Steady sockeye run ups ante for anglers

Posted: Friday, June 23, 2000

With catch-and-release restrictions in place until June 30 on the Kenai River, anglers have been taking advantage of other fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula.

Fishing for sockeye salmon -- also known as "reds" -- on the upper Kenai River and the Russian River has been good in intervals.

"It's been spotty as far as the reds," said Darwin Peterson Jr., part owner of the Kenai Cache Tackle shop in Cooper Landing.

"They come through in schools," he said. "Last year, the first run came in early and it was really thick. This year the run is a little late, and the run seems to be sporadic. The fishing is still good -- there's a lot of fish being caught."

Peterson said he can freeze and pack fish at Kenai Cache, and he's had no shortage of business since the upper Kenai opened up to fishing. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game had counted 8,002 reds at its Russian River weir through Wednesday.

Peterson said anglers fishing from drift boats can maneuver into back sloughs to find pockets of reds, while anglers fishing from the bank either have to move around or be patient and wait for the fish to come to them.

Peterson also recommended that anglers be prepared for a variety of water conditions. He said the upper portion of the Kenai River is a little bit high right now.

"The fly doesn't really make that much difference," Peterson said. "Anglers should have a variety of weights with them so they can be bouncing off the bottom."

According to Fish and Game, the best times to fish for reds on the Russian River and upper Kenai River is early morning or late evening. The Kenai-Russian River ferry, located at Mile 55 of the Sterling Highway, makes its first run of the day at 5 a.m. and makes its last trip of the day at 11 p.m.

The ferry offers access to the opposite bank of the Kenai River as well as the mouth of the Russian River.

Fishing for rainbow trout has been particularly good for this early in the season on the upper Kenai River, Peterson said.

"It's usually tough at the beginning of the season, but it's been pretty fair so far, which is a good sign for the trout population," Peterson said.

Barbara Wright, owner of Hope Fishing Charters in Hope, said that there are plenty of Dolly Varden there for the taking, and that the creeks around Hope should begin to clear over the next week, making it a little easier to catch the fish.

"The water's still high and dirty," Wright said. "Usually by the first of July the creeks clear up. The dollies are there -- they follow the kings up to feed on the eggs."

In the meantime, Wright has been sending clients to fish from drift boats on the Kasilof River with good success, though the fishery has gotten crowded of late.

Fishing for king salmon on the Kasilof is starting to cool down as the run tapers off, but plenty of nice-sized kings are passing through on the tides, according to Ken Lacy, owner of Ken's Alaskan Tackle in Soldotna.

"It's been good to a little above average on the tides," Lacy said.

Lacy said many anglers in search of king salmon are trying their luck at the Homer Spit Lagoon (also called the Fishing Hole).

Anglers also are taking advantage of the stocked lakes, and several lakes in the Swanson River system have been yielding good results.

"A lot of families are going out there and having a picnic. They're enjoying it, particularly with the nice weather we've been having," Lacy said.

Lacy said that business in his shop, which is located by the bridge over the Kenai in Soldotna, has been off by about 50 percent since the catch-and-release restrictions have been in effect.

Those restrictions, put in place earlier this month by Fish and Game to ensure an escapement of 7,200 fish, require that kings less than 52 inches in length be released. Only king salmon greater than 52 inches may be retained.

Lacy said there hasn't been many boats fishing on the Kenai, and that he was aware of just one trophy-size king being landed -- a 53-inch fish, legal by just one inch.

Dan Harrington, owner of the Anchor Angler tackle shop in Anchor Point, said some big late-run kings are starting to turn up in the lower part of Cook Inlet.

"That's the good news for the Kenai River," Harrington said.

Harrington said that a late-run king landed earlier in the week looked to him to be in the 55- to 60-pound range, while one landed off Whiskey Gulch Thursday weighed in at 42 pounds.

The Anchor River opens for early-run kings this weekend for the last time this season. Fishing starts at 12:01 Saturday morning and closes Monday at midnight.

After this weekend, the Anchor River, the Ninilchik River and Deep Creek close to all fishing until July 1, when they open to all fishing except for kings.

Harrington said last weekend's fishing was excellent.

"Saturday was just short of phenomenal," Harrington said. "There were a lot of fish in the river, all stacked up. Sunday was slow, but it picked up again Monday. It looks like the peak of the run was here this weekend."

Harrington said many anglers are using Spin-n-Glos or salmon eggs, and that fly-fishers were having more success.

"Late in the run, when the kings are closer to spawning, they get more aggressive as far as taking the fly," Harrington said.

Harrington added that halibut fishing has been steady.

"You get the occasional fish over 100 pounds, but there's a lot of them 30 to 40, up to 70 pounds," Harrington said.

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