Fishermen who are heading down to test the Ninilchik River king salmon opener this Memorial Day weekend might be discouraged by the numerous barriers presented by new regulations and the nature of the fishery itself.
Single hook, no bait.
A colder than usual spring.
No fishing until 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
Jousting with scores of other winter-worn, king salmon-starved fishermen from around the state for a spot on the skinny river.
But instead of hitting the snooze button and waiting for easier fishing days, fishermen could don their sable fedoras and bullwhips and adopt an Indiana Jones attitude — the more obstacles (read: snakes pits and rope bridges) the better.
That is to say the harder to catch the king, the more rewarding, right?
As Mr. Jones would boldly proclaim: “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”
The Ninilchik and Deep Creek rivers will open, along with the Anchor River, for three weekend openers on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Those weekends are from May 25 to 27, June 1 to 3 and June 8 to 10. The Anchor opened for the May 18 weekend and will also be open through the June 15 weekend.
Fishing on those three streams is limited to an unbaited, single hook artificial lure. Fishermen are allowed to keep one king 20 inches or greater.
“If you harvest a king 20 inches or greater, you stop fishing in those streams for the day,” said Carol Kerkvliet, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Kerkvliet said there is a combined annual limit of two kings for all streams and the marine waters between Bluff Point and the mouth of Ninilchik. The Anchor is now closed on Wednesdays and the fishing-prohibited area has been extended, in effect closing the bridge hole.
It is the first time the fishery has started off with no bait in recent history, she said.
“We went a little more aggressive with our preseason restrictions in hopes that we’ll be able to maintain these fisheries through the entire season for kings,” she said.
The Memorial Day openers on the lower Peninsula usually signal the start of the summer king fishing season and draw fishermen from around the state. Other rivers will soon be flooded with Oncorhynchus tschawytscha — the biggest, most aggressive of the salmon species.
Of the three rivers, the Ninilchik usually has the most favorable water conditions — Deep Creek and the Anchor tend to be higher and muddier — and will likely receive the majority of attention from fishermen.
Most fishermen will congregate toward the mouth of the river between the Sterling Highway bridge and the river’s mouth. That area, which is tidally influenced, is bigger and easier to fish, but fishermen usually have to jockey for a spot when the clock strikes midnight.
This year’s no bait restriction might eliminate many of those fishermen giving anglers added opportunity in the lower section or throughout the river.
In the absence of bait, fishermen are encouraged to try a variety of flies drifted along the bottom or swung through the current. Kings usually like flies that look like they came out of a Walt Disney movie — bright colors, lots of flash. If a particular color doesn’t seem to be working, don’t be afraid to switch or try something a little more natural, like an egg-sucking leech or smolt pattern.
Local fly fisherman Henry Anderson said he likes fishing the Ninilchik — the kings are usually fresh from the salt water and full of life.
“The fish are coming through and you’re popping ‘em and it’s game on,” he said. “The fun thing about it is when you do get a king on you have to do some serious running to catch up with them.”
If a fisherman is willing to walk a bit further upriver he or she would soon find a little more elbow room to try for a king, but fishing is good throughout, Anderson said.
“Where ever you decide that you are going to stop to fish you have a good chance at any fish that’s coming through,” he said. “A lot of time you can see the fish that’s coming up stream and so you can be ready for them.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.