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Issue #2          May 2003

Kodiak Combos

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Kings of Kodiak...copyright John L. Beath


John L. Beath with a nice Kodiak Combos halibut & 55-pound king salmon.

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Violent shakes of the fishing rod bounced and quivered milliseconds before the line broke free from the downrigger. The action sent my guide, Jeff Peterson, owner of Kodiak Combos in Old Harbor scrambling to the stern of the boat. Just seconds before the commotion I’d been scanning the horizon in both directions for signs of any other boats. Surprisingly, I’d seen nothing but snow-capped peaks, flat blue water and the occasional eagle soaring overhead. Nothing could have been better at the moment – an obviously huge king salmon on my line in a remarkably beautiful Alaskan wilderness setting without crowds of any kind.

Upon booking my trip to Kodiak Island, Peterson had explained that Old Harbor, a remote native village 54 miles south of Kodiak city, is one of the last feeding grounds for king salmon heading to the Kenai River on the mainland. That combined with the promise of halibut, lingcod, rockfish and hordes of Pacific cod is what convinced me to book my trip with Peterson  June 2001.

My rod still bent heavy under the pressure of a big king – my reel quickly emptied its line dangerously fast. The fish’s first, most powerful run I’d ever experienced, lasted seconds but left my reel with only four wraps of line. Seeing the desperate situation, Peterson began backing down on the fish, chasing it until it finally slowed and then stopped momentarily. Thankfully, dozens of yards of line once again filled the reel, giving me a fighting chance. This had to be a huge Kenai king and would no doubt be as shiny and bright as a newly minted quarter. The king made two more runs away from the boat, but Peterson kept me in the game by maneuvering his boat within fighting range. With just 50 feet of line out, the fish surfaced, and thrashed its wide tail toward me and shook its head side to side. The fish’s wild antics offered a complete view of weighty body. Its length combined with a super-bulky body was more than my inadequate 25-pound leader could handle. Game over but not forgotten. The trailing hook on my squid had broken, rewarding the 70-plus pound Kenai king with its freedom. Instead of feeling bad for myself I bowed farewell and wished the king good luck on its final journey home to spawn in the mighty Kenai River.

By day’s end my first afternoon at Old Harbor had produced four big kings on my line. Three of them would have easily pushed past the 50 to 70-pound mark if I could have landed them. Of the other two jumbo kings lost, one straightened out the hooks and another simply came unbuttoned alongside the boat. At least I had the opportunity to fight them and see their size on the surface before they bid farewell with a headshake and splash of their tails.

Before wetting a line on the second day, heavier leader and bigger hooks would replace the wimpy 25-pound leaders on the lures I’d brought from home. Peterson, being a veteran of the waters had plenty of 40-pound leader for me to use. My guide would save me from myself and I’d listen and hang on every recommendation he offered. Another lesson learned the hard way – always believe the guide when he says you need heavier leaders or mainline.

The first full day of my trip Peterson eased his 24-foot Sea Sport out of the harbor and pointed the bow south. Within 25 minutes he slowed to a stop on one of his halibut holes. Again, no other boats could be seen, leaving the vast wilderness waters all to us. Minutes after my lure hit bottom a 70-pound halibut tested my new halibut rod’s flex. Soon the average-sized halibut flopped hopelessly in the fish box – my family’s future dinners for many nights. As much as I love halibut fishing, the temptation of the Kenai kings proved irresistible. Back to “The Spit” a small slice of Sitkalidak Island that sticks out into Sitkalidak Strait, providing protected waters to Old Harbor. It seemed hard to believe we could be within 15 minutes of Old Harbor, in protected waters and be fishing for Kenai kings. After setting the downriggers at just 25 feet, Peterson explained that his home waters regularly produce king salmon heading to the Karluk and Ayakulik Rivers on Kodiak Island. And feeding chinook from many other rivers in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon often use Kodiak Island waters as their feeding grounds too.

His remarks echoed the findings of the fish finder, revealing hordes of bait. Together they painted a very clear picture – Kodiak Island waters are the feeding grounds of big chinook – no shakers here. The next strike also proved his point, another big fish on my line. This time, the chinook’s efforts at freedom failed, leaving me with a long, mirror-bright 55-pound white-meated king probably headed for the Karluk River. One in the box and a few more small, 25-pound kings caught and released.

Day three of my trip would prove the worth of fishing in protected waters. Gale force winds moved across Kodiak Island and the surrounding waters throughout the night and early morning. In most areas fishing would have been impossible, or suicidal. But Jeff easily found fishable, and reasonably calm waters in numerous locales throughout the day without ever having to navigate rough waters. Peterson explained that they rarely miss any fishing days due to weather. No matter which direction the wind blows there’s always a lee side to fish. And just about every lee portion of the island has produced world-class king salmon at one time or another. All totaled that day I caught and released three small 30 to 35-pound chinook, all on flashers and spoons. (Refer to last month’s spoon fishing article.)

