Drop what you're doing and go fish

Sockeye runs hit Kasilof, Kenai rivers

Posted: Friday, July 16, 2004

The fishing action is blowing up right on schedule for mid-July, and whether a seasoned professional or a first -time novice, no one should have trouble landing fish this weekend.

On the Kasilof River it's nothing short of a fish free-for-all, as the sockeye return is starting to shape up to be one of the strongest on record.

"There's a lot of fish entering the river. We're looking at a new record high for the daily sonar count," said Pat Shields, assistant area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Indeed, the sockeye run on the Kasilof has been so strong that Fish and Game on Thursday upped the bag limit to six fish per day and the possession limit to 12 on all portionsd of the Kasilof River open to salmon fishing. No more than two salmon per day may be coho salmon.

On Tuesday, 36,448 sockeye passed by the sonar counter on the Kasilof located just upstream of the Sterling Highway bridge. Then on Wednesday, a whopping 92,732 sockeye roughly 3,000 fish per hour swam by the counter, smashing all previous daily records and bringing the total escapement for the year to more than 311,000.

"Prior to this year, the last largest number for a daily return was on July 16, 1985 when 58,000 came through. Our total escapement for that year was more than 500,000," said Shields.

This off the charts return on the Kasilof made for a quick pay off for folks taking in some mid-week dipnetting at the mouth of the river. Many folks were getting four to five fish with every dip of the net, and closing out their permits within roughly an hour. Further upstream, the hook and line fishing was reported to be equally hot.

Shields stated that it is difficult to predict if an above average return also can be expected for the Kenai River. "It's possible, we'll know for sure in a week to 10 days," he said.

The Kenai is currently between the early and late run for sockeye, and on Wednesday 614 fish trickled into the river, bringing the cumulative number of fish up to 56,581.

In preparation for the boom of anglers that will soon be targeting sockeye, Fish and Game has also issued an emergency order that anglers should be aware of. Approximately 3.4 miles of riverbank, at seven different locations on the Kenai, has closed to fishing until August 15.

The areas closed along the Kenai are between approximately river miles: 13.2 to 13.5 (the north bank near Falling In Hole); 17.5 to 18.0 (south bank near Poacher's Cove known as the Grubba property); 18.8 19.6 (north bank near Fish and Game sockeye sonar counter); 22.7 to 23.5 (south bank near Soldotna airport); 45.8 to 46.3 (north bank near Thompson's Hole); and 29.0 to 29.5 (south bank). The areas are posted with regulatory markers delineating the closed area.

These areas are closed to all fishing except from a boat that is located more than 10 feet from shore and not connected to the shore, or any riparian habitat. Anglers may not stand, wade, or in any way walk in or through, the closed areas.

Although the sockeye are still on the way for the Kenai, the late season chinook fishing is starting to shift from good to great. On Wednesday, 2,577 passed by the sonar counter located at river mile 8.6, bringing the cumulate number of fish up to 18,337.

As is typical of mid- to late-July, the big fish are really starting to show up. Patrick "Rooster" Baumann, fishing with guide Bill Gifford of Commodore's Guide Service, landed a 78-pound king last week.

Baumann has been coming to Alaska since 1977 with the hopes of catching a king, but his lunker was his first ever.

Further to the south, yesterday was the last day anglers were able to fish for king salmon 20 inches or greater in length on the Ninilchik River. As of 12:01 this morning, the river closed to fishing for larger kings.

The river is still open to fishing from it's mouth upstream to Fish and Game markers approximately two miles upstream. Dolly Varden and rainbow/steelhead trout are currently available, but rainbow/steelhead trout are catch-and-release only and may not be removed from the water.

Offshore, halibut fishing was reported to be excellent again this past week, and is looking good for the upcoming weekend. Several barn doors were hauled in this past week, but none large enough to unseat the current Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby leader, who caught a 352.6 pounder back on June 29.

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