Cunningham offers cheap angling thrill

Fish for free

Posted: Friday, August 12, 2005


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  Anglers sit on the bank of the Kenai River Thursday afternoon at Cunningham Park in Kenai with hopes for a silver salmon strike. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Anglers sit on the bank of the Kenai River Thursday afternoon at Cunningham Park in Kenai with hopes for a silver salmon strike.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

With bank closures up and down the Kenai River forcing many people to pay for fishing these days, Kenai’s Cunningham Park stands out as an easily-accesible fishing hole that offers good fishing and plenty of access — without charging a dime.

The park, located on Beaver Loop, was donated to the city by Martha Cunningham for use by the people, and judging by the use Cunningham gets in the fall, the donation is serving its purpose well.

Even at low tide, with fast water making silver fishing difficult, a good two dozen anglers were trying their luck Thursday afternoon. A few fish rolled out in the water, but most anglers were content to simply enjoy the sunshine and free fishing.

“There’s getting to be fewer and fewer places you can go,” angler Larry Grant said.

Grant was spending the day fishing with his 5-year-old daughter, Victoria, his brother, Dan, and Dan’s 4-year-old son Jacob at the park. Despite the poor silver fishing, Jacob did manage to pull a fish from the water — his first ever, in fact.

“I caught it all by myself,” Jacob said, proudly smiling in the direction of a Dolly Varden he landed earlier in the day.

Dan Grant said the Dolly almost got away, and even came off the hook just as it was being pulled to shore. He said he had to scramble pretty quick to keep his son’s fish from returning to the river.

“I wasn’t going to let his first fish go,” Dan Grant said.

Despite its easy access and sloping, rocky banks, many people in the area don’t know about Cunningham Park. Chuck Little said he’s lived in Kenai since 1981 and never even knew the park existed. Checking it out for the first time with his son, Charlie, Little said he now plans to try his luck at the in-town fishing hole.

“I’ll probably be back this evening,” he said.

Charlie agreed.

“We should go back and get our poles and come back down here,” he said.

The park has space for approximately 20 vehicles, and is equipped with rest-rooms, a boardwalk overlooking the river and stairs and an access ramp leading to the bank.


A fisherman fights a silver salmon on the bank of the Kenai River at Cunningham Park in Kenai Thursday afternoon.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Fishermen hoping to pull a silver salmon out generally have the best luck early in the morning. Fishing is easiest when the tide is high or on its way in as most people prefer to fish with salmon eggs held close to the bottom with a lead weight. Because the water doesn’t move as fast during high tide, it’s easier to keep the weight from drifting downstream.

Silver fishing normally begins picking up in early or mid-August, with the run lasting until early winter. Fishing was slow at Cunningham Park Thursday, but Larry Grant said he believes the run hasn’t hit yet because of the recent warm weather.

“It’s been too hot,” he said.

Grant said he fishes the hole a lot and has good success when the fish are in.

“It’s a fun hole,” he said.

More than the fishing, however, Grant said the park is worth visiting because it’s a nice, friendly spot to fish that’s also good for children.

“It’s got a nice gravel bank, and that’s a lot of it,” he said. “This place is just really nice.”

Although silver fishing on the Kenai has yet to pick up, peninsula anglers hoping to catch a fish have ample opportunities this weekend. Rainbows and Dolly Varden can be found throughout the river system, feeding on salmon eggs and carcasses. Flesh flies or beads fished on a dead drift work best for these fish.

The best bet for salmon anglers on the peninsula this weekend may be on the south peninsula, where reports of fish returning to the lagoon on the Homer Spit have begun trickling in. In addition, silvers have been hitting Seward recently, and the annual Seward Silver Salmon Derby kicks off Saturday.


Doyle Baier and his brother Darrell bask in Thursday's sun while they wait for fishing to pick up.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

The derby runs though Aug. 27. Entry is $10 for one day or $50 for the entire derby. Last year’s winner took home $10,000 for the top prize. Daily prizes are also given, as are prizes for catching tagged fish. For more information, call the Seward Chamber at (907) 224-8051.

Most good silver fishing out of Seward is done by boat in Resurrection Bay, although anglers can also do well casting into the waters from shore in town.

Other derbies taking place on the south peninsula include the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby and the Deep Creek Charterboat Association’s derby in Ninilchik.

As of Monday, the leader in the Homer derby was Jim Corliss of Corvallis, Ore. with a 310.4-pound barn door pulled up July 16 aboard the “Liahona,” skippered by Todd Jackson. The leader for August is Kelvin Hurt of Ellenwood, Ga., who caught a 195.2-pounder on Aug. 6 aboard the “Ocean Hunter” with skipper Keith Kalke. The derby costs $10 per day to enter and tickets must be purchased before fishing. The heaviest fish of the year wins a cut of the ticket sales. Last year, Don Hanks of Nevada took home $51,298 for his 352-pound fish. Call the Homer Chamber of Commerce at (907) 235-7740 for more information.

The Ninilchik Derby runs through Sept. 5. The grand prize in that derby is $5,000, and weekly $100 prizes are also given away.

Interested anglers can visit for more information.

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