Near the end of a long spit stretching out almost 4.5 miles into Kachemak Bay from the fishing town of Homer, Alaska near the tip of the Kenai peninsula sits a small, A-framed roofed building. This is the “World Headquarters” of Homer Ocean Charters, a well-known and highly respected charter and adventure company owned and operated by my friend Captain Roark Brown.
TBM Contributor Nathan Andersohn with a buck taken that first year while hunting from the Sourdough.
I first met Roark many years ago when I booked a trip with him to house me and a few friends on one of his boats in southern Kodiak Island where we hunted for Sitka blacktail deer. The hunting that week was phenomenal, the food on the old Sourdough—a 50-foot Delta Marine yacht—was exceptional, and the friendships made have grown stronger over the last two-plus decades.
For several years now, Roark has invited me and a small band of friends to come up fishing every spring for halibut and salmon for five days…five wonderful days on his new yacht the Outer Limits, which boasts three staterooms and a forward V-berth. The five days we spend on the yacht fishing and glassing for deer and mountain goats has become a cherished, annual event. Last year we anchored in a quiet, secluded bay one evening and my daughter, Kerri, recorded a couple of podcasts while we talked about Roark’s history, and about Homer Ocean Charters.
T.J.— Roark, how did you end up here in Homer, Alaska?
RB—Like many people, my journey to Alaska is an interesting one. My father was a fighter pilot in WWII stationed in the Aleutian Islands flying P-38s. He was a country kid and avid hunter and fisherman from rural western Oregon, so Alaska hit a sweet spot with him. He loved hunting blacktails and upon returning home from the war he took 36 deer over the next several years.
His cousin bet him that he couldn’t kill a deer with a Winchester .218 Bee that he purchased in Anchorage during the war, which was a bad move on his cousin’s part. T. S. Brown (you can guess what his nickname was) was not one to pass up a bet so he began notching his gun stalk for each deer he harvested with the .218. Over many years, he ran out of room. I still have that gun and am going to take a deer with it next year in his honor.
The author’s first Sitka blacktail taken on his first hunt with Homer Ocean Charters.
I grew up with a fly rod and a horse, and later a dirt bike, in the Coast Range of Oregon hunting blacktails. Dad always wanted to return to Alaska, so after a couple of years in 1974 to 1976 living in British Columbia, we were moving back to Oregon. However, unbeknown to the family, Dad had applied for a job in Alaska and we turned right instead of left. We moved to Cordova, Alaska where Dad had taken a job as superintendent of schools, having received his doctorate in education after growing up in a one room school house. Cordova was, and is, a fishing town.
I was raised under the premise of “Old enough to walk, old enough to work,” so over Christmas vacation in 1976 I began a long career working on boats beginning with commercial crabbing at the tender age of 15. My parents moved to Prince of Wales Island during my senior year while I stayed in Cordova and finished my last semester of high school, then followed them to Prince of Wales to work construction. While waiting for a construction job I fished every day. One day I ran into a lodge owner sleeping in his car while his clients fished. After a long conversation he said, “You should come work guiding for me.” I asked what was involved and he informed me that he would give me a car full of gas and a group of clients and I was to take them fishing every day. My reply was something to the effect of, “And I get paid for this?” Thus, began my guiding career.
After several years of college and returning to Cordova to work on boats in the summer I was looking for a change, so I came to the Kenai Peninsula to stay with a buddy for the summer. I liked it there so much I never left. I worked construction jobs and took college classes at night and finally finished my business degree. A friend and I bought a 20’ aluminum boat together and just about wore it out in the fresh water and the salt water. After three years we upgraded to a 22’ boat and I got my captain’s license. I went and bought a river sled and began guiding on the Kenai River and in Cook Inlet. The Kenai was not my style, so after a year I put an ad in the paper looking for a captain’s job and got hired by what was at the time the top charter company in Homer, Alaska. They ended up looking for another captain and I got my skiff partner a job there. We did three seasons there and began pursuing the purchase of another charter company, which is hard when you don’t have any money.
