Other species tempt upper Kenai anglers

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2001

Russian River sockeye salmon are not the only option for anglers in the upper Kenai River drainage.

The upper river still supports large populations of rainbow trout and Dolly Varden, the fish that first attracted anglers there nearly a century ago.

According to 1999 Alaska Department of Fish and Game surveys, the most recent available, anglers caught about 175 rainbows, 630 lake trout and 850 Dolly Varden char upstream of Skilak Lake, including the Russian River system and Kenai Lake. The greatest effort was at the Russian River, where 26,861 anglers tried their luck.

Just 351 anglers fished Kenai Lake, but they landed 623 lake trout.

State Rep. Ken Lancaster Jr., who grew up in Cooper Landing, said he is surprised the lake does not attract more sport fishers.

"Kenai Lake is fabulous fishing," he said.

The lake also produces whitefish, he said.

In the early 20th century, it supported a commercial trout fishery, carried out with nets.

The upper Kenai drainage also supports a modest coho salmon fishery. In 1999, anglers took about 6,600.

The area has king salmon, but they are few and protected. Fishing or molesting this threatened stock is banned.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist Larry Marsh reported that the Russian River supports several hundred spawning kings.

In some years, as few as 60 have shown up, but they seem to be stable.

"It's always been a matter of a few hundred fish at the best," he said.

Another Kenai River tributary, Cooper Creek, is the center of controversy.

Residents say it supported trout and salmon before Chugach Electric installed a dam at Cooper Lake in 1967.

Territorial fishery management memos from the late 1950s also mention sport fishing and spawning salmon in Cooper Creek. According to information provided by Cooper Landing historian Mona Painter, rainbow trout were the most popular target for anglers; Dolly Varden were common, and red, king, pink and chum salmon were present.

Now, Chugach is looking at renewing the dam's license, but some fishing advocates suggest removing the dam and restoring salmon and trout.

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