Baiting early run interest

Healthy escapement means easier fishing on the Kenai

Posted: Sunday, June 11, 2006

On Saturday, fishing for early run king salmon got a little easier. Due to adequate fish runs and low harvest levels, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order Friday allowing fishermen to use bait from the mouth of the river to 100 yards downstream of the confluence of the Moose and Kenai Rivers. The order went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

Without the change, fishermen would not have been allowed to use bait until after June 30. But with a 5,300—9,000 escapement goal, an estimated 5,450 fish already upstream and a low harvest of approximately 350 salmon, Fish and Game lifted the restriction.

When asked why harvest levels might be low, Larry Marsh, an assistant area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sport Fish Division, said fishing conditions on the Kenai River have been less than ideal.

Early in the fishing season water levels in the Kenai River were low, limiting fishermen’s ability to navigate the river in motorboats.

“It was the second lowest in 40 years,” said George Pappas, area management biologist with Fish and Game.

In addition to low water, fishermen battled silty water early in the season, Marsh said.

“It was just like a milkshake,” he said. “Those are tough fishing conditions.”

Now, however, the water has become clearer and water levels are still low but climbing, said Pappas.

Even with the no-bait restriction lifted for the remainder of June, Fish and Game projects that escapement will likely exceed the upper end of the goal.

Although there is no exact date for when the early king run ends, it generally tapers off in late June and early July, and overlaps somewhat with the beginning of the late run of kings.

“We start seeing fewer fish, sometimes as early as the 20th of June,” Marsh said.

Fish and Game manages the salmon to reduce variability, primarily to create a consistent opportunity for humans to harvest fish and to allow fishermen to take advantage of extra fish when there is a bumper crop.

“From a biological standpoint variability is normal, variability is natural,” Marsh said.

Although it is not unusual for Fish and Game to lift the no-bait restriction prior to July, it is unusual to lift the restriction this early, he said.

Other restrictions remain the same. Fishermen are limited to one hook and may only keep king salmon that measure less than 44 inches or more than 55 inches. All other salmon must be immediately released.

The escapement goal was lowered from 7,200-14,400 in 2004 to the current goal of 5,300—9,000 in 2005.

Where can I fish?

· The Russian River opens to fishing today, however, the Sanctuary Area remains closed until July 15 unless opened early by emergency order.

· This is the last weekend opener on the Ninilchik River and Deep Creek.

· The Anchor River is having its second-to-last weekend opener.

· The Kenai River closed to rainbow trout fishing May 2 to protect spawning fish. The daily limit for rainbows on the Upper Kenai and Russian rivers is one per day and one in possession and fish must be less than 16 inches in length.

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