Red storm: Sockeye run still strong

Late surge hits Kenai River; weekend angling opportunities abound

Posted: Friday, August 19, 2005

Any direction peninsula anglers chose to go this weekend, they are likely to end up in the fish.

On the Kenai River, the late run of sockeye appeared to be fizzling out at the beginning of the month, but a huge surge of fish has hit the river in the last week to the surprise and delight of many anglers.

“It looks like it’s a late, late-run,” said Larry Marsh, an assistant area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna.

Last week’s average number of sockeye salmon was 33,000 fish per day passing the Fish and Game sonar station at Mile 19 on the Kenai, with 39,728 sockeye passing by on Tuesday and 27,561 on Wednesday.

“This isn’t just one of the latest runs, it’s also one of the largest in recent years. We’re approaching 1.4 million sockeye (cumulatively),” Marsh said.

Marsh added that it is unclear why the run is so late.

“We knew there was a strength of fish out there, the test fish program showed that, but as to why they didn’t push into the river until know — it’s a big mystery,” he said.

The strong number of sockeye entering the lower river all week should start showing up in the upper river soon. As such, fishing may be good throughout the whole Kenai River system this weekend.

Anglers are still catching bright fish as far up river as the outlet of Skilak Lake, but Brian Miller of Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing in Soldotna said with each day that passes, chrome-colored sockeye will become more and more difficult to come by.

“The reds are still good down low, but they’re getting darker. You may only keep one for every four or five caught,” he said.

An Emergency Order remains in effect that raises the Kenai River bag and possession limits for sockeye salmon to six per day and six in possession in all portions of the Kenai River open to salmon fishing except in the Russian River and the Kenai River “fly-fishing-only waters” at the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers, where the limit remains 3 per day and 3 in possession.

Miller added that coho salmon are also starting to make their appearance finally, after their season got off to a slow start.

“The silver fishing is improving daily. It’s still tidal right now with most of the fish being caught down low in the tidal areas, up to Big Eddy and Falling In (Hole).” Miller said.

Despite that the bite recently picked up, Marsh said the Kenai coho fishery seems to be less stellar this year.

“It’s not as strong a return as it’s been the last three or four years. It’s picked up. The last few days it’s been better than it’s been all year, but we should have had some pretty good fishing to date,” he said.

Also, although things will improve as the coho return continues to build in strength over the next few weeks, Marsh said the overall return may not be that big based on commercial harvest reports.

“From what we’ve seen, we may be in for a less than bumper year, but every year can’t be a bumper year,” he said.

Anglers determined to catch a coho shouldn’t give up hope though. They may just need to head further south to set a hook in a silver according to Stan Harrington of the Anchor Angler in Anchor Point.

“Guide boats are doing really well on the Kasilof. We’ve got good to very good fishing in the Anchor and Deep Creek with a lot of fish in the 10-12 pound range. The marine fishery is also very good,” he said.

Harrington said that the fishing started to pick up in the lower peninsula waterways around three days ago, and added that the recent wet weather likely contributed.

“The rivers are still running low and clear so every little bit of rain helps. If we can get more rain, the fish will move more steadily through the system,” he said

The wet weather on Tuesday and Wednesday sent 124 fish through the weir on the Anchor River, which had barely been above counts of 50 fish per day until then. So far 432 coho have cumulatively passed by weir.

This pattern of coho moving with the rain is a predictable one according to Harrington. He said last year when a total of 5,728 were recorded in the Anchor River, 3,666 coho passed through in one day — September 1st — after heavy rain.

Harrington said anglers shouldn’t rely solely on the weir numbers in regard to when the best time to fish is.

“They counts may be low up river, but there are a lot of fish holding up in the tidal zone and more coming in every day,” he said.

Harrington said cured salmon eggs have been bringing in the most coho, but fly fisherman are also doing well despite that the fly pattern seems to change daily.

The daily bag limit for coho in Cook Inlet is three, except in the vicinity of the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon in Homer, where it is six.

“Also, we starting to see at least one or two steelhead a day,” Harrington said.

These fish are catch-and-release only and should not be taken out of the water for any reason, so anglers should be able to discern between them and coho salmon.

Steelhead have black spots all over both lobes of the tail, while coho have black spots only on the upper lobe of the tail. Steelhead also have a white mouth with white gums at the base of the teeth on the lower jaw, while coho have a black mouