Time is running short to catch a Kenai River king salmon because the season ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. But fishing is picking up for a slew of other species.
Sockeye salmon are being caught in good numbers from the mouth of the Kenai all the way up to the Russian River, rainbow trout are plentiful in stretches of the river and reports of silver salmon are beginning to surface.
“It’s a fun time of the year,” said Scott Miller of Trustworthy Hardware in Soldotna. “We’ve got a long way to go yet, and people for the most part are pretty happy.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Friday issued an emergency order prohibiting the use of bait on the Kenai through the end of the late-king run, which will finish below average for the third consecutive year.
Catch rates have been down since the order went into effect Monday, but anglers have managed to hook a few fish.
“We have had some reports of people catching kings without bait,” said Jason Pawluk, assistant area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “But catch rates have been down as you would expect. The run is winding down and we are seeing the tail end of the year.”
For other species, however, options abound.
The late-run for sockeye salmon continues to be strong for the Kenai.
Fish and Game reported a season passage of 1,203,402 through Tuesday, up from 883,692 at the same time last year.
A single-day record of more than 230,000 sockeye entered the river July 17 and many of those fish have reached the upper Kenai and are swimming into the Russian River, Pawluk said.
Fishing has yet to peak and it’s slightly early to say how the run will pan out in the Russian, where the season passage for sockeye was 4,209 as of Tuesday — compared to 5,263 in 2010 — but the action is getting better.
“There are reports that they are in the upper Kenai and weir counts on the Russian are starting to increase,” Pawluk said. “They are definitely up there now. It looks to us like they are really moving. Fishing should be good pretty much from Kenai Lake all the way to the mouth.”
Miller said he caught nine sockeye with his two children in the Russian on a recent trip to Anchorage, an indication that fish are around.
The daily possession limit was bumped from three to six last week in the Kenai, but remains at three for the Russian and in “fly-fishing only” waters of the Kenai, including its confluence with the Russian. Check the regulations for details.
“Even with the increased number, we are seeing a lot of people limit out,” Miller said.
It’s shaping up to be a good season for rainbows, too.
Sockeye numbers are generally a good indication for rainbow trout fishing, Pawluk added, meaning conditions should be strong for resident fish in August and into September.
Rainbows feast on eggs and the nutrients in sockeye carcasses, so wherever there are sockeye, usually there are rainbows nearby.
A safe bet when fishing for rainbows is to mimic flesh patterns or use beads.
“We are going to start hitting the peak for resident fish around the beginning of August,” Pawluk said. “Right now it’s even pretty good. When you have a large volume of sockeye salmon being harvested and nutrients being thrown back into the system — carcasses and eggs — the rainbows feast on that.”
Meanwhile, the Kenai dipnet fishery closes with the king season at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, but is open 24 hours daily until then.
Pawluk said sockeye have been coming pulses since the first push and the action has been somewhat sporadic, but generally good.
“If you hit it right, it can be really good,” Pawluk said. “We will hear reports from people saying it will be slow for an hour and then a nice little pulse of fish will move through and the fishing gets good.”
This also is the time silver salmon begin entering the rivers.
However, Pat Shields of Fish and Game said it’s too early to gauge the strength of the 2011 run for the Kenai.
Shields said commercial harvest rates for silvers bound for northern streams are well below average, but he couldn’t say how those numbers relate to rivers to the east, like the Kenai, because it’s so early in the run.
“For northern streams it’s not a strong run, and it’s past the early stage,” Shields said. “But let’s hold out on the east side stock based on the commercial data. With coho, things can change really fast. They can come in big numbers in a short amount of time.”
Miller added that two silvers were brought aboard his boat during a recent trip on the Kenai when he was back-bouncing Spin-N-Glo lures.
To the south, meanwhile, pink salmon and sockeye have started entering Kachemak Bay.
Anglers have reported catching pinks while trolling in the Point Pogibshi area, said Carolyn Bunker with Fish and Game. Look for sockeye salmon in China Poot and Tutka Bays, Bunker added.
Bunker said silvers are being caught at Flat Island in Cook Inlet, but the run hasn’t peaked.
“Fishing for silver salmon should improve over the next few weeks,” Bunker said.
For halibut, try fishing during slack tide because less weight is needed to keep bait on the bottom. Herring is the most popular bait, but octopus, squid, salmon heads, and jigs also work well, Bunker said.
Fishing has been poor in Kachemak Bay, but fair to good in the central and southern areas of Cook Inlet from Homer, as well as out of Anchor Point and Deep Creek.
Throw in 27 stocked lakes on the central Peninsula — contact Fish and Game for a complete list — and there’s a place to fish for just about anybody.
“It’s just going to get more fun and more fun,” Miller said.
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