The weather might not be the balmiest Homer has to offer this time of year, but for die-hard sportfishermen, what's another layer of clothing when there are king salmon waiting to be caught? With an estimated dozen fishing charter businesses operating in the Homer area year-round, there's no time like now to go fishing.
Keith Kalke, captain of the Ocean Hunter, and Steve Walli, captain of the Misty, are two such operators.
Kalke was the boat captain in 2008 when California fisherman Jeff Pardi caught a 348.2-pound halibut that won the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby. In the winter, however, Kalke turns his attention to king salmon.
"We fish for winter kings in October and it lasts all the way through March," said Kalke, who focuses on the salmon in Kachemak Bay. "Basically, people are allowed two kings per person per day and they don't have to put it on their (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) harvest report because of the timeframe."
According to Marnee Beverage of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Kalke is correct for king salmon caught south of Bluff Point from Oct. 1-March 31; they do not have to recorded. North of Bluff Point, they must be recorded year-round.
The king salmon Kalke's clients are hooking into are transient, according to Kalke.
Walli, who, since retiring from Crowley Marine, charters full-time, also keeps his focus close to home.
"As far as we go is Seldovia or Fourth of July Creek for a lot of reasons. For one thing, there's not a lot of daylight. The other thing is you've got to watch the weather," Walli said.
The fish run from 10 to 30 pounds; most of the fish, but not all, have white meat.
Who goes fishing in Kachemak Bay this time of year?
"Basically, a lot of my clients come from Anchorage and conventions in state and around the Kenai Peninsula," Kalke said, adding that his clients also include local folks who prefer the off-season opportunity.
"The only times we shut down are, of course, due to daily weather conditions or if there's ice in the harbor," Kalke said. "If we can't get out of the harbor, we'll let you know, so no one drives down if they don't have to. We keep a close eye on ice conditions, but other than that, there's a lot of great fishing in the wintertime."
Walli said he has clients from the Kenai-Nikiski area of the central peninsula, plus some from Anchorage.
"The weather gets good and people in Anchorage get antsy," he said. "It's kid of sporadic. I wish it would get better. We have a heck of a fishery down here in the wintertime, but no one thinks about fishing in the winter."
Weather, iced-in harbor and fewer hours of daylight are the biggest challengers to the winter fishery.
"As winter goes on and the days get shorter, we leave at a safe hour so we can see what's in the water ahead of us. It gives us time for the sun to come up and to turn the heaters on and warm the boat up," Kalke said, adding, "Most people know and understand the weather forecast. For instance, we've just had a week of not-so-good weather to be fishing in, but I still get in a couple trips a month."
Walli said he had two charters scheduled for last weekend, but the drop in temperature required rescheduling.
Marketing winter charters relies on word-of-mouth and advertising done throughout the year, both captains said. Then, there's the occasional break that reaches a bigger-than-expected audience. That happened when Kalke played host to Robson Greene of "Extreme Fishing," a program from the United Kingdom.
"It was absolutely awesome," Kalke said of the film that has shown throughout Europe and "also on a lot of trans-Pacific airlines right now. Not bad advertising."
Linda Broadhead of the Homer Chamber of Commerce said at the end of the summer tourist season, charter operators pull their boats out of the water to do repairs and maintenance.
"Then they get back at it" she said. "As you know, we have kings in that bay all year round."
Halibut charters also are available, with the exception of the month of January, when sportfishing for halibut is closed, according to Beverage.
Fishing for halibut has some specific challenges.
"It's much more of a journey because by now they've moved into deeper water and are not as handy to catch," Broadhead said.
While winter charter fishing doesn't have as big a draw as summer fishing does, "local Alaskans sure know (the fish) are here and they like to fish," Broadhead said. "Besides that, with all the activities with the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club, we're a little winter paradise, just not necessarily as well known as we should be."
For Homer's hardy captains, winter charters also offer a personal benefit.
"I love to fish," Walli said. "In fact, I'm going into withdrawals. I haven't been out for a few days."
For more information on Kalke's winter charters, visit the Web at www.oceanhuntercharters.com. To know more about Walli's offerings, visit www.thedriftwoodinn.com. For a list of other charters offering winter fishing in the Homer area, call the Homer Chamber of Commerce, 235-7740. Information on fishing regulations can be obtained from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at 235-8191 or www.adfg.state.ak.us.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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