling what they might have done if I had hooked that first king for a third time.

My count for the day—5 landed out of 13 hooked. It just goes that way some days—especially when they assist one another in getting free.

I seemed like a it was going to be a great day–but the fish had other plans for us.

The females took the egg fly, though very softly and somewhat reluctantly.

John found a big and willing female to be his first fish on the rod he’d bought from lefty.

The boys were there, but they weren’t playing as usual.

The last salmon of the day proved to be a female that took the egg. The males just kept unhooking each other.


  1. Theo Bakelaar says:

    Again Gary…..I was not there so I have enjoy your nice shots and story….man oh man what a nice fish. Great and thank you for sharing Cheers Theo. ( a jalousie Theo boy )