AD Main Menu

Allure of urban fishery not lost on anglers

ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

Along Ship Creek downtown early Friday afternoon, as a faint breeze whispered beneath overcast skies, jets floated through the sky to the west, small planes buzzed overhead, trucks and tractor trailers rolled past on C Street and Whitney Road, the occasional train chugged slowly along, seagulls screeched from above and ducks made speedy fly-bys just above the water.

For all the pastoral pleasures of rural fishing - trolling on a quiet lake or boating along a rolling river - urban fishing likewise has its virtues.

Ship Creek, site of the Downtown Soup Kitchen's Slam'n Salm'n Derby, courses through the edge of downtown, hard by the Alaska Railroad depot, before dumping out into Cook Inlet.

That puts it just minutes from anywhere in Anchorage - no extended travel time required for a resident, nor any need to peel off a couple of Andrew Jacksons to gas up to get to this fishing spot. Depending on your work schedule, you might not even have to take the day off to get a line in the water.

So it was that by mid-afternoon at least 100 hopefuls stationed themselves along the shores, angling for king salmon, just blocks from the downtown skyline.

Some balanced on slabs of rock along the banks or sat on the rocks to flick a line in the water. Some found footing on firm, sloped patches of dirt. Some made their casts from the comfort of a camp chair. Some in hip boots staked out territory in the mud. And a couple of fellas in chest waders forged out to the middle of the creek to try their luck.

The vibe was peaceful, happy. Anglers traded tips and theories. With hundreds of yards of shoreline available, no one was crowded. And, hey, no rain.

The Slam'n Salm'n Derby, a fundraiser for the Downtown Soup Kitchen in which derby tickets are free though a donation ($20) is encouraged and appreciated, boasts a prize pool of about $25,000 in cash, products and services.

The 10-day Derby, which closes at noon Sunday, dangles a top prize of a 14-foot Jon Boat with a 25-horsepower motor and trailer. Nick Cavoulas owns the top spot after turning in the first king of the competition, a 33.30-pounder, just after noon on June 8.

As of early Friday evening, the 20th-place fish - and that comes with two gift cards worth $100 - logged in at 11.95 pounds. So breaking into the top 20 remains very doable. In the span of three hours walking the banks Friday afternoon, this scribbler didn't see a single fish landed. Early morning must have been prime time - the anglers in third place (Felippe Martinez, 27.40 pounds) and 12th (Roland Kahoohanohanopa, 19.55 pounds) turned in their fish at 6:26 a.m. and 6:27 a.m., respectively.

Bethany Poland had never fished before Friday, other than dipnetting as a kid so long ago she can hardly remember it. But the single mother of four boys went out and bought a couple of poles and some gear before noon. The way she figures it, fishing downtown is easy access and furnishes quality family time, and, with luck, a reward.

"It's not something I've done before, and it's something I can do with my boys,'' Poland said. "I figure it's something they can all do together, and it'll teach them patience and water safety. And maybe we'll get something for dinner.''

Upstream, Tim Rockey sat in his camp chair and enjoyed the afternoon, though nothing was biting.

"I had a solid bite last Saturday,'' he said. "It took my bait and that was that.''

Rockey, who works in the oil and gas business and moved to Anchorage in November after four years working in Saudi Arabia, said it was a joy to simply sit and fish at downtown's edge.

"It's pretty,'' he said. "I like the trestle and the foot bridge is nice. It's attractive scenery, beautiful. And the experience with the people has been great - they're so nice.''

Across the creek, John Oliver and his son Luke, 2, and Zach Bergman and his son Colt, 5, fished from the banks. Oliver and Bergman, soldiers stationed at Fort Wainwright, weren't fishing in the Derby, just enjoying some time with their boys and some deserved relaxation after returning from a year's deployment in Afghanistan.

Earlier in the week, they did some halibut fishing out of Seward - "We didn't catch any monsters, but enough to stock the freezers,'' Oliver said - and decided to fish on their stop in Anchorage.

"On the way back, we figured we'd try our luck,'' Oliver said. "It's more to get the kids out. The wives are out shopping, so what's better for us to do than this?''

That wasn't as much a question as a statement.

This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at or call him at 257-4335.