The spirits of anglers at the Ninilchik River season opening weekend were a stark contrast to the dreary weather that plagued the holiday weekend.
“This year, people are really in good moods,” Alaska State Park Ranger Jacquline Erion said. “Everyone is having fun even though it really is a cold Memorial Day and weekend.”
The campgrounds surrounding the Ninilchik River and Deep Creek were full, as were the banks of both, and the fishing was slow but steady.
“I’ve seen a few kings be caught, and every one has been legal so far,” Erion said at about 11 a.m. on Saturday.
The Ninilchik River was open for Memorial Day weekend and will be open the first two weekends in June for both wild and hatchery king salmon fishing. After that, the Ninilchik will be open 24/7 for hatchery king fishing starting June 16 and closing on Oct. 31.
“We’re fixing to catch some fish,” Tamara Mapes of Nikiski said. “It’s been a real slow morning. We saw three caught, all on spinners, but we’ve seen a lot more kelp caught.”
“We’re die-hards,” Mapes’ fishing partner Victoria Evans of Soldotna said. “We come out for the opener every year, we’ll catch something.”
The two were fishing on docks where there was a bit more elbow room, but up the Ninilchik towards the bridge the crowds on the banks meant fish showing up.
“I was waiting for an open spot for a while,” Heather Row of Anchorage said while cutting the gills from the wild king salmon she had just caught.“This guy right over here, he caught one and I hopped right in — hooked one within 30, 40 minutes or so. I got this little red pipe cleaner wrapped around my hook and at first I thought I had just snagged a rock but it was a king. My old fly pole has this broken reel on it and I was so nervous, but I got it in.”
Row and her friends from Anchorage had been fishing the Ninilchik since about 8 a.m. that morning. They had seen several kings caught, but Row was the first from their group to hook one.
“We’ve been out here for a good four hours… I’ve seen at least five people pull out with a king,” Jack Yang of Anchorage said. “I’m looking forward to catching my own, and to bigger sizes this year.”
According to Erion, everyone along the banks were following all rules and regulations, barring a misparked car here and there.
“Everyone is checking out with their fishing licenses,” Erion said. “I’ve got a lot of families that come down each year and they’re doing their part, reminding me who they are and, kind of, reminding me of the rules and regulations themselves.”
On the first day of the season, though, tempers can be expected to rise.
“It’s chaos down at Deep Creek,” Rick Sawyer, who visits Ninilchik each summer from Montana. “There were two guys over there, screaming at each other over a fish.”
Sawyer was driving around the Ninilchik and Deep Creek, keeping his eyes on any action and watching bald eagles on the beach, and said he had been out since 8 a.m.
“When the tide starts coming back in at 11 a.m., I’ll get back in,” Sawyer said. “But for now, I’m taking a break and just checking things out.”
The overall feeling of the first Saturday matched Sawyer’s plan of scoping things out. The fishing, although off to a slow start on opening day, showed promise for the weekends to come.
“Next weekend will probably be better,” Matt Cozzini of Ninilchik said. “Once the river gets warmer, they probably move up … It’s never good on the first week.”
The Ninilchik and Deep Creek open again on June 3 through 5.
“Last year was really good,” Cozzini said. “Almost a guarantee that you’d catch a fish, but year to year is different so we’ll have to wait and see.”