Kenai River is red hot with sockeyes

Posted: Friday, August 11, 2006


  With the help of guide Don Drury, Linda Happer, a visitor from New Zealand, hoists her 58.3-pound king caught on the Kasilof River on July 31. Photo courtesy of Alex Happer

With the help of guide Don Drury, Linda Happer, a visitor from New Zealand, hoists her 58.3-pound king caught on the Kasilof River on July 31.

Photo courtesy of Alex Happer

The old cliche of better late than never couldn’t be any more applicable than to the upper Kenai River this weekend.

“Sockeye are here with a vengeance,” said Colin Lowe, owner of Kenai Cache Outfitters in Cooper Landing.

Large aggregations of sockeye have been entering the Kenai River for more than two weeks. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported sonar numbers of 21,990 fish entering the Kenai River on Monday, followed by 13,860 on Tuesday and 13,297 on Wednesday for a cumulative 960,105 sockeye so far in the late run.

Lowe said despite numbers of fish entering the river declining, there are still plenty coming in and already in the system. As such, fishing will remain hot on the upper Kenai and Russian Rivers because of the lag time it takes sockeye to make it upriver.

“Sonar numbers at the mouth are tapering off, but they’re still over five digits, and we’ve still got huge numbers passing by the weir (at the outlet of Lower Russian Lake),” he said.

The Fish and Game weir reported a whopping 7,371 passing through Monday, followed by 7,072 on Tuesday and 3,491 on Wednesday for a cumulative 54,539 fish in the late run.

According to Lowe, this many fish at the weir will translate to excellent weekend angling, since fish are stacked fin to fin in many parts of the Russian River and the upper Kenai River.

“If I had to rate it on a five star scale, I would give it a four-and-a-half to five this weekend. I stood just below the ferry a few days ago and you could see them swimming past your feet.

“People were setting the hook on every cast. There are huge numbers of sockeye in there and a lot of them are still bright, too,” he said.

Adding to the surplus of fish is the fact that, due to their late arrival, many tourists have already headed home, so the combat fishing hasn’t been shoulder-to-shoulder as is typical, Lowe said.

“It hasn’t been too crowded this past week; most days there were about 15 feet between people,” he said.

The Russian River and the Kenai River “fly-fishing-only waters” near the Russian remain three per day and in possession.

So many sockeye upriver have subsequently produced fantastic fishing for trout as well, according to Lowe.

“Rainbows and Dollys are biting good in the upper (Kenai) river and in Quartz Creek,” he said.

Since the eggs of salmon are what these trout are there to feed on, egg imitations, beads and flesh flies are all working well.

Lowe said silver salmon are also making their way upriver, but are still far from hitting their peak.

“There’s a few starting to show,” he said.

Anglers targeting silvers may find the lower Kenai River a better bet this weekend, particularly if using spoons or Pixies, or soaking eggs on the bottom. The tidal waters from Cunningham Park down to the mouth of the river should also be a sure thing for pink salmon.

While not quite as thick as farther up, sockeye fishing should be steady on the lower Kenai River, and increased bag limits of six fish per day and six in possession may keep a few anglers from making a drive.

Sockeye fishing on the Kasilof River continues to be spotty, but silver fishing is starting to pick up, according to guide Don Drury. However, he said the bite would have to be pretty good to top the king salmon season.

While king fishing is now closed on the Kenai and Kasilof, Drury said two tourists from New Zealand made the most of the final day to fish for these monsters.

The Kiwi clients, Alex and Linda Happer, went out with Drury on July 31, and at the Last Chance Hole just after 5 a.m., Linda set the hook on a fish that made their trip worthwhile.

“She fought it for about 10 minutes before getting it in the boat,” Drury said.

After being bled and sitting several hours while transported to the Fish and Game office in Soldotna, the fish still weighed in at 58.3 pounds.

“That would be a nice catch on the Kenai, but this is a monster for the Kasilof,” Drury said.

Drury said he’s had clients pull in several kings in the 40-pound range over the years, and one 50-pounder last year, but Happer’s fish was the biggest anyone has pulled in since he started his own guiding outfit.

“It was a great way to end the season for them and me,” he said.

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