Although the main bulk of the Kenai River’s famous sockeye run is fading into lower numbers, there is still good opportunity for salmon anglers as the crowds clear out.
For five days in a row, at least 60,000 sockeye pushed through the river per day, but that number has dropped to 43,494 and 40,920 on Monday and Tuesday respectively.
“Fishing is still good,” said Jason Pawluk, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “It is still catchable in the lower river with 40,000 a day and then above Naptown Rapids and then in the upper Kenai we are getting reports that the main stem fish are moving into the upper Kenai. It is still a go for sockeye fishing.”
The progression of the run is consistent with what managers expect to see, Pawluk said.
“Toward the back end of the run you get a pretty consistent flow of fish into the river, especially as they move toward the beaches and they bleed in for the back half of the run,” he said.
However, Pawluk said he expects that number to continue to drop day-by-day.
Anglers are reporting success from the Kenai River and Russian River confluence in the fly fishing sanctuary and downstream of the ferry along the cut bank.
The Russian River started its late run on July 15, but is off to a slow start, Pawluk said.
“We are at 9,000 fish right now through the end of July,” he said. “The fishery is only open through August 20 ... but with so few fish being in the Russian right now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have good catch rates at the mouth because you are also intercepting ... the main stem component that is passing through that area on upstream.
In the upper Kenai River and the Russian River fly fishing only areas, the daily bag limit remains three sockeye with three in possession. However, the daily bag limit on the lower river is six salmon, only two of which may be coho salmon, Pawluk said.
The dipnetting season at the mouth of the Kenai River closed Tuesday, but dipnetters can still fish from the Kasilof’s beaches through Aug. 7. Fishing for king salmon is still off limits to all, Pawluk said.
Silvers, pinks starting up
The next big fishery set to start on the Kenai River is the first run of silver salmon.
However, it is too early to tell what the run will shape up like as ocean net testing is average right now, Pawluk said.
“We haven’t started seeing the cohos in the river though like we would or in the dipnet fishery where we usually start seeing them the last week of July here and there,” he said.
However, Pawluk said the fish might just be slow to enter into the river — a suspicion backed up by data from other river weirs in other parts of Cook Inlet.
On Wednesday, Fish and Game issued an emergency order prohibiting the use of bait, scent and multiple hooks in the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to the Soldotna bridge from Aug. 2 through Aug. 15.
This year is also a pink salmon year, which could complicate things for silver fishermen.
“During pink years you have these windows in August and like right now would be a good window because the pinks haven’t moved up en masse into the lower sections of the river — they are just starting to hit the mouth now,” Pawluk said.
In a matter of weeks the as the lower river will load up with pinks quickly, Pawluk said.
“It is just a matter of finding where the silvers segregate away from the pink salmon and hold in different spots and try to figure that out,” he said. “After August it calms down again and then you can hit those second run silver salmon king of pink-free at that point.”
However, the pink run isn’t necessarily a bad thing for fishermen. Pinks are great for beginning fishermen and children looking to have fun. Even serious anglers can enjoy the pink run as the males get large, Pawluk said. The state record pink salmon was caught on the Moose River and was 12 pounds.
“You could almost hook one on every cast really,” Pawluk said. “They are very aggressive ... you could pretty much throw anything out there and they will strike at it. It leads to high catch rates and plentiful hook-ups for young children and beginners and out-of-staters regardless of if they want to keep them or not.”
Pawluk suggested using pixies, spinners, plugs, little qwikfish or eggs if anglers are set on using hard tackle. Fly fishermen can try brightly colored shiny patterns, he said.
“Popular vibrax spinners are the chrome blades with the hot pink center or the chartreuse center, or the hot orange,” he said. “A metallic blue center is a good one, too.”
Rainbow trout action steady
Kenai River rainbow trout action is good and steady, Pawluk said. Try fishing a flesh pattern, an egg pattern or a combination in the upper and middle river. Pawluk suggested Morgan’s Hole or from the shores of Swiftwater Park.