Where Reality Collides With Fantasy (Part Two)
People in Alaska say there are two seasons, winter and the visiting season
After the 2001 "Disaster At Homer" our hostess and I discussed the subject of fly fishing for salmon at the Spit. Both of us concluded that it could be possible with the right fly, in my humble opinion something on the order of a Herring fly was the ticket. I designed a sort of Alaska flash fly but more on the order of a saltwater "Roach" fly, a pretty fly but no prize yet. It did catch a few Silver salmon but without any consistency. We named the fly, "The Homer Roach" in honor to where it was conceived. I did send several to some friends in England and Northern Ireland and both caught Atlantic salmon, some in Scotland and the others in The Republic of Ireland, and so it goes with my fly design career.
The Homer Roach, MKII:
According to Linda the best herring to fish with is about six inches long (152.4 mm). The long pointy snout had to go, the colors had to be silver with green on top (the colors of Pacific herring) with the hook placed as far aft as possible (Pacific salmon in the salt are notorious tail biters). So far so good, but a fly of this size would be a bear to cast especially in a stiff Alaska wind which is par for the course.
The Homer Roach, MKIII:
The third version was basically the same as the MKII except for the head that was crafted with flat lead to give a more pleasing profile and adding more weight for the fly without adding more bulk to the head.
My second trip to the Kenai Peninsula was far different than the first, the Kenai River was clogged with Silver and Pink salmon, so many catching fish became tiresome and we spent considerable time just sightseeing like typical tourists enjoying the hidden treasures on the Kenai Peninsula.
I had brought along an old friend who jumped at the chance to make his one and only trip to Alaska, of course Homer was high on our "places to see before you die".
The trip to Homer was a case of déjà vu for me;
Tsunami sign, Check
Overcrowded Salty Dawg Saloon, Check
It was like I was transported backwards, nothing changed.
At lunch our hostess
went through her instruction course for the benefit of my friend while I sampled the Homer Brew before they ran out of stock (fat chance). The magic hour arrived and we made our way to the "Fishing Hole" and geared up for the assault on the Homer salmon (not that we really needed any more). More important it would give us a chance to see if our theories were valid and not regulated to "half assed" (where a lot of my theories end up). My friend opted for the western shore of the impoundment directly opposite the inlet, his theory being when the fish enter they swim straight until they reach the shore line and then scatter in all directions (makes sense to me). Our hostess took her spot at the left side of the inlet to fish out in the Bay while the fish stage for a chance to enter the inlet. Her theory was that the salmon swim in a counter-clockwise direction thus the fish would face the business end of the fly (OK, I ain't too sure about that idea since the fish were jumping 360 degrees in a random melee, but who am I to argue with somebody from Alaska about salmon). Me, my plan was to wander around and soak up the atmosphere, take some pictures and visit with whoever would take time out for talking. The two Harbor seals where still there watching and not bothering with anybody, the Sea Lion even showed up again, many of the people who showed up were the same people from last year some stopping to say hello with a "nice to see you again" greeting.
Our hostess took her spot
at the left of the inlet casting into a group of salmon with her flyrod and MKII Homer Roach. Almost immediately she had a silver on. Her only complaint was as the tide came in (tides here average 16 foot) she had to back up to keep from being swallowed up by the onrushing water. She said it became harder and harder to reach the salmon especially with a stiff breeze off the bay and she was sorry she didn't have a two-handed rod.
My friend who opted for the western shore used a spinning rod equipped with a lure named Vibrex Spinner in pink (a favorite with Alaskans), he also started catching silvers as the entered the impoundment. So the day was a success and again we had more salmon for our dinners.
My job was to pick the brains of the local population and see what was the best course of action in this very unusual place called Homer.
Besides the cut herring and egg skein theory there are several more ways to entice salmon to your hook local residents use. One most notable is the "Hoochie", a squid like affair which is bounced along the bottom (white being the favorite color but purple has also gotten good reviews). Now they even have Hoochies with internal lighting that flashes when immersed in water (the lights are also available on-line, I gotta get me some of those to play with) . A newer idea which has caught on is taking a whole herring, hooking it with a rig of a hook through the lip and tail, sling it out into the waiting salmon and let it drift down like a stunned or dead herring. Being unweighted the fish see it as an easy meal and has gained a huge following among the Homer regulars.
The people of Homer:
While standing there absorbing all the culture a young man strode up to me and started a conversation;
"Hello, where do you come from?"
"With that accent, I don't think so (laughing)"
"I was born in Brooklyn, raised in New Jersey"
"How come you're not fishing?"
"Caught all the salmon I'll ever need, this is my chance to soak up some atmosphere, How about you?"
"By the way, how long has the fishing hole been here?"
"Since 1984 when the state built it"
"How do the fish get in here?"
"The state puts in salmon fry (Kings, Silvers and Pinks) in the Hole every spring and local people volunteer to feed them until they leave for the ocean only to return again in about 5 years".
"Hmmm, but what about the mature salmon that weren't caught, won't they eat the fry?"
"The state allows snagging to clean out the ones left over, fairly well cleans out the rest of the fish".
"Not many people fishing today, I wonder why..."
"Season is just about over. In a few weeks the place becomes a ghost town with only the eagles left to inhabit the place".
"Does it ever get crowded here?"
