When Dustin Slinker first arrived in Anchorage as a member of the U.S. Army, he couldn’t wait to go find out how to catch Alaska’s famous salmon. Six years later, he’s someone locals ask for advice.
Slinker, who left the Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division last spring, is the owner and operator of The Bait Shack, the only bait and tackle shop on the banks of downtown Anchorage’s Ship Creek.
“I’m down here from 5 a.m. to midnight some days,” he said on May 31.
An avid fisherman who grew up in Indiana and arrived in Alaska by way of Fort Hood, Texas, Slinker found Ship Creek soon after he was assigned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Just minutes from the military base and Eagle River, the fishing hole can be accessed off of C Street in Anchorage by heading north toward the port and turning right on either Ship Creek Ave. or Whitney Road. Slinker said he was drawn in by Ship Creek’s accessibility.
“For me it was all a matter of convenience,” he said. “You can fish the afternoon tide and be home in time to cut your lawn and have a barbecue.”
Fishing at the creek was slow in early June, but Slinker said fish began trickling in on Mother’s Day.
Slinker said the water in the downtown stream needed to warm up a bit more before the main run of hatchery-born fish would begin to arrive.
“It’s any day now,” he said.
If fish do begin to arrive soon, that’s good news for anyone entering this year’s Slam’n Salm’n Derby, which begins Friday, June 8 and runs until June 17. After a year’s hiatus, Slinker said the derby (which is sponsored by the Downtown Soup Kitchen) has returned this year as a free event. Tickets are available at a derby ticket shack set up near The Bait Shack. Prizes include a flat bottom boat, railroad trips, float trips, fishing gear and more.
Slinker said he’s expecting big crowds during the derby.
“That will draw out a lot of people,” he said.
Ship Creek regular Jeff Banbury said there are a number of different ways to catch fish on the creek.
“Everybody’s got a better mousetrap,” said Banbury, who said he prefers to drift a small pink “corkie” about three feet beneath his weight to catch fish.
Slinker said other good methods include salmon eggs fished beneath a bobber or spinner-type lures. He said the most effective time to catch fish is usually a window three hours before and after high tide.
Slinker recommends a good pair of boots for fishing the creek, which can get extremely muddy — especially at low tide.
Although many locals do stop by his business to ask about the fishing, Slinker said most of his clientele are newcomers to either Ship Creek specifically or even fishing in general. The shop has a view of both the creek and the downtown skyscrapers, and is within easy walking distance of the city’s largest hotels and busiest summertime sidewalks.
“The majority of my business is tourists, first time fishermen or individuals who haven’t fished in numerous years,” he said.
That’s not a problem. Slinker rents entire fishing packages — rubber hip boots included — out of the shop. He also sells fishing licenses, which must be purchased before fishing in all Alaska waters.
“We’ve got everything,” he said.
Slinker also caters to the Ship Creek regulars by selling bait, lures and snacks.
“I want the local guys,” he said.
Fisherman Keith Bacon, a 26-year-old who said he’s been fishing Ship Creek his whole life, said The Bait Shack is a convenient place to stop to find out what the fish are biting.
“We’re down here twice a day,” Bacon said.
Slinker said fishing in 2011 — his first year running the shack after buying it from the previous owner — was good, with lots of fish in the 30- and 40-pound range caught.
“Those guys catch a lot of fish down there,” he said.
Slinker said he’s more than happy to give out advice to anyone who wants to know how to fish the creek his business overlooks from its unique perch beneath an overpass and within a long cast of the railroad yard.
“I just want people to catch fish,” he said.
Local lakes stocked
While waiting for the Alaska salmon season to pick up speed, local anglers might want to turn their attention to local lakes.
The Alaska Department of Fish and game stocked Mirror Lake with 4,982 rainbow trout on May 24, the same day the department let 3,378 rainbows loose in Beach Lake. That means fishing should be excellent in those area lakes through the spring. Lower Fire Lake also has fishable trout populations, and northern pike as well. Further afield, Symphony Lake, at the end of the South Fork trail, offers solid grayling fishing.
The department offers fishing tips, weekly fishing reports and regulation information at its website, www.adfg.alaska.gov/sportfish.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or [email protected]