By Joseph Robertia
Even an eagle, watching anglers with its wide golden eyes from the top of a spruce along the bank of the Kasilof River, seemed to be losing its patience Saturday. “Kikikikikiki,” it complained from its perch, perhaps tired of waiting for a salmon carcass to pick clean. Some years, the smooth, cobbled shoreline of Crooked Creek State Recreation Area is scattered with the pink-meated skeletons of filleted fish, the bright silver heads still attached.
Not this year.
“I’ve only seen one king caught all day,” said Lisa Long, of Anchorage, after hours of whipping at the turquoise water, hoping something would bite the fluorescent bead and hook at the end of her line.
Long and her partner, Darrell Suzuki, of Sterling, had come down midweek, and while they said that initially the salmon bite was bumping, it slowed as the weekend drew near.
“We saw a lot caught on Thursday, then not too many Friday,” she said.
Of the fish being caught, Long said they were primarily kings, both wild and hatchery-raised, the latter identified by their lack of an adipose fin — the tiny, fleshy fin located on the back between the dorsal fin and tail on wild fish.
According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations, Kasilof wild king salmon can only be retained on Saturdays, and must be released from Sunday through Friday.
“My other half (Suzuki) caught and banked two, a 20- and 30-pounder, during the week, but they were wild fish so he had to release them,” Long said.
While still a little early for sockeye salmon, Long said she had seen a few caught, but not more than a handful.
“I saw maybe two reds caught on Thursday and one on Friday and none so far today,” she said.
Despite the slow fishing, Long said that the Kasilof River still is an annual favorite of her summer fishing forays.
“I’ve come here every year since 2011 and my partner has come his whole life. We come for steelhead first, then come back for kings, and we’ll base out of here to fish Deep Creek and the Anchor and Ninilchik rivers,” she said.
These big three southern streams are a little more difficult to fish, though, according to Long.
“I like this spot better. It’s nice, calm water, with flat river beds so you don’t have to worry about footing, and we’re usually successful,” she said.
Dozens of other anglers lined the shoreline of the Kasilof, and several guide boats packed with paying patrons bobbed their way downstream, but Jeff Delay of Alberta, Canada, said he didn’t mind the crowd.
“Other people don’t bother me. Back home I’m always alone while fly-fishing and always wondering what might creep up on me, but here there’s plenty of other people to help keep an eye out,” he said.
Bear sightings in the campground at Crooked Creek, like the salmon, have been sparse.
Delay said the slow river bite didn’t dampen his experience.
“I came after reading about this location and it’s a beautiful spot,” he said.
Delay wasn’t the only first-timer fishing the Kasilof. Rodney Hobby, a Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association seasonal assistant, has been trapping, counting, then releasing salmon smolt for several weeks. Spending so much time on the water, he has met anglers from all over and with various levels of piscatorial prowess.
“Just a few days ago I saw a guy catch a king right in front of me. He was all excited and explained he was from (the Czech Republic) and wanted me to take a picture of him with his first Alaska fish. It was a nice 20-pounder, too,” he said.
Hobby said that it seems to be the avid anglers doing the most catching.
“You can tell the guys getting them know what they’re doing. They know how to read the water and play the rocks,” he said.
Mike Moranda, formerly of Alaska but calling Idaho home for the last four years, was one of those people. Rather than spinning gear with 50- to 100-pound test for muscling fish to shore, Moranda opted for fly-fishing tackle, including a 12-pound leader on the end, which takes some finessing when fighting a feisty king.
“I’ve been here for about three days and been averaging around four to six kings hooked a day, although yesterday I got seven on,” he said, but was quick to add that not all kings hooked made it to shore.
Like other anglers, Moranda’s take on the weekend was that the bite had significantly dropped off.
“It figures it would happen on a Saturday, the only day you can keep anything you catch,” he said.
Still, Moranda said he enjoyed the experience fishing the Kasilof, which is why he has returned the past four seasons since moving out of state. He also maintained a positive attitude regarding the prospects of catching fish in the future.
“It will only get better as the season goes on,” he said.
That’s good news to anglers and eagles alike.