The Anchor River and Deep Creek will officially off-limits to sport fishing starting Wednesday. Too few king salmon are coming back to those rivers to allow for it, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The rivers, which run alongside the Sterling Highway on the way to Homer, are popular sportfishing streams throughout the summer. But for the past few years, the king salmon runs there have been struggling. As of Monday, 164 kings had passed the weir on Deep Creek, compared to 282 last year, and 201 fish had passed the weir on the Anchor River, compared to 938 by the same day last year. Based on past run timing, that means a run of about 2,000 kings for the Anchor in 2020, a little more than half of the lower end of the escapement goal.
Fish and Game announced the closure Monday, which is currently set to expire July 15. Area sportfish management biologist Mike Booz said it’s a complete closure in part because kings are pretty much the only fish in the river right now besides steelhead, which have to be released immediately anyway.
"We wanted to keep the streams closed so anglers aren’t incidentally targeting king salmon during that time when there’s really not much else going on," Booz said. "By mid-July, most of those are through; there’s still going to be some going through, of course, but there’s going to be a lot of Dolly Varden, so we don’t want to miss opportunity for anglers to get out and fish for dollies. So, it’s just a balance."
Fishing for kings will be closed in the saltwater north of Bluff Point, which is a little north of Homer, as well. The two restrictions are designed to still provide opportunity for king salmon fishing in Lower Cook Inlet while maximizing the number of fish making it back to the streams north of that.
Booz says genetic studies have shown that the kings caught in the Kachemak Bay area in the summer are largely not local—only about 3-5 percent are headed for Cook Inlet streams.
King salmon all over Alaska haven’t been doing well for about a decade now, with various degrees of difficulty depending on the region. Though there may be some freshwater aspects to their troubles, the science so far points to issues in the marine environment, which are harder to control for, Booz said.
“We don’t have any monitoring going on for freshwater and saltwater. For chinook (salmon), I think you’ll see that this is kind of oceanwide," he said. King salmon aren’t doing great right now. A lot of the signs point toward the marine components of their life.
The Ninilchik River will still be open to king fishing, but anglers can only keep hatchery fish 20 inches or longer, which can be identified by their missing adipose fin. Those fish have been doing well so far, with about twice as many hatchery fish returning as wild fish, according to Fish and Game’s video weir counts.
More information is available on Fish and Game’s website.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.