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Best fishing hole? Check downtown Anchorage

Alaska has some of the most beautiful, remote and prolific fishing spots in the world, but some would be surprised to learn that one of the most popular is in the heart of downtown Anchorage.
Alaska-Urban Fishing
This photo shows Ship Creek, one of Alaska's most popular fishing spots, located in the heart of downtown Anchorage, Alaska. Residents, and tourists, line up along Ship Creek to catch a variety of salmon species all summer long. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)Mark Thiessen / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Alaska has some of the most beautiful, remote and prolific fishing spots in the world, but some would be surprised to learn that one of the most popular is in the heart of downtown Anchorage.

"It is unusual. We are right in the middle of a city," said Dan Bosch, the area sport fish manager for Anchorage, North Gulf Coast and Prince William Sound for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"When most people come to Alaska, they think they got to fly out to go fishing. They think it's going to cost a lot of money," he said.

The fishery services two purposes, he said. Not everyone can afford these expensive outfitter fishing trips, but can easily bring a pole to fish downtown. Also, the stocked fishery from the nearby Elmendorf Hatchery helps relieve some of pressure from the wild and remote creeks and streams.

Ship Creek has played an important part in Anchorage's history.

The state's largest city, population now roughly 292,000, got its start here in 1915 when a tent city sprang up around construction of what became the Alaska Railroad, which now has its headquarters a block from the creek.

The creek, which snakes from the nearby Chugach Mountains to the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet, features two main runs of salmon every summer, king and silver salmon.

"It really is a popular fishery," Bosch said.

With its proximity to downtown, it not only draws locals looking to drop a fishing line, but also tourists to either fish or watch the fishermen gut their take along the bank.

"The hotels right up here, we actually have people who stay in the hotels right here who walk down the road, right to the creek and fish in the creek," Bosch said.

Frank Cellini of Philadelphia was fishing on the banks of Ship Creek Monday afternoon with rented boots and a pole. He's in Anchorage for an accounting conference and staying at a downtown hotel, and rented fishing boots and a pole.

While he described the fishing as "pretty good," the silver salmon running in the creek only whetted his appetite to return to Alaska.

"I'd like to go out and catch the bigger salmon," he said while moving to a more advantageous spot upstream.

Locals frequent the creek, too. Kevin Maxwell is a self-described military brat who grew up on a nearby military base. He said his family would often go fishing in Ship Creek instead of driving miles to the Kenai Peninsula.

The creek also offered him freedom as a youngster.

"We could come down here during the week and hit the high or low tide, depending on how we wanted to fish that day," he said.

And it continues to be a draw, he said one recent day fishing from the bank between his studies to become a massage therapist.

When the fish run is high, it attracts lots of fishermen angling for the best spot on the creek in a phenomenon known as combat fishing, or as Maxwell described it, shoulder-to-shoulder fishing.

"I've seen a lot of fights break out. It's usually people, one on one bank, one on the other bank, you know. People get mad 'cause you cross lines and they tangle, you know. But most of the time, people are pretty friendly. They tend to work together."

At times, that spirit of cooperation helps anglers land a salmon.

People getting a bird's eye view of the fish from the pedestrian bridge over Ship Creek assist fishermen by telling them where in the river the fish are running.

"You can ask them on the bridge, 'Where are the fish?' and they'll actually point out where the fish are to you, so it makes it a little easier. You have a better idea if you can't see yourself," Maxwell said.