Two anglers head out through the shallows of the Anchor River to cast a line for king salmon Saturday, May 20, 2017 in Anchor Point, Alaska. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)  Two anglers head out through the shallows of the Anchor River to cast a line for king salmon Saturday in Anchor Point. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Two anglers head out through the shallows of the Anchor River to cast a line for king salmon Saturday, May 20, 2017 in Anchor Point, Alaska. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion) Two anglers head out through the shallows of the Anchor River to cast a line for king salmon Saturday in Anchor Point. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Fishing report: Hail to the kings

There were plenty of anglers on the Anchor River’s opening day this year, but king salmon were in shorter supply.

The river on the southern Kenai Peninsula opened to king salmon fishing for the first time in 2017 on Saturday, and anglers flocked to the various campgrounds and fishing holes along the shallow river to try their luck for some early-season kings. A few lucky anglers walked away with fish in the early morning, but by midmorning, the fishing had slowed down.

About 593 king salmon had passed the sonar on the Anchor River as of Tuesday, a little below the 2016 escapement of 635 on the same day, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s online fish counts. It’s still early in the season, and the fishing will likely improve as the run progresses, said Lower Kenai Peninsula Sportfish Area Management Biologist Carol Kerkvliet.

Fishing conditions were reportedly fair on Saturday but declined into Sunday and Monday and were poor Wednesday morning, she said. The river is open again for king salmon fishing this Saturday through Monday and again May 31.

Deep Creek and the Ninilchik River open for the first time Saturday. The king fishery on the Ninilchik is getting to be fairly robust thanks to a triple-level stocking goal for king salmon from the state sportfish hatchery, Kerkvliet said. This year will be the first return from the increased stocking goals.

“We are seeing some hatchery kings returning to the river,” she said.

The Ninilchik is a bank fishery only with runs of both wild and hatchery king salmon. It’s open for Memorial Day weekend and the first two weekends in June, and after a change made by the Board of Fisheries last November to open the season earlier, opens for 24/7 hatchery king fishing on June 16 and closes again Oct. 31. Hatchery kings can be identified by their clipped adipose fins, which are the small fleshy fin on a fish’s back near its tail.

There will also be a youth-only fishery on the Ninilchik River set for Wednesday, June 7, from 6 a.m. to 9:59 p.m., which will allow anglers 15 years old and younger to fish for kings with a limit of one per day with one in possession of any size, either wild or hatchery kings.

Kings are also starting to show up on the Kenai River. In a change from the last several years, there has been no preseason closure on the early-run kings because of concerns about numbers — the return is predicted to be approximately 6,500 large fish, near the upper end of the escapement goal of 3,900–6,600 large fish, according to Fish and Game’s preseason forecast. As of Tuesday, approximately 259 large kings had passed the sonar at river mile 14, significantly higher than the all-fish count of 199 from the same day in 2016. Managers have not issued any restrictions on the early run, but new restrictions implemented at the Board of Fisheries’ Upper Cook Inlet meeting in February and March this year prohibit the retention of fish 36 inches or longer before June 30 on the lower Kenai River and until July 31 on the middle river. Anglers can only use one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure on the entire river below Skilak Lake until June 30.

The water level is still low this early in the season, and some anglers have been bringing in a few fish, said Scott Miller, co-owner of Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing in Soldotna. Anglers can keep one king between 20 inches and 36 inches per day with one in possession. There’s a bag and possession limit of 10 fish for kings less than 20 inches long, known as jacks, according to a February emergency order from Fish and Game.

“The river being low, you still have a shot at them because they’re kind of isolated to some of those holes where they come through,” Miller said. “It’s catch and release for the most part, but I haven’t heard of anybody catching little kings.”

Kings are coming through on the Kasilof River too, which is also a blend of hatchery and wild kings, with retention regulations varying depending on the day of the week. There’s no inseason assessment for Kasilof River kings, but Miller said some anglers had told him they’d had good luck so far on the Kasilof.

Lake fishing has been slow with the more traditional slow spring — patchy ice remains on many of the high altitude lakes on the Kenai Peninsula, though some of the lower lakes are producing well. Eulachon, a type of smelt commonly known as hooligan, have been slow to hit the personal-use fishery on the Kenai River so far as well, though Fish and Game doesn’t assess that run.

Anglers are also increasingly casting their surf rods out for halibut from the beaches of Cook Inlet. Any given night, a handful of anglers will be stationed along the Kenai River’s beaches with rods and weights cast out for halibut feeding in the shallows. Some anglers have always done it, but Miller said it’s grown in recent years, he said.

“It’s getting more and more popular every year,” he said. “This spring, (Trustworthy was) over at the sport show and we sold about 70 (surf rod) gear combos.”

Halibut fishing is still slow close to shore, but has been improving as the water warms, and marine anglers have reported king fishing as good, Miller said. A few kings have been caught out of the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon on the Homer Spit so far and some are starting to return to Seldovia Lagoon on the south side of Kachemak Bay as well, Kerkvliet said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

An angler makes a cast into the Anchor River on Saturday, May 20, 2017 in Anchor Point, Alaska. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

An angler makes a cast into the Anchor River on Saturday, May 20, 2017 in Anchor Point, Alaska. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

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