One To Show Your Grandchildren
Trout & Salmon|December 2017

Want to catch a truly enormous silver salmon? For Matt Harris, the only place to go is Patagonia.

Matt Harris

MOST SALMON ANGLERS dream of catching a truly vast salmon. Who hasn’t spent a few minutes imagining that moment when your fly is snatched away by a true leviathan? A monster. A fish to show your grandchildren.

That dream is one that few will realise. The huge Atlantic salmon of yesteryear are all but a memory in most of our home rivers, and the true titans – fish of 40lb and more – are now extremely rare anywhere apart from Norway’s legendary Alta. 

Yet there is a place. 

A place where big, chrome-silver fish of 30lb barely raise an eyebrow. A place where fish of 40lb, 50lb, even 60lb are eminently catchable on fly.

Before you get too excited, there is one big caveat. The fish I’m talking about are not Atlantic salmon, but Oncorhynchus tshawytscha – the Chinook or king salmon.

Be clear. Chinook are not Atlantic salmon. Whereas Atlantic salmon possess a rare bewitching beauty, and have a playful capricious quality that keeps us coming back time and again, Chinook are different. They are big ugly brutes that bulldoze up the river with all the grace of an underwater rhinoceros. 

Chinook don’t take a Bomber fly or a riffle hitch. 

If you want to catch a Chinook, you can forget your long leader and your full floating line. Unless the water is very, very low, you are going to have to “hoik”some brutally heavy tungsten sink-tips across the river, with a big flashy fly that snaps one of these big brutes out of their torpor.

Make no mistake. Catching kings with a fly is hard graft. Very hard graft. A long attritional war that makes early spring fishing on the Tay look like child’s play.

Chinook fishing is not pretty. For the most part it’s crude and ugly and lacks all the aesthetic elegance of Atlantic salmon fishing.

Yet hook one of these brutes and all those long hours are instantly forgotten. A big Chinook salmon on fly can provide a tour de force of raw power that few Atlantic salmon can ever hope to match. This is in part due to the Chinook’s formidable physiology. Chinook are big hulking brutes with thickset shoulders and muscular fuselages. They have astonishing reserves of strength and have been known to travel 600 miles and more to their spawning grounds.

I say “in part”. The truth is that the Chinook’s main trump card over their Atlantic cousins is, very simply, their size.

The biggest Chinook ever recorded weighed an eye-watering 126lb, and the rod-caught record – landed as recently as 1985 – is no less than 97¼lb.

Imagine that fish for a moment. A fish fully 30lb and more beyond Georgina Ballantyne’s legendary fish.

If you’re brave or foolish enough to want to hook one of these mighty creatures, where should you go?

Well, the Chinook’s natural habitat is the Pacific Northwest, but in recent years, the king salmon fisheries of Alaska and British Columbia have been seriously impacted by numerous issues including netting and habitat degradation.

However, there is a region where in recent years, the Chinook salmon has proliferated to a spectacular degree.

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