One of the biggest sport-caught Chinook salmon on record was landed on B.C.’s central coast in August 2012—then tossed back into the ocean.
Tourist Deborah Whitman-Perry of Newmarket, Ontario, caught the giant weighing 83 pounds, three ounces (38 kg) with assistance from guide Tyler Mills during a trip with Good Hope Cannery at Rivers Inlet. The fish battled for about an hour on a 30-pound (14- kg) test fishing line.The seven-year-old Chinook was likely a male destined for spawning on the Wannock River, which is renowned for big Chinook and is a special management zone at the head of Rivers Inlet.
According to records kept by the Florida-based International Game Fish Association, the Rivers Inlet Chinook is the largest caught by rod and reel in a quarter century and the third largest ever.
Les Anderson early on the morning of May 17, 1985 and Bud Lofstedt were fishing for early-season Chinooks on the Kenai River, the world-famous Alaska salmon stream.
Anderson, 68 at the time, was using a spin-n-glo and salmon eggs; after hooking it, it pulled Anderson around in his boat. Three times Anderson reeled the fish up to the side of the craft, but it was too large to haul in. Finally Anderson subdued it by leading it to land.
Once Anderson and Lofstedt gazed upon the full size of the monster lifted from the water, they realized it was imperative that it be weighed as soon as possible before it dried out and too much poundage was lost. Big fish, they thought. The salmon weighed in at 97 pounds, four ounces—a rod-and-reel world record that still stands.
Another big Chinook, 85 pounds, eight ounces, (39 kg) was caught on Aug. 4, 1987, off Odlum Point, in Hakai Passage in B.C. It is always possible that someone caught a similar-sized Chinook but never had it officially recorded.
Jack Vitek, the association’s world record coordinator, said people keep saying that all the big fish are gone, but cases like this one prove them wrong.
Last fall at the Percy Walkus Hatchery along the Wannock River, about 80 kilometres southwest of Bella Coola, volunteers who were collecting stock for the hatchery, found themselves with one massive Chinook, weighing in at more than 50 pounds. It was one of 94 salmon caught as part of an “egg take”, a conservation program that ensures the strongest Chinook gene pool survives. The hump, red colouring and hooked mouth of the specimen are all consequences of spawning. Salmon, of course, have one of the most dramatic breeding regimens in the natural world; an epic upstream journey to the place of their birth that ends with death. During the journey, the animals do not eat and their bodies begin to deform and decay under the strain.
Each year volunteer crews help to ensure the next generation of Wannock River Chinook by doing “egg takes” where they collect sperm from males and eggs from females and bring them back to the hatchery to give them a way better chance of surviving than if they were left in the river to reproduce naturally.
Ted Walkus, one of the hereditary chiefs of the nearby Wuikinuxv First Nation, helps with the egg take; Walkus said the salmon could be left to spawn naturally, but controlling the breeding process in the hatchery ensures survival—which he says is crucial, considering Chinook die after they spawn.
Walkus said fish caught in the egg takes eventually die, but they’re taken back to the community for winter food to be smoked and preserved, it’s a winwin situation.He said there are only two river systems left in North America that produce such big Chinooks: the Wannock River and the Kitsumkalum River, near Terrace.
On a side note, the commercial catch world record is 126 pounds (57 kg) caught in British Columbia in the late ‘70s.