Pauline Williford and Janet Grow sat on camp chairs on the bank of Ship Creek on Wednesday afternoon, their fishing lines in the water and their expectations in check.
"There's no fish," Williford said, who had gone more than two hours without a nibble while fishing near the Bridge Restaurant.
A few minutes later, the cousins from Wasilla were told otherwise. Jacob Schneider of Willow strolled down the bank and stopped to ask the women if they were having any luck. When he was asked the same question and answered in the affirmative, the women perked up and began to quiz him.
What time? 8 o'clock, he said.
How big? About 18 pounds, he said.
What part of the river? Right over there, he said, pointing toward a sand bar a little upriver near the opposite bank.
Williford and Grow were fishing two days after a 17-year-old Bartlett High student landed what is believed to be the first Ship Creek king salmon caught this season.
Dustin Slinker, owner of The Bait Shack, said as far as he knows, only a handful of kings have been caught so far. But news of the first catch has spread, and at noon Wednesday a couple of dozen anglers were scattered along the shores of Anchorage's downtown fishery.
Fishing will be elbow-to-elbow soon enough, said Bob Masher, who was helping Slinker get The Bait Shack ready for another summer of urban salmon fishing.
"At a fishery like this on the road system, when they're running, it'll be everybody and Obama," Masher told a trio of curious tourists who stopped into the tiny bait-and-tackle shop.
[Hooligan fishing peaks along Turnagain Arm]
Among those trying their luck Wednesday was Robert Rozelle, the reigning king of Ship Creek. He's the high school junior who reeled in the first king Monday night.
"I have never caught the first king," Rozelle said with a bashful smile as he fished with a friend while sitting on a small stairway near the railroad bridge.
"It's pretty awesome. I'm still feeling pretty proud of myself."
A single fillet is all that's left of the 21.2-pound chinook, Rozelle said. He hooked it with eggs on a Spin-N-Glo, but he conceded good fortune was on his side as well.
"It's mostly patience," he said. "You can have the best bait in the world and if they're not there …"
More kings will show up as Memorial Day approaches, Masher predicted. The run should be at full force in time for the June 9-18 Slam'n Salm'n Derby, which last year produced a 38.5-pound winner.
Ship Creek is touted as the world's only urban king salmon fishery, making it a convenient place to cast a line before or after work or during a lunch break.
Noel Rivera, an airman who's been stationed at JBER for 3.5 years, is in the first week of a two-week vacation scheduled specifically to coincide with the start of the chinook season.
"I'll fish every day unless I max out," he said. "Every year I max out."
The limit for king salmon is five a year. Rivera hadn't had a bite in five hours of fishing Wednesday, but he wasn't ready to give up.
A Florida man who grew up deep-sea fishing with his dad, Rivera said nothing in his experience quite compares to Ship Creek.
"It's the only place I've seen where there's really good fishing in the city limits," he said. "Five minutes from the house. Can't beat it."