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Where Real Alaskans Fish

By Bob Kenly

In miles it’s only about 80 miles from Soldotna, Alaska to the Homer Spit but in perception it’s almost a millennium away. Late August and September is a nice time on Kenai Peninsula, mostly just locals on the rivers, nice weather with a touch of chill heralding the onset of winter, and still plenty of fish if you know where to find them. I was invited to spend a few weeks at a client’s home in Soldotna, the King salmon capitol of Alaska to fish most of the famous spots on the Kenai.

All true Alaskans consult tide tables for just about everything they do, salmon fishing being one of the more important tide related endeavors. Our hostess told us that our best chance would be starting four hours before high tide and calling it quits at high tide. Since high tide was at seven pm we’d start fishing at three pm after a leisurely lunch at the famous Lands End Hotel located on the very end of the Homer Spit and Sterling Highway.

A sort of house on the Homer Spit, photo by Bob Kenly
A sort of house on the Homer Spit

Off we head toward the unknown adventure trying to capture the flavor of this dreamlike landscape, ending up on a high bluff in the city of Homer looking down on a five mile long sandbar with a road cutting through it to the very end. Driving down on to the Spit is entering another dimension in Alaskan life, like a marine version of the movie "Mad Max", boats, ships of varying stages of decay, huge gold digging machinery, stacked lumber and just about everything looking like it was dropped many years ago. All around was some of the most spectacular scenery ever seen reinforcing my feelings that I truly arrived in Alaska, this was the place I’ve been looking for all my life, someplace not usually found in fishing magazines.

After lunch and a few of the local brewed beer (worth the trip alone) we drove over to the "Fishing Hole" to try our luck at the renowned Silver salmon. Standing in the parking lot we looked down a large manmade lagoon with small entrance to the bay. Standing around this hole in the Spit were people casting every imaginable lure, fly, eggs and whatever you could imagine. My first impression, "No way am I going to get involved in that mayhem, fish or no fish I’m really into mob scenes". My fishing companion not to be deterred by such minor short- comings donned his fishing finery and strode out to pick up some easy dinner in the form of two Silvers. You’d certainly think with hundreds of fish milling and jumping clear of the water catching one would be easy, why else would all these people be here. Salmon being salmon are looking for a place to spawn only to find them-selves trapped in a huge bowel with no way out. Of course, the three seals and the 1000 pond sea lion gorging them-selves on trophy sized fish in the mixture made the whole scene only more bizarre. Once the fish figure out that their fate is doomed they become even more ballistic, tearing around at mach speed leaving torpedo like wakes behind them. The best hope for the fishermen to catch anything is to intercept them when they first enter the lagoon before they become aware of the danger they’re in.

The Homer Lagoon, photo by Bob Kenly
The Homer Lagoon

So Saturday went, my partner casting to total exhaustion with nary a strike, a total bust and dinner a solemn affair with no talk about fishing ever entering the conversation (except for a few digs on my part) but we did plan to try again during the week when the weekend crowds left.

Monday again we did the same routine, consult the tide charts drove to Land’s End, had lunch and a beer, and off to show everyone how its done. Again my partner outfitted in his finery (definitely out of place) and our hostess and I dressed like the rest of the fishermen staked out our places on the West side of the lagoon. Right on schedule exactly four hours before high tide water started as a trickle through the lagoon entrance and the salmon made their appearance as advertised. Here we go again casting, casting and in between more casting. Four hours of throwing flies at salmon whose only agenda was to get away from this place, certainly not eat. FINALLY my partner caught a fish, his first salmon on a pink Everglow of all things. Me, I threw every fly I had-nothing, nary a nibble but now the plot thickens. As I was doing my part to look intelligent a fisherman comes next to me and asks if its ok to fish near me, "Sure I’m just practicing" was my answer. So my new fishing companion and I introduce ourselves to each other and he reaches in a bucket, pulls out a dead mullet, strings it on a hook and with his fly rod sort of chunks this mess into the water. "Hmmmmm been fly-fishing long", I enquired. "Started today",his answer. Makes sense I mumbled. After some mind numbing casting I noticed my neighbor gone only to reappear with some somewhat awful looking flies in his hand, "Look here a guy over there gave me these to try, which one would you think is best", like if I had a clue I would be using it myself. But after looking at my neighbor’s collection I said try something red and he chose what looked like a salt water Cockroach made one cast and to both our astonishment the fly was torn off the leader by what must have been a fair sized salmon. Damn!! I mumbled and we both stood mouths open, speechless. "I have another one" my new friend says as he ties another fly on and makes probably the worst cast ever. Poof!! That fly is also ripped off his leader. "That’s it for me, I’m finished". he says, leaving my to ponder what I saw as if I could make any sense of this whole scenario. So now from that memory a few years ago as painful as it was the Homer Cockroach is what I use whenever I return to Alaska and fish the Homer Spit only as a tube fly.

The Homer Cockroach, by Bob Kenly
The Homer Cockroach

The Homer Cockroach

Tube: Plastic although Q Tips work just as well.
Tail: Silver Flashbou. I also added several strands of "Glow in the dark" flashbou.
Collar: Webby Red Chinese cock hackle.
Head: Lead wire covered with epoxy, colored red.
Eyes: Stickon covered with epoxy.
Hook: You are allowed trebles on the Homer Lagoon and I found these to work very well on Silver salmon.

By Bob Kenly 2002 ©
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