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Anchorage's Ship Creek: Best fishing in Alaska?

Craig Medred

Alaskans can only hope that Outsiders have short memories, because the effort of a most-friendly Associated Press reporter to pimp Anchorage’s Ship Creek seems to be popping up almost everywhere with the most misleading of headlines.

"Best fishing in Alaska? Check downtown Anchorage” trumpeted the St. Cloud (Minn.) Times.

"Best fishing hole? Check downtown Anchorage" is the way the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Newsday played it -- along with CBS News and Forbes and God-only-knows what other news outlets pegged it.

Oft-maligned Fox News, regularly accused of having an agenda, at least managed to avoid pushing the "best” of anything, headlining it simply "Anchorage's Downtown Fishing Hole."

The average tourist looking for Anchorage's “downtown fishing hole” is likely to be only moderately disappointed when they find Ship Creek. But any tourist showing up in Anchorage with the idea he or she is headed for the "best fishing in Alaska” is going to be appalled.

No, wait. That might be an understatement. They are just as likely to be sickened.

We are talking, people, about fishing in a mudhole! Not to bad mouth Ship Creek. The Ship Creek king and silver salmon fisheries created with fish stocked by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are great for what they are -- the opportunity to fish for salmon downtown in Alaska's largest city. It's a wonderful opportunity. But it still takes place in a mudhole.

Not to repeat this too many times, but the fishery takes place in a MUDHOLE!

It takes place in such a mudhole that anglers sometimes get stuck in the mud and need to be rescued so the incoming tide of muddy water from Knik Arm doesn't drown them. And that's only part of the picture. The fishery is also set in and around a rail yard, through which rumble the trains of the Alaska Railroad on a regular basis, and underneath a busy highway with large trucks rolling across the bridge like thunder overhead as they travel to and from the Port of Anchorage.

It is wonderful to have a salmon fishery in downtown Anchorage, mainly because anyone in the city can get to it in minutes. But anyone who comes to Alaska and heads for Ship Creek thinking they're about to find the "best fishing hole” in the 49th state is simply going to think Alaskans are crazy, or worse yet, trying to pull some kind of con because, simply put, Ship Creek is not the best fishing hole in Alaska.

Hell, it isn't even the best fishing hole in Anchorage. Campbell Creek is far better when the silver salmon are in. Nearly all of Campbell Creek runs through a green belt. Campbell Creek has clear, clean water and a gravel bottom, and it actually looks like that place called Alaska. Ship Creek, or at least the part of Ship Creek open to salmon fishing, looks more like the industrial section of Los Anywhere after a heavy rain has turned everything to goo.

Comparing Ship Creek to the best fishing in Alaska is like comparing a 1990 Romanee-Conti to a bottle of MD 20/20, or what is commonly called Mad Dog 20/20, a drink that even bumwine.com describes as "as majestic as the cascading waters of a drain pipe.” Much the same could be said of Ship Creek; it is as majestic as fishing a muddy drainage ditch.

The redeeming value of Mad Dog 20/20, for those who drink it, is that it has alcohol. The redeeming value of Ship Creek, for those who fish it, is that it has salmon, and early in the year, it has some big, honkin' king salmon. Fish on! For someone whose never caught a king salmon and doesn't mind getting muddy trying to do so, Ship Creek is way better than muddy pond fishing for largemouth bass in or around Atlanta.

"Better fishing than Atlanta? Check downtown Anchorage” would be an accurate headline. So would "Better fishing than Long Island (the heartland of Newsday)? Check downtown Anchorage.”

Best fishing in Alaska? Downtown Anchorage? Get out of here.

Now, in fairness to AP writer Mark Thiessen, it must be noted his actual article never claimed downtown Anchorage had the best fishing. He merely wrote that "Alaska has some of the most beautiful, remote and prolific fishing spots in the world, but some would be surprised to learn that one of the most popular is in the heart of downtown Anchorage." And of course one of the most popular is in the heart of downtown Anchorage -- by far Alaska’s largest population center -- because Alaskans are famously crazy for salmon.

If you put a wading pool on the Park Strip and filled it with salmon, you could quickly make that one of the most popular fishing spots in Alaska. Legalize dipnetting in the wading pool and you could probably cause someone to get trampled to death in the rush to scoop out some salmon. But most people who come to Alaska on vacation don't come to "act crazy like an Alaskan,” though there might be a niche marketing opportunity there for some tourism company.

Still, most tourists -- the vast majority -- come to Alaska to experience Alaska, and by that measure, downtown Anchorage is not the best fishing hole in the 49th state; it's actually the worst.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com