"OH yes, in the spring when the Kings come in especially on the weekends this place is a zoo, you can barely move for all the people, in fact I like this time of year much better, less hassle and a whole lot more relaxed"
The young man bid me goodbye and walked over to some friends, picked up a fresh Silver and walked back to where I was standing. Handing me the salmon with a "welcome to Homer". I held my gift thinking, "so this is what Alaska is all about, kindness to strangers". To be truthful I have seen this sort of behavior many times in my travels through this wonderful place.
In the bay a fly that imitates a herring, either stunned or swimming (green over silver is the best color combination). In the impoundment something small with a spinner, especially if you are directly opposite the inlet while the salmon are rushing in.
What Doesn't Work:
Shrimp flies, in fact most flies for rivers just don't cut it here on the Spit, think fish as a fly, in particular herring.
Some thoughts on flies and lures
What works fishing in the Bay.
Homer Roach MKII:
Tube: plastic, about 5 inches long
Wing: Flashbou, silver lower ¾ topped with green Flashbou (the colors of Alaska herring)
Collar: Red webby saltwater hackle
Head: Heavy lead wire wound around the tube, covered with epoxy, painted with artists acrylics (again silver and green)
Eyes: Movable dolls eyes
Final Coat: clear epoxy
The first Homer Roach (better for Atlantic salmon) This fly worked somewhat at the Spit but lacked the coloration the salmon were looking for.
Swherringlight: A fly originated by my friend, Stuart Anderson, (Canadian Tube Fly Company). A little more traditional than my idea but a good salmon fly especially for Silvers in the salt who key on herring.
Some more ideas of what might work fishing in the bay:
Stunned herring: (not vetted yet) a Homer Roach MKIII with the wing tied down to simulate a stunned bait fish falling through the water column.
2.5 inch herring: (vetted in Ireland ) This is one of my crazy ideas to present something more realistic to the salmon while swimming in the Bay outside the inlet to the impoundment. I couldn't find anyone in Alaska willing to try it yet (probably the words out to avoid my crazy ideas as dangerous to one's health)
Some ideas that might work while fishing in the impoundment:
The best results were based on a spinner of some sort but I can't find any fly rod spinner flies so these are just ideas, although vetted in other places these have not been tested on Pacific salmon.
Flyrod C: The Flying C was introduced to Alaska in the 2002 season immediately becoming a big hit with King salmon fishermen for its ability to get down to the fish quickly. After the urging of an Alaska friend I came up with an acceptable flyrod version which has proved very effective in the lower 48 for trout and Small Mouth bass. I think pink or green would work well.
Bucktail Spinners: A good alternative with a flyrod, pink and green being good colors.
Flyrod Spinner: A quickie solution to the Vibrex Spinner so popular in Alaska with a Spinning rod. Best color is pink.
Be prepared to hear a lot of different languages on the Spit (its almost like a UN meeting out here on the Spit).
"Nein, Schweizer" (Nope, Swiss)
"Ahhh close enough for government work".
This one is easy, "French?"
"Aucun Suisse" (Nope Swiss)
"So far I'm batting zero"
OK, I can't miss this one, "English?"
Oh oh, somebody got on the wrong plane
Russian seems to be a popular spoken language on the Spit but I'm told the spoken and written language is a dialect before the 1917 Revolution not understood by modern day Russians . Those who speak this dialect have their roots in Far East Siberia immigrating to Alaska as fur trappers before Alaska was purchased by the USA (1867).
You just never know who you are going to run into on the Homer Spit so its wise to sharpen your people skills before you arrive.
Wildlife enforcement is regulated by an arm of the Alaska State Troopers (AST as its known), a unique organization which covers the remote areas of the state (most of the state is rural). These guys are good, really good and have heard all the excuses before (save the "my dog ate my fishing license" excuse for someplace other than Alaska) . They have the unnerving ability to appear on the scene whenever somebody tries to get away with some infraction or another. Although I have never run in to a AST Wildlife officer we did see them several times watching us fish with high power binoculars. Alaska has a law called "Wanton Waste", basically stating that if you harvest something you use it ALL. Wanton waste usually refers to game animals but it can apply to fish also. The penalty is severe, up to $10,000, 2 years in prison plus the forfeiture of your vehicle and equipment. If you fish anywhere near human habitation you'll run into many signs that start with the word "Don't", best course of action: follow the signs to the letter or else you risk a meeting with the AST who wonder just why you're stuck in stupid.
If you are planning a first time trip to Alaska one of the best real time information source is the Alaska Fly Fish Forum (www.alaskaflyfish.net). There is a section on the forum called "Alaska bound" where you can ask questions of the people who live there and willing to give you real time information which can be invaluable to a first timer headed to Alaska, especially if you are considering a self guided trip.
One question asked me many times, "should I bring along a spinning rod?" I didn't every time I went and paid the price when I couldn't reach the fish especially in the salt with a fly rod (even a two handed rod). Luckily our hostess had several I could borrow (along with the mandatory lecture about being so left brained that I see a flyrod as the only way to fish under all circumstances).
Would I advise anyone to go to Alaska to make the Spit a major source of fishing? Nope but I would advise anyone if you are anywhere close to give it a try if nothing else just to have the chance to mingle with a fine group of people who enjoy the stunning scenery plus fishing (what could be better).
Internet Sources for Homer Spit Story Part 2
The Electronic Fishing Lure - All kinds of rubber lures, including the The Electronic Flashing Hoochie Rubber Squid!
Crystal Basin Tackle - Hoochies, spinners and more
Alaska Outdoor Journal - Homer Fishing Hole Salmon Timing Chart