Steelhead U fishes with Team Pautzke on the Nush

By Terry Wiest | 08/09/2010
Dillingham, Alaska | Known as one of the best king salmon fisheries on Earth, Steelhead University’s annual outing to Jakes Nushagak Camp on Alaska’s famed Nushagak River is something I look forward to all year. This June, 21 other anglers, and I, were in camp eager to tie into these wild king salmon that return in June and July. While more than 117,000 kings were expected to blast through the river this summer, we were seeing roughly 5,000 fish moving through the sonar station upon arrival, a sign that we wouldn’t be disappointed.

Jakes is a pro-Pautzke camp. Pautzke cures and scents are used exclusively and I was eager to sit down with Pautzke Pro Staffer Bill “Swanny” Swan (the camp’s part owner) and dig into this year’s secret formula. Anyone who’s fished The Nush, knows how vital it is to have quality eggs. To outduel other camps we spent time tying Pautzke Berry’s, as Swanny and I call them. These are premo king eggs cured with red Pautzke Fire Cure. A Pautzke Berry, known as a spawn sack to anglers in the Great Lakes, is a small egg cluster wrapped in mesh and tied with Magic Thread. By using The Berry, it allows the milk seep out of the egg, but retains the shape of the eggs like a little “berry”. It’s deadly.

It didn’t take long to deem Swanny’s formula effective. On our first drift, we caught fish. Trolling in-line spinners with a Pautzke Bait Berry attached to a single sickle hook were enticing some vicious strikes to my G. Loomis HS1021C. I also used a Daiwa Luna 300 with 25lb P-Line mono.

Day one on the river ends with 20 kings brought to the boat, although the average size was only 15 pounds. Not the “hot” action I’d hoped for, but we’re hooking a few fish (on any other river I’d say it was terrific fishing).

Day two on the river and it’s back to trolling in-line spinners with fresh Pautzke Bait Berry’s attached. Again, it doesn’t take long to get bit. We’re into a double almost as soon as we get our lines out. Now we got a pair of “HOT” fish and bigger than those on day 1. The bite quickly cools down, but we’ve got 9 by lunch.

After lunch we target a different section of river. A chrome bright 27lb pig hits the spinner and we’re on! Talk about a super good fight. These fish are just a blast. Day two total: 20 fish – average size 20lbs.

Day three on the river we hook up with Pautzke Pro Staffer “Swanny” and he changes things up a little. Swanny decided it wasn’t going to be a spinner day, but instead a Mack’s Smile Blade was going to prove effective. We put a large smile blade followed by two Corkies to a hook, then a cheater, then a second hook. A thumbnail size Pautzke Bait Berry was secured in the egg loop of the top hook. Swanny’s theory proves to be correct as we bring 25 Kings to the boat, all fish over 25 lbs.

Day four was a combo day with the first half going with smile blades and the second half with spinners (due to the current). Another solid day with 19 fish brought to the boat and an average size of 25lbs.

At this point, we averaged more than 20 fish a day for the four days (we caught more from the bank, but didn’t factor this in). Nonetheless, to anyone that’s familiar with the Nush this is not very good fishing.

So what happened? Unfortunately, we found out later that there were 42,000 Chinook caught as “BI-CATCH” in the Sockeye commercial opener, which means at least 42,000 fewer kings would be coming into the Nush this year. How disgusting is that! So, rather than 2,000 kings a day coming up the river there were basically 500.

Considering this, it’s shocking that we had such a phenomenal trip, even with such poor returns. In fact, the Alaska Department of Fish & amp; Game they shut down the river to retainage two days after we left, then the next week shut it down completely, a devastating blow to the fishing community.

Fortunately, Team Steelhead University and Team Pautzke had the right combo and was able to have a fantastic trip, regardless. I can only imagine how effective these methods can be if we were to get the 100K plus salmon up the river that is expected. We’ll see next year.