Peter Karchere cleans one of two sockeye he caught on a fish cleaning table in the Russian River on Sunday morning as Keith Westphal, center, and Mike Timbornino, right, carefully cross the river to reach an exit ramp. Westphal and Timbornino say they saw a brown bear fishing next to the table when they arrived early Sunday morning.
Photos by Patrice Kohl
The plunk of fishing flies joined the roar of the Russian River on Sunday, announcing the opening of one of the Kenai Peninsula’s most popular fisheries.
Fishermen in hip boots and chest waders treaded carefully through swift waters over slippery rocks to reach their favorite fishing holes and land a sockeye.
The splash of frisky fish attracted charismatic fishermen and megafauna alike.
Several fishermen spotted a brown bear as it joined fishermen angling for a feast of flaky flesh.
Mike Timbornino and his fishing companion Keith Westphal said a brown bear had already staked out a fishing hole of its own in a stretch river near the Grayling parking lot of the Russian River Campground when they arrived at 5:30 a.m. Sunday
“He literally came right up to the fishing table,” Timbornino said, pointing to a cleaning table just upstream of the popular Cottonwood fishing hole .
Although Westphal had not caught any fish before the pair left the river at about 10 a.m., Timbornino said he caught his three fish limit easily.
Charles Conides hoists his second sockeye out of the Kenai River on Sunday, just a few yards downstream from the Russian River Ferry.
Photo by Patrice Kohl
“This is just a warm-up,” he said of the early season fish opener.
Peter Karchere, of Eagle River, returned from the river carrying a bag containing two cleaned fish, but said he had landed somewhere between 10 and 12 in the approximately three and a half hours he had been fishing the Russian River.
Karchere said the Russian River sockeye opener is one of his favorites and claims the early run sockeye run is faster than the second.
“These are fast and furious, they’re storming through,” he said. “They’re also the freshest of the year. They’re silver bright.”
Not everyone was as lucky.
“I’m just trying to stay untangled,” said Alfredia Tyler, who was aiming to catch a sockeye from the Kenai River before it reached the Russian River.
Sockeye runs on the Kenai River from the Russian River Ferry to the power lines just short of a mile south of the ferry also opened to fishing Sunday.
Tyler said this was her fourth time fishing for sockeye in the area and that she has not yet caught a single fish.
“I haven’t had any luck here,” she said as she fiddled with a yellow fly and fishing line tangled at the end of her fishing pole.
Tyler wasn’t alone. Among the fishermen casting below the Russian River Ferry people seemed to be either hitting one fish after another or striking out completely.
“This is my sixth one, five got away,” said Ted Forton, as he landed his first fish of the day at about 7 a.m., less than an hour after he had arrived at his fishing spot on the Kenai River.
“Of these four, I’m the only one that’s getting any,” he said, nodding to his three fishing companions.
Forton said he and his companions regularly travel to the Kenai Peninsula from Michigan and Minnesota, and that Sunday’s opener was among his two favorites.
“I can feel them down there,” said Len Koons, one of Forton’s three fishing companions.”You can feel them bumping against the line ... it’s just a matter of getting a line into them.”
Charles Conides, of Anchorage, rode the first ferry across the Kenai River at 6 a.m. to fish, caught two sockeye by 9 a.m. and had caught and released one rainbow trout besides.
At 81, Conides has swapped his hip boots for a folding chair, but with years of experience behind him age doesn’t seem to slow him down.
Conides has been traveling to the Kenai River to fish the early run sockeye opener for 45 years and is more than a little familiar with some of the other regulars.
“I’d say she gets more fish than most people, men or women,” he said, nodding toward a woman who was wearing a red and white checkered cooking apron and who was also casting into the river from a folding chair.
Conides said he believes one of the keys to successful sockeye fishing is to fish with a long lead.
“I think a lead of three to four feet has been productive,” he said, just moments before he landed his second sockeye.
Some of the luckier fishermen offered helpful hints to fishermen who had not yet caught any fish.
Scott Tennyson, of Washington, credited luck for his three-fish catch.
“Even the blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while, “ he said.
But while Tennyson did not cite fishing wisdom for his own catch, he had no shortage of advice for his fishing companion and boss, who continued to struggle to land even one sockeye.
“He gives me instructions at work and I give him instructions on the water,” he said.
“You don’t like the sweep?” he asked as he circled around on the bank and in the water behind his boss with a landing net in hand.
Tennyson then offered his boss instructions on flossing, a technique whereby a fisherman pulls on the fishing line near the base of his poll with his hand and hopes it will run through the open mouth of a sockeye.
For every fishermen that landed their limit, there appeared to be approximately five to eight people who had reeled in nothing at all. And the weir count numbers have been unencouraging.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 12 sockeye passed through a weir located upstream of the opener at the outlet of Lower Russian Lake on Saturday. It takes a sockeye roughly 10 days to travel the 75 miles that stretch from the mouth of the Kenai River to the weir.
As of Sunday, the Department of Fish and Game had recorded and posted the number of fish that had passed through the weir for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Saturday was the first day any fish had been recorded as having passed through the weir.
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