More than 90,000 sockeye pushed into the Kenai and Kasilof rivers Wednesday as the red salmon season begins to hit its peak in the Cook Inlet.
For fishermen, now is the time to head to the mouth of the rivers with a dipnet, or further upstream with a rod and reel for the prolific red salmon run.
Jason Pawluk, assistant area management biologist in the sport fish division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said dipnetters were hitting fish hard on the Kenai.
“If you were dipnetting on the 14th, 15th or 16th, you were probably limiting out quickly,” Pawluk said.
A robust dipnet fishery on the Kasilof River has also snagged some of a run of more than 333,000 red salmon that have passed the inriver counter.
However, dipnetters at the mouth of the Kasilof River Tuesday said they had a harder time catching fish when a commercial fleet of setnetters and drifting gillnet fishermen congregated at the mouth of the river — an effort by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to keep from allowing too many fish to escape into the river.
“The Kenai probably holds the most promise for the next few weeks,” Pawluk said of dipnetting.
For rod and reel sockeye fishermen, the bag limit on the Kenai River is still three a day with three in posession and Pawluk said fishermen should hit the run early as the first ones to get into the river are usually the biggest.
An emergency order on the Kenai River prohibits dipnetters from keeping king salmon, and regulations on the Kasilof also prevent dipnetters from retaining any king salmon.
However, anglers who are still hoping for a king salmon may be in luck.
Pawluk said harvest and numbers of Kenai River king salmon picked up slightly over the weekend and fishing conditions are good with 1.3 meters of visibility and water temperatures between 54 and 55 degrees.
King salmon captured in Fish and Game’s netting program and sampled in the department’s creel survey in July have been larger and older although smaller, younger fish are still being caught, according to the department’s fishing report.
So far, 457 king salmon have been caught and kept below Soldotna according to Fish and Game data.
For anglers looking to avoid the crowds, Fish and Game stocks 28 lakes on the Kenai Peninsula.
“They’re great for testing out gear, taking children out and avoiding the crowds,” Pawluk said.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.