Published July 24, 2009, 12:00 AM

Local anglers experience ‘trip of a lifetime’ in Alaska

WORTHINGTON — There is a saying that goes, “this was a trip of a lifetime.” I have had many trips, but I think that I could repeat them all; thus, they do not qualify as a “trip of a lifetime.”

By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — There is a saying that goes, “this was a trip of a lifetime.”

I have had many trips, but I think that I could repeat them all; thus, they do not qualify as a “trip of a lifetime.” I got a call from a friend of mine, Barb Atchison, about a trip that her son was on, and this one really sounded like the trip of a lifetime. I called Joel Atchison and he stopped in at Rall Financial Services office on his way back to the great state of Kansas, which is where Joel calls home.

Joel Atchison had a few weeks off his job as a structural engineer at Cesna Aircraft and he and his dad, Dick Atchison, decided to fish Alaska. The Kenai River in Alaska has the largest salmon in the world, and this pair was going to experience this first-hand.

There are several species of salmon, but the biggest of the big are king salmon. These fish spend their entire adult lives in the ocean, and at the right time, they run up rivers and streams to lay their eggs and then die. Most salmon are ocean-going for five-seven years before they return to spawn. The offspring imprint the very stream of their birth and return to the very same area when it is their turn to propagate the species.

Salmon populations in general are not doing well for many different reasons.

As rivers get more and more developed and man encroaches, the number of salmon continue to decline.

In Anchorage, Alaska, where the Kenai River is located, the king salmon population is a bright spot in the salmon story. These fish, with the help of the conservation community and a lot of public education promoting catch and release, have gone a long distance in helping the salmon of the area to recover and begin to thrive.

It only makes sense that the guides and businesses that support the tourist economy are the ones leading the charge to protect these magnificent fish.

Joel and his dad fished a variety of species both in the open ocean and in the different sections of the river. Early in the trip, both of these anglers caught king salmon that would be considered large. Dad’s weighted 55 pounds and Joel’s was just a little smaller, at 53 pounds.

Joel has a tendency to out-fish his dad, and Dick was actually kind of proud that he got a one-up on Joel this trip.

Joel told the guide that, the next day, he was determined to catch one over 70 pounds. The group just kind of said, “Yeah, OK.”

The very next day, the dream of a 70-pound king was dashed and replaced with a much better ending. As the pair was fishing a section of the river called the wall, it was obvious to all in the boat that his next fish was a really big one.

Forty minutes later, and with a boat full of very excited anglers, a king salmon estimated to weigh 90 pounds was in the net of Joel Atchison. As the fight went on, the other guide boats in the vicinity saw what was unfolding and steered clear to ensure that nobody interfered or accidentally snagged or cut the line.

The estimated weight was calculated by using a formula that included the length (tip to tail) and the girth (around the fish at he widest part of the body). Pictures were snapped and the fish was immediately released.

What is so exciting about this 90-pound king is that the world record is 97 pounds.

There was no way to get the exact weight of the fish at the time of the catch without killing it. Joel had no intention of doing that, so it was a quick measurement and the fish went back in the water.

The goal was hopefully that this fish would pass its genes on to the next generation of salmon to make the journey from river to ocean and back again.

A fish this big and this close to the world record garners you a lot of attention. The possibility that Cabellas will display a mount of the fish at one of its stores is certainly possible. Joel has already made the front page of many newspapers and a bit of coverage in Field and Stream Magazine. This has put Joel on the map in the fishing world in a big way. The internet chat sites are alive with banter of the big fish that did not get away.

If the fish could talk, it would have some very harrowing stories to tell.

Examination of the fish showed that it had experienced a brush with a commercial gill net and survived. This was evident by the scars on the fish’s head.

Joel had a few other stories, as well.

A grizzly bear sighting added to one day and success fishing other species in several different locations also added to the overall success of the outing. Joel and his dad have truly experienced a trip of a lifetime. Joel has indicated that he would like to return to Alaska to fish kings again.

It is more than likely that no matter how many additional trips he might take that he will never again catch a fish of this magnitude. Truly a trip of a lifetime! Congratulations to the local Worthington boy who has left his mark in the fishing world and put Worthington on the king salmon map!

Scott Rall is the Daily Globe’s outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at by clicking on Northland Outdoors.