• Homer King Salmon Tournament draws growing fleet of kayak fishermen
By Hannah Heimbuch
For Sarah Lukin, landing a salmon from a kayak is the best of two worlds.
“I love the beauty and calm of sea kayaking,” Lukin said. “And I love the excitement of bringing in a fish. Combining the two makes sea kayaking more fun and fishing more challenging.”
Lukin is one of several anglers heading from Anchorage to Homer this weekend for the annual Winter King Salmon Tournament. She will participate in the new kayak category, and as a relative newcomer to the sport, she hopes the tournament will give her a chance to expand her skills and try out some new equipment.
“I’ll get to fish with several highly experienced sea kayak fishers,” Lukin said. “So I’m planning to spend the day learning as much as I can from them, while hopefully bringing in the winner king.”
Lukin said she’s been hooked on kayak fishing since she first tried it and loves the challenge it gives her.
“You’re fighting not only the fish, but also trying to stay focused on maintaining your kayak’s stability and direction,” Lukin said. “It’s thrilling to know you’ve just brought in a fish all on your own in this tiny kayak in the middle of the ocean.”
Avid kayak angler Rudy Tsukada says, despite the inherent challenges, with the right equipment, it’s a safe and peaceful way to get out on the water.
“The sit-on-top kayaks we use are very stable,” Tsukada said. “In fact, the kayak I use — the Hobie Outback — likely cannot be flipped in normal conditions. You will fall out of the kayak first.”
Wearing a dry suit for warmth and protection from water weight is also a must in Alaska, Tsukada said, along with a personal flotation device and often some form of communication — like a VHF radio or water-protected cell phone.
Tsukada is an outspoken supporter of the sport.
“I am amazed how so many people fish here in Alaska and so many people kayak, but very, very few people fish out of their kayaks,” Tsukada said. “It’s a great way to get exercise and the price is right in terms of fuel use.”
While he owns powerboats, Tsukada said kayak fishing offers major benefits.
“I mainly fish out of a kayak because it allows me to get on the water by myself, on my own schedule and still catch fish,” he said.
Many kayak anglers actually outfit their vessels with a lot of the same gear a power boat might have.
Pamela Kelley is as equipped as most power boats, she said, but enjoys the experience from the peaceful seat in her pedal-powered kayak.
“I’ve got sonar,” Kelley said. “I’ve got GPS. I’ve got mapping and charts. So you really do have as much of the tools that you would need.”
The only limitations she really faces, Kelley said, are those of her own strength and stamina. But she’s found she doesn’t need to go far from shore to find good fishing, and the benefits easily outweigh the difficulties.
“I can get out and fish a lot without having to tow a boat, and without having to invest in a lot of fuel,” she said. “It’s a pretty pristine way to fish.”
And the lack of power isn’t necessarily a disadvantage when it comes to getting a fish on board, Tsukada said.
“My theory is that, since you cannot apply the same amount of pressure on a fish that you can while fishing on the bank or from a boat, the fish won’t fight back as hard,” he said. He believes this is why he has a better track record for landing fish from his kayak. “So I hook fewer fish because I cannot cover as much water, but I bring home nearly as many fish because I land a higher percentage.”
Kelley likes that she can kayak fish on her own and that, compared to the cost of power boats and gear, the investment is low.
Tsukada estimates start-up costs for the sport to be around $3,000 for high-end gear and safety equipment, but says it can be done for $1,500.
That investment has paid off for Kelley.
“I can throw my boat on top of my car and get to a launching place, and I can fish all day,” she said. “And I can fish in places that are amazingly beautiful.”
She said it brings a new quality to the experience.
“I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy the ocean kayaking just for its own sake,” Kelley said. “The fishing doesn’t have to be superlative for it to be a good day. I’ve never had a bad day on the water.”
Both Lukin and Kelley use a sit-on-top model kayak, which frees up the hands to focus on fishing.
“The logistics of bringing in a fish from a traditional sea kayak can be challenging,” Lukin said. She recently bought a Hobie Outback, which uses pedal power, and a miniature down rigger for trolling. She’ll be trying them both out for the first time in Homer this weekend.
Lukin’s advice to other kayak fisher hopefuls — information first.
“Make sure you’re comfortable kayaking before you jump into kayak fishing,” she said. “Do your research before you go. Talk with folks who are experienced sea kayak fishers and check out online forums that focus on kayak fishing in Alaska.”
The great thing about the sport, Kelley said, is you don’t need to be an adrenaline seeker or major athlete to pursue it.
“It’s a wonderful way to just be connected,” she said. “I would just like to see more folks attempt it. And I’d love to see more women do so. You don’t need to be a big brawny guy to have really good success in doing this. And it’s an awful lot of fun.”
Tsukada is looking forward to loading up his boat and heading south for the tournament, he said.
“Homer is my go-to destination lately from September to November,” Tsukada said. “In 2013, I was fortunate enough to land a dozen kings during that period in about eight trips. The eating quality of these winter kings are exceptional.”
That being said, the tournament will be a major challenge.
“We fished it last year out of kayaks, but didn’t land a fish,” he said. “Knowing that over 700 anglers participated and less than 170 fish were landed, I think it would be a huge accomplishment to enter any fish into this derby in March.”
The Homer Chamber of Commerce invites anglers to catch some video, along with their kings this Saturday, and submit it to a YouTube video contest at #2014homerwinterking.
The top 10 kings pulled in are awarded cash prizes, while numbers 11-20 take home merchandise awards. Register through Friday at the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center in Homer, or online. Day-of registration will be at Coal Point on the Homer Spit, up until the tournament begins at 9 a.m.
A seafood chowder provided by Land’s End Resort will be served at Coal Point during the post-event ceremonies.
For more information on the tournament, visit www.HomerWinterKing.com.
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