Nick Varney

Reeling ‘Em In: So long and thanks for all the fish tips: Nick closes out the season

I had heard rumors that there were still some jumpers accompanying the incoming tides at the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon, so Jane and I checked it out earlier this week.

What we found was a lagoon so quiet that even the water was bored. The only action in sight was a dude who appeared to have had one too many special mushrooms in his Stoner Snax trail mix and was flossing the water with a toy rod featuring string and a hookless feather. The rock he was talking to didn’t seem impressed.

A bewildered seal cruised the outer beach looking as though it had popped up off course and discovered that it should be somewhere else, but didn’t have a clue of where that might be. It had probably been chasing some clueless pinks that didn’t know where they going either. It’s no secret that just tracking a humpy’s scent has been known to drop a predator’s mental adroitness to that of a sea slug.

So, I am going to go out on a very thin limb and declare the lagoon’s coho run is officially shot and emptier than a senior citizen center’s dance floor during a Death Metal band performance.

It didn’t used to be like this. Several years ago when we had a second run of silvers, things looked a lot different around the lagoon during the latter part of August.

By then, most of the tourists had thundered south in their motorized mansions with their matching Pomeranians fitfully napping on the RV’s dashboard, hoping their master wouldn’t make any sudden stops, morphing them into pugs.

It was a quieter time that left extra room to prowl the shore while stalking the larger, late run coho and a quintessential way to end the lagoon’s season.

Unfortunately, those times have faded into a dusty memory, just like the promise that the addition of that second run of silvers would replace the cool second run of kings that we always looked forward to battling. Then, poof! Even that circumstance was fleeting.

Now, before we take a look take a look at the Alaska Fish and Game’s 2021 Fall Fishing Report, the staff of Reeling ‘Em In would like to offer massive kudos to the following as we bring this column to a close for the season.

First, a mega thank you to Mike B. and the remarkable professionals at our local Alaska Fish and Game Office along with the Regional Information Officer, Kali H., out of Anchorage for their well-timed updates, exceptional assistance and unique sense of humor. Without them, it would have been impossible to offer the breadth of coverage that we have been able to provide.

There is no way, of course, to shut the books on the season without mentioning how terrific it was to have Tom, aka, Big “T”, continuing to serve as the informal raconteur and humble Mayor of the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon. Besides being one hell of a fisherman, he has provided excellent insights as to what’s going down at the lagoon along with sharing his acumen when it comes to the history of certain state fisheries.

A very special thanks also goes out to Lou, Jack, Turk and sometimes Willie, along with a multitude of others for their tips and tales throughout the summer.

Also, we deeply appreciate those of you who took the time to email us and express how much you enjoyed Homer, its people, and our state.

Finally, as always, this report wouldn’t be possible without the super support of my loving wife, friend, and partner in life, Jane. She’s the one who grits her teeth each week and then does the initial column proof read so my editor, Michael, doesn’t have to hook up pure oxygen before he searches another one of my submissions for sneaky innuendos and remarks that might distress the PETA for Pinks crowd.

Time now for the Fall Fishing Report.

Freshwater Fishing

Salmon

Coho salmon fishing in the lower Kenai Peninsula streams is still fair, but will be wrapping around mid-September. You may target them in the lower two miles of the streams with unbaited, single-hook, artificial lures starting Sept. 1. Size 3 or 4 spinners or heavily weighted flies are the most effective gear.

As of Aug. 29, 2,422 silvers had passed the counter in the Anchor. Last year, at this time, 794 had made the trip.

Steelhead

Expect the steelhead run to reach its peak in late September. Fishing success will vary with water levels after that, which can be monitored with the Anchor River hydrograph.

A well-presented bead pegged under a bobber is a great way to entice a steelhead bite. Beads are typically fished with a fly rod. Add more split shot to sink the bead if the current is too fast to let the bead plink along the bottom, and be sure to adjust the depth of your bobber or strike indicator as needed. Fishing with a marabou jig and bobber is a great way to get started targeting steelhead. Plugs and swinging flies may also work well. Pink and purple are typical colors of tackle used to fish for steelhead.

The Anchor River steelhead counts are now available on the ADF&G fish counts website. As of Aug. 29, 2021, 22 steelies have made the tally.

Dolly Varden

Dolly Varden are beginning to adopt their colorful fall spawning patterns. There are fewer Dollies in the lower Kenai Peninsula streams than in recent years, but anglers may still catch them while fishing for steelhead.

Dollies also love a well-presented (i.e., dead-drifted) bead, and will bite small spinners, spoons and flies, too.

As of Aug. 29, 1,337 of the critters have joined the action in the Anchor.

So have many big time, major, pain-in-the-patootie pinks, but even the weir won’t lower itself to count ‘em.

Saltwater Fishing

King Salmon

The fall months in Kachemak Bay typically offer some of the best king salmon trolling of the year. The feeder kings tend to move around the bay, but bait can concentrate them in larger schools.

Locations in the outer bay can be great fishing when the weather allows, including Fourth of July Creek, Silver Ridge and Bluff Point. The inner bay has lots of great spots closer by, including Bear Cove, Glacier Spit, the islands (Yukon Island area), and the Green Can near the Homer Spit. There are plenty of other locations amongst all of those that hold kings throughout the year.

Herring pegged in a head clip fished behind a flasher is the classic setup, but spoons with and without flashers work very well, along with a variety of other tackle like hoochies or plugs. Try trolling the same direction as the tide and try setting the gear at various depths between 10 and 100 feet.

Tanner Crab

The Kachemak Bay Tanner crab sport fishery (visit the online store for permits when available) will be open from Oct. 1, 2021, through Feb. 28, 2022. A pot or ring net may be used to target Tanner crab.

The highest concentrations of Tanner crab tend to be found west of the Homer spit in 300 and 500 feet of water. Pots need to be set in deep water to be successful. Use bait such as fish carcasses secured in the pots.

Halibut

Halibut fishing will continue to be fair over the fall months at locations in Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet. Large jigs or herring on a circle hook are effective for halibut fishing. Consider the tide, and be sure to fish near slack, especially if the tides are large.

Emergency Orders

Please review the Emergency Orders and Advisory Announcements below in their entirety before heading out on your next fishing trip.

Emergency Order 2-KS-7-18-21 increases the hatchery king salmon bag and possession limits in the Ninilchik River from one fish to two fish 20” or greater in length and removes the annual limit effective through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021.

Emergency Order 2-RCL-7-04-21 and 2-RCL-7-05-21 closed all EASTSIDE Cook Inlet beaches to clamming for all species from the mouth of the Kenai River to the southernmost tip of the Homer Spit in 2021.

See you next spring…

Nick can be reached at ncvarney@gmail.com if he isn’t busy two finger tapping out another Unhinged Alaska column for the Peninsula Clarion. He is the only individual in his high school’s history to score a triple D minus in the class he took for that skill.

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