I spoke with Captain Bob Candopoulos of Saltwater Safari Company in Seward on Monday. His stories of fishing, clients, fish politics and funny anecdotes make me laugh and fire me up to go fishing. He spoke of dusting off the cobwebs this year and coming out of retirement to captain his company's boat, the Legend, again this year -- his 35th year of guiding.
Candopoulos started the Saltwater Safari Company in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill when he and partner Steve Babinec purchased the mainstays of his fleet, the Legend and the Legacy.
Candopoulos got so good at capturing oil-smeared otters he was put in charge of rounding up most of the distressed sea mammals. He learned to hunt and capture otters like he gets after fish; he became the "go-to otter guy" for Exxon capturing many of the oil-soaked mammals.
Anglers who don't know Captain Bob may have heard of his first epic halibut hauls from Montague Island in the 1980s and early 1990s, with occasional boatloads of 200-pound halibut -- before six-pack boats traveled that far. Bob's trips were groundbreaking, exploring the great yonder with Babinec, slamming barn-door halibut and developing the Montague fishery. His legendary shark trips were also epic; he was the guy that really figured out how catch them and package it for the average angler. Bob may know more about fishing out of Seward than anyone.
Over the years Bob has mellowed a bit, but he has seen it all. He has caught tons of halibut, pulled in some the largest salmon sharks I've ever seen and caught enough lingcod to feed Anchorage. But in spite of all the harvesting, our last conversation was tempered by a more mellow tone. There was no bravado.
Instead, I noticed a bit of softness in his voice. He spoke of how nice it was to release large halibut. Last weekend, some of his clients caught the large fish of their two-halibut limit and had to release a second larger halibut because new regulations demand that one fish of the two-halibut limit must be 29 inches or less. He said it made him feel good inside knowing that fish might go back and spawn. So if you are ever out fishing near Seward, you may be fishing a spot Candopoulos discovered decades ago. And if you ever see him dockside, say hi. He's the guy with the wrinkle in his brow.
Fishing for halibut and rockfish has been good out of Seward. The north end of the bay is still seeing a return of red salmon. Trolling for kings has been fair from Caines Head to Callisto. On Sunday, Candopoulos fished Montague Straits and returned with halibut averaging about 60 pounds, including a few exceeding 100 pounds. Most of Candopoulos' trips have been east of Seward and fishing has been good from Cape Junket to Montague Island. Clients on his Sunday trip fished in 185 feet of water.
Homer/ Lower Kenai Peninsula
Halibut fishing in Homer has been good with boats limiting out. The Homer Jackpot Derby leaderboard is starting to fill with larger fish. The current leader is a 199-pound halibut caught by Molly Malthby on June 6. Jim Lavrakas of Skookum Charters said fishing has been good for kings near Bluff Point, with lots of bird activity and some larger kings being caught in the area. Lavrakas, who doubles as the Homer Chamber of Commerce president, said an angler trolling for kings near Anchor Point caught a $250-tagged halibut last week.
The Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon is also starting to see kings return, and the fishing has been fair. Anglers can access the lagoon on Homer Spit, which has parking near the lagoon. It's a great place for families to wet a line together with close access to their car.
I fished out of Anchor Point on Friday with Scott Vanderlooven with All About Fishin Charters and our boat limited out with halibut, fishing in 280 feet of water some 14 miles out of the launch. The largest fish weighed 80 pounds.
Captain Mel Erickson of the Alaskan Gamefisher out of Anchor Point said, "On Sunday June 8, my client Jeff Dreher from Portland, Oregon, hooked and landed a 250-pound halibut. The fish bit on huge cod bait in 256 feet of water. We had to release from the anchor line and we drifted more than a mile before we landed the big halibut."
Fishing on the Anchor River and Deep Creek was fair last weekend, with a number of anglers catching kings in the early mornings. I've received reports from anglers also catching a few kings on the Ninilchik River, but the fishing is not steady.
The Kasilof River is fair to good for kings with anglers catching fish when the tide turns. Best bets are K15 Kwikfish in chrome-and-chartreuse combinations. Lee Kuepper of Alaska's Angling Addiction said he caught two kings early in the day and was done fishing by noon Monday.
The Kenai River trout opener was Wednesday morning, and the fishing was expected to be good. Most fish are coming off the spawn and should be receptive to leech or flesh patterns. Spawning is stressful for trout and great care should be exercised handling these fish. Wet your hands, try not to remove the fish from the water, fish barbless hooks and remove hooks carefully.
