Armed with a fishing rod, a clubbing stick and one good hand, Hipa Fouvale came to Ship Creek early Tuesday morning looking to pick a fight.
It wasn't the same kind of fight that injured his right hand a few days ago during the Alaska Fighting Championships at Chilkoot Charlie's, the renowned Spenard bar. The mixed martial arts fighter lost that match -- and the ability to keep a strong grip on his fishing rod. Nevertheless, Fouvale got into the Ship Creek ring Tuesday, looking to toy with a chinook big enough to land his name on the Slam'n Salm'n Derby leaderboard.
Less than an hour into his search, Fouvale got what he wanted. The 24-year-old from Anchorage hooked a blushed king salmon just east of the North C Street Bridge and just before high tide reached the sandbar he was standing on. A 15-minute fight ended with Fouvale giving his opponent four solid whacks on the head.
"It was a fight all right," he said while slowly pulling out his swollen hand from the front pocket of his blue hoodie. His hand was the size of a softball.
"Everybody says it's broken, but I'm not so sure."
After wrestling his salmon ashore, Fouvale used his good hand to haul it to the derby headquarters. The chinook tipped the scale at 21.04 pounds, good enough to grab the 12th place in the standings. It weighed nearly 12 pounds less than the derby leader -- a 33.15-pounder Randall Yost caught later that day.
But size didn't matter to Fouvale. The king was his third of the season. Two more will fill his seasonal limit.
"Maybe tomorrow I'll catch another," he said.
Fouvale is not the only person tooting that sort of angling optimism this month at Ship Creek. This year's run of kings appears to be better than those of recent years.
Derby volunteer Jerimiah Grantham said the derby booth has gotten a lot of traffic since it opened June 13. He said the scale has weighed 20 to 30 kings a day.
"The busiest time is in the morning," he said.
Even Richard Olson is optimistic that he will catch a king this summer. He said he hasn't caught a Ship Creek king in eight years, and it's not like he doesn't know what he's doing here. Olson, 67, grew up fishing for pike and trout in Northern Minnesota.
"You know Murphy, right? Murphy's Law?" he asked. "Well he hates me."
It's hard to miss Olson, who sports a long white beard, wears a weathered leather hat lined with claws of brown bears he shot and killed years ago, and tells stories of the good ole days in Alaska. He and his wife are regularly seen along the muddy banks of Alaska's most popular urban fishery.
Olson has a feeling Murphy's Law, which states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, could soon be washed away with the tide.
"I'm thinking it could be the summer I catch one," he said.
He and his wife Sandra set up shop early Tuesday morning to fish the high tide with bait, a Spin-n-Glow and a pyramid sinker. Olson, who is fighting advanced stage Parkinson's disease, likes to arrive early so he has time to get things set up.
While he did that, 16-year-old Jake Carter was battling a chromer not far downstream. Just 15 minutes after wetting his line, a king struck.
"I thought I had a snag at first," Carter said.
The fish darted downstream twice, trying to escape his orange Vibrax. But the Florida native, who's in Anchorage visiting his grandparents for the summer, landed the 19.75-pound king and got his name on the leaderboard in 17th place.
Also on Tuesday, Curtis Silook pocketed $1,000 for catching the only king with a big-money tag in this year's derby. He caught the fish on what he had decided would be his last cast of the day.
"My daughter had just woken up in my backpack," he said. "She was a little grumpy, and right after I had told her it was going to be my last cast, it was fish on and a quick fight all the way up to shore."
The fish actually came off the line just as it got to shore, Silook said, but he managed to grab it before it got away.
Most of the other tagged fish are worth $100, except for one wearing a $500 tag.
The derby wraps up Sunday at noon with an award ceremony and barbeque. The winner will receive a 16-foot cataraft; second place gets a 50-inch flat-screen television; third place takes home two round-trip Alaska Railroad tickets.
The Andy Sorenson Sportsmanship Award will also be given to the angler "who promotes the practice of ethical fishing, or displays helpful, selfless conduct towards fellow anglers." The award is a trophy and $300 check. Nomination forms are at the derby headquarters, which is on E Ship Creek Ave. across the street from the Comfort Inn Downtown.
Fishing starts every day at 6 a.m. and ends at 11 p.m.
Low water on the Kenai and Russian rivers was prompting red salmon to hold instead of move upriver, but levels have been rising on the Kenai.
While fishing on the Russian is well short of hot, some anglers have reported limiting out. Get started around dawn for better prospects. So far, about 9,000 reds have passed the weir near Lower Russian Lake, about 6,000 behind the pace of last year's early run.
One of the few Peninsula waterways open to early-run king salmon anglers, the Anchor River, closed to sport fishing on Friday in the face of a dismal run. The Anchor now joins the Kenai, Deep Creek, Ninilchik and Kasilof rivers as waterways seeing restrictions, though hatchery kings on the Kasilof are still available. As of Tuesday, only 1,266 kings made it upriver on the Anchor, putting in jeopardy the prospects of attaining the minimum escapement goal of 3,800 fish, a measure state biologists had attained the last two years.