After my third season operating fishing charters out of Homer, I took a fall job with friends operating a boat out of Kodiak for fall deer hunts while I finalized the details to purchase Homer Ocean Charters (HOC). Then in fall of 1991 I began doing vessel-based charters for blacktail deer on Kodiak Island and in 1992 we took over the full operation and ownership of HOC. HOC at the time was just a halibut day charter company. We soon added hunts, long range fishing trips, more boats, a lodge, and a myriad of other products.
T.J.—I met you at Jay Massey’s Great Alaskan Sportsmans’ Show in, I believe, 1996. I was there promoting Traditional Bowhunter® Magazine and you were promoting Sitka deer hunting off the good ship Sourdough. After spending some time talking with you, I placed a deposit on a hunt with you that fall. I managed to take a nice buck on the second day out, and I remember you seemed surprised. Did you ever guide any bowhunters, more specifically, traditional bowhunters before that trip?
Arguably one of the finest bush planes ever built, this Andrews Airways de Havilland Beaver, based out of Kodiak, Alaska, is one of several bush planes used to ferry hunters down to the Outer Limits.
RB—I think we met earlier than 1996 but I could be wrong. I still have an arrow that you, Rocky Holpainen, Greg Jouflas, Nathan Andersohn, Mark Viehweg, and Roy Marlow signed on your first hunt, so I should check the date.
We had a booth at the Great Alaska Sportsmans’ Show and Mark Viehweg had a booth next to us selling King of the Mountain wool clothing. Mark made the introduction and we all went out for sushi in downtown Anchorage and hit it off. I believe you were the first traditional bowhunters we took out, but I knew your group consisted of seasoned bowhunters so I was confident you could get it done. I also knew your effective range and I had closed to within that distance many times while out playing with the deer. One of my father’s flying buddies from the Aleutians was from Michigan and started a quiver company there and sent my dad a recurve so I was familiar with the equipment.
T.J.—We used to hunt off the Sourdough, but now you have a much more comfortable yacht, the Outer Limits. Granted, with its three state rooms, it has far better accommodations than the V-berth we used to stay in on the Sourdough…the Bay of Pigs, we called it after a week of hunting! What happened to the Sourdough?
RB—The Sourdough, which is what old time Alaskans are called, was a 50-foot Delta Marine vessel built for day trip charters. While it was certainly capable of performing the trips we were offering, it was lacking in the comforts needed to provide the caliber of trip we wanted to offer. While the Outer Limits is immensely more comfortable, it is not very functional as a day trip boat. I had to shift a sister ship to replace the Sourdough that I had servicing our lodge over to the day trip product line and buy a small tour boat to service the lodge. This other Delta, the Bay Explorer, has a 10’ longer cabin than the Sourdough, which gives me a better passenger count for day trip fishing.
The Sourdough. She holds a lot of memories for me and dozens of friends who hunted, and fished, off her over many years.
T.J.—Any regrets on not keeping her?
RB—There are so many memories of that ship, as you well know, and so many photos of past times with good friends and clients on her. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Sourdough, which is now called the Sea Angel and operates out of Westport, Washington.
T.J.—How many hunters do you book for deer in the fall?
RB—We take a maximum of six passengers on all of our multiple day trips, including hunts. We did ten weeks on Kodiak this past fall, so the math is pretty easy.
T.J.—How many of them are traditional bowhunters? I know that many of my friends, and lots of our readers, have used your services.
RB—Our fall hunts are running about 75% bowhunters right now with anywhere from a few to a dozen traditional hunters in the mix. Some of my captains are hunting with traditional bows now after they get their freezer fillers, so it is becoming more common to have traditional equipment in the field for us.
T.J.—Roughly, what is the success rate for your bowhunting clients?
