Alaska Excursions

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Fishing for fun: Kachemak Bay's waters are full of halibut and salmon

Anglers cast their hooks into The Fishin' Hole on the Homer Spit hoping to catch king salmon. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game stocks the lagoon yearly.

Daily News archive 2004

Anglers cast their hooks into "The Fishin' Hole" on the Homer Spit hoping to catch king salmon. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game stocks the lagoon yearly.

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The five-hour, 225-mile drive south from Anchorage to Homer is more scenic pleasure than long haul. Time passes quickly in a collage of mountain ranges, hanging glaciers, alpine passes and wildlife. And along the way, anglers' hearts beat a little faster as the Sterling Highway crosses the famous Kenai, Ninilchik and Anchor rivers. Then, in its final miles, the road swings west toward the edge of a high bluff to reveal a stunning view of one of Southcentral's crown jewels: Kachemak Bay. A mountain-flanked region of cold, clean marine waters and remote beaches, Kachemak not only promises the fishing trip of a lifetime, it delivers.

What locals say about fishing Kachemak Bay
"Oh, there are lots of good reasons to fish Kachemak Bay. First of all, Homer is a very friendly town; it's very scenic, the fishing's fabulous and all of our skippers are wonderful. We love fishermen!"


-- Henry Baldauf, Tacklebuster Charters

Halibut derby
It will come as little surprise that the town that bills itself "the halibut capital of the world" also hosts the state's largest and longest-running halibut jackpot fishing derby. How big is it? Well, last summer Don Hankins of Sparks, Nev., entered a 352.6-pound monster and walked away with $51,298. That's a lot of money -- and a lot of halibut. Even the smallest of last year's derby's top five fish weighed a whopping 292 pounds.


Derby tickets are $10 per day.


To learn more about the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, contact the Homer Chamber of Commerce at P.O. Box 541, Homer 99603; phone 1-907-235-7740; or browse the chamber's Web site at www.homeralaska.org.

For most Kachemak Bay anglers, the real fun begins at the end of the road -- in Homer, the small port city located at the Sterling's southern terminus. A sprucy community made up largely of fishermen, charter operators and artisans, the town has hotels, tackle and license vendors, grocery stores, restaurants, boat launch and harbor to provide anglers with everything they need for a day of hunting halibut, five species of salmon, rockfish and more in the bay's rich waters.

Set in a protected pocket on Kachemak's north shore, Homer actually extends far out into the bay along the Homer Spit, a natural sand spit four miles long that hosts a small-boat harbor, camping, restaurants and one of the best, most easily reached salmon fisheries around -- the Homer Spit Lagoon.

SALMON ON THE SPIT

In this region, where reaching most of the better fishing requires transportation by boat or plane, the Homer Spit Lagoon provides anglers of all ages and abilities with excellent opportunities to catch king salmon in the spring and early summer and silver salmon in late summer and fall. Locally called "The Fishin' Hole," the lagoon is a man-made inlet where salmon runs are stocked and maintained by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The first kings appear each spring around mid-May. Fishing for these 20- to 30-pound (and occasionally larger) fish only improves as the run peaks in mid-June. After that, fishing tapers quickly and is generally finished by early July. Most area king salmon anglers use heavy spinning tackle with reels that can hold at least 150 yards of 20- to 30-pound-test monofilament line. Tee-Spoons, Vibrax spinners, Pixees and baits such as cured salmon roe, herring or shrimp fished below bobbers work well in this popular, and often crowded, fishery.

In July and August, pink and silver salmon begin running in the waters around Homer. Both species can be caught off the spit by anglers casting spoons or spinners. Pinks are the smallest of the Pacific salmon, averaging 4 to 6 pounds. Silvers are larger, ranging from 6 to 12 pounds, though exceptional silvers can top 18 pounds. Medium-weight rods outfitted with 10- to 12-pound-test monofilament lines work well for both species.

The Homer Spit Lagoon hosts a productive silver salmon fishery from mid-July through mid-September. The same techniques used for king salmon earlier in the season work well for these hard-fighting sportfish.

