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 firstname.lastname@example.org.