RB—We like to say that we are 100% on opportunity, meaning everyone gets stalks. As a licensed transporters we are prohibited from going in the field with our customers, so our success rate depends on the customers’ skill level, weather, luck, and a myriad of other factors. We try and do all of the things that are in our control to the best of our ability, i.e. customer service, and put forth a good attitude to the challenges that come our way.
The ocean in general, and Kodiak in particular, are challenging environments, but that is part of the attraction. If it was easy everyone would be doing it, much like traditional bowhunting. With all of the challenges we have faced, we have harvested slightly over 1900 deer to date. As exceptional as the hunting is right now, we will harvest number 2000 sometime in 2019. The count will be kept internally, but let’s just say that the hunter taking number 2000 will be happy that they did!
Homer Ocean Charters also offers bear hunting trips from the Outer Limits down along the Kenai Peninsula.
T.J.—You also outfit hunters for spring bear out of Homer on the Outer Limits, which is something on my bucket list. How many hunters do you take and how long are these bear hunt trips?
RB—We started spring bear hunting from the boat in 1992, so I guess this will be our 28th season coming up. We have always spring hunted out of Homer, while we have done late summer hunts from Homer and Prince William Sound. These are typically six-day/five-night hunts that are combined with fishing, although we sometimes do longer hunts.
Since these hunts take place in May and early June there is a lot of opportunity to fish for halibut, king salmon, and rock fish along with the hunting, all in national park type scenery on a private yacht. In mid to late August we usually do a hunt or two while the bears are feeding on salmon. This time frame also offers salmon fishing for all five species of salmon in Alaska. We take up to six hunters on these trips but often times not everyone is hunting.
T.J.—From my own personal experience, the ability to hunt off your yacht, the mobility of moving around to hunt new areas and not be stuck in one camp on shore—not to mention the fantastic accommodation and food on board—has given me and many of my friends’ fantastic memories. I expect there will be many more.
RB—Hunting from our boat offers all of the advantages that you mention and more. While hunting is an important part of our business, non-hunting products comprised a much larger percentage of what we do. Our product line includes day trip fishing, fishing packages, mothership kayak tours, guided hikes, water taxi service and much more. If someone is considering a trip to Alaska, we are a good place to start.
T.J.—What does the future hold for you and Homer Ocean Charters?
The Outer Limits in a quiet bay somewhere southwest of Homer, Alaska.
RB—Well, that is an interesting question. As you know, we enjoy trying to provide the best total experience possible, as we are not only in the fishing or hunting business, we are also in the people business. While our day trips will remain an important part of the business, we are going to be developing more upper end products, including luxury day trips and multiple day adventures. We have been very successful with our Kodiak deer hunts and as good as the hunting is, often times our clients’ most fond memories are of staying on a yacht in a spectacular area, meals that exceed their expectations, and flying on a vintage Alaskan float plane to the boat.
The most often heard complaint from day trip fisherman is the long, and often times rough, boat ride to the fishing grounds. Lodge trips can be great, if you are there at the right time. We can put our floating “lodge” where the time is right in different areas for different products including hunting, fishing, bear viewing, photography, sightseeing, etc., and fly clients right to the boat. So, look for more products including aircraft, gourmet meals, and perhaps a new luxury vessel for the salty old captain! Whether you are just looking for a quick fishing trip out of Homer, Alaska or are needing help with a full Alaskan vacation, we can help.
Roark and his son, Ashton, with a lingcod taken last year on our annual fishing trip.
T.J.’s daughter, Kerri Doyle, with a rockfish taken last spring where she recorded two podcasts on the Outer Limits during a fishing trip.
One of several halibut T.J. pulled from the ocean.
In the galley of the Outer Limits a few years ago. What was a chance meeting almost 25 years ago has led to a dynamic friendship that T.J. and Roark hope lasts another 25 years.
Captain Billy Hayden with a fine blacktail taken with his longbow on Kodiak Island.