Charlie Black’s daughters took turns standing in the curve of his arm Saturday, grasping the handle of a simple blue Fin-Chaser rod and flinging a lure into the clear, chocolate-toned water of the Anchor River.
His own fly-fishing pole put away for the afternoon, Black said he spent his morning fishing the king salmon opener on the Lower Kenai Peninsula stream and was content to spend the warm afternoon by the water — watching his girls throw rocks in the water and take turns reeling the simple vibrex lure back to shore.
“I heard there was a few fish caught this morning,” Black said. “More steelhead than salmon. I haven’t had any luck yet.”
The Anchor River is one of three Lower Peninsula streams that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued pre-season emergency order restrictions to — justified by the lack of king salmon returning to the Cook Inlet.
The combined annual limit for king salmon has been reduced to two king salmon, 20 inches or greater, on the Anchor River, Deep Creek and Ninilchik River and all marine waters south of the mouth of Ninilchik River to Bluff Point.
The Anchor River king salmon opener began at midnight on Saturday, but campsites were empty in the Anchor River State Recreation Area.
“I think it’s because of the bad reports we’ve been getting,” said Gail Sheffield as she stopped to pull fee envelopes out of a box at one of the campgrounds.
Sheffield, a field supervisor for Alaska Recreational Management Inc., a concessionaire for Alaska State Parks, said she’s seen about half of the normal attendance for an opening weekend.
The 40 sites at Slidehole campground and day use area, the largest of the sites at the state recreational had 15 occupied spots. Typically the popular campground has about 30 active sites when the Anchor River opens to king salmon fishing.
“No one wants to drive down to try to catch a king,” she said. “It’s not good for business.”
The 2014 preseason outlook for the Anchor and Ninilchik river’s king salmon runs are below the historical average for the two streams and runs are expected to be low again this season, according to Fish and Game data.
Locals, however, weren’t deterred by the absence of the typical crowds.
Back along the river, two boys stood at the bank, their bikes lying in the dirt. As the two watched the Black family and the water, they fiddled with their own fishing poles. One turned to the other to brag about catching more than 80 silver salmon in Seward last summer.
A girl in hot pink shorts and a red shirt climbed up the steep incline of the bank, her fishing pole tucked under her arm; she shouted at her dog to stop barking at the Blacks as she leapt over a muddy patch and made it to the top of the incline.
As she walked back toward her campsite and a Christmas-tree shaped pyramid of empty beer bottles — Black, of Homer, said he was glad to see the relative peace and quiet of the river.
“We just wanted to get away for the weekend, before next weekend,” he said. “There will be too many people here next weekend. I’m going to stay at home next weekend when all the rookies are out.”
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org