No bait allowed, but fishing on Kenai still good

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2003

Two of the most frequently asked questions on the Kenai Peninsula these days are, "Can I fish in the sanctuary yet?" and "Can I use bait on the Kenai?"

Though the answer to those questions currently is "Not yet" and "No," respectively, that doesn't mean the fishing isn't any good.

Take this past week, when Peninsula Clarion executive editor Lori Evans landed a 40-pound king salmon on the Kenai River the chest-thumping and boasting around the office hasn't stopped.

"We're not saying the fishing is great, but before the rains, catch rates were good," said Mark Gamblin, Alaska Department of Fish and Game area sportfish manager. "If fishing conditions improve, we should see some good catches again."

Gamblin also reminded anglers that the slot limit for king salmon on the Kenai River is still in place. Kings be-tween 44 and 55 inches in length may not be harvested.

Gamblin said that to liberalize the fishery with an emergency order allowing the use of bait, Fish and Game would need to have a solid projection that the run would exceed the upper end of its escapement range of 14,400 fish.

On the lower Kenai River, the run of king salmon has been healthy, with 8,637 fish tallied at Fish and Game's sonar counter through Wednesday. Current projections peg the run at somewhere in the middle of the department's escapement range.

"We have no plans to do an emergency order authorizing bait on the early run," Gamblin said. "Right now, it looks very unlikely."

The sanctuary area around the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers, a popular spot for anglers fishing the early run of red salmon, is closed by regulation until July 15. In past years, the area has opened early, but the spot has yet to receive a big spike of fish. Through Wednesday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had counted 9,093 fish at its Russian River weir, with an average of 1,254 tallied each day since Sunday.

Gamblin said Fish and Game biologists would be doing a walk-through survey of the upper Kenai and Russian rivers today. Changes could be made to the fishery over the next few days pending those results.

While the sanctuary is closed, the upper Kenai opened last week and the Russian River opened last Sunday, and anglers looking for reds have had some success.

"The fishing has been really slow," said Geneese Peterson at Kenai Cache tackle in Cooper Landing. "It looks like it's picking up, but it looks like it's going to be a late run.

"Those that are fishing in the early morning or late evening are doing the best."

Current conditions are making for excellent rainbow trout fishing, though. Water levels have risen over the past week, and Peterson said the Russian, which had been muddy, has cleared. The overcast skies also have been good for anglers chasing the upper Kenai's trophy rainbows.

The upper Kenai and Russian rivers are fly-fishing-only areas, and anglers should be sure to check the regulations for specific restrictions.

Fishing for kings has been fair to good on the Kasilof River, where only hatchery-reared kings, identifiable by a healed adipose fin-clip scar, may be retained. The Ninilchik River, downstream from the Sterling Highway, also remains open for hatchery kings through June 30.

On other parts of the peninsula, trolling for kings on Resurrection Bay has been categorized as good to very good by Fish and Game, though the fish have yet to hit the beaches in large numbers.

Halibut fishing out of Seward has been good to excellent, just as it has on lower Cook Inlet, where some big fish have been turning up of late as of Wednesday, the leader in the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby is up to 253.8 pounds.

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