The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Monday that the Russian River "sanctuary" area will be open to sockeye salmon sport fishing starting at noon today. This portion of the river, which extends from a marker below the ferry crossing to a point 700 yards upstream, has previously been closed to fishing.
The escapement at the Lower Russian Lake Weir has exceeded 11,000 fish and is expected to top the early run escapement goal of 16,000, justifying an emergency opening.
"This run started with a whimper, but it's picked up in the last few days, and they're running strong now," said Robert Siter, owner of Gwin's Lodge in Cooper Landing, at the epicenter of this extremely popular fishery. "The run's been building over the years. We had 30,000 fish last year. I don't think there'll be that many this year, but it looks good, and we're glad to see it."
The emergency opening will bring new crowds of anglers to Cooper Landing.
"Whenever they open the sanctuary it does add to the number of people coming to fish," Siter said. "But not so much on Tuesday as if they open it on a weekend."
Siter, who has owned the lodge for six years, called it "the fishery that never sleeps."
"It's about time they open it," said Scott Wilson, who works at Hamilton's Place in Cooper Landing. "There's a lot of people here already, and now there'll be 10 times more."
The Russian River sockeye, which spawn in Lower Russian Lake, have been helped along in recent years by U.S. Forest Service projects to reduce bank erosion and trampling by crowds of anglers, according to Siter.
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