At the same time, saltwater anglers are banned from catching kings within a mile of shore south of the Ninilchik River.
"We're hopeful at some point that production in the ocean will turn around for us, and we will get back to the kind of king runs we remember," said Fish and Game biologist Mike Booz in Homer.
With kings in short supply, halibut or lake fishing as the best bet for Kenai Peninsula anglers.
"There are some bigger (halibut) being caught, with 250 being the biggest I've heard of so far," said Rod Van Saun of Van Saun Charters in Ninilchik. "Lots of nice fish in that 25-50 pound range."
The top of the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby leaderboard remained unchanged with Molly Malthby of Cheboygan, Michigan, leading with the 197-pound flatfish she caught with North Country Charters earlier this month.
Booz noted that the Fishin' Hole enhanced king salmon fishery at the Homer Spit was seeing a strong return.
A real sockeye bonanza is happening on Kodiak's Karluk and Ayakulik rivers, where a rush of reds prompted Fish and Game to boost the bag limit to 10 fish a day.
The Karluk's minimum escapement goal is 110,000 reds, and as of June 16 there were already 139,000 fish upriver. But the same river, once prized for its king salmon run, is enduring another season, with only a couple hundred fish past the weir near the river mouth.
The use of bait and multiple hooks (treble and two hooks) is now allowed on the Deshka River. As of Tuesday, more than 13,000 kings had been counted -- almost 12,000 more than this time last summer. That exceeds the minimum escapement goal with weeks of fishing remaining.
The news is much worse at a smaller Mat-Su king fishery. With just 19 fish past the Little Susitna River weir at river mile 32.5, Fish and Game closed the road-accessible river to king salmon fishing through July 13. Biologists seek an escapement of 900 to 1,800 kings to maintain a decent run, and that appears to be unlikely.
During the last three weekends, anglers have taken about 200 kings, according to surveys completed at the Little Susitna Public Use Facility.
"Angler reports indicate king salmon holding in the lower river under conditions of low water, making them vulnerable to harvest," said Fish and Game area management biologist Sam Ivey.
However, king fishing has also picked up along Parks Highway streams such as Willow, Sheep and Kashwitna. Remember that king fishing along the Parks Highway is only catch-and-release from Saturday to Monday as well as next weekend.
On Saturday, a portion of the Ekutna Tailrace will be open only to anglers 15 years old and younger from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The youth-only fishery starts at the confluence of the Knik River and ends at the pedestrian bridge.
In the annual battle over which Southcentral port can boast the biggest halibut, Seward got a PR boost this week when Mark Davis, host of "Penn's BigWater Adventures" on the Outdoor Channel, landed a 209-pound flatfish with Tim Berg's Alaskan Fishing -- bigger than the 197-pound fish leading the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby.
Davis' fish would be leading the Seward Halibut Derby if the angler and TV personality had purchased a derby ticket before heading out.
Davis isn't the only angler catching fat halibut out of Seward, and Fish and Game noted that boats venturing east out of Resurrection Bay were doing best.
Want salmon? Fish and Game says "the sockeye fishery is pretty good at the head of the bay." King salmon are available around Montague Island or inside the bay, where a medium herring and oversized flasher can be a deadly combination.
Eager Seward anglers may be getting ahead of themselves, reporting silver salmon "jumping out of the water at the Chiswell Islands," according to Fish and Game. "But (there's) no real coho action yet -- relax, it's still early."
Ling cod fishing opens July 1.
UPPER COPPER/UPPER SUSITNA
Dipnetting in the Copper River Chitina Subdistrict remains open through June 29. Only 2,000 fish were counted at the Miles Lake sonar on Tuesday, ending a streak of at least 10,000 fish per day since May 19. Still, the overall run has been stronger than projected. Between June 9-15, some 115,000 sockeyes were counted by the sonar, according to Fish and Game, some 38,000 more than was projected by state biologists before the season.
The ice is out at Lake Louise and other Glennallen-area lakes where good-sized rainbow trout, lake trout and Arctic grayling can be found.
PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND
Fish and Game describes halibut fishing as "excellent in deeper waters near the entrances. Valdez anglers seem to be having more luck than Whittier, where fishing seems to be spottier. Most folks going out on charters from Whittier are coming back with one of their limit of two, having trouble finding (halibut) under 29 inches."
Not interested in flatfish?
• Eshamy sockeye should be showing up any day.
• Rockfish anglers using small jigs are catching fish, especially on the north end of Knight Island.
• Shrimping is best in water from 350-600 feet. Remember your permit.
NICE CATCH PHOTOS: Send us photos of your fish. http://community.adn.com/plain/node/103349#storylink=promo
Daily News reporter Mike Campbell contributed to this report.
By KEVIN KLOTT