Sockeye flood Kenai [+video]

Dipnetters, anglers enjoy start of season's first salmon burst

The sockeye are in.


The fishermen are lining the shores.

The hooks are flipping and the tails are slapping.

Anglers and dipnetters fishing early in the week were treated to massive sockeye runs of 119,274 and 196,356 on Sunday and Monday respectively. Tuesday's fish count was down a bit at 72,726 for a season total of 497,088, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Anglers like Kenai resident Chris Haigh -- who was fishing with a "garage sale special" rod and 40-pound leader line on Wednesday at Soldotna Creek Park -- said fishermen noticed the drop in the run.

"Meh, it's crappy but when the weather is this good it's great," he said with a smile as the Alaska sun sweltered up a 70-degree high. "I saw four or five fish caught here a while ago, but I don't know where they are now. Maybe they'll all be sneaking through between 11 (p.m.) and 6 (a.m.)"

Half jokingly, Haigh said his only secret was to get the line in the water as many times as possible.

A little further down the river, fisherman Moreno Gazzett said the fishing was "simply great."

"Oh, it's too good," he said. "I got two in 15 minutes and I didn't catch another one. I'm still waiting for about six hours for the last one."

Jason Pawluk, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said sockeye fishing should remain good for a while.

"Catch rates increased dramatically and it is not really taking people long to get their three reds per day, which is the bag limit right now," he said.

Sockeye should be spread out through the entire lower Kenai River from Skilak Lake down to the mouth, Pawluk said.

"The upper Kenai River is a little bit different," he said. "It takes a little while for the reds to kind of navigate their way through Skilak Lake and even when they get to where the upper flows in Skilak, sometimes it take some convincing for them to even want to make a move up that. The upper Kenai is really not in play for a while."

Water levels are right about average and very still fishable. However, water clarity is high, which isn't the best for sockeye fishing.

"(That) will push them further off the shore," Pawluk said. "With dirtier water conditions they might migrate a little bit tighter against the bank."

Pawluk suggested anglers get out further into the water, or strip out more line when casting to get where sockeye are holding.

"Try to find where you start feeling the fish and then work that area," Pawluk said.

Pawluk also recommended a longer leader rather than a shorter one.
"Start with like a three-foot, three-and-a-half-foot leader and that seems to be the ticket," he said.

Dipnetting is also steady with crowds out in full force along the Kenai's public access beaches. Mike Dennison, of Wasilla, bought a new net this year and said it has made a world of difference.

"Between a pretty darn good run and better equipment that makes a better season," he said.

Rainbow trout action heats up
As the sockeye start flooding the Kenai River, feeding rainbow trout will start to notice, Pawluk said.

"When the sockeye start getting harvested in numbers like this up and down the river banks, you have a lot of salmon carcasses and nutrients being thrown back into the river ... and it's great feed for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden," he said.

Fly fishermen should try a white, slightly pink or washed out egg pattern or any combination of the three around the areas where fishermen are or have been.

"Now's the time to do it because the sockeye are hanging out by these cleaning stations ... downstream where all these carcasses are drifting by and breaking up or they kind of gather in areas where carcasses tend to fall out and collect," Pawluk said.

The Russian River and Kenai River confluence sanctuary opened last week, but that's of little concern to anglers now that the sockeye have come through the Kenai River en masse.

"I don't think it was good, but if it was, it didn't last very long if people got in there and started moving fish around," Pawluk said of the sanctuary opener.

King salmon fishing closed
Due to a struggling run, Fish and Game has closed king salmon fishing on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers starting today. Fish and Game also prohibited sport fishing for king salmon in the salt waters of Cook Inlet north of Bluff Point. King salmon may not be retained or possessed and kings caught while fishing for other species may not be removed from the water and must be released immediately.

Clam tides decent for weekend
The Deep Creek District will see moderate clamming tides through Monday. Low tides are Thursday -1.8 feet at 10:26 a.m., Friday -2.1 feet at 11 a.m., Saturday -2.1 feet at 11:34 a.m., Sunday -1.5 feet at 12:10 p.m., Monday -0.5 feet at 12:47 p.m.

Brian Smith can be reached at


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