The fourth day of my trip simply can’t be described; it must be experienced to believe. Having grown up in Old Harbor, Peterson knows every inch of his home waters and proved it time and time again. Stories of giant salmon spooling him at this location and smiles of joy as he described huge kings landed at that hotspot filled the day. Around every corner he’d happily point and describe the best time to fish there, what depth to fish and what lure and color was most productive. With every locale described and then fished, my rod and reel kept me busy fighting salmon. A brace of 20-pound halibut added to the day’s catch and my supply of halibut for the table. Catching was so hot we decided to really experiment with different lures and color patterns. A spoon modified with a hootchy on the siwash hook proved super effective on four of five salmon. So did a number of Luhr Jensen Coyote spoons, including an orange and black and black and white spoon. I lost count of how many kings we hooked, but estimate we landed at least nine kings up to 40-pounds. Not a day for giant kings, but a day to remember because of numbers of fish.

On the last day of my trip Peterson agreed to take me to a couple of his secret Pacific Cod holes, where I’d hopefully be able to catch them with fly gear. Having grown up fishing for P-cod with homemade lures, it was always my hope to set an International Game Fish Association world fly tippet record for the species. I knew this would be the best place to attempt such a silly quest. It took just a couple of places before Peterson found the right spot, which held hundreds of hungry Pacific Cod. His anchor held firm directly above the cod, but their depth of 135 feet seemed impossible to reach, even with a sinking fly line. Peterson’s experience paid off when he lowered a giant Swedish jig down to the mass of fish. As soon as it neared bottom he started reeling up a 30-pound cod. Simultaneously his fish finder showed the school of cod following the hooked fish to the surface. Perfect.

Every cast proved deadly on the Pacific cod. For over an hour the cod stayed in the shadow of the boat, at about 20 feet deep. I started with a 20-pound tippet and worked my way to 2 pound, but couldn’t hold them on such light line. All totaled the day produced four IGFA Tippet world records including the 4, 6, 8 and 20 pound records.

But the day didn’t end there. Peterson wanted to show me the last remnants of the last active whaling station in North America – a rusty relic of the area’s past. While there he said it might be a good idea to drop the halibut gear. One of his favorite lures is the Luhr Jensen B2 Squid jig, but modified to meet his needs. Instead of using a standard J hook he replaces it with a 16/0 circle hook, uses squid for bait on the hook and covers the jig with herring oil. At first it seemed odd to see the big jig with a circle hook, but he explained that he lets it sit above the bottom a few feet and always makes sure it’s kept in the rod holder. Sure enough, a halibut started hammering the jig, making it difficult to get out of the rod holder. With plenty of halibut to take home, I decided to release the big ‘but, estimated at 125 pounds. Not a bad day of fishing by any measure. Hopefully in the near future I’ll return once again to the wilderness beauty of Kodiak Island’s Old Harbor, one of Alaska’s best ocean fisheries for king salmon. Try it and you’ll soon have your rods bowing in awe to the kings of Kodiak as I did.

Kodiak native villages “If you’re going to come to Kodiak Island, six native villages offer the best fishing opportunities without any crowds,” advises Peterson. “Kodiak City has a lot to offer, it’s small town America, but the wilderness fishing is at the villages.”

Here’s a quick rundown of the six villages and what they have to offer anglers. Old Harbor: Mountains, protected bays and inlets. Salmon, halibut and bottomfishing Akhiok: Rolling tundra. Not a king spot. Mostly fly fishing for sockeye. The village has one charter boat for halibut and bottomfishing. Karluc: Low lying mountains with streams and rivers. King salmon on the fly or spin tackle in the river. No ocean fishing. Larson Bay: Scenic valley located on a narrow fjord with mountains. Fishing for kings, halibut and other bottomfish. Ocean fishing is dependant on good weather. Larson Bay has access to Karluck River. Port Lyons: Mountains filled with Sitka spruce throughout area. Sockeye fishing in rivers, coho in rivers and ocean. Ocean halibut and bottomfishing. Ouzinkie: Swampy areas, volcanic and sedimentary rock and an abundance of tall spruce trees. This village is located on an island north of Kodiak Island. Sockeye rivers for fly anglers as well as ocean fishing for kings, coho, halibut and bottomfish. This village has just two guides.

Seasons and limits Anglers are allowed two chinook per day but this year the Alaska Department of Fish and Game set a yearly limit of five king salmon. The new yearly limits match those of the Kenai region and were imposed in response to the salmon agreements made with British Columbia because the Kodiak area is a mixed stock fishery.

Chinook, 1 per day, 3 per year.

Coho, 5 per day

Halibut 2 of any size per day

Lingcod 2 per day

Rockfish 10 per day

Pacific Cod No limit

Kodiak Island’s fishing is one of the most diverse, almost year-round fisheries in Alaska and doesn’t end with just king salmon and halibut. King salmon, halibut and lingcod fishing throughout June and July is awesome. The biggest kings pass through the area in early June until the end of the month. In July king fishing action often goes into a wide-open bite on fish averaging between 25 to 35-pounds. Be prepared to catch and release lots of king salmon in July. The end of July also brings the first runs of ocean-fresh coho. In September and October the coho fishing in the saltwater or Old Harbor’s local streams can be amazingly awesome. When the cooler weather of November hits the action still hasn’t died. Halibut, lingcod, rockfish and feeder king salmon continue to entertain the lucky few who still can’t stand to call it quits for the season. Forget fishing in December and January. But an early trip in February could put you on some great feeder chinook and halibut action. March, April and May is great for feeder chinook, halibut, rockfish and Pacific cod.

