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'They could be coming any second'

Fishing slow, but hope springs eternal at Ninilchik opener

Posted: May 25, 2013 - 9:10pm  |  Updated: May 28, 2013 - 8:23am
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Fishermen try their luck off the dock near the mouth of the Ninilchik river at Saturday's Ninilchik  king salmon opener.
Fishermen try their luck off the dock near the mouth of the Ninilchik river at Saturday's Ninilchik king salmon opener.

Art Duran stood by his blue truck eating a sandwich in a dusty parking lot by the Ninilchik River. For about 5 hours he had been fishing for king salmon, he said, but the water was high. As of lunchtime, he hadn’t even a bite.

“I know there’s fish in there,” the Sterling resident said. “You just got to find the right spot.”

The high waters Saturday had chased all the kings to the eddies on the far side of the river, he said, and, “unless you want to swim,” fishermen couldn’t cross to access the sheltered fish.

Duran has fished the Ninilchik River king salmon opener for about 20 years, he said. And each year is different.

“Some year’s there’s nobody here. Some year’s it’s rainy,” he said. Last year the river was low and clear. This year the river was high and muddy.

“This year it’s kind of hard,” he said.

As of lunch time, there were only unconfirmed reports of a single king being caught from the roughly 20 people fishing from the Ninilchik bridge down. Even those on the beach were taking home only fistfuls of clams. Duran thinks the fishing restrictions chased most off.

Cory Hackstedt, fishing with his father, two kids and a nephew from the long dock at the river’s mouth, said he heard that someone may have caught a king upriver of them, but it was only a rumor.

“I won’t trust that rumor until I see it,” said the Anchorage resident’s father, Kevin Hackstedt, up from Oregon.

But Scott Blake said he saw it. He stood just downriver of the Hackstedts on his high dock.

“There were a few coming through last night,” said Blake, of Anchorage.

But Cory said none of the 30 people fishing the banks from midnight to about 1:30 a.m. had even hooked any of them. He was there, he said. He said not even the steelhead were jumping.

“Nothing,” he said. “Probably have more success finding a black bear than I would a fish right now.”

Blake said the bait restrictions are likely the cause for everyone’s poor luck. Cory agreed; the restrictions make it difficult, he said.

Back at Duran’s truck, he finished his sandwich and pulled out two baggies of yarn from the backpack on his truck’s rusted hood.

“It’s all artificial lure,” he said, holding a bag with yellow and green knitting yarn, “and that’s cool with me. I don’t need no stinkin’ bait.”

He pulled out another bag. It contained glow-in-the-dark yarn.

“I’ve tried everything I had. Every color yarn,” he said. Yellow, green, red — even glow in the dark, which he thinks works well in the murky water. Nothing, he said. Not one bite.

But it’s not unusual, Ben Delgado said. The Anchorage resident was fishing below the wooden bridge downriver of Duran. The last few years have just been slow, he said.

But “they could be coming any second,” he said. “You never know.”

Kings, he said, are tricky. They don’t run in hoards like the sockeye salmon, only in groups of five or six.

The high water displaces them, too, he said. Three years ago, Delgado caught a 43-pound king underneath the same bridge — “this place used to be hot” — but they are resting in different spots in the river now, he said.

“Usually when it’s nice and hot the glaciers melt much faster, and by the time Memorial (weekend) comes around, the rivers should be low,” he said. But not this year, he said.

Both he and his girlfriend, Anchorage resident Grace Fisher, fishing above the bridge, had caught no kings. Fisher said he was mostly watching their cooking hotdogs.

“Be patient,” Fisher said. “I’m just patient. I tell myself I have to be here for a long time. Even if I don’t catch anything, it’s a lot of fun.”

And that’s exactly it, said Duran.

He put the yarn away in his pack and opened the truck door to grab his chew. He pulled on his backpack and grabbed his rod leaning against the windshield.

He said he fishes every chance he can get. If he catches a king in the next three weeks, that would be great. If not, he said, “I’m just having a good time. Maybe I’ll get one. I’d like to go home and have me a nice big old salmon stake.”

He closed his truck door and headed to the big rock in the river’s bend where he’s had luck before.


Dan Schwartz can be reached at

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robert white
robert white 05/27/13 - 09:39 am
any second

along with the IRS, WIRE TAPS,DRONES, you ever get the feeling we're sliding backward?

kenai123 05/31/13 - 10:53 pm
The Kenai River is a river

The Kenai River is a river which is so full of legends that it is just a matter of taking your pick. You could look at the Kenai's legend of fisheries devastation from back between 1955 - 1975. That part of the Kenai's history is usually skipped over by most. Most would rather talk about the mid 1970's when Spence DeVito first began sport fish guiding on the Kenai. The river had just received 15 years worth of fisheries closures as a direct result of an extensive saltwater commercial fish trap fishery. The fish traps were banned in 1959 but it took over a decade for the Kenai's devastated fisheries to recover. While Devote was beginning to catch those monster kings again the Alaska Department of Fish and Game saw our massive stocks of herring, so they opened our first herring roe fishery in 1976. The ADF&G opened this fishery because Alaska had seven very major herring spawning areas in Southeast Alaska back then, with many other smaller ones. Currently we only have two major
herring spawns areas left and the smaller ones are completely gone. But each year our ADF&G still conducts excessive herring and (herring egg on kelp) harvest from the Sitka Sound. We are currently looking at total disaster within our salmon resources, not to mention all the other species which depend on this herring resource but we are still commercially over-harvesting our herring resource. Many Alaskan communities and their economies depend on the salmon and halibut which feed on herring but this natural resource has been greatly reduce with commercial over-harvest. With herring and salmon disasters now hanging over our fisheries, our ADF&G continues to commercially over-harvest our herring resource every year.

