The salmon appeared momentarily at the surface, its muscles pushing hard against the turbulent water before disappearing into a mass of sockeye balled up at the base of a stair-step shaped feature at the Russian River Falls.
Buffeted on all sides by the noise and swift current, salmon leapt, flashing silver against the white foam. At times, they successfully navigated upriver to the next feature, others were caught in the foaming eddies and thrown wildly back down to the base to recover and try again.
Every so often, a gold handled net dipped into the river to scoop up a few fish as subsistence fishermen from nearby Cooper Landing took their share of the early run of sockeye on the Russian River.
As of Wednesday a weir at the outlet of the lower Russian Lake, more than 70 miles from the mouth of the Kenai River, showed more than 21,500 passing, just shy of the early run sockeye escapement goal range of 22,000-42,000 fish.
According to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game press release, the early run of sockeye salmon is projected to reach its spawning escapement goal.
Dipnet fishermen upstream were joined downstream by dozens of anglers taking advantage of the recently opened Russian River sanctuary which was available for anglers starting Wednesday at 8 a.m.
Jeffry Anderson, new Cook Inlet Area Inseason Manager, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stood at the falls talking to the six people who went to the river to dipnet Thursday morning.
He said about 100 subsistence permits are issued to residents of Hope, Ninilchik and Cooper Landing who are eligible to fish in special subsistence-only fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula.
The dipnet fishery at the Russian River falls has been the most heavily used in recent years with just over 1200 sockeye harvested in 2012.
Due to a chinook salmon conservation concern a subsistence fishery on the Kenai River has been closed, although there has been no harvest of chinook in that fishery in recent years and Anderson said it is not heavily utilized.
Another subsistence fishery will occur on the Kasilof River just below the outlet of Tustumena Lake although it targets late-run fish that will spawn on the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, that fishery is only open to subsistence fishermen from Ninilchik.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org