In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 12:24 PM on Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Nick Dudiak fishing lagoon to get much-needed attention

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Young anglers and their adult companions line the shore of the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon on Kids Fishing Day, June 6, 2009.

Once upon a time the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon, known as the Fishing Hole, was a busy place. Salmon rippling through the water taunted anglers. Fishing lines whirred out from reels. Shouts of "fish on" announced someone catching, not just fishing.

In past few years, fish and and an accompanying crowd of anglers have almost disappeared from the lagoon.

Now, steps are being taken by the city and state to restore the Fishing Hole to its prior glory.

That's good news to people like Ken and Gail Lehman of Michigan. On their first trip to Homer in 2004, the Lehmans were captivated by the lagoon.

"It looked like a country auction and the fishing was fantastic," said Ken Lehman.

Kids' Fishing Day draws younger anglers to the Fishing Hole several times each summer when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game dispenses rods, reels, bait and know-how.

The lagoon gets even rowdier if Fish and Game opens it to snagging. As the noon opening in September 2008 drew near, Shelley Twing of Anchor Point shouted out a countdown. By 12:05 p.m. Frank Mariman of Homer made the first catch.

The lagoon is named for Nick Dudiak, a former state biologist whose idea was to create a fishery accessible to old and young that also brought a financial boost on the area. The first stocking of salmon smolt occurred in 1984, with anglers awaiting return of the matured salmon during the next four years.

It is known as a terminal fishery. Stocked smolt leave the lagoon to mature in open water. They return in search of a stream where they can spawn. Their circling of the lagoon looking for that nonexistent stream is what draws anglers.

The project gained national recognition in 1990, when is was named the "Best Sport Fish Enhancement Project in the Nation." In 2005, the lagoon was named in Dudiak's honor.

Over the years, handicap accessibility was added, stocking has expanded and excavation of gravel gradually filling in the lagoon occurred. The biggest change, however, has been a decrease in salmon.

"Below average returns are partially attributed to poor rearing conditions inside the lagoon," said Carol Kerkvliet, a state fishery biologist in Homer. "A primary cause of lowered survival inside the lagoon is high density of an algae (Chaetoceros) that has spines that can lacerate fish gills and increase stress to smolt."

Originally designed for a low-tide depth of 12 feet, the lagoon has become increasingly shallower. A 2011 survey indicated 60 percent of the lagoon was at a depth of four feet.

"The combination of shallow water, build-up of nutrients over the years and increased sedimentation is thought to have resulted in conditions in the lagoon to be favorable to high densities of this harmful algae compared to nearby areas," said Kerkvliet.

More research into areas such as ocean temperatures, food supplies and populations of predators also is needed, said Kerkvliet.

Referring to the 9,300 visitors that in 2009 signed the guest register at the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, Monte Davis, chamber executive director, estimated the financial loss to Homer resulting from decreased activity at the lagoon. He pointed to a report from the Alaska Visitor Statistics Program estimating a person visiting Homer in 2011 spent an average of $102 per day.

"So if those 9,300 people who signed the register spent one extra day in our community, that is $930,000, close to a million of economic impact," said Davis. "Anything it takes to get the Fishing Hole back up is just a tremendous investment in our community."

A survey to determine how much material in the lagoon needs to be removed to return it to its designed low-tide depth and excavation of the material are estimated by the city to cost $255,000. The Legislature and city of Homer have each committed $100,000 toward that effort. The survey will happen this fall with excavation to take place during the winter, said Bryan Hawkins, Homer harbormaster.

Then, there's creating a plan for the future.

"We need to develop a maintenance program for the lagoon so that we don't find ourselves back in this spot again 10 years down the road. It's something very achievable," said Hawkins. "We have the support to make these improvements and restore the fishing lagoon to its glory. ... So, we'll work hard to stretch those dollars and get it done."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at

Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon

• Located on the Spit.

• Designed by Nelson Engineering.

• Size: About 7 acres.

• Original depth: 12 feet throughout at low tide.

• Current depth: 60 percent of the lagoon is four feet deep at low tide.


First stocking of king and silver salmon smolt in lagoon.


Initial stock of salmon returns to lagoon.


City of Homer enlarges lagoon.


Handicap accessibility added; riprap installed at berm and entrance channel.


About 350 cubic yards of gravel excavated from south side of lagoon entrance.


Improvements to lagoon placed on city's Capital Improvement Project list.


Decline of stock in lagoon due to harmful algae bloom.

Fall 2012:

Survey scheduled to determine amount of dredging needed to return lagoon to depth of 12 feet at low tide.

winter 2012:

Excavation to occur.