Alaska did have thousands of square miles of Southeast waters filled with major herring spawning areas. Now with only Sitka Sound remaining as a major herring spawning area, we in Alaska have come face to face with a tremendous lack of both herring and salmon. Most areas which had swelling populations of herring now host severely depleted or even nonexistent populations. Alaska used to have many herring reduction plants going 24 hours per day, year around as our commercial fisheries could not catch all of the herring. Alaska had thousands of people employed as they had worked continuous shifts trying to process and ship out our fisheries bounty. Our bays were so over-flowing with herring that docks and harbors were inundated with
them as anyone could catch them just about anywhere.
The beginning of the end of our herring happened in 1976 as Alaska's commercial sac roe herring fishery began hammering away at our seeming endless supply of herring. Commercial fishermen watched on as our herring bio-mass began to wither, while our ADF&G biologists blank faced denied that our herring were decreasing. The ADF&G continued claiming that the reason fishermen could not find the herring was because they had moved. Herring do not usually move, they like to spawn in the same place year after year. If in fact they had moved, why have we failed to locate their mysterious hiding place?

A National Research Council (NRC) thesis concluded that the commercial fisheries over-harvest of herring in the North Pacific forced Stellar sea lions, which had previously fed on herring, to instead feed on the less nutritional pollock. This then began (the Stellar sea lion decline). This thesis then concludes that when sea lions are forced to consume pollock, they eventually die. In 1998 a Journal Science paper came out concluding that (the lack of Stellar sea lions) was forcing Orca whales to begin feeding on sea otters and that redirected otter feeding then resulted in (the decline of the sea otter's) in that region. The sea otter decline then allowed sea urchins to greatly increase because sea otters enjoy feeding on sea urchins. The increased urchins then resulted in (the decline of the region's kelp beds) because
kelp is what sea urchins like to feed on. Herring also like kelp. Herring lay their eggs on kelp. Herring feed on algae, plankton, kelp phytoplankton and zoo-plankton. So the commercial over-harvest of herring looped its way back through the marine food chain until it destroyed the very habituate which generated the commercial herring fishery in the first place. The commercial herring over-harvest
resulted in the direct destruction of adult herring and the indirect destruction of the environment which fueled the herring resource.

As our great herring stocks began to vanish many commercial herring fishermen then quickly made the jump to commercial crab fishing from 1975 -1985. The millions of dollars made within the commercial herring fishery then served to finance multi-million dollar crabber boats as Alaska's commercial crab fishery then accelerated from 1980 - 1990. The commercial crab harvest then peaked and went into over-harvest like the previous herring over-harvest. Thus many more millionaire commercial fisherman were created until the crab fishery crashed from 1990 - 1995. In 1980 Bering Sea, (red king crab) commercial over-harvests peaked at around 130 million pounds and then (crashed) to what we get today at around 15 million pound annually.
The Alaska (tanner crab) commercial over-harvest peaked at around 67 million pounds in 1978 and went to 1.2 million pounds by 1985. The same was done to the (snow crab) and both were officially declared (crashed) and commercially over-harvested by 1999. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the ADG&G together tried to rebuild crab populations in 2000 but our ocean lacked the marine bio-mass energy, which is necessary to sustain a crab population rebound. As our great crab stocks disappeared many commercial crab fishermen then quickly made the jump to converting their crabber boats into commercial pollock trawlers. Those trawlers now stalk the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea as they by-catch kill and dump the same king salmon which we are patiently looking forward to catching each summer. Commercial fisheries wiped out our herring so they then went after our crab. When our crab were gone commercial fisheries then targeted our pollock and therefore also our king salmon.

Now with our herring, crab and king salmon a mere shadow of what they used to be, we suddenly discover that our juvenal king salmon feed exclusively on crab larvae which are about 1/4 inch in length. Then our marine science starts telling us that our ocean has lost 99% of its crab larvae which is 1/4 inch or larger. Crab larvae less than 1/4 inch in length are reduced also but are still abundant enough to
feed our sockeye because sockeye's feed on crab larvae which are about an 1/8 inch in length. So with our herring gone, crab gone and now our kings gone; we get 30 million dollars from the state to find out where all of the king salmon have gone?

The Kenai River is currently creating a new kind of legend. People have heard all the stories about her monster salmon but when they try to catch one, most go home disappointed like people did before 1975. Because we are not currently able to correctly manage our king salmon, it appears that we must be put through the same remedy used back before 1975. That remedy was a 15 year total commercial fisheries shut-down. It would have been much better to manage our herring, crab and king salmon within sustainable plans but that appears to not be anymore possible than managing the fish-traps. So let our legend of fisheries boom and bust live on into the future, right along with our monster kings.

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