published Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Fishing fit for a King


by Dan Cook
  • photo
    Jamison Griffin catching an Alaskan King salmon on the Gakona River.

It’s hard to match hooking King salmon in Alaska, Reese Griffin believes.

Several years ago, the insurance executive from Rising Fawn, Ga., landed a sailfish off the coast of Miami. That was quite a thrill, he said this week, but no comparison to his July 9-15 trip to Alaska’s Gulkana and Klutina rivers.

“I’ve never done anything that was more exciting than catching Kings,” Griffin said.

The Southern regional vice president of Boston Mutual Life Insurance Company was joined by his son Jamison — the Times Free Press area boys’ soccer coach of the year at Southeast Whitfield High School — and two friends, former Chattanoogan Brad Davis of Atlanta and Francis Clements of Baton Rouge, La.

The Griffins have made three fishing trips to the 49th state.

Davis used to be affiliated with a Chattanooga law firm, while Clements also works with Boston Mutual Life. He joined the other three at the Atlanta airport, and they flew to Minneapolis before going on to Anchorage. They stayed overnight there before driving to Glenallen, Alaska, and the Copper Canyon in a rental vehicle.

The four men and their guide from Alan LeMaster’s Copper Canyon Salmon Adventures began each fishing excursion with a drive about 12 miles upriver, where they were dropped off for the 12-15-hour float trips.

“The way you fish is with spinning reels, 80-pound-test, a ball of salmon eggs wrapped in a cloth (as bait) and a heavy weight,” Reese Griffin said. “You cast upriver at the edge of the fast and slow water and bounce it all the way down along the bottom. When the fish, which are actually dying as they go upstream to spawn, hit the bait, it’s out of aggravation or they think the eggs are coming up from the bottom and they’re putting them back down.”

Getting the “feel” of the bait is a tricky part, Griffin said.

“It takes 20 minutes or longer. Only about one out of every four that are hooked are landed,” he said.

They stopped about a half-dozen times along the way to fish.

Tough regulations on the two rivers likewise add to the challenge. Nonresident permit holders may keep only one King per year. Other salmon must be released back into the water.

Too, since the rivers are on Native American lands, fishermen are permitted to cast only on the highest water mark along the shoreline.

“Otherwise, you’re trespassing,” Griffin explained.

Fish kept for eating were placed on a rope stringer that was kept inside during the floating and flipped outside into the cold water when the party stopped to make casts.

Using layered clothing is important, Griffin said. On the first day, it was raining and cold. The weather reached 70 degrees the next day before returning to conditions like the first day.

“In the summer in Alaska, you have 20 hours of daylight,” Griffin said.

“I’m still adjusting to the (four-hour) time difference,” he added. “When you’re catching fish, you don’t want to go to bed. The fishing is fantastic.”

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