HOMER--Eagles are flying over it and seals are poking their heads above its surface, but will fish be in it? That’s the million-dollar question when it comes to the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon, a popular fishing spot on the Spit.
“That’s a fair question,” said Mike Booz, fishery biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Homer. “We don’t think we have a really good sense of what our runs for kings and coho will look like.”
Venturing a forecast, Booz said, “Based on how things have gone, we’re expecting a well-below average run of kings. Silvers (cohos) should be fair, but it’s harder to say with them.”
Named for former fishery biologist Nick Dudiak, whose two-fold vision was to create a fishery accessible to all ages and provide a financial boost to the area, the Fishing Hole, as it is commonly known, was initially stocked with salmon smolt in 1984. As returning salmon circle the lagoon in search of a nonexistent stream where they can spawn, fishermen line the banks. The more fish, the more fishermen.
“The average since the inception of the stocking program has been 21,000 angler days a year,” said Booz.
Wheelchair-accessible ramps have been added.
A city campground is located on one side of the lagoon, the Heritage RV Park offers Fishing Hole-facing sites on another side, the Spit Trail passes by the lagoon and a large parking area separates the Fishing Hole from Spit Road. In 1990, the lagoon’s success earned it the title of “Best Sport Fish Enhancement Project in the Nation.” The most angler days in one year were 32,000 in 2004. The least was 9,000 in 2009.
“The trend has been fairly similar since 2008. We’ve been anywhere from 9,000-13,000 angler days, well below the 21,000 average,” said Booz.
On occasions when the department opens the Fishing Hole to snagging, the activity accelerates, with fisherman standing shoulder to shoulder and shouts of “fish on” ringing the lagoon. That only occurs at the end of the run if there’s a significant number of fish in the lagoon and they’re no longer biting.
“We just want the opportunity for fish to be harvested while they’re still good quality, but we haven’t had great build-up in recent years,” said Booz.
The $1 million link between the Fishing Hole and Homer’s economy is accurate, said Monte Davis, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.
“According to the Alaska Visitor Statistics program, the average person that comes to Homer spends about $102 per day,” said Davis.
In 2012, the visitor center had 10,000 people walk through the door.
“If you did the math of $100 per person per day, just say if we were able to keep every one of those 10,000 one extra day at the Fishing Hole, that’s $1 million to this economy,” said Davis. “That’s the simplest way to really drive its value home.”
Since 2009, the Fishing Hole, as well as Kachemak Bay, has experienced large blooms of algae (Chaetoceros) that have proven deadly to smolt introduced into net pens in the lagoon.
“It has long filaments that can lacerate the gills and suffocate the fish,” said Booz. “In the wild, fish would be able to avoid it by swimming underneath it, but when the smolt are held in net pens, they’re held in pretty dense concentration and can’t swim under it.”
With reasons for the large blooms unclear, the department has modified its stocking methods.
“This year, we are planning on sampling a couple of days prior to stocking and if the levels are too high or we deem it above a safe concentration to hold the salmon smolt in the net pens, we’ll just directly release them into the lagoon,” said Booz.
The city of Homer’s dredging of the lagoon in November, may increase the smelt’s chance of survival.
“The city dredged 30,000 cubic yards out of the fishing hole, returning it to the depth originally designed and constructed,” said Carey Meyer, the city’s public works director.
The work took about a week and cost $437,000; the state paid $100,000 and the remainder came from the city’s general fund.
Original designs called for the lagoon to have a 12-foot depth at low tide. Over the years, tides and storms have carried sand and gravel into the Fishing Hole and a 2011 survey indicated 60 percent of it was at a four-foot depth. The entrance had been cleaned out, but this was the first time the hole was dredged since it was constructed.
“We hope that will improve things,” said Meyer. “There’s other issues regarding the salmon, but we will have at least removed this component from negatively impacting the salmon return.”
Stocking levels also impact the Fishing Hole’s success. Last year, levels were half of what has been done in past years and this year may be the last stocking of late-run silvers. Reasons include policy changes and the availability of a brood source. In the past the stockings have come from a hatchery near Seward. Last year was the first time king salmon smolt came from the new William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage. This year, silver salmon also will come from there.
Costs associated with stocking also are an important factor. Typically three stockings totaling 300,000 smolt are introduced to the lagoon per year.
“Just to produce smolt is roughly 50 cents a fish. That’s just the hatchery cost, not our time or all the other costs associated with it. It’s very expensive,” said Booz.
The Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon is open all year, with the arrival of king salmon expected the second week in May, the first run of silver salmon in late July and a late run of silvers peaking around the third week of August.
Kid’s Fishing Day, sponsored by ADF&G, is a popular Fishing Hole activity held on the first Saturday in June and the first and third Saturdays in August. Budget cuts have eliminated a visit of the aquatic mobile classroom this year, but ADF&G personnel will be on hand to assist youngsters and their parents with fishing gear. Rod loaner programs are offered by ADF&G and by the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.