(Fifth of 15 parts)
The importance of salmon in our household cannot be overstated: we eat salmon at least two times a week. The act of catching and processing our own meat and fish has become a part of our lifestyle that we realize we can never give up.
After almost 40 years in Alaska, it's ingrained in us now.
My discovery of the feeder king fishery (aka, "winter king") in Kachemak Bay 20 years ago began a lifetime of learning and love. Like steelhead fishing to some, recognizing, understanding and building on knowledge absorbed through years of fishing turned into a love affair with the species.
And like steelheaders, winter king fisherman have to be crazy in love to do it.
From the first time I felt the power of a feeder king stripping line from my reel like there was no end to Dec. 31, 2013, when I caught my last king of the year, the feeling remains excitingly addictive. First-timers and veteran anglers can't help but show their joy.
Feeder kings are salmon that are not ready to spawn. Kings normally live 5-7 years, and during that time before spawning they do what fish do: Eat! The fish in Kachemak Bay are here year-round, and locals fish for them year-round. It's a quiet little fishery with dedicated local boat owners and a few charter boat operators keeping their boats in the water through the winter.
Biologists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a 2007 study that these immature fish are harvested throughout the summer (mixed in with returning spawners) and "are of non-Cook Inlet origin, including Southeast Alaska, British Columbia, and to a lesser extent Washington and Oregon."
Although other areas on the North Gulf Coast have feeder king populations (Kodiak, for example), the bait-rich waters of Kachemak Bay bring high concentrations of these wonderful fish. When the fishing is hot, anglers can take home a limit of two kings a day in a couple of hours of fishing.
It's a cult of fishermen here in Homer. Captains and crew share local knowledge and advice. The camaraderie is apparent even during the annual Homer King Salmon Tournament every March. And the payoff at the end of a successful day of winter king fishing is a fat-rich (the good fat) salmon on the grill.
Jim Lavrakas is a retired photojournalist who caught the fishing fever late in life. He lives in Homer with his wife Ruth, and owns Skookum Charters, a saltwater fishing and eco-tourism charter business.
The Salmon Voices Series is produced by The Salmon Project, an experiment in telling and hearing the stories of Alaskans and our salmon. The project hopes to highlight and deepen Alaskans' strong personal relationships with salmon as food, a source of income, and a way of life. Support for the project is provided by the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.