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Russian peaking, Kenai kings re-open July 1

Posted: June 28, 2012 - 9:27am  |  Updated: June 28, 2012 - 9:49am
Brian Smith
Mike King helps net Brian Wojtowicz’ sockeye salmon on the Russian River on Friday night.

Sockeye salmon have continued pushing in heavy numbers up the Russian River this week giving anglers plenty of opportunity to do battle.

So far, 16,056 sockeye have made it through the Russian River weir and fish counts have been in the 2,000 fish per day range since June 23. Saturday saw the greatest influx yet of sockeye with 2,420 making it through the weir.

Water levels remain high on the river, recently cresting at 22 inches.

Jason Pawluk, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said there have been several reports of anglers loosing their footing and falling into the river due to the deep, swift current. Pawluk said anglers should use caution when navigating the waters and to expect to lose some sockeye in the process.

"It is always tough to forecast, but since we are about halfway through it is looking like we are peaking now," Pawluk said. "If you want to fish the Russian, I would recommend doing it right about now because it looks like it is peaking for the early run ... and I would expect in the next three to four days to see counts decreasing."

Water levels on the Kenai River are currently above average due to snowmelt and rainfall, which have led to poor visibility readings. However, water visibility should continue to improve as water levels recede, Pawluk said.

"Most efforts are being directed upstream of where the Killey River dumps in, which is causing the dirty water so they are targeting rainbow trout and sockeye salmon moving up the river," Pawluk said.

Mike Harpe, manager and guide for Kenai River Fly Fishing, said rainbow trout fishing on the Kenai is currently challenging.

"You've got to work for them," he said. "You've got high water and a lot of variables against you right now with the elements we've had."

Harpe said high water levels displace the trout as many don't want to hang in heavy currents. He suggested anglers be open to moving around on the river and dead drifting flesh flies close to the shoreline, near cover like fallen trees or around large rocks and eddies.

"You'll have zones where you might not see any but then boom then you'll get your fish," he said.

Harpe also reminded anglers to use ample weight and long leaders so flies are fished close to the bottom.

"A lot of biomass is starting to move with this waterflow and the fish are still hammering some fry patterns and they're definitely keying in on flesh," he said. "We haven't had a whole lot of surface activity but have thrown a few dry flies."

He also recommended fishing smaller than usual flesh flies -- "comfort food, you know."

"Sometimes just downsize," he said.

Nick Ohlrich, co-owner and guide for Alaska Drift Away Fishing, said fishing for king salmon on the Kasilof River is "fairly painful." However, he said this and next weekend are typically slow for kings on that river and guides are keeping their fingers crossed for a good second run starting mid-July.

"It's tough out there with just a few more days in that first run," he said. "We should start seeing a few bigger fish moving in and I'm sure there are a few that are coming in right now. But yeah we're getting one maybe two shots at a fish with the no bait, single hook thing."

Emergency orders limit anglers to only keeping hatchery-reared king salmon, identifiable by a clipped adipose fin, regardless of their size on the Kasilof. Ohlrich said there are some hatchery kings being caught, but it's been tough.

On Wednesday, Fish and Game banned the use of bait and multiple hooks in the Kasilof river from its mouth upstream to the Sterling Highway bridge from July 1 through July 31.

On July 1, the Kenai River will open to late run king salmon fishing downriver from the marker located 300 yards downstream of Slikok Creek to the mouth of the river. No slot limit is being enforced.

"I just want to make sure people are reminded the fishery in the entire Kenai River drainage, even in that section where it is open to king fishing, is closed to the use of bait and any type of scent," Pawluk said.

According to Fish and Game, the daily DIDSON sonar passage estimate of king salmon for June 24 was 34 fish. The cumulative DIDSON sonar passage estimate through June 24 is 2,756 king salmon.

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