The weather on the lower Kenai Peninsula streams couldn’t have been more perfect this weekend, but many visitors hung closer to the grills and RVs than to the water.
By midmorning Sunday, only one angler remained on the water near the mouth of Deep Creek, where the braided streams usually attract dozens of anglers on nice early summer weekends to fish for king salmon. Upriver, a few more tossed lines in the water, but most of the people were up in the campgrounds and RV parks. On the Saturday before Memorial Day two years ago, more than three dozen fishermen packed the same estuary, many banking king salmon.
Fishing was slow yet again this weekend on the Ninilchik River, Deep Creek and the Anchor River on the lower Kenai Peninsula. Fish counts climbed a little over the weekend in the Anchor River at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s weir, but only 90 kings have passed the weir so far, according to the department’s online fish counts. The weir in Deep Creek has seen more kings so far, at 192 total for the season.
Fish and Game connects the slow fishing so far to chilly water temperatures in Cook Inlet and the freshwater streams. The Anchor River, for example, is much colder this year than in the last few years. At midday on May 30, 2015, monitors measured the river temperature at about 59 degrees Fahrenheit, and at 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit on the same day in 2016, according to conservation nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper’s stream temperature monitoring network. This year, the monitor is reading the river at only 47.3 degrees Fahrenheit as of midday Wednesday.
However, that’s actually a little warmer than the river was on the same date in 2013 and 2014, when it was about 46 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Cook Inletkeeper. Water levels have fallen to a fishable level, but fishing will likely be slow this week as well, according to Fish and Game’s weekly sportfishing report for the lower peninsula.
Kings are the main fish in anglers’ sights this time of year. Every angler has a different idea of what hook and lure setup kings go best for, from plugs to weights and eggs to flashers to spinners. It really depends on the river, according to Scott Miller, co-owner of Trustworthy Hardward and Fishing in Soldotna.
“When we start people out, we’ll set them up, show them how to floss, like for reds — you never know where you’re going to end up (in the river),” he said.
There are different techniques and types of gear for different spots in the river. Anecdotally, people have said they are having luck close to the tidewater in rivers, Miller said. Down in the tidewater area, he recommended a bobber and eggs as bait to fish for kings or a spinner. However, people have luck with a variety of setups — some people use heavy weights and eggs, sometimes called “plunkers,” while others stick with plugs.
Though much of the attention is on the lower peninsula rivers, there are some out fishing on the Kasilof and Kenai rivers this year. Miller said there are some kings in the Kenai, though some are too big to retain so far — anglers can only keep fish smaller than 36 inches long right now. Others are having luck on the Kasilof River, too, where the run is a mix of hatchery fish and wild fish. Wild fish can only be kept on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, he said.
Area management biologist for the Division of Sportfish Brian Marston said there are kings coming into the Kenai River now, but that he hadn’t heard of any being harvested yet because the ones being caught are too big to keep. Fish and Game’s sonar counter on the Kenai River had counted 338 kings as of May 29. On the same date last year, 892 kings has passed the sonar, according to the online sonar counts. Fish and Game doesn’t have any quantifiable data on Kasilof River kings yet, which are counted at the Crooked Creek weir, Marston said.
There are some sockeye in the river, too — Marston said Fish and Game biologists have seen some schools of sockeye moving upriver in recent days, though not a huge number.
The first big opened for sockeye salmon will be on June 11 downstream of the confluence of the Russian River and Kenai River, near Cooper Landing. The area directly around the confluence, known as the sanctuary, will be closed until July 15.
Anglers are headed out for halibut, too, with success close to shore.
“Anglers are having success within a few miles of shore in Upper Cook Inlet on most days and well into the inlet when conditions are good,” Fish and Game’s Lower Cook Inlet fishing report states. “Halibut sizes range from 10 to 250 pounds, with an average size being 14 pounds.”
Young anglers can also head to the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon on the Homer Spit Saturday for a youth fishing day, with part of the lagoon reserved for anglers 15 years old or younger for the entire day. Fish and Game staff will help young anglers fish from 2 – 4 p.m. at the lagoon. Some king salmon are returning there now, though fishing is still slow, according to the fishing report.