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Reds, anglers return to Russian River; sanctuary area opens today

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2004

Dan Wilcox, a tourist up from Alabama on a two week fishing trip, was just one several dozen anglers in line at the Russian River Ferry launch dock at 6 a.m. Thursday morning. All were eagerly awaiting the first trip across the river for that day.

"The Russian River is to fishing what the Grand Old Opry is to country music," said Wilcox.

After crossing the aqua-marine waterway, Wilcox staked out a suitable spot on the bank several yards away from the next angler.

However, over the next few hours more people arrived filling in the open spaces, and transforming the bank into the combat fishing scene for which the river is so infamous.

"It got crowded quick," said Wilcox. "I've fished it more crowded though. I've been here when it was shoulder to shoulder."

The banks have been crowded all week in the fishable waters of the Russian River and on the Kenai River from the ferry crossing down to the power lines. The fishing has been slow, but steady by most accounts.

"I've hit my limit the last two days," said Matt Hegart, from Arizona. "It took me about seven hours to do it though."

"It's been sporadic. It will be real slow for awhile, then all of a sudden they'll start running up the river and everybody will be catching fish," said Hegart.

Jordan Wright from Colorado has also been in the fish all this week.

"I caught a 25-pound king on the Kasilof early in the week, and I've caught 12 reds here just in the last couple of days.

Thursday morning was another successful day for Wright. He and his brother Cameron Wright were on the first ferry across the river at 6 a.m., and by 8 a.m. the two were already on their way back across with their bag limit of three fish each.

Anglers can also look forward to fishing the sanctuary area at the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers this weekend. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued an emergency order opening this narrow stretch of river known for being a prolific passage way for sockeye starting at 6 a.m. today.

This is a fly-fishing-only waterway and the bag and possession limit is three fish. Check page 31 of the 204 Southcentral Alaska sport fishing regulation booklet for more detailed regulations.

Fish and Game made the decision to open the sanctuary after it was determined that the minimum early run sockeye spawning escapement goal of 14,000 fish at the Lower Russian Lake weir will be achieved.

As of June 15, nearly 9,000 sockeye have been counted at the weir. Fish and Game also estimate that 8,000 to 10,000 sockeye are present in the sanctuary, with further indications of fish in the lower Kenai River downstream of Skilak Lake.

On the lower Kenai River, the early run king salmon fishery picked up a bit this week. As of June 16, 8, 596 salmon had passed the Fish and Game sonar counter at Mile 8.6 of the river.

Compared to the red hot action last week, fishing for kings of the Kasilof has slowed a bit, but is still very good.

Many champagne colored bucks are starting to show up as kings move into their spawning colors, and a few crimson colored fish have been caught as well.

The sockeye run picked up a little more steam this week, although this fishery is still a long way from reaching its peak.

The recent rains have the Kasilof running a little higher than normal, and have also flushed large accumulation of deadfall into the water.

Further to the south, the Ninilchik is now closed to fishing for wild king salmon, but will remain open to fishing for hatchery king salmon recognizable by their missing adipose fin and healed fin clip scar.

"There's still fish coming into the river and traditionally we see more hatchery fish later in the season," said Nicky Szarzi, area management biologist with Fish and game in Homer.

Szarzi also pointed out the Deep Creek is now closed to fishing, but that the Anchor River will be open for its fourth weekend.

"I'm also in the process of writing an emergency order to open the Anchor for an additional weekend from June 26 to the 28th," said Szarzi.

Stan Harrington, of the Anchor Angler in Anchor Point is predicting another good weekend on the Anchor.

"We're past our peak, but the return has been strong this year and there still some good king fishing going on," he said.

The marine fishery is also holding strong with feeder kings according to Harrington. In addition, a few early arrivals of some other salmon species have caught anglers by surprise.

"We've already had some early silvers caught around Bluff Point and some pinks and dollies in the river," said Harrington.

This is a little early for these species to be showing up.

As to whether this represented a few fish with an internal clock set a bit too soon, or was perhaps indicative of a strong return this year, Harrington was optimistic and said he believed the latter.

Stormy weather and rough seas kept many halibut boats off the waters of Cook Inlet early in the week, but the last few days have more than made up for any angling opportunities that were lost.

"We're really starting to see some bigger halibut showing up," said Harrington.

Several halibut weighing over 200-pounds have been caught in the last two days, and on Wednesday a new leader emerged in the Homer Jackpot halibut Derby.

The leader as of Thursday is a 283.4-pound flat fish caught by Robert Richter of Huntington Beach, Calif. on the "Daze Off," fishing with Capt. Dave Hillstrand of Homer Ocean Charters.



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