So far, so good is the status of the Kenai River dipnet fishery since its opening Wednesday.
At least from a managerial standpoint.
The fishing could stand some improvement.
"I was out at six this morning for five hours and caught two (reds)," said Ron Raymond of Eagle River, who drove down with his wife, Jeanet. Raymond fished Friday morning and had one red salmon to show for his efforts. "I only fished twice last year and I got 15. So far, it's been slow."
But Raymond, like most others participating in the Kenai fishery, wasn't letting the lackluster start discourage him.
"They'll come in, it's just whether I'm here or not," he said. "As long as I get 12 to 15, I'm happy."
Since the fishery opened at 6 a.m. Wednesday, crowds in the 30s on the south bank of the river and in the 50s on the north bank have been the norm, said Bob Frates, director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Kenai. The reports he's been getting have said the fishing is pretty slow, he added.
Frates expected crowds to swell over the weekend, but wouldn't hazard a guess on whether the fishing would improve.
"I've giving up making any predictions of this fish run," he said. "I tell (people) just go, you just have to be there."
Gary Gailbreath of Anchorage had a total of two reds Saturday, and was packing up his gear at 3:30 p.m. to go try his luck at the Kasilof River.
"You always like to get a lot, but I can still go out again," he said.
Gailbreath and others returning from the river with almost empty coolers attributed the dry spell in the fishing that day to an emergency commercial gillnet salmon fishing opening enacted Friday by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The emergency opening went from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and enabled commercial setnet and driftnet fishers to harvest salmon in the Kenai, Kasilof and East Forelands sections of the upper subdistrict Saturday.
"That opener today slowed things down quite a bit," Gailbreath said.
Larry Marsh, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Sport Fish Division, had another explanation for the meager dipnet start.
Johnston's sister, Lori Teague, uses an ulu knife to fillet one of the fish their family caught.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"We had some real strong southwest winds which pushed a pretty big slug of fish into the river before the fishery opened," he said. "The daily sonar numbers have dropped since the fishery opened."
The good news is another surge of salmon has been detected in the lower Cook Inlet.
"Based on what we can detect, in the lower part of the inlet it looks like a fair amount of fish are still moving into the inlet, so the fishery should pick up in the next four or five days," Marsh said Friday.
"We expect quite a few more fish to move up the inlet and move into both (the Kenai and Kasilof) rivers. Dipnetters and fishers in the river are going to see fair number of fish available for them."
In the meantime, it pays to be present, for the experience and practice if nothing else.
The Sleater family of Soldotna were of that mindset Saturday afternoon, when they made their first-ever attempt at dipnetting.
Ed Sleater, his son, Matt Sleater, and Matt's son, Taylor Sleater, 8, managed to land one fish between the three of them during their outing on the north bank of the Kenai River.
It wasn't a prize winner, not even a salmon, but they got a laugh out of their three-inch halibut before they threw it back, and said they enjoyed the experience.
"We sat there saying, 'What's that guy doing?'" Matt Sleater said. "'We'll do that and make it look like we know what we're doing.'"
The fishing may be slow so far, but the general operation of the fishery has been going well, Frates said.
"Things are going fairly smoothly," he said. "I think we've got a good management tool in place. The first couple days was a good test for us to step back and see what we need to improve on."
The city of Kenai has been receiving assistance from the Kenai Police Department, the Division of Sport Fish, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, the Alaska Department of Public Safety and Fish and Wildlife Protection.
While there have been no major problems with the fishery this year, Frates did have a few reminders for dipnet fishers planing to try their luck on the Kenai:
There is no garbage service on the south side of the river, so anything packed in must be packed out.
Tent camping is not allowed in the city of Kenai. Fishers can set up tents to store gear while the fishery is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., but after 11, tents need to be removed. Fishers can pay an additional $5 for parking and stay overnight in their vehicles.
Fishers should discard fish waste back into the water and let the tide take it out or use the fish waste Dumpsters on the north side of the river.
Motor homes are not allowed on Alaska Avenue, which parallels the beach on the north side of the river. On the south side fishery, Frates encourages beach users to use Dune Road off of Cannery Loop Road.
Beach sand becomes very soft over time, especially on the south side of the river, so Frates recommends checking tide times and using extreme caution when driving on the sand.
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