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Holiday weekend may not deliver memorable Alaska fishing

Craig Medred

The Memorial Day Holiday is here. It's still cold; it's wet. But hey, it's time to go fishing.

"It is still a bit early for much king fishing action on Ship Creek, but if you have the time to go, it beats mowing the lawn,'' the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports. On Wednesday night, fewer than a dozen anglers worked the banks of Ship Creek.  Only half of them even bothered wetting a line, and no fish were landed.

Fish and Game's Anchorage office hints maybe some lake fishing might be better:

"Jewel, Sand, Delong and Cheney lakes have just been stocked with catchable-sized rainbow trout. Last week Cheney Lake has been stocked with nice-sized rainbow trout – larger than your average catchable. Arctic char have also been stocked into Sand and Campbell Point lakes. Keep your eyes peeled for the stocking truck; it should show soon at your neighborhood stocked lake."

Ninilchik River salmon

Salmon fishing looks better to the south on the Kenai Peninsula, where state biologists report "trolling success for feeder king salmon has been fair to good off the south side of Kachemak Bay, Bluff Point, Point Pogibshi and north to Ninilchik." The Ninilchik and Anchor rivers and Deep Creek are open for the weekend for salmon anglers, too; but the weather could be making a mess of things: "Water conditions are most favorable to anglers on the Ninilchik River. Deep Creek and the Anchor River are higher and more turbid."

But for some anglers, it hardly matters if the fishing is hot or not. Just getting a line in the water beats shoveling snow.

"Memorial Day weekend is the traditional weekend for people to flock to these rivers," said Carol Kerkvliet, Fish and Game's assistant area management biologist on the Kenai Peninsula. "People are hungry for king salmon and it's a Southcentral tradition for Memorial Day. People are just excited to get outside after the long winter we had."

The upper Kenai River remains closed to fishing to protect spawning rainbow trout, but the June 11 opening of the oh-so-popular Russian River salmon fishery is fast approaching, and king salmon fishing in the Kenai River itself should start improving by the day -- though it's off to a sluggish start and state biologists are predicting a below-average run.

In the Matanuska-Susitna Valley north of Anchorage, king salmon starting to nose into the always-popular Deshka and Little Susitna rivers, and if you have access to a boat the dipnetting for hooligan (for Alaskans only) can be phenomenal on the Susitna River downstream from the Yentna confluence. A few kings should head to the Eklutna Power Plant Tailrace by early June, maybe even a few days earlier. Before the kings arrive, anglers can get back into mid-season form by casting to rainbow trout and Dolly Varden at river mouths along the Parks Highway, such as Willow Creek. 

Heftier halibut coming

Perhaps a more dependable fishery is halibut. The big barn-door fish won't arrive for about a month, but larger fish are headed inshore, with good action for Homer boats off the Bluffs. For now, Seward might be the better bet. Halibut fishing there is "starting to improve," according to Fish and Game.  "Try fishing as close to the Gulf (of Alaska) as you can. Boats heading east out of Resurrection Bay have been catching some nice halibut."

Anchorage anglers interested in much smaller fish much closer to home, might consider a drive down the Seward Highway to the Twentymile River. Dipnetting season for the small silvery hooligan, sometimes called candlefish, has been open since April 1. Catch and incoming tide and watch for seagulls and eagles -- a good sign the hooligan are running. Remember, only Alaskans can participate. No permit is required, but you do need an Alaska fishing license.

If you're interested in other fishing ideas, Fish and Game has a wealth of them. Just go here and click on your Alaska area of interest to get a laundry list of ideas.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com.  Mike Campbell of Alaska Dispatch contributed.