Reeling ‘em in: Setnetting is a memorable, mud-humping epoch

Every year, the opening day of the Kachemak Bay Coho Salmon Gillnet Fishery brings back some epic memories, especially about the first time we tackled the task of setting up a site.

Fortunately, following the discovery of an abandoned set net on our property many eons ago, we didn’t instantly jump onto the Mud Bay gummy flats without looking where we planted our Xtratufs or net.

We studied and monitored the methods utilized at different sites and decided to give it a shot when the following year’s fishery rolled around.

To say that we were somewhat naive about taking on the consequences of running a gillnet is like saying we would have been a bit over our heads transitioning from trolling from a skiff to abruptly taking on a high-liner. Not cool.

During our first set, ignorance was not bliss. It indubitably taught some quick and mind branding lessons such as “don’t oversleep” and “let the net go flat” or every creature patrolling above and below the briny will be messing with or in it by the time you hit the beach.

Ever try and straighten out a seriously backlashed fishing line? Not exactly party time is it? Well try untangling a truck load of ocean debris we called stick fish and mysterious Twilight Zone glops of organic goo from a 35-fathom gillnet where the mesh size may not exceed 6 inches and the depth of the net may not exceed 45 meshes. The suckometer rating goes off the scale, especially when the gusting winds are borderline schizophrenic.

Lest I forget, the net was not only sans silvers but while we were pickin’ particulars, stressed dams of moisture within the drapes of pendulous clouds suddenly burst into a deluge so intense that we could have used scuba gear.

Our initial upbeat dip into set netting turned out to resemble a highly anticipated trip to Disneyland that morphed into a memorable event with a Rocky Horror Picture Show twist, but we soldiered on and ended up valuing the experience in a demented sort of way.

We went on to enjoy several years of manning our site while finely tuning our ability to hurl obscene aspersions at the @$$#*!% fish-stealing seals that dropped by for snacks, leaving only heads in the net.

Overall, our gillnet fishery experience was a rewarding, backbreaking, frustrating, remarkable mud/ hill humping epoch that ended when we finally had the time to fill our freezer by casting rather than picking.

Are we glad we did it? You bet. Would we do it again? The skill set is there but we are at the age now that throwing out a line is much preferable to having a spine realigned.

Now it’s time to take a look at the fishing report for week of Aug. 20 to Aug. 26.

Regulation Reminders

The Kachemak Bay Coho Salmon Gillnet Fishery closed Aug. 18.

The Anchor River, Ninilchik River, Deep Creek, and Stariski Creek remain open to fishing for Dolly Varden and steelhead/rainbow trout upstream of the two-mile markers. Steelhead/rainbow trout may never be removed from the water and must be immediately released. You may not fish for salmon upstream of the two-mile markers.

The lower portions of the Anchor River, Deep Creek and Stariski Creek are open to sport fishing except for kings. Those chinooks may not be targeted and if hooked, they must be immediately released. The bag and possession limit for other salmon is three per day, three in possession — only two per day, two in possession may be coho.

On the Anchor River, Ninilchik River, Deep Creek, and Stariski Creek, bait and treble hooks are legal gear through Aug. 31.

Anglers are allowed to snag fish in Kachemak Bay east of a line from Anchor Point to Point Pogibshi including the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon (Fishing Hole) and adjacent waters, except for the Homer Boat Harbor.

Lingcod season remains open. The bag and possession limit for these toothsome beasts is two fish and the minimum legal size is 35 inches with the head attached or 28 inches from tip of tail to front of the dorsal fin with the head removed. Lingcod which are gaffed must be retained. A gaff may not be used to puncture any fish intended or required to be released.

The marine waters of Tutka Bay Lagoon within 100 yards of the hatchery net pens are closed to sport fishing for any species.

Saltwater Fishing

Halibut

Halibut fishing safaris have begun to ease off. Many of the ‘buts crossing the tables have been small but there are still numerous boats returning with limits and hefty slabs on board.

