The following appears in the August issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY DENNIS MUSGRAVES
My pace was quick walking down the steep gravel path from the parking area. I was anxious to see how many people were out fishing the afternoon high tide and wondering if my favorite spot on the boulder-ridden oceanfront would already be occupied.
Overhead, the sun was shining brightly in a deep blue sky, the light showcasing the emerald, snowcapped mountains surrounding the saltwater bay.
Upon reaching the bottom of the hill, I was pleasantly surprised to find only about a dozen fishermen spread out intermittently and perched on top of the rocks. They concentrated on keeping their balance while casting into the incoming tide. I was surprised none of them had taken up residence on the flat platform of slate that I had my heart set on fishing from.
Without hesitation, I made my move, carefully traversing the loose shale and slippery, sharp edges towards the particular table-shaped rock I was so familiar with. It is a proven location for me – I have caught countless salmon from it during just as many outings.
After reaching the flat stone, I quickly shrugged off my tackle backpack and positioned myself to make my first cast. My graphite baitcaster was already prepared with a large pink spoon, and I was ready to go to work. I double-clutched the cork handle, pressed the spool release, and with one fluid motion loaded the rod and catapulted the lure as far as I could into the bay.
My second cast produced the distinct feel of a fish smashing down on the bait. I instinctively reacted, lifting the tip of the rod for a positive hookset. From the amount of resistance, the salmon felt like a good-sized one, and feisty to boot. Reeling it to the bank required the right amount of finesse to prevent an inadvertent long-distance release. Hooking a fish is the easy part; it’s the landing that can be unpredictable when fishing from a rocky shoreline without a net.
One thing was for certain: My beloved flat rock was again a perfect stage for producing angling drama at its best.
ANGLERS WANTING TO TAKE part in Alaska’s largest pink salmon sport fishery don’t need a boat to participate, but they will want to wear footwear with good traction, and almost certainly will need to bring an ice cooler to transport their fish home.
Shore-side saltwater fishing for pinks gets no better anywhere in the 49th state than at the Port of Valdez. During the peak of season from July through August, fishermen of all ages and skill level can catch a limit of ocean-fresh pinks almost effortlessly, right from the shoreline.
Public access can be found right at the Valdez City fishing dock. However, seasoned Valdez shorecasters know even better bank fishing is available directly across the bay at the end of Dayville Road on a small outcropping of land named Allison Point. It’s been my go-to location for catching chrome-sided humpies for more than a decade.
Navigating the obstacle course of slippery, jagged rocks along the edge of the water can be tricky. Having appropriate footwear and an equal amount of patience will help prevent a twisted ankle or gnarly knee scrape. Fishermen can be well rewarded for their efforts of fishing from the danger zone.
Large numbers of returning pink salmon swim by in large schools just off the beach. They are on their way towards the hatchery, creating a perfect situation for an ambush.
The bank at Allison Point is tidally influenced. I like to begin about an hour before high tide and work the water of the incoming tide. Pink salmon swim with the current, and the changing tide brings them closer to the shoreline. Good fishing can be experienced for about an hour past the high tide.
Large colorful spoons are my favorite option for Valdez pinks. Allowing the heavy, oblong-shaped lure to sink a few seconds, and then cranking it in with a slow retrieve to swim the bait is all it takes to entice a bite.
PINK SALMON SPORTFISHING IS spectacular at Valdez, thanks to the Solomon Gulch Hatchery. Operating since 1981, the hatchery’s effort produces over 200 million pink salmon fry every year for release into the ocean. The Valdez Fisheries Development Association oversees management and operations at the hatchery.
In addition to pinks, the hatchery also incubates and releases coho smolts annually. Adult fish of both species return to the hatchery in abundant numbers every year. Silvers follow the pinks and begin showing up near Allison Point right around mid-August.
I did manage to battle a few more pinks from my special perch during the rest of my two-hour-long outing. Most of the salmon I hooked were lost back to the sea.
I wasn’t disappointed, however, considering that my trip was in the first week of July, still a bit early for the horde of returning humpies. So I was grateful to have managed a couple fish to take home. Walking back up the hill to my vehicle was much easier with a couple salmon; the fish were flawless representations of saltwater salmon, complete with sea lice still attached to their bodies.
Fishing the saltwater shoreline for salmon in Valdez isn’t always automatic, but I always have fun sportfishing outdoors anywhere in Alaska. No boat required. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more on the Great Land adventures of Dennis Musgraves and his fellow fishing fanatics, go toalaskansalmonslayers.com.