A record high abundance index for kings resulted in regulations better than we’ve seen in over a decade – two per person per day in May and June with the annual limit of six per angler throughout the season. The king action got rolling fast in May with Captain David Gross catching limits for a group of 4 on May 9. We got “Hook It and Cook It” underway on May 15 and found big schools of kings. Limits were generally the rule. The kings weren’t large. Many of the fish kept in May and June were in the high teens to low 20’s with very few fish over 30. Why were they smaller than usual? That’s a mystery to research this winter.
The king action held strong throughout July and into the first week of August. Then, sometime around August 10, they became scarce. We normally bump into pretty good numbers of kings until at least August 20, but such wasn’t the case in 2014. Perhaps the early departure can be linked to the strong early arrival. Coho (silvers) made their first strong showing at the end of the third week in June. Their size was noticeably large for early season – a trend that continued right up to our last trip on September 8. They were pretty easy a lot of days, a little more challenging others, but most days ended with limits of really robust silvers. We had about a half dozen silvers of 20 pounds or more. By the end of August many of them were in the teens. The most unusual moment on my boat came on September 3 when Rick Kratz hooked a big silver that went airborne and landed on the aft deck. All involved were surprised, especially the fish.
Halibut fishing was a slam-dunk offshore throughout the season and the big flatfish made a very solid push closer to shore as the season progressed.
On the weather side, we saw a reverse of the previous three years. We started with calm and sunny conditions in May, but then the pattern shifted. From early June until September, things were a bit wetter and more unsettled than a normal summer. We had a couple of big blows that pushed us off the ocean for a day or two, but, for the most part we were able to get to the ocean grounds.
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of 2014 was the left turn immediately after leaving the dock. In a “normal” year, we turn right after leaving the dock, head northwest through Olga and Neva Straits and fish in such fabled spots as Georgiana, The Bowl, Point Amelia, The Parking Lot, and Shelikof Bay at least 80% of the time. This year it was the Cape about 90% of the time. Why? The obvious answer: we fish where the fish are. Why the fish favored the Cape as opposed to the usual places, remains a mystery. We did experience prolonged periods of a strong ocean current running to the northwest. Whether this had anything to do with the altered migratory pattern is anyone’s guess. Whatever the reasons, the Cape delivered consistently and featured some incredible wide-open bites for both kings and silvers.
Grades for the season:
Kings: A+ for quantity and great regulations, B- for size and a slightly early departure. The season opened up red hot on May 9 and the king fishing ranged from good to hot most days until mid-August. There was a period in June when Point Mary offered king action that couldn’t possibly have been faster. Although some really nice size kings were taken over the course of the season, the vast majority were smaller than normal – lots of fish from 16 to 20 pounds. These are still hard fighting wonderful salmon, but we generally expect an average a closer to 25 with a liberal sprinkling of 30-plus pounders.
Coho (silvers): A+ – The silver action in August and early September rivaled anything we’ve ever seen for numbers and size. AU anglers regularly landed coho in the mid to upper teens with more than a few crashing the holy grail of 20 pounds. Fighting a dime-bright, aggressive, 20-pound silver that you’ve hooked yourself on a limber mooching rod belongs on every angler’s bucket list.
Halibut: A – AU’s guests enjoyed slam-dunk halibut action offshore – weather permitting. Many of the fish were very close to the 44 inch maximum – which translates to a perfect eating size 35 to 40 pound halibut. Black cod mixed in with the deep-water halibut catch at times, too. Even better, as the season progressed, we enjoyed excellent halibut catches within a mile or two of the Cape Edgecumbe salmon grounds, The great combo fishing at the Cape for salmon, halibut, lingcod, and oversized rockfish cut down on the running time and allowed for more time to fish or to enjoy lunch at “Bird Island”, some sightseeing, and relaxing back on shore.
Rockfish: A – We never have trouble finding them and the rockfish at the Cape were extra-large.
Lingcod: D – Lings that fit inside the slot limit of 30 to 35 inches weren’t exactly jumping in the boat. You can’t really blame this grade on the fish or the fishing. We catch lots of lings, many are downright huge.
Youngest person ever to spend three days aboard the boat – 6 month old Henry Heinrich
Biggest King: 48 pounds caught by 13-year-old Keenan Gallagher
Biggest Silver: 21 pounds caught by Makenzie Richardson
75-pound salmon shark caught by Ron Grossman landed in, of all places, the Shark Hole
Milestones & Departures:
First female deckhand – Sarah Levar: At first blush people seemed a bit nervous to have a “girl deckhand”. It didn’t take long for those same people to find out she could had no trouble keeping up with the guys on all fronts. She didn’t break the gender barrier, she erased it.
Captain Phil Carlson: Phil and his wife Brielle (who met on the job at AU) were blessed with a baby girl this winter. The call of family means big changes in the 13 year stretch we’ve enjoyed with Phil. He began his career with AU in 2002 as the processor, then moved on to deckhand for Captain Ben Baumann for 3 years. Phil took the helm in 2006 and quickly established himself as an incredibly hard worker with a precise approach to fishing that produced for his customers.
My experience of Phil was twofold. From the point of view of Tom the partner in owning AU, he was a dream come true. Great catches, happy customers, and a willing spirit to help with anything that needed doing. From the point of view of Captain Tom, he was aggravatingly difficult to keep up with. Phil seemed to know how to handicap the daily horserace out there on the ocean in a way that brought in consistent results of the highest order. Although Phil won’t return fulltime, we expect to see some guest appearances down the road.
Aleta VanZinderen: Aleta has been the smiling face in our office each summer for the past six years. Prior to that she was a hostess for four years. Her 10 years with AU have come to an end for that all too familiar theme – love and the desire to stay in one place year around. In this case, Maui. We’re really going to miss her, as will our many of AU’s guests. Her personal touch and genuine care for everyone who fishes with us was a bright light that will be hard to replace.