A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
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The city of Homer likes to brag that it is the "Halibut Fishing Capital of the World." It's hard to argue.
Every summer, anglers catch more than 150,000 halibut in the nearby waters of Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet. It's not uncommon for those fish to weigh more than 100 pounds, with the biggest growing to more than 300 pounds.
On top of that, Homer hosts one of Alaska's most lucrative fishing derbies. Last year's winner earned $43,612 for his 341.8-pound halibut.
But don't get tunnel vision with the promise of huge halibut when visiting Homer. Kachemak Bay offers much more than a feast of flatfish. King, silver, sockeye and pink salmon return to the bay every summer, while beaches of clams can add a unique twist to the fishing experience.
Most of the fishing requires a boat, but Homer offers bank anglers a chance to catch fish too. And Kachemak Bay, with its deep, green waters, glaciers and snow-peaked mountains, is one of Alaska's most picturesque backgrounds for fish photos.
Located on the southern and western tip of the Kenai Peninsula, Homer is 225 miles by road from Anchorage. The town caters to tourists, offering an assortment of restaurants, accommodations and charter boat operators. June and July are the busiest months - coinciding with the best fishing and weather - and visitors should make reservations in advance, advises Linda Winters of the Homer Chamber of Commerce. Halibut fishing requires a boat to reach the areas where halibut congregate. Visitors who want to participate in the action will most likely need to hire a charter. Based on her experience talking to visitors, Winters offers advice to newcomers searching for a charter.
- Decide how many people you want on your boat. Some charter boats carry six anglers, while bigger boats carry 12 or more. "There are advantages and disadvantages to both," Winters said. Smaller boats offer more personal time with the captain, while bigger boats provide more deckhands for help. Larger boats may be more crowded, and anglers may sometimes have to wait their turn to fish, especially if trolling for salmon.
- Find out how long the captain has been fishing out of Homer. "Every year we have new people that come and set up a charter here," Winters said. New captains can be good, but established operations have been around a long time for a reason.
- Ask how far you will be traveling before you start fishing. This is a trade-off. The farther out you go, the better the fishing - usually. But longer travel time means less fishing time. Also, if you are prone to seasickness, you may want to stay closer to port. There are more than 100 charter boat operators that fish out of Homer, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. A good place to start researching which one is best for you is the Homer Chamber of Commerce Web site, which lists many of Homer's charter operations as well as links to their Web sites.
"You can kind of get a feel for a charter company looking at their Web site," Winters said.
Last year, full-day charters ranged in price from about $200 to $250. Half-day charters were closer to $100.
Bruce Warner, who captains a charter boat in Homer, cautioned visitors about the less expensive trips.
"You get what you pay for," Warner said.
Cheaper prices mean shorter trips, which usually mean smaller fish, said Warner. If you don't mind catching the "chickens" - halibut in the 20-pound range - then signing up with a cheaper charter makes sense. But if you want a shot at a lunker, you're going to have to pay for it.
"It's fun and it's money well-spent, but it costs a lot of money," Warner said.
Many anglers pony up a little more cash for the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby. Last summer, the Homer Chamber of Commerce sold more than 17,000 of the $10 tickets, awarding more than $183,000 in prizes. Halibut fishing occurs all summer - the derby runs from May 1 to Sept. 30 - but Warner recommends visiting between June 7 and Aug. 5 for "the best fishing and the best weather."
Homer may be famous for its halibut, but salmon fishing in Kachemak Bay is popular too, especially for king salmon. There are several opportunities to catch kings in and around Kachemak Bay.
- Trolling in the main bay. Many of the same charters that fish for halibut offer salmon trips. Some offer combination trips that allow anglers to fish for halibut and salmon on the same excursion. - Halibut Cove Lagoon. Stocked kings return here starting in early May and ending at the beginning of July. Anglers catch more than 1,000 kings here annually.
- Seldovia Bay. The small town of Seldovia is about 20 miles southwest of Homer, accessible by boat or plane only. Stocked kings return here from mid-May to early July.
For landlubbers or those who don't want to pay the cost to hire a charter, Homer offers anglers a chance to catch stocked king and silver salmon from the banks of a fishing lagoon on the Homer spit. This is a popular fishery, so expect crowds when the fishing is good. Kings start to show up in the lagoon around the middle of May, peak in mid-June and are gone by early July, according to the Department of Fish and Game. Silvers are available from mid-July to mid-September. The king and silver fishery in the Homer lagoon offer youth-only fishing days. Check with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for specific dates.
Other salmon fishing opportunities in the Kachemak Bay area include:
- Sockeye salmon. China Poot Bay, four miles southeast of the Homer Spit, is home to a run of sockeyes stocked by commercial fishers. These fish are available from early July to mid-August, according to Fish and Game, and are usually caught by snagging with a weighted treble hook.
- Pink salmon. Available from late June to mid-August, the best place to fish for pinks is Tutka Bay and Lagoon, about 15 miles southwest of the Homer Spit.
For a completely different "fishing" experience, Kachemak Bay provides excellent clamming on many of the bay's protected beaches. Littleneck and butter clams are the most harvested species, according to Fish and Game. Clamming is best on tides lower than minus-2 feet.
For more information about Kach-emak Bay and Homer, visit these Web sites:
- The Alaska Department of Fish and Game: www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us.
- Homer Chamber of Commerce: www.homeralaska.org .
Freelance writer Tony Lewis lives in Kenai.