Usually, an opportunity to harvest king salmon brings anglers thronging to the riverbanks in the spring. Not so with the Anchor River opener this year.
Some sportfishermen turned out on the banks of the lower Kenai Peninsula stream on Saturday morning to drop a line in the water, but there was plenty of space left by midmorning. Angler Terry Umatum of Anchorage first tossed a line out around 4:30 a.m. Saturday, but it was nearly 10 a.m. before he hooked his king salmon.
With only 15-pound line on his fly rod, he let it play out rather than risk snapping the line and losing the fish. The king only surfaced two or three times during the battle as Umatum followed it up and down the bank, playing it out for 15-20 minutes, eventually winning it onto the shallow shelf and onto the shore.
From across the bank, another angler called out envious congratulations.
“When you leave, I’m taking your spot, man,” he said.
The river near Anchor Point is the first king salmon opener in the Kenai Peninsula freshwaters each summer. Anglers are allowed to retain kings up to where the north and south forks of the river split on the weekends and also Wednesdays up through June 20. Bait and multiple hooks are allowed during openings, with a bag limit of one per day with one in possession.
So far, though, even getting that one has proved challenging. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s video weir on the river’s north fork and sonar on the south fork had collectively counted a total of zero fish as of Monday. Last year on that date, 505 fish had passed the counter, according to the department’s online fish counts.
The cold spring may be holding up the run, said Area Management Biologist Carol Kerkvliet with the Division of Sportfish in Homer.
“It’s really cold right now — cold in the inlet, cold in river,” she said. “In 2013, it was also really, really cold and we also had higher water, we also had zero counts quite late.”
The Kenai Peninsula has had a long, cold spring, marked by temperatures in the low 40s and frequent cloud cover and rain. The cool temperatures and weather have kept the water chilly, including out in Cook Inlet.
People are still catching feeder kings, Kerkvliet said. A few people landed kings in the river Saturday, but Fish and Game classified the fishing conditions as “poor.”
The river is still relatively turbid and chilly, so the fishing conditions will likely be poor or fair this upcoming weekend as well, according to the May 22 sportfishing report from the Homer Fish and Game office. The water level in the river fell over the past few days, with a spike Wednesday morning but still lower than last weekend, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Memorial Day weekend also marks king salmon openers on the Ninilchik River and Deep Creek on the lower peninsula. The Ninilchik River is likely to have lower and clearer water than Deep Creek this weekend, making for better fishing, according to the fishing update.
The Ninilchik is expected to see an increased number of hatchery salmon returning this year after Fish and Game increased the hatchery stocking goal in the river several years ago. The river is open to fishing this weekend through Monday, with future openings June 2–4 and June 9–11. The river opens completely for hatchery king salmon fishing on June 16 and closes Oct. 31. Deep Creek is scheduled to have the same weekend openers and then open completely for king salmon on July 1.
Halibut season is kicking off as well, as the Homer Chamber of Commerce opened its annual Jackpot Halibut Derby on May 15. At the top of the leaderboard is Michael Eskelson of Sutton with a 187.6-pound, 78-inch fish caught from a private vessel on May 19. The derby runs all summer, closing Sept. 15.
Lake fishing on the rest of the Kenai Peninsula varies, with most of the lakes ice-free.