An angler holds up his early morning catch Sunday while waiting to take the ferry back across the Kenai River. Many anglers found success during the weekend opener of the Russian River and the upper Kenai River from the ferry crossing downriver to the power lines.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Although the old saying is that the early bird gets the worm, scores of early anglers were hoping to get the fish during opening weekend on the Russian River and the upper Kenai River from the ferry crossing downriver to the power lines.
At 6 a.m., the temperature was a brisk 38 degrees and steam rose off the chilly, fast flowing, aqua-marine water of the Kenai River.
Overhead the sky was the color of cotton candy as the sun's first rays peaked over the mountains.
The Russian River campground parking lot and the Sportsman's Landing already looked like the showroom floor of an RV dealership, and a line of eager anglers already had formed at ferry dock waiting to cross.
There were a few native Alaskans, and many from the Lower 48, but some from as far away as Ireland, Germany and Holland were among them. Their places of origin may have been different, but they all had one thing in common they came hoping to catch fish, and they were not disappointed.
"It's off to an excellent start," said Kevin Thurman of Anchorage. "I fish here every year at this time. I drove in late last night around midnight and started fishing. I've been knocking them dead ever since."
Thurman wasn't lying. He was almost mechanical in his rhythmic casting movements, tracking his tackle as it bounced downriver along the bottom until eventually a silver missile launched from the water with a neon fly lodged squarely in its mouth.
"Fish on!" shouted Thurman, as his reel sang with the tune of sockeye with a lot of fight left in it stripping out line.
The early run of sockeye salmon is just starting to build steam.
The fishery opened at 12:01 a.m. and only 1,948 salmon had passed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game weir at the outlet of Lower Russian Lake, of which 710 came through that day.
According to Fish and Game, it takes fish roughly seven to 10 days to travel from the river mouth to the weir, so there likely are many more fish behind those counted currently moving up the river since the early run of sockeye typically doesn't peak until between June 17 and 27.
Despite the fishing conditions only being at a smooth rolling boil, rather than white hot, most anglers said they preferred it that way.
"It may be slower fishing right now, but it's also less crowded. There's still 10 to 15 feet between me and the next person down.
In another two weeks, I'll be lucky if there's two feet between me and them," said Leslie Getha of Anchorage.
Josh Booker of Anchorage said the conditions may have been a little slow, but they were steady.
"It was worth the trip down. They fish are in there. They're not in real thick, but they're there and you can get them. I had to fish from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., but I got my limit," he said.
Like Booker, many anglers who were patient were able to land a fish or two, and a few folks took home their daily bag limit of three fish.
However, Dewayne Holt, assistant manager at the Russian River Ferry service, said this is only the calm before the storm.
"It's still picking up. Once the Sanctuary opens, that's when it really hits the fan here," he said.
The Sanctuary Holt was referring to is a narrow channel between the ferry crossing and the Russian River, where fish often will bottleneck while waiting to move upstream, making them easy targets for anglers who stand shoulder to shoulder to get a shot at them.
The Sanctuary is not scheduled to open until July 15, but Fish and Game may issue an emergency order opening it sooner depending on escapement numbers.
A few anglers attempted to fish the Sanctuary and were quickly reprimanded by ferry staff and other anglers.
Holt said his biggest challenge is getting people to be bear aware.
"I can't stress enough that anglers that come here need to be bear safe.
We've already had a rumor of bear in the area, so people should always be aware and cautious at all times," he said.
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