San Juan Angler Loses Big Chinook To Orca

by Kevin Klein, Puget Sound Anglers-San Juan Islands Chapter

Well, we got knocked one rung down the food chain during the Bellingham Derby. This is the largest head of a king salmon I’ve personally ever seen.

JUDGING BY THE SIZE OF THE HEAD, THAT WAS A NICE BIG MEAL FOR AN ORCA, THOUGH KEVIN KLEIN WOULD HAVE PREFERRED TO HAVE MADE IT HIS OWN. (KEVIN KLEIN)

JUDGING BY THE SIZE OF THE HEAD, THAT WAS A NICE BIG MEAL FOR AN ORCA, THOUGH KEVIN KLEIN WOULD HAVE PREFERRED TO HAVE MADE IT HIS OWN. (KEVIN KLEIN)

My buddy Travis came out to fish the tournament with me last weekend. We were on a few fish Friday, but nothing big enough.

We stuck with the game plan, and changed up spots on Saturday. After trolling for a short time in the morning, my rod made a couple of twitches. I reeled down to set the hook at about the same time this fish turned. We met in the middle hard. He then turned and ran as far and as fast as any salmon I’ve been connected too.

We both looked at my reel. I was getting close to spooled. Travis is one heck of a fisherman, and experienced at fighting big fish. He was on that helm, and chasing the big ‘Nook quick. After some great boat positioning, the fish felt stuck pretty good.

About that time, the big bull orca from J-pod charged over from about a 1/4 mile off and surfaced near the fish. That big king got the whale’s attention from a long ways away, and he closed the gap with amazing speed. The orca just lurked in the vicinity of the fish. He knew what was going on. It didn’t look good.

The fish took another big run. It stopped, I gained some, and then … nothing.

I reeled in fast, hoping that maybe it was just a run at the boat. We saw something still on the end of the line. As the nipped off salmon head came over the rail, I said “(explitive deleted), Look at the size of that thing.”

Just the head alone weighed over 5 pounds.

We just kinda stood there while it sunk in. Talk about deflated.

But we had a great rest of the day. We trolled out of the big guy’s spot, gave the killer plenty of room, and watched him chow fish as the tide pushed the salmon in. We still limited on kings and coho, and have one heck of a story to tell.

The story made the rounds. WDFW came and checked out the head as they did a very professional on the water stop.

Here’s what I take from the experience. I don’t think we give the orcas enough credit for the giant marine super predator they are. They are intelligent, fast, agile, and have sonar and sensory perception we cannot fathom. They seem to know exactly where our gear is and what we are doing. I’ve never heard of one incident involving a trolling recreational vessel and a Killer Whale, besides the rare fish grab.

Our little boats traveling at 2 mph on a predictable course are the least of their worries. I think we should concentrate on the real issues of salmon recovery, and ensuring that the future holds more fish in the water for all of us.

Hey, I did my part in feeding the whales!

Editor’s note: Rules from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “prohibit vessels from approaching any killer whale closer than 200 yards and forbid vessels from intercepting a whale or positioning the vessel in its path” in the San Juan Islands and Washington’s other inland waters. The rules went into effect in spring 2011, and apply to all types of boats, including sportfishing and other motor boats, sailboats, kayaks, etc.

2 thoughts on “San Juan Angler Loses Big Chinook To Orca”

  1. If you still have the head, you can measure the distance from the front of the eye to the furthest point on the operculum (gill cover). WDFW will be able to give you an estimate within about a centimeter how long the fish was.

    At least it’s something to guess how much it weighed.

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