By ANDREW J. CREMATA
I see them gathered every day on my way to work. A host of spectators clad in polyester jackets and sweatshirts that simply read Alaska. With cameras in hand they take in the awesome spectacle that is the Pullen Pond pink salmon run. If I have my window rolled down the air may carry over their words: Look at all the fish!
This sight has prompted both avid angler and the occasional plunker to drop a handful of Jacksons on a new rod and reel, and to feel the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of tangling with a genuine Alaskan Salmon.
Nor are the locals immune to this annual gathering. A glance over the pond might reveal a familiar face fanatically smiling. Reeling in fish after fish while the tourists wonder aloud, Whats he got that I dont?
Hes got the fever.
Is there a cure?
Dont ask the Humpies. They are driven by an ancient spell to return here year after year to engage in a courtship more complex than San Francisco in the summer of 69. And the fish know how to Just Say No.
There are a few things they cant resist, however. One is a Daredevil dragged slowly along the bottom. Once a pink sees this red and white metal spoon with a caricature of Lucifer endowed with horns tattooed on its frame, they just cant help but have a little taste.
Once hes hooked, so are you.
The real challenge in these conditions is maintaining restraint. A lure equipped with three razor-sharp points, if retrieved erratically, can result in a most unfortunate turn of events for our humped friends.
While humans have adopted their own rituals of punching holes in various parts of their anatomy, filling them with gold and diamond trinkets to attract the opposite sex, fish prefer to leave their own bodies free of such adornments. Its no wonder then that a Pink Salmon hooked in the eye or even worse will fight like Moby Dick after four cups of coffee.
This is a fish that doesnt need help dressing up for a night on the pond. While living the working part of its life in the sea it earns the name pink, for it is a bright, beautiful silver fish that bears a pink, iridescent cast when seen in sunlight. When it returns to the fresh water to spawn, it dresses in its finest digs. A purple and green tuxedo embellished with a hump of a top hat for the males. The zoot suit of the deep.
What better way to attract the fairer sex? No wonder the passengers of our daily Love Boats are so entranced by these swimming salmons. To stand mesmerized and watch their ritual dance is the great spectacle of our grand State.
The female dare not reveal her exposed flanks to her enamored suitor lest his unwavering advances ravage her. She turns up a bed of gravel with her tail, deposits her eggs, and gives the males a wink as they brawl over the right to be her one-and-only.
And he never once buys her a drink.
Pullen Madness can also be an unhealthy attraction to some of its other residents. Dolly Varden burglarize the eggs from the Pinks love nests so few a nice ones are always on the prowl for a #2 silver Mepps spinner retrieved slowly. If youre lucky you may even hear a tourist yell to his wife across the pond, Honey, I caught a Dolly Parton!
While the Dolly Varden lacks the particular endowments of the famed country pop star, they are quite the showmen in their own right. As their colors change during their spawn, they are more spectacular then a rhinestone jacket at the Grand Old Opry.
Recently, vandals of the human variety released a couple dozen Kings into the pond that were intended for dissection, the fertilization of their eggs and hatchery bliss. This resulted in a Bonanza of bent poles in our beloved pond.
Local school-kids on summer vacation made haste to the pond, gear in one hand, sodas in the other, and got the thrill of their season catching these convicts and returning them to their less than natural caged environment.
Sure, it lacks the romance of the annual Salmon spawn, but one must remember that these fish are a resource. The efforts of our local school-kids to keep this resource healthy should be applauded, not destroyed.
The King Salmon or Chinooks earn their name as one of the toughest fighters in our waters. If youve never caught one with fly gear then Pullen is the place to be. Just be careful when you cast. Some visitors have a habit of sneaking up behind you when you least expect it, and you would hate to introduce them to the art of fly-fishing by hooking a Wooly Booger through their nostril.
I remember one story of Pullen Madness from two years ago. I was curing my own bout with the dreaded disease by fishing for Dollies. I was having a great time, catching and releasing a couple in the 18 to 20 inch range. Beside me, a cruise ship passenger was casting a 3-ounce Pixie into a large group of pinks. He was trying patiently to hook one in the mouth at first, but then his eyes changed. They got big as saucers and I feared what was about to happen.
He started twitching and the rod followed in unison, snagging a partially decomposed pink. The valiant male salmon was hooked in the back, and as it lunged toward deeper water, the tourists pole broke in half. He grabbed his line and held on, but try as he might he could not turn the fish. He started muttering to himself, What am I going to do? He looked up at me with those wild eyes, looked back down at the fish and did what any man might do when hes got the fever.
He dove in, grabbed up the fish with his arms and threw it up on the shore. Soaking wet, he climbed back onto the shore, shaking from the chill of the water. He held out his fish with one hand and pumped his fist into the air screaming, I got one! Can you believe it? I got one!
It was a true prize, rotted fins, a missing eye, and what looked like another lure hanging from its tail. He made his way to his proud family and they cooked it up right then and there.
It must be noted here that consuming portions of rotten fish can result in a form of Pullen Madness that scientific types call botulism. This form of the illness is much more difficult to cure, but I have to admit I really felt for the guy, all of it was just beyond his control. And while I couldnt help but cringe when I saw him take the first fork-full of fish to his waiting mouth, the smile on his face afterward even made me smile.
And laugh just a little.
By the time this article is printed the great cycle will be drawing to a close. Your dog will be falling victim to the madness, rolling around in the rotting carcasses along Pullens shore. Tourists will be asking, What is that smell? Our school-kids will be back at school.
Meanwhile the eggs of a new generation of Salmon lie under the gravel on the bottom of the pond. Pulsing with energy, they are the life-blood of Pullen. Next spring they will venture out to sea and the whole process starts over.
Its been a great month for our local charter captains and resident boat fisherman who target Kings in the Upper Lynn Canal.
Recent charter excursions have yielded many 20+ lb. fish with some in the 30 to 40 range. Rigged herring are a local mainstay but many fisherman have had success with hoochies trolled behind a flasher.
Ask John Tronrud what type of flasher he uses. He recently caught two beauties on a very short fishing trip. Why use a flasher? It can attract the big ones from further away. The one John uses truly exemplifies the word.
Dont own a boat? Dont be discouraged. A local shore fisherman recently caught a 40+ lb. whopper from the breakwater at the small boat harbor. It was caught on a #2 silver Mepps spinner with a single, barbless hook and 8 lb. test mono. He was fishing for Dolly Varden and just got lucky.
Always expect the unexpected.
Yakutania Point is a great spot to sit , relax, and fish. An outgoing tide is best, and while you may have to fight off the Sculpins, the occasional large King makes your efforts worth while.
A friend was recently spooled of 200 yards of 20 lb. line at this very spot. Was it a halibut, a king, a sea serpent, or a nuclear submarine?
Get out there and see if you can solve this mystery.