January: Pacific Cod February: Feeder kings; halibut; Pacific Cod March: Feeder kings; halibut; Pacific Cod April: Feeder kings; halibut; Pacific Cod May: Feeder kings; halibut; Pacific Cod. Note: End of May Kenai kings arrive. June: Peak of big king salmon moving through the area. Halibut; Pacific Cod. July: Lingcod opens: Excellent numbers of smaller, 25 t0 35-pound kings; halibut; rockfish. Note: Coho salmon arrive end of month. August: Peak of the coho run, average size 14-pounds: King salmon 35 to 38-pounds; halibut; lots of varieties of bottomfish. September: Excellent river coho fishing on fly, spin or baitcasters: Ocean kings 35 to 38-pounds; halibut; lots of varieties of bottomfish. October: Excellent river coho fishing on fly, spin or baitcasters: Ocean kings 35 to 38-pounds; halibut; lots of varieties of bottomfish. November: Halibut; lingcod; rockfish; feeder kings to 30-pounds.

Tackle & Techniques Using downriggers is the most effective way to target the kings of Kodiak Island. Peterson has four downriggers on his boat and fishes them as well as anyone I’ve encountered. Years of experience taught Peterson that flashers and spoons or squid work best. Peterson also notes, and I fully agree, that having the flasher doesn’t take away from the fight because these fish are so big you will hardly notice they are there. They can, however, cause you to break leaders, as I did, if you don’t have heavy enough line. He also notes, that without the use of the flashers his catch rates go way down. These fish really seem to like the action and flash provided from flashers.

His best colors vary from year to year, but consistent producers continue to be Luhr Jensen’s black and white Coyote “Cop Car” or the Coyote orange and black “Halloween” spoon. Peterson also uses a variety of other lures and colors depending on conditions.

Rods should be 8 ½ to 9-feet long, and rated for 20 to 30-pound test line. Level wind reels capable of handling at least 250 yards of 25 to 30-pound line are required.

Most of the best chinook salmon fishing is within 25 minutes of Old Harbor. Downriggers are set at 15 to 50-feet and then trolled between two and three knots in fairly shallow water, often within a few yards of shore. When the coho arrive trolling almost any lure or bait works well. Jigging also works well once you find the schools of fish. River anglers will enjoy awesome spin cast or fly casting to numerous pools and drifts filled with striking coho.Halibut fishing: Standard halibut gear works well here. Favorite baits include squid and herring. Peterson’s favorite jig is the Luhr Jensen B2 Squid, modified with a circle hook and baited with squid. Many other jigs or methods also work well.

How to get there From Anchorage anglers can catch one of several daily flights to Kodiak City operated by Alaska Airlines or ERA Aviation. Anchorage to Kodiak Island on either airline costs approximately $228.00 round trip with a 14 day advance purchase. (Note: it’s best to book early to get the price listed and too get your desired flight times.) Web specials as low as $109 roundtrip for Friday through Monday can also be had for the last minute angler lucky enough to book a trip on short notice.

From Kodiak to Old Harbor: Island Airways has three flights daily Monday through Saturday and two flights on Sunday. The flight from Kodiak to Old Harbor costs $156.00 roundtrip and includes 70 pounds of luggage. Anglers who plan to bring home fish should note that Island Airways charges .46 cents per pound over the 70-pound limit. Anglers can also charter float or wheeled planes to Old Harbor. Depending on your flight arrangements, you may need to overnight in Kodiak. Best Western operates the Kodiak Inn, the town’s largest hotel and offers rooms for $139 to $149 per night double occupancy. If you have enough time during your fishing vacation, the Alaska Marine Highway System might be a good choice to reach Kodiak City. Round trip fares from Homer, without a vehicle cost $108 from Seward it costs $122.

Who to contact Kodiak Combos 

 Jeff Peterson, owner/operator P.O. Box 141 Old Harbor, AK 99643 (907) 286-2252

Bayview B&B (907) 286-2267

Alaska Airlines  1-800-426-0333

Island Airways (907) 486 6196

ERA Aviation  1-800-866-8394

Alaska Marine Highway System  1-800-526-6731

Best Western Kodiak Inn  1-888-562-4254

Author’s assessment of trip and guide Having fished many places throughout the world I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of angling opportunities found in Old Harbor Alaska. More notably, Jeff Peterson’s knowledge of his local waters surpassed any other guide I’ve ever fished with. He knew every nook and underwater cranny in the area. And his willingness to experiment with new lures and colors showed me he is not just a guide stuck on one lure or technique, he’s a guide who’s always searching for a better and more effective way to put fish on the line for his clients. My experience with Peterson earned him the first-ever Halibut Guide Of The Year award.

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