One of Alaska's most popular fisheries, the much-anticipated Russian River red salmon run, opened Wednesday morning, and 1,416 sockeyes are already past the weir at the outlet of Lower Russian Lake. That puts the run considerably ahead of last year, when 35,776 sockeyes eventually made it upriver to spawn. Fish and Game biologists are seeking to put at least 22,000 early-run reds to past the weir en route to their spawning grounds. Pockets of fish are spread throughout the river. Russian River trout fishing should also be fair to good too.
The fishing on the Deshka was fair last weekend, with anglers catching a few fish.
However, more than 3,300 kings passed the weir Monday and Tuesday alone. As of June 10, more than 15 times as many kings were past the weir compared to the same day last year, suggesting that this year's run is either early or stronger than anticipated. With a total of 6,500 kings upriver, biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game noted that they're already halfway to their escapement goal.
Anglers are having the most success early in the morning and it should be noted that the kings are not the large fish often seen in the middle and latter part of the run, which continues into early July. Most have been in the 8-to-15-pound class.
A guide I spoke to Sunday had luck in the early morning with plugs. Then the bite went flat. We may be a week from the main portion of the Deshka run.
The Little Susitna River has only a few kings through its weir, however. Special regulations are in effect. Check the Fish and Game website for details.
Mat-Su lakes are fishing well and the recent high humidity and sun should increase the bug activity. The damsel fly hatch normally is just starting this time of year and anglers should fish a damsel or nymph that matches this insect. Try Kepler-Bradley Lakes as a starter. Within Kepler-Bradley State Park, you can find rainbow trout (Kepler, Bradley, Long, Sliver, Irene and Canoe lakes), silver salmon in Victor Lakes and grayling in Canoe and Bradley lakes.
Fishing in Ship Creek has been good depending on the tides. Fish three hours before high tide to three hours after the peak is best for king salmon. Larger fish have been caught recently, and the Ship Creek Slam'n Salm'n Derby runs Friday though June 22.
Dustin Slinker from The Bait Shack said big crowds were out this weekend and anglers were lined up from the cable crossing all the way to the creek mouth. All the usual spots were producing -- with eggs and size 5 Vibrax spinners effective. Anglers fishing flies are doing fair walking the river near low tide.
The local lakes are well stocked and the fishing has been good. Try spinners and small flies. Boat access will improve your prospects.
Dipnetting was good on the Copper River during the last opening. Here is an abbreviated post from the Chitina Dipnetters Association (www.chitinadipnetters.com/hotline ) issued Tuesday: "Great to excellent Monday until about 1-2 p.m., when the river rose fast. Has been slower since. Our customers sweeping with a standard 10-12 foot dipnet have all been limiting out, plus their supplemental. It's still early in the season so fishing can be very sporadic. There will be another supplemental period offered next week, but still expect large crowds this weekend. If you come this week, bring patience, determination, and lower expectations. You will not be disappointed."
Lakes in the Glennallen area are ice-free and trout fishing should pick up. Try outlets and shorelines with flies or small spinners for grayling and smolt flies or larger spinners for lake trout. A few kings have been caught on the Gulkana.
Brenda Nix of Crazy Ray's Adventures said they have been doing well on halibut. Sunday, clients boated 14 kings trolling near Montague Straight with herring and flashers, with the largest king topping 40 pounds. Nix also mentioned that the largest halibut caught last week was a 121-pound fish taken on a Fish Cracker Bait.
Kristen Labrecque of Saltwater Excursions called Tuesday evening to report: "Fishing continues to be incredible. Limits of halibut are being brought in every day. The largest fish this week was 65 pounds and most fish are averaging larger this year. Most days we are bringing back large yelloweye and large black rockfish. We have been fishing in 250 feet of water with Kodiak Custom Flashing Jigs with a 1/2 herring and squid skirt near Montague Strait. Rockfish are biting on Hoochie Skirts a with a small piece of cut herring."
Tony Weaver has fished all over Alaska for more than 40 years. He is a photographer and author of "Topwater: Flyfishing the Last Frontier Alaska." He has written for numerous outdoor publications and can be seen on KTVA as a host on "Get Out Fishing" and on OLN's program "Alaska Outdoors."
By TONY WEAVER