Kings run strong to season's end

Posted: Friday, July 30, 2004

There's just two days left for sport fishers looking to land a king but based on all indications, it looks like the king season will end with a bang.

By regulation, the last day to fish for kings on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers is Saturday, but according to Larry Marsh, assistant area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna, "There's definitely still a good chance for catching kings."

Marsh said there's plenty of fish in the Kenai River and more coming in each day. On Wednesday, 1,540 kings passed the Kenai River sonar counter, bringing the total number of fish swimming by to 43,466 kings.

"It's been a very strong return this season," Marsh said. "We're on the verge of having one of the strongest returns in 17 years. It's teetering between the number one and number two spot, but it's definitely in the top five returns."

Marsh said they won't know for sure until the fish counting ceases and the final numbers are crunched. Fish and Game continues counting king salmon until they get three consecutive days where the daily escapement is less than one percent of the return typically around the first week of August. This above-average return of kings also has led to above-average catch rates.

"Overall it's been a very good catch season. Catch reports have shown anglers have been able to catch fish in about half the time it's historically taken them," Marsh said.

Another regulation to be aware of heading into the weekend is the Kenai River dipnet fishery closes Saturday, so anyone who hasn't already put up their fish for the winter should get to it by then.

For those who don't make it, the Kasilof River offers dipnetters one last chance. This fishery remains open until Aug. 7. No retention of king salmon is allowed in the Kasilof dipnet fishery.

"They're fairly distributed at this point, from the Russian River on down to the lower (Kenai) river," Marsh said.

The Kenai sonar counter at the mouth of the river detected 42,010 sockeye passing Wednesday, while further up the Russian River weir count was 2,505 fish. There's also plenty of good fishing in between anywhere the current is strong enough to float a fly downstream.

The emergency order issued by Fish and Game pertaining to sockeyes 16 inches or greater remains in effect. This order increased the bag limit to six fish per day and six fish in possession on all portions of the Kenai open to salmon fishing except in the Russian River and the Kenai River "fly-fishing-only waters" at the confluence of the Russian.

"With 6,000, 7,000 and 8,000 fish still coming in, the Kasilof is also producing well for this late in the year and fish can still be caught there," Marsh added.

Silver salmon and pink salmon haven't started to hit the Kenai or Kasilof in noticeable numbers yet, but it won't be long before they do.

"The commercial people fishing the lower Cook Inlet have already started to see them, so they should start to materialize anytime now," Marsh said.

Further to the south, silver salmon fishing already is fast and furious, according to Nicky Szarzi, an area manager with the Fish and Game office in Homer.

"The early-run silvers are really coming into the lagoon, so it should be excellent fishing this weekend," she said.

Twice the usual number of early-run silvers were stocked in the Homer Fishing Lagoon, so great fishing should continue into August at this location.

As if that weren't enough incentive for anglers, the daily bag and possession limit for silvers at the lagoon is six fish per day, as opposed to two fish per day virtually everywhere else on the peninsula.

Szarzi also pointed out that the "catch-a-fish" derby will run Sunday at the lagoon from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"This is a split-the-pot derby," she said. The winner of the derby will get half the proceeds raised and the other half will go to cover the cost of stocking late-run silvers.

Tickets for the derby can be purchased at Ulmer's Drug and Hardware, the Sports Shed, the Homer Chamber of Commerce, or at the lagoon on the day of the event.

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