Story last updated at 4:47 PM on Thursday, July 7, 2005

Fishery pioneer leaves legacy, Homer after 28 years

Fishing Hole to be renamed after its creator

By Ben Stuart
Staff Writer

Nick Dudiak holds a bright king salmon caught at the Fishing Hole during the early years of the project.  
Since his first day on Alaska waters, Nick Dudiak has taken a hands-on approach to salmon fishing.

The retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist caught a 39-pound king on his first cast off the beach at Whiskey Gulch some 28 years ago. On Wednesday, the Homer Spit Fishing Hole — one of many lower Cook Inlet enhancement projects Dudiak pioneered — will be renamed in his honor.

Dudiak retired from Fish and Game in May of 1997 after 20 years.

During that time, he created several enhancement fisheries for sport and commercial fishermen from Halibut Cove Lagoon to Chenik Lake across Cook Inlet.

Today, many of the salmon caught by sport anglers and the commercial fleet in the Homer area owe their lineage to Dudiak's early work.

He also helped anglers catch more fish by developing a chartreuse metallic color spinner — called "Dudiak Green" locally — for fresh and saltwater king salmon.

"He was such a giving person," said Joe Brunner, who was on the board of directors of Cook Inlet Seiners Association from the early 1980s to the mid-90s, and worked with Dudiak on several projects through the years. "Everything he gave he did so quietly and modestly. Everybody greatly admired and respected him."

Brunner said Dudiak's ability to bring various user groups together also led to many of the regulations that keep wild fisheries, like the Anchor River, sustainable to this day.

"He was largely able to be a catalyst for both sides working together harmoniously. It's a tough thing to do," Brunner said. "He was a voice of moderation and reason."

Dudiak by nature has a hard time tooting his own horn, but he did say he was especially proud of a proposal he spearheaded for Deep Creek and the Anchor River.

In the early 1990s, mail survey data of the Sport Fish Division indicated increased harvests in those streams.

But Dudiak noticed a decrease in returns from his own experience fishing these systems and from anecdotal information gained from reliable area sport fishermen.

With new tractor launch services and an increased population in the area, more boats were trolling for kings, Dudiak said, which cut down on escapements into the rivers and threatened sustainablity.

Dudiak presented his findings to the Homer Fish and Game Advisory Board, the South Peninsula Sportsman's Association and the Anchor Point Charters Association, and prepared a proposal to increase the existing one-mile radius saltwater closure around the river mouths to two miles north, two miles south and one mile out.

Dudiak said he knew the proposal wouldn't be popular and that the various groups affected would have to work together to solve the problem.

Those groups agreed, the regulations are still in effect, and the runs remain sustainable today.

"He was able to convince (user groups) that everyone had to give up a little so no one would have to give up a lot," Brunner said.

Dudiak also researched Kachemak Bay winter king salmon and found that these feeder kings that were caught from October to March originated in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California and were probably not from Alaska spawning stocks.

In 1988, the Alaska Board of Fisheries adopted regulations that allowed anglers to harvest daily bag limits without the seasonal harvest record requirement, providing anglers with another viable fishing alternative.

Dudiak worked with the commercial fleet to create the Tutka Bay Hatchery and the China Poot (Hazel Lake) enhancement project.

With experience gained developing the Halibut Cove Lagoon fishery, he formed a plan to create the Homer Spit Lagoon Sport Fish Enhancement Project.

The idea, Dudiak said, was to create a fishery that was accessible to old and young anglers alike and provide an economic impact to the Homer Spit.

At the time, no one had done anything like it and no one, including some at Fish and Game, thought an enhancement project could exist without a fresh water source.

But after some trial — including a flood of king salmon that returned to the Homer Boat Harbor one summer — the project gained momentum and became the popular Homer Spit fishery that it is today.

"It went beyond my wildest dreams," Dudiak said.

In 1990, the project won national acclaim and then Homer Mayor John Calhoun and state Fish and Game Commissioner Don Collinsworth received an award for the "Best Sport Fish Enhancement Project in the Nation" at the White House in Washington, D.C.

"It wasn't just successful, it was wildly successful," said Ed Dersham, president of the Anchor Point Charter Association from 1993 to 1997. Dersham, is a board member of the the Board of Fisheries.

"He was extremely good at his job and a much loved biologist in Homer. He didn't really get the credit he deserved."

Dudiak missed out on going to the White House in 1990, but on Wednesday he will be surrounded by many who worked with him on his projects.

Hardly the self-promoting type, Dudiak wanted to especially thank Mark Dickson, Phil Cowan, Tom Balland, Bill Shelton, Pete Velsko, Bill Rosenbalm, Richard David, the city of Homer, South Peninsula Sportman's Association, Cook Inlet Seiners Association, The Sport Shed and countless volunteers for their help during the past 28 years in Homer.

"Usually they don't name something after you until you are dead," Dudiak joked Tuesday before getting choked up recalling the people who have helped him with his projects.

"It's taken three weeks to get used to the idea (of the ceremony)," Dudiak said, although he is looking forward to the opportunity to thank the community.

Dudiak and his wife Norma are moving to Michigan this summer to be able to help their aging relatives.

He said the couple bought a house in an oak forest with frontage on a good fishing lake.

Instead of moose in his yard, there will be white tail deer there, Dudiak said. And it is a good spot for largemouth bass, bluegills and musky.

Norma is currently in Michigan, but Dudiak is staying in Alaska through August.

After 28 years in Homer, Dudiak said he is having a hard time leaving a town he loves and saying goodbye to the fish he hasn't yet caught.

"I just wanted to fish the Kenai River one more time," Dudiak said.

The renaming ceremony begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon on the Homer Spit.

Ben Stuart can be reached at