Sometimes it pays to be an early bird, as the few people who took advantage of the 12:01 a.m. opening of the Kasilof River dipnet fishery well know.
A handful of anglers were there to fish through the wee hours until dawn of the next day, and they were rewarded for their efforts. Many took home dozens of red salmon in the 6- to 8-pound range.
By the end of the day, scores of people had started to arrive, creating a makeshift village of tents, tarps, four-wheelers and folding chairs on the beach.
Down in the water, a long snaking line of more than 100 dipnetters stood waiting, but the fishing that had been so fast and furious just a few hours early had slowed to nearly a dead stop.
The reason for the change in fish flow was an emergency order issued early Friday afternoon by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which liberalized commercial fishing opportunities in Cook Inlet.
The order extended set gillnetting in the Kasilof Section of the Upper Subdistrict from midnight Friday until midnight Saturday. It also opened drift gillnetting from 4 a.m. to midnight.
"The commercial fishermen have got it completely chocked off," said Elia Valka of Anchorage on Saturday. "We got down last night and got three within a few hours, but they're just the small ones that are going through the nets."
Dipnetters lucky enough to catch a salmon only were picking up fish in the 2- to 3-pound range.
"It's really sad," Valka said. "Usually we get quite a bit of fish here, which is why we come, but you can look up and down the beach and see no one's catching anything."
John Jakobowski of Anchorage was roughly 50 yards from Valka but reported much the same fishing conditions.
"There's lots of people, but nobody's catching fish. It's really slow. I saw maybe 10 fish caught last night, and not many more today," Jakobowski said.
"The fish are here, though. You can walk down the beach and see the commercial guys are loading them out by the tons. The fish just can't make it to the river. That's what's shutting it off for us dipnetters," he said.
Jakobowski had only caught one fish for all his efforts that morning and said it was likely one that had narrowly escaped the commercial nets.
"You could tell it had been in there. It had gill nets marks all over it's head," he said.
Martha Ary of Anchorage said she and the other members of her party weren't seeing much action in their dipnets.
"We come every year at this time. Last year we went home with 15 fish, so it was exciting. But this year I think the commercial fishing is really slowing it down.
"I fished last night and only caught one tiny, little flounder. Today, I've been at it for more than an hour and haven't caught anything. A few folks around me said they had been at it for two to three hours and had only caught one fish," Ary said.
She said she was still hopeful she would get at least one fish before heading home but added even if she didn't she wouldn't be upset.
"Well, if we get skunked, we get skunked. It's OK because it's still nice to be here. It's just so beautiful and the sunset last night was enough to make it worth the trip," she said.
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