In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 2:05 PM on Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fishing: not just a favorite warm weather activity

In our own back yard

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Jim Lavrakas

2011 Homer Chamber of Commerce Winter King Tournament day. Winner Mike Walls with his 30 lb. salmon.

Nothing says summer is just around the corner like a day of fishing. Even with ice in the harbor. And the wind blowing. And snow falling. And the event you just bought a ticket for is called the "Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament."

For that matter, even if it's Christmas Eve.

"We fished Christmas Eve and we fished up until Jan. 3 when the ice got so bad we couldn't fish anymore," said Capt. Steve Walli, who, no sooner had the harbor opened up than his 22-foot boat was headed back to open water.

Since then, he's caught rockfish, gray cod and king salmon.

"They're averaging 12-16 pounds. The biggest I've caught this winter was 43-inches long and 30-inches around, so it weighed up in the high 30s," he said of salmon he's hooked. "We should have caught it on derby day."

Walli and friends Lynn Whitmore and Joey Allred fished Tuesday and will fish the tournament Saturday, hoping to land another big one.

Capt. Josh Brooks' charter clients are hooking into salmon from Brook's 30-foot boat The Huntress. One guest was a 10-year-old Soldotna youngster who caught his personal best Monday when he reeled in a 22-pound king.

"He'd only caught a 13-inch trout before that," said Brooks.

Brooks has been fishing since Feb. 10, when "the ice finally released its grasp. My boat was frozen in the harbor for 41 days," he said. "I missed 11 charters during that time, but once I got the boat out of the ice, February's fishing was amazing."

Saturday marks the 19th Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament, sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, said Jim Lavrakas, chamber board member and board representative on the tournament committee.

"I put my boat in the water yesterday and it was navigable," said Lavrakas on Tuesday, referring to harbor conditions. "There's some ice through the fairway, but I got through it fine."

Weather will have tournament organizers' attention this week, with March 18, 25 and 26 as back-up days if postponement is necessary. If postponed, announcements will be made on the chamber's website and on Channel 69 the morning of the tournament.

In 2011, 858 anglers on 248 boats left the harbor in search of tournament-winning king salmon.

"We've broken 1,000 angler entries a couple of times and would love to get 1,000 this year," said Lavrakas, who used to fish the tournament in an 18-foot open skiff. "Now I have a 27-foot Bayweld and it's very comfortable and has a great heater."

He was fishing from that boat Dec. 31, when he caught a "nice 22-pound king salmon. It was gorgeous."

The Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament begins with hooks in the water at 9 a.m. and ends with hooks out of the water at 4 p.m. Entry fee is $100 per angler paid at the visitor center, with additional side bet opportunities.

Amount of the first-place cash prize depends on the number of anglers in the tournament. Last year's winner, Mike Walls, pocketed $18,018, plus enough in side bets to take home more than $30,000.

"Besides the cash prizes, which are paid out to the first 10 winners, the 11th-20th place fish get a pretty good donated merchandise price," said Lavrakas. "And throughout the day, there's announcements over Channel 69 every 15 minutes of a door prize."

Coal Point Trading Company is action central on Saturday. Following the tournament, dinner and beer is free. For a $5 donation, people not in the tournament also can take part.

"For the hard winter we've had this year, I always take (the tournament) as a sign of spring. A sign of spring for Homerites and people who come down from Anchorage," said Lavrakas. "So, it's a happy day and, as always, we're praying for the weather gods to be kind to us."