VENTURING OUT

Beyond the spit, Kachemak Bay offers fishing for king salmon year-round. A small but growing winter fishery targets "feeder" kings, immature fish generally weighing 10 to 30 pounds that enter the bait-fish-rich bay to feed and put on weight before returning to natal streams to spawn the following summer. In recent years, the Homer Chamber of Commerce has highlighted this off-season fishery by sponsoring a winter king salmon fishing derby in mid-March.

For most anglers, though, fishing in the winter is worth an occasional lark. The lion's share of salmon angling effort occurs during the warmer, longer days of summer. Between late April and the end of August, many anglers and charter operators troll for kings along the bluffs west of Homer and along the points and mouths of the bays along Kachemak's southern shore. Most employ universally popular techniques, including trolling the tried-and-true cut-plug herring, Tee-spoons, plastic Hoochies and the like.

Kelp beds and rocky areas where bait-fish gather are good places to look for king salmon. Electronic "fish finders" are handy to have on board, since kings may be found at varying depths. Depending upon where the salmon are feeding, downriggers, planers or divers may be needed to reach them.

Another popular fishery for stocked kings is located on the far side of Kachemak Bay near Seldovia. Located roughly 20 miles southwest of Homer, this remote community can be reached by boat, ferry or plane. Kings are caught with lures or bait in the small-boat harbor and in nearby Halibut Cove.

Seldovia offers lodging, camping, hiking trails, kayak rentals and clam-digging beaches. Fishing for sea-run Dolly Varden is also good in the waters near this quiet, scenic, out-of-the-way community. For more information, contact the Seldovia Chamber of Commerce at P.O. Drawer F, Seldovia 99663; or phone 1-907-234-7803. Ferry arrangements can be made by phoning the Seldovia City Ticket Office at 1-907-234-7868.

For pink salmon anglers, the fishing doesn't get any better than in Tutka Bay. Located on the far side of Kachemak, Tutka is a 15-mile boat run southwest of Homer. Thousands of pink salmon enter Tutka Lagoon during the first two weeks of July and the fishing there can be excellent.

China Poot Bay, four miles across Kachemak from Homer, offers the area's best fishing for sockeye, or red, salmon. These 8- to 10-pound salmon, considered by many to be the best eating of the five local species, return in July and early August to China Poot Creek at the head of the bay. Small spoons, spinners and streamer flies are good bets for these spunky fish. Mud flats hidden under shallow waters require anglers to access this fishery at high tide only.

FOR THE HALIBUT

From Homer, the best halibut waters are reached by boat. For $150 to $200 per day, local charters take anglers to the spots where these popular bottom fish lie. With more than 100 charter boats based in Homer, anglers have plenty of opportunity to shop around for the best price for services offered. Bait and tackle, including stout deep-sea rods and heavy level-wind reels, are included in the price; most services also fillet and package the catch at the end of the day.

Halibut weighing from 100 pounds to more than 300 pounds aren't uncommon in Kachemak Bay, though most fish caught are much smaller, averaging 20 to 35 pounds apiece. All are normally caught on single hooks baited with herring, octopus or salmon heads fished on the bottom, though large jigs can be effective too. The bag limit is two halibut per day.

Most charters run 10 to 50 miles out of Homer, to and beyond the mouth of Kachemak Bay and into the waters of lower Cook Inlet. Although these tasty flatfish are caught throughout Kachemak, some of the better fishing is found outside the bay.

Anglers fishing for halibut frequently catch rockfish -- locally called "sea bass" -- and lingcod. Both are excellent eating and fun to catch on medium-weight spinning tackle. The bay is home to several species of rockfish and special harvest and seasonal restrictions apply to them and lingcod.

For more information about fishing and clamming in Kachemak Bay, call the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Homer at 1-907-235-8191, or visit the department's Web site at www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us/Region2/SF_R2home.cfm.

Ken Marsh is a Daily News copy editor.

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