On July 17th Wright & McGill pro staff guide, John Whitlatch, guided his client Joe Atchison to what could be a world record breaking King Salmon on Alaska’s Kenai River. This monster was released immediately after snapping the photo so the only evidence remaining are the measurements taken of the fish – 58” long with a 34” girth – and this great shot of the trophy fish. John, a well-respected veteran guide on the river, estimated the fish weighed at least 91 pounds.
Shortly into the fight I told Joe, “Man, it’s a big fish,” said Whitlatch, owner of Reel Adventures guiding service of Soldotna. “It went on one run and then went back up the river slow and with some real authority, like there’s nothing you’re going to do about it.”
Nearby anglers cooperated by steering clear of the big fish. After working around a bend in the river and heading downstream, the fish tired. Being armed with a Wright & McGill Magnum Plug rod gave Joe a huge advantage fighting this big fish. The added leverage and backbone this rods gives an angler, combined with the softer tip to absorb violent headshakes, allows anglers to control big fish.
Whitlatch and Atchison maneuvered him close to the bank to be netted. After some measurements and photos, Whitlatch released him. “It went incredibly smooth,” Whitlatch said. “A real quick-and-easy deal. We tried not to stress the big fish out at all.”
Atchison said he had no second thoughts about releasing a fish that may have been near the world record. “I felt good about it.”
So did the fish.
“He took off like a rocket,” Whitlatch said. “He almost took my shoulder off.”
“But to me, the real story is for somebody to actually be conservation-minded and choose to let it go. Johnny pushes catch and release. This fish was really fresh and still heading upriver to spawn. By releasing this fish we help the chances of having giant fishing in future years. “Kenai Kings are genetically unique and need to be protected.”
Whitlatch, who grew up in Palmer, moved to the Kenai Peninsula in 1995. For years, he has advocated catch and release among his clients.
“With a little education and effort, we can save these big fish. They’re special,” he said.