Russian rush: Sanctuary opens Monday

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2007

Russian River anglers may have to pinch themselves on Monday morning, because their mid-summer sockeye dream will be a reality.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued an Emergency Order to open the Russian River sanctuary to sockeye fishing beginning at 8 a.m., Monday — nearly a month earlier than the schedules July 15 opening date — as a result of a strong return of sockeye.

On Thursday, the Fish and Game weir — located at the outlet of Lower Russian Lake — recorded a whopping 1,611 sockeye swimming by that day, for a cumulative 4,079 sockeye so far this season.

“And, we had another good count on Friday,” said Robert Begich, sportfish area management biologist with Fish and Game in Soldotna.

As a result, Begich said it has been determined that Fish and Game’s early-run sockeye salmon spawning escapement goal of 14,000 to 37,000 fish will be achieved, and early opening of the sanctuary is warranted.

Roughly, the sanctuary area includes the waters from the ferry crossing upstream to the confluence of the Kenai and Russian Rivers, and despite the early opening, the daily bag and possession limit remains at three sockeye.

Evening before the early opening, this popular piscatorial place was already living up to its reputation as a “combat fishing” zone. On Saturday anglers — shoulder to shoulder — already lined the banks of the Kenai River from the ferry crossing, to downstream for at least a mile.

The same was true of the Russian River from its confluence with the Kenai, upstream to the Fish and Game regulatory markers.

With these fishermen come fish carcasses, left behind after the red reward has been filleted from the bone. Anglers are asked to — under the “stop, chop and throw” campaign — cut their carcasses into small pieces and throw them into the fast flowing water, but Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said earlier in the week he saw only a handful of the dozens of anglers on the water disposing of their carcasses correctly.

“It’s dissapointing,” he said, and more to the point it draws in bears.

Selinger had to immobilize and move one brown bear on Wednesday already, after it was feeding on whole carcasses that were beginning to pile up on a gravel bar not far downstream from the ferry crossing.

Selinger added that another female brown bear with two tiny cubs of the year has also been seen feeding in the same area, which given the defensive nature of brown bear sows protecting their young, is not an animal fishermen want to draw in by being lazy with leftover fish parts.

Anglers fishing in the Russian River area also should be aware the Chugach National Forest and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have issued regulations requiring all food, beverages or smelly refuse, to be in possession or within a three-foot immediate grasp at all times.

This includes coolers, lunch bags, stringers of fish and other human food often left unattended while anglers wade into the river to cast for passing fish.

Officers will be patrolling the area seven days a week, and writing citations for those not in compliance.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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