Super fly fisherwoman catches 1,000 pounds of salmon
Her Facebook friends joke that Katie Puterbaugh is going to force the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to recount the number of fish in the Kenai and Russian Rivers.
The avid fisherwoman from Eagle River regularly has posted – as in nearly every day for the last two months – photos of herself with a day’s limit of fish neatly floating in the water in front of her.
In the photos, Puterbaugh is sharply clad in chest waders that make her look more like a model for outdoor adventures than a mom successfully filling the family freezer.
Thus far, Puterbaugh has pulled more than 1,000 pounds of fish from the two rivers.
Along with pictures of bright, shiny salmon that have succumbed to the fly on the end of her fishing line, her Facebook page, are her written posts, some that say “Some days, it is easy,” and others that note, “Some days, it isn’t so easy.”
Easy or not, Puterbaugh’s accompanying photo for nearly any day in June, July or August has a limit of fish as its subject. The other constant in Puterbaughs photos: a fly rod and flies she tied herself. No rod and reel for her.
“The tug is the drug,” Puterbaugh said in a phone interview. “I just don’t give up. Sometimes it takes six to eight hours. Other times I get my limit in an hour.”
She’s been fishing the Kenai River for 18 years, but since retiring from the Air Force, Puterbaugh has become a staid fixture during summer, casting her fly through the season for the past four years.
She parks the family camper at Crescent Creek Campground in Cooper Landing and stores her catch in the freezers of local outfitters until either friends or family members who join her for a couple days bring the fish back to Eagle River.
Puterbaugh herself doesn’t eat much salmon, unless it’s smoked by her husband, Steve Puterbaugh.
“I just love to catch fish,” she said. “I love the challenge of hooking into one and getting it on the bank.”
The mother in her likes the health benefits her family gets from eating salmon. Her children – Steven and Hannah, both in college – and husband Steve enjoy cooking it on the grill. Mom sends salmon with Steven to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She mails salmon to family in Florida, and shares with friends in Eagle River.
“It is so good for them,” she said. “I get a good feeling as a mom knowing I am providing that for them.”
She welcomes folks to join her for a day or two or longer.
She’ll teach you the tricks of fly casting and hanging out with her is about the only way to discover her favorite fishing holes along the river – a sacred secret most Alaskans infected with the fishing itch keep to themselves.
Like most fishing folk, Puterbaugh has her own traditions. She carries two mermaids with her – one in her wader pocket and the other stuffed in her bra – as good luck charms. She is also packing – a .44 magnum caliber Smith and Wesson Trail Boss pistol – to defend herself against a bear encounter.
“People tease me about it,” she said. “But I don’t run very fast in tennis shoes less alone in waders with a back pack.”
She’s built a community with the tourists the come each year to fish the Kenai. If she sees someone struggling to get a fish on, she offers advice.
“You see the same people year after year,” she said. “They save up for their two week vacation to come here. I am so blessed to get to spend the entire summer in this beautiful scenery and enjoy the joy of it all.”