By Patrice Kohl
As high tide swelled the lower Ninilchik River on Sunday afternoon, hopeful fishermen crowded the riverbed below Ninilchik village, patiently executing one fly rod cast after another. By the time the tide peaked, many fishermen had been casting for more than an hour. But during what should have been a prime fishing hour, no one hooked a fish. And as the tide began to turn, the fishermen’s morale began to sink along with the water level.
Not everyone fishing the Ninilchik on Sunday afternoon returned empty-handed, but everyone seemed to agree that so far this year the area’s king returns had been bleak. John O’Brien, of Nikiski, caught a Ninilchik king salmon after high tide Sunday, but said that for the amount of time fishermen were putting in on the lower rivers, they were catching considerably fewer kings than in the past.
Among lower-peninsula rivers, fishermen have witnessed a particularly sharp drop in king salmon returning to the Anchor River. The Anchor has fostered a popular spring king fishery after strong runs in recent years, but the fishery came to an abrupt halt this year after the river was closed to fishing Saturday to protect an unexpectedly small king return. As of Friday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had counted just 376 kings at its Anchor River weir, compared to 1,708 by the same date in 2008 and 4,417 in 2007.