‘We dream about this all year long’: Action heats up at Anchorage’s Ship Creek king salmon fishery

In the glimmer of a rare sunny day, Owen Brooks cracked a smile as he took a victor’s march across a bridge over Ship Creek in Anchorage.

In his second attempt of the season, Brooks on Monday landed a king salmon, the object of affection for thousands of Alaska anglers — and Outside visitors.

“I think the real ones that do this a lot, we dream about this all year long,” Brooks said. “It’s like you’re coming back to the smell, the feel of that water, the fresh air. It’s just great.”

Brooks broke down the 18-pound fish on a cleaning table, carving out the fillets and carefully bagging the eggs for bait on future catches.

The first king was caught May 24 at Ship Creek, and while anglers including Brooks reported slow going in late May, the action has picked up this week.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Brittany Blain-Roth said runs down the Kenai Peninsula are about five to seven days late, a reasonable indicator for the timeline at Ship Creek. But she said fish had already reached the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery as of early this week, and the run — now in its very early stages — is expected to pick up.

The Slam’n Salm’n Derby, which runs for eight days starting Friday, generally brings big crowds to Ship Creek during the heart of the run.


“The return is showing up,” she said. “We had some staff down fishing (Tuesday) morning with the good tide. It wasn’t red-hot but they saw more fish getting caught.”

Catching fish is the bond that unites Brooks with the multitude of others who will stand on the creek’s banks this summer. For Brooks it’s about fishing, but also fellowship.

“You see the friends from last year and the people you fish with all year,” he said. “It’s nice seeing how everyone is getting along and who is back at it.”

[Want to land a king salmon at Ship Creek? Here’s what to know.]

The Reed family has made fishing a family activity, from Kasilof and Kenai to Hope and Bird Creek. On Monday, after battling for more than five minutes, 9-year-old Bradly Reed caught his first king salmon.

“It was intense,” Bradly said.

Father Kyle Reed is active-duty military at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and said the family started fishing when he was first stationed in Alaska in 2019. Many fishing trips involve the whole family, including his wife and their 2-year-old. Kaythen, 11, was along when his brother landed the 17-pounder Monday. But Ship Creek is often a solo stop for Kyle due to the convenience.

“A lot of the times I’ll stop on my way into work,” he said. “I take Post Road, so it’s just wake up 30 minutes early. It’s low maintenance, you know, just keep a rod in your car.”

Owen Brooks’ wife, Camilla, also an accomplished fisherman and a king aficionado, said access is one of the fishery’s biggest assets.

“That’s what I love about it,” Camilla Brooks said. “We’re really blessed to have a place like this to come and fish and you don’t have to drive for hours.”

Some don’t even bother with the driving. Martin Lincoln rode his bike to Ship Creek on Monday morning, fishing from the bank.

He prefers fishing weekday mornings, which allows him to avoid both the weekend crowds and the after-work rush. He said he’s been coming to Ship Creek since he was a kid, for around 50 years.

“It’s been a cold spring and it seems like everything is kind of coming in a little bit late,” he said. “Every year I at least get one.”

While anglers can find moments of solace on the banks, Ship Creek is undeniably an urban fishery. Located between downtown and the Port of Alaska, planes routinely fly overhead, cars honk and semitrailers traverse nearby bridges and streets. Trains even make the occasional appearance, cutting past the creek on the Alaska Railroad tracks. Tourists seep in from downtown or arrive after a stroll on the popular Coastal Trail.

“It’s a unique, fun fishery based off those facts,” said Dustin Slinker, who owns the Bait Shack nestled alongside the creek. “Planes, trains and automobiles going around. You’ve got the Anchorage skyline in the background, you’ve got the mountain range in the other background and the inlet. It’s beautiful and unique and an experience in itself.”

And the attire at the creek reflects the city’s populace. There’s no shortage of stock fishermen fully clad in vests and waders, but there are also teenagers in gym shorts and boots, REI habituates and even downtown workers in business casual.

While the hustle and bustle of a city fishery is normal for people who have lived or grown up in Anchorage, for most it’s an anomaly.


Miranda Johnson grew up in the Western Alaska community of Pilot Station, fishing the Yukon River. She recently moved to Anchorage after spending time living in both Sitka and Hawaii. Her experiences on the Yukon mirror the accessibility of fishing at Ship Creek, but definitely not the noise levels.

“There’s such a big difference,” she said. “The sound just pushes the fish away.”

Rich McKinstry prefers fishing for silvers and reds later in the season but always does a bit of fishing during the king run at Ship Creek.

He was one of the few fishermen last Wednesday afternoon trying to hook a salmon. But with a number of closures and restrictions to both the north and south of Anchorage, some anticipate that Ship Creek will be a popular stop for anglers who want to keep a king.

[State shutters most Cook Inlet king salmon fishing this summer in unprecedented array of emergency closures]

“There’s a few other places within driving distance for the afternoon but not a lot of options,” McKinstry said. “All the natural kings are all restricted or closed. All of the northern tributaries are all closed (or restricted). Pretty much anything down the Peninsula is either restricted or closed. This is the only game in town.”

Although the hours around high tide are generally considered the best for anglers, Slinker said fishermen can take advantage of the time they have.

“It comes back to timing for individuals,” Slinker said. “Some people, the only time they have to fish is after work or maybe before work or on the weekend. So the most important thing is get out have fun. The fish are always the added bonus, but if you get out, have fun, that’s what it’s really about.”

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.