SELDOVIA -- Perhaps Seldovia's best kept secret is that it's not a secret at all.
The sleepy fishing town located across Kachemak Bay from Homer bills itself as "Alaska's Best Kept Secret," but in truth the stunning scenery of the area couldn't be easier to access. And after Memorial Day weekend, it's not all that sleepy, either.
"This for sure is the big weekend," said Tim Dillon, who organizes an annual fishing derby centered around the holiday.
On a recent sun-blasted spring morning, Homer Spit was just waking up. Deckhands drank coffee on the back of charter boats making some of their first trips of the season. My dad and I walked to meet a water taxi, in this case an aluminum bow-picker. Water taxis are one of the easiest ways to reach Seldovia, and most trips take about 20 minutes to make the trip to Jakolof Bay, a good jumping-off point for visitors with access to on-shore transportation. There's a dirt road that runs about 10 miles from the bay to Seldovia itself, so you'll need to arrange a ride from there.
That's what we did. After a pleasant trip across glassy waters, we arrived at the small dock in Jakolof Bay. From there, a friend drove us into town along a road that provided some insane views of the ocean through the massive evergreen rain forest that covers the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula.
After arriving in town, we puttered around to see the sights -- of which there are surprisingly many. The town straddles Seldovia Slough, over which charming cabins perch precariously atop stilts to create a postcard-perfect scene. During the height of summer, fishermen ply the slough for salmon, giving anglers an opportunity to fish within walking distance of town.
There are a number of places to access Seldovia's many beaches, and we stopped at one to do some beach combing. In the distance, otters bobbed in rafts of three or four, cracking crustaceans on rocks perched on their furry bellies. Sea life is abundant in the area, and it would almost be impossible to visit the area without spotting the ubiquitous otters – which double as the local high school mascot.
As the afternoon wore on, we headed down to the harbor to meet three more friends, who had been out on the water fishing for halibut and salmon. When they arrived at the docks, they wore the lying grins of men who'd obviously had a good day on the water. After being pressed, they admitted to getting a limit of halibut.
Hotbed for feeder kings
Fishing is the name of the game in Seldovia, and there are several charters that operate out of the small boat harbor. In addition to halibut, there's year-round salmon fishing -- the area is a hotbed for feeder king action.
After helping our buddies offload their fish, all of us headed up to the Linwood, a bar and grill that doubles as a de facto community center. Inside we were greeted by a handful of locals and an endearingly cranky bartender. One tip: have your drink order ready if you're not prepared to have a bit of colorful language sent in your direction.
The bar is one of a handful of businesses in the town, some of which are open seasonally beginning Memorial Day weekend. There are a couple restaurants, a grocery store and a harbormaster's office where visitors can view a map of town.
The next morning dawned overcast but calm. Anyone visiting Seldovia should pack rain gear, because the town sees more than its share in summer. We only got sprinkles, however, and headed down to the water.
We motored aboard a friend's boat for about a half-hour before stopping to rig up. There are myriad ways to catch feeder kings, but trolling is always a good bet. We baited up with herring and attached our lines to downriggers, which are used to keep the bait at a steady depth while trolling slowly parallel to the beach. We fished about 50 feet deep in 70 to 90 feet of water.
Within 10 minutes we were getting strikes. I pulled up a small halibut and my dad hooked a small ling cod, both of which we threw back. Eventually, the salmon came.
The fish hit in quick succession, with each of our four rods hitting fish. There was a fast-and-furious flurry that lasted about an hour, during which we were able to land a trio of ocean-bright fish. The smallest was about six pounds, the largest maybe 15. All fought with reckless abandon, a true saltwater battle.
Feeder (or "winter" kings) have become a popular fishery in recent years. The fish feed in the area's rich waters all year long, and can be caught from shore, trolling from boats and mooching or jigging from a small boat. Many people now use kayaks or canoes to access the near-shore fisheries. Dillon said the Seventh Annual Human Powered Fishing Derby begins at 9 a.m. Friday and runs through 4 p.m. on Sunday. The cost is $40 per rod, and anglers must use non-motorized boats.
Dillon said the grand prize in the derby is a two-person kayak. Rather than awarding the big prize to whoever catches the biggest fish, Dillon said anyone who enters either a salmon, black bass, gray cod or halibut will get their name entered into a drawing for the kayak.
"We're trying to get away from the big fish, big prize thing," said Dillon, who noted about 40 anglers participated in the event last year.
After returning to shore, our fishing party made tracks for home, where we raced to be the first to turn on the oven. A half-hour later, we sat down to a meal of some of the freshest, most delectable salmon in the world. I won't give away the recipe, but suffice to say if you've got some butter and a pinch of salt handy, you're pretty much there. It doesn't take much dressing up to make a feeder king taste good.
Camping at Outside Beach
The next morning, my dad and I hitched a ride back to Jakolof, where our water taxi met us at the scheduled time. Looking back at the lush green mountains plunging to the sea, I felt like I was leaving a distinctly different part of Alaska. Though just a quick hop away, Seldovia really is a world unto itself.
I've already been back several times -- albeit only by webcam.
There's a wealth of information about Seldovia available online, including a half dozen webcams that allow visitors to see what the weather's doing. Check out seldovia.com (home of the online Seldovia Gazette) for more information, including a list of "101 Things to do in Seldovia" (sample items include renting a sea kayak or visiting the Russian Orthodox church). The website also includes links to local charters and bed and breakfasts.
Camping is available at Outside Beach, and there's an RV park in town. The Alaska Marine Highway System runs daily ferries to the city as well, which is a good option for visitors who want to bring vehicles or four-wheelers. Schedules are available online through the State of Alaska. There's also lodging and accommodations, but make sure to call ahead if you're planning an overnight trip -- Seldovia tends to fill up once summer gets rolling.
The summer season begins unofficially over Memorial Day weekend, and the focal point of the summer is Independence Day, when the town hosts a variety of activities including kayak jousting in the harbor and fireworks.
Best Bets for Memorial Day weekend
• Peninsula Memorial Day fisheries opening: Travelers looking to head south from Anchorage – but not quite as far as Seldovia – can always check out the campgrounds and beaches around Ninilchik and Anchor Point. The area is usually one of the first places with decent king fishing, and there are special openings May 23-25 on the Anchor River, Deep Creek and Ninilchik River, which are closed to king fishing for most of the summer. Check fishing regulations before heading out, because these streams are only open on their lower sections. Fishery boundaries are clearly marked, but if you're unfamiliar with the territory it's always a good idea to check first.
There's also the Homer Spit, where king salmon can be caught by casting from shore or in the Nick Dudiak Lagoon. Kings have reportedly started showing up in catchable numbers.
• Ship Creek "prospecting": Ship Creek in Anchorage is open to fishing, and according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, there have been unconfirmed reports of people catching king salmon there. The department recommends using baited hooks downstream from the Ship Creek bridge.
Fishing doesn't usually pick up until early June, but it's not unheard of for anglers to start picking up fish in May. Here's how Fish and Game puts it on its online fishing report: "It is still early for king salmon in Ship Creek, but it is time to start prospecting."
Remember that fishing is closed from the marker 100 feet downstream of the Chugach power plant dam. Fishing is closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Anglers looking for a better bet would be best served trying any of the city's lakes for trout, which are hungry after spending the winter under the ice. Fish and Game recommends spinners or bait beneath a bobber for best results, and reports that fish are schooling up this time of year. Popular local lakes include Jewel Lake, Lake Otis, University Lake, Cheney Lake and Sand Lake. The department has a complete list on its website.
• Pike, perhaps? Salmon fishing on Mat-Su Valley streams is reportedly slow, according to Fish and Game, with water levels and fish count numbers still very low on the Little Susitna River. However, for anglers itching for a fight, northern pike might be the best way to go. Pike can be found throughout the Nancy Lakes system, which is accessible via the Parks Highway. The fish recently spawned and are feeding ravenously. Look for the toothy predators in shallow waters; they'll hit just about anything, but top-water rigs or anything designed to look like a baitfish works well.
The department also stocks a number of lakes in the Mat-Su with rainbow trout, and easily-accessible lakes such as the Kepler/Bradley system and Echo Lake are always hot in spring.