Kings

Trolling for kings in Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet has been awfully sketchy. Pinks and silvers are being hooked at spots where the big boy blackmouths usually hang out. Try Silver Ridge or Bluff Point for chinooks. They usually motor around in a variety of depths up to 100 feet near rocky points and kelp beds. Look for airborne gluttons feeding on bait fish. Troll higher for silvers and drop down below the bait balls for kings.

Coho

As mentioned before, the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon is open to snagging.

Fishing has slowed to turtle time since the technique was allowed. Watch for what’s left of schools wandering in circles around the pond and loitering near the its mouth. Observant and tenacious hunters are still taking them on the inside.

Trolling for silvers in Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay’s inner waters, including off the Homer Spit, has been erratic.

Fishermen are also landing coho at high tide along the shore of the Homer Spit north of the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon. Make sure to respect private property in this area.

Lingcod

Both private and charter vessels continue to return to the Homer Harbor with combos of halibut, lingcod, and rockfish. Boats chasing lingcod are having the most luck when they voyage around the corner to areas near the Chugach Islands.

High numbers of juvenile lingcod continue to be reported in the waters near Bluff Point and the Chugach Islands. This is great news for the lingcod fishery. Remember to carefully release all undersized lingcod and to never use a gaff on a fish intended to be released.

Rockfish

Many anglers are successfully targeting rockfish to complement halibut or salmon trips. Nonpelagic rockfish species have been caught in waters near Chugach and Perl islands.

If you are looking for rockfish, try areas adjacent to rocky points and in kelp beds. Trendy and fruitful places to hunt pelagic rockfish in Kachemak Bay are near Bluff Point and Point Pogibshi.

They are susceptible to trolled spoons, tube flies, or herring. Jigs will also turn their crank.

Give incidentally caught rockfish a break and use deep-water release methods to release them. No clue as to what a deep-water release method entails? Review the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Rockfish Conservation and Deepwater Release webpage. Hey, it’s easy to do. Just highlight the title in the previous sentence, copy and paste it into a Goggle search request and voila! They even have pictures for those of you who are written instruction challenged.

Shellfish

Razor Clam Emergency Order

Per Emergency Order No.2-RCL-7-01-18 and 2-RCL-07-02-18 all eastside Cook Inlet beaches from the Kenai River to the tip of the Homer Spit are closed to all clamming through Dec. 31.

There is a series of small negative tides beginning Aug. 26 if you have the urge to muck around out there.

Other Saltwater Fishing

If your budget doesn’t include funds for a charter or your boat just coughed up its last piston and you’re still itching to wet a line, try fishing off the end of the Homer Spit. There’s always something swimming or scuttling around out there that’s worth a deep fry such as walleye pollock, Pacific cod, dollies and a variety of flatfish that are “it’s a toss-up” edible.

Fresh Water Streams

Coho fishing cranked back a bit during the past week but look for another pulse of fish if rain brings water levels up or during the next large tide cycle. Eggs or herring under a bobber are working well along with flashy spinners and a variety of artificial flies. Fishing on an incoming tide near the river mouth on the Ninilchik River, Deep Creek, or Anchor River is a good start. Remember, silvers like to get it on around the break of dawn.

Fishing for dollies above the two-mile markers has been fair to good. They are beginning to develop their spawning coloration, and are dispersed throughout Anchor River, Deep Creek, and Ninilchik River. Fly fisherman are hitting them with beads and streamers and small spinners. Spoons have been drawing strikes with spinning gear.

Steelhead should start entering these streams in low numbers over the next couple weeks. Expect steelhead fishing to peak in mid-September and continue through October. Steelhead are often targeted with a bead pegged above a hook, although jig and bobber and swinging flies are other popular and effective ways to entice a bite.

Nick can be reached at ncvarney@gmail.com if he isn’t haunting The Anchor with his super-secret Z-Ray lure of imminent doom.

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