Begin the season fishing hooligan, king salmon

Mike Campbell
Fishermen look for Hooligan at the 20 Mile River along the Turnagain Arm and Seward Highway

May is a yin-and-yang month for Alaska anglers.

Yin are the silvery schools of small hooligan that flood Cook Inlet, bound for their spawning grounds in fresh water.

In response, a cadre of anglers with long-handled nets gather near the mouth of Twentymile River, aiming to catch dozens of the oily fish, also called eulachon, that can reach 10 inches.

Yang are the mighty king salmon returning to their freshwater birthplaces.

Anglers working salt water off the Kenai Peninsula are catching kings exceeding 20 pounds. And in five days, Alaskans can celebrate the anniversary of a great fishing moment -- the day in 1985 that Soldotna fisherman Les Anderson landed his world-record 97-pound king salmon on the Kenai River.

While in-river fishing is starting slowly this year, salt water anglers are scoring.

"It's very good actually," Van Saun Charters owner Rod Van Saun of Ninilchik said of the offshore king fishing. "Almost everyone who's tried has had good success. And we've had a couple fish in 40-50-pound range."

Using downriggers and flashers, Van Saun trolls near the beach in 10 to 30 feet of water with herring. In the latter part of May, herring and hooligan cluster close to shore, attracting kings. But by June, feeder kings disperse and most mature kings move into their spawning streams.

"In the past couple of years, the king runs haven't been that strong," Van Saun said. "But I know for a fact, there's been a lot more kings caught than at this time last year."

"You can potentially catch a king and get a couple of halibut, and that's a good day of fishing."

Kings close to shore sometimes lure surf casters and anglers like Anchorage's Rudy Tsukada, who paddled his sea kayak a couple hundred feet offshore and managed to land a 27-pound king that measured 37 inches about three miles south of the Deep Creek campground.

"You know, it was a lot more stable than expected," said Tsukada, who grew up in Kenai. "I was more afraid for the guy netting the fish."

"The interesting thing from my perspective is that it was still a feeding king, not a spawner," said Tsukada, who fought the fish for 15 minutes before bringing it to net.

Here's Tsukada's account on his fishing blog:

"I had a whole purple-size herring that I was using for halibut, but had it rigged so it would roll so I just trolled it back in. I was thinking about just reeling in my line since I was having such a hard time paddling.

"But moments later, Whammo! Are you kidding me? It's not the bottom. Nope. It's a fish. The kayak was stable and (my fellow kayaker) makes the perfect net job despite my net being way to small.

"The only time I just about flipped the kayak was when I took the fish out of the net, and it slid off my lap into the foot wells. I guess 27 pounds of weight shifting the edge is not good. Felt like I came within inches of rolling the yak."

Until June 30, closed areas at the Anchor River mouth have been extended two miles north and south of the river as well as up to one mile offshore. A one mile on each side of the mouth of the Ninilchik River is closed to king salmon fishing through June 30, except fishing from shore is open May 28-30, June 4-6 and June 11-13.

Fish and Game is reporting that trollers are catching feeder kings off the south side of Kachemak Bay, Bluff Point, Point Pogibshi and north to Ninilchik as well as the nearshore salt waters of Anchor Point, Whiskey Gulch and Deep Creek.

Popular trolling set-ups include herring, hootchies, tube flies and spoons. Dodgers and flashers offer extra attraction.

The other end of the size and thrill scale is the scoop-scoop-scoop dipping for hooligan.

Hooligan netting is a personal-use fishery open only to Alaska residents, who must carry a sport fishing license or a Fish and Game permanent ID card.

Hooligans are beginning to trickle into Twentymile River on the Seward Highway south of Girdwood and big tides next week should push clusters upstream. Watch for seagulls and eagles nearby, a good indication that schools of the oily little fish are nearby.

"There are a few hooligan in, but they're not in in any kind of numbers," state area management biologist Dan Bosch said Wednesday.

Bosch visited the Twentymile twice Tuesday. Only a single vehicle was parked during his first visit. The next time, there were two.

"Hooligan fishing is going to be very poor right now," he said. "Next week's big tide cycle is going to bring in a lot."

Fish and Game says the period from two hours before high tide to two hours after usually is best. Experienced netters try to work near the bottom where the current isn't so strong and fish often linger.

Southcentral fishing:

Anchorage Area: Fish and Game biologists don't expect many king salmon in Ship Creek before Memorial Day weekend. The creek is closed through June 14 from the Chugach Power Plant Dam upstream to Reeve Boulevard.

Mat-Su: Kings may start nosing into a few northern Cook Inlet streams mid-month. The Little Susitna River downstream of Burma Landing and the mouth of the Deshka River are typically the first places anglers report catches. Expect the Eklutna Tailrace fishing to remain slow into June.

Prince William Sound: Shrimpers have been faring well and rockfish angling with herring jigs and bait near herring spawning sites has been productive.

Resurrection Bay: Eldorado Narrows during slack tides has proven productive for halibut anglers, who should fare better as the weather warms.

Lower Cook Inlet: Streams along the Sterling Highway south of the Kasilof River are closed to all fishing. The lower portion of the Anchor River, defined by Fish and Game markers, opens to king salmon fishing May 21-23. King salmon should start arriving in Homer's Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon in a couple of weeks.

Upper Kenai Peninsula: Slack water immediately below the Tustumena Lake outlet has yielded a few lake trout and Dolly Varden.

Steelhead fishing in the Kasilof River can be fair with some catch-and-release steelhead fishing. Most anglers fishing for steelhead are doing so in the Kasilof River near the Crooked Creek confluence. Only one unbaited, single-hook artificial lure is allowed and steelhead/rainbow trout may not be removed from the water. Crooked Creek itself is closed to all fishing through July 31.

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at or 257-4329.

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