This time of year, campers in Soldotna are seeing red and liking it.
The Kenai River's second run of sockeye salmon, also known as reds, show up in force about the third week in July every summer. The city campgrounds at Centen-nial (off Kalifornsky Beach Road) and Swiftwater (off East Redoubt behind Fred Meyer) parks are ground zero for the town's fishing frenzy.
"We've got people from all over the United States. Reds: That's what they come to Centennial Park for," said campground host John Pugh.
Pugh has been coming up from Mississippi since 1983 to spend his summers in Alaska. For five years he has worked as a campground host and hobnobbed with salmon seekers.
This year, the campgrounds were full a week before the run hit, he reported.
"Everyone's just waiting for the reds to come in," he reported on July 13.
Pugh recommended that people use 25-to-30-pound test line and hook and yarn flies to tempt the fish.
No particular spot along the river is better than another for casting, he said. The walkways, which are being extended from Centennial Park to the site below the Soldotna Visitors Information Center, are the easiest access, especially with this summer's high water, he said.
"People just walk down the bank and start fishing," he said.
Anglers have been hooking kings (also known as chinook) from the banks and from boats. But the swift current has made it hard to land the big, fighting fish and broken a lot of lines.
Reds, which weigh about 6 pounds, are easier to get out of the river and into the smoker.
The unseasonably high water has been subsiding for a couple weeks toward more normal levels, and this year's salmon runs are expected to be bigger than last year's.
The biggest obstacle to getting that fresh salmon dinner might be finding a parking spot, Pugh warned.
"We stay packed in here pretty well until Memorial Day. Then it's dead," he said.
Some of the campers are regulars from out of state who come every summer and stake out good camping spots. People from Anchorage, who usually arrive about 10 p.m. Friday nights, can have a tough time finding a place. The city sends the overflow to the Soldotna airport, he said.
The city camping fees are $9.45 per night or $5.25 for day use. The airport is free.
Pugh recommended that locals walk in to Centennial Park. They can park at the ball fields of K-Beach Road and use the park facilities for free if they are on foot or bicycles.
The red run is expected to remain strong through the Progress Days.
"It's going to be gangbusters," Pugh predicted.
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