Story last updated at 2:24 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 2002

Holiday weekend brings anglers out in force
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: outdoors
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Daphne Kuver of Anchorage works the Anchor River just downstream of the North Fork confluence on Saturday. High and off-color water made fishing a little tricky for the opening of king salmon season.  
The tides of Cook Inlet washed high onto the beach early Saturday morning and swept low again hours later as a carnival of sorts unfolded near the mouth of the Anchor River.

This annual Memorial Day weekend party, also known as opening weekend of king salmon season on three lower Kenai Peninsula streams, is part rock concert, part NASCAR tailgate bash and part fishing festival. It marks the unofficial beginning to the Peninsula's summer fishing frenzy, which parades thousands of tourists to its famous salmon streams and halibut grounds. Complaints about rowdy people kept state troopers busy at camping areas at the mouth of the Anchor River (see related story on Page 1.)

The fishing celebration was going on to one degree or another at nearly every campground upriver as well as those near Deep Creek and Ninilchik River. But the tide brought the most important party guests <> king salmon dressed in bright chrome and packing a punch that puts anglers in the mood to fish into the wee hours.

At 12:01 a.m. the Alaska Department of Fish and Game gave the green light for anglers to wet their lines. Despite the darkness, it was only a matter of minutes before the first kings were pulled from the river, according to Stan Harrington, owner of the Anchor Angler tackle shop.

But water on both the Anchor River and Deep Creek was high and muddy, keeping fishing pressure and catch rates fairly low, considering the crowds in the campgrounds. The Ninilchik River was high, but more fishable.

"There were lots of fish getting away because of the higher water," Harrington said. "I'd guess people had a lot more fish lost than landed."

But just before noon, J.D. Eskelson of Eagle River did land a king and he was more than pleased as he hung it from the scale in front of the Anchor Angler. The dials measured 33.5 pounds, a big fish for the lower Peninsula.

"It's awesome," he said as he high-fived his fishing buddy Kelly Kass of Anchorage.

Harrington leaned out the door and shouted that it was the biggest fish he'd seen caught so far.

But the fishery was only 12 hours old and there were two days left in the weekend, then four more weekends of king fishing to be had after that. Once the water begins to recede, the fishing will likely improve substantially.

Fish and Game fisheries biologist Nicki Szarzi said angler presence was not much to speak of at Deep Creek because the water there was pushing over the banks.

On the Ninilchik River, anglers had some success down in the intertidal area and in the holes below the bridge.

The most popular gear was the roe-Spin-N-Glo combination, but fly fishermen were having some luck with bright chartreuse or pink yarn flies.

But the influx of river kings wasn't the only bounty Cook Inlet had to offer <> clams were collected by the thousands as the long weekend coincided with the best clam tides of the summer.

The Homer Spit offered the hottest fishery as kings were "running" in the Fishing Hole. Action was fairly good at the Halibut Cove and Seldovia fisheries across the Bay.

Meanwhile, out in Anchor Point the fishing pressure on the three Sterling Highway streams stayed relatively light as it appeared that some of the campers turned back north toward Soldotna, Anchorage and beyond.

Overall the crowds seemed smaller than normal for Memorial Day weekend, according to Mike Flores, owner of Ninilchik Charters.

Kathy Flores told her husband that a line of cars and RVs was streaming north through Soldotna on

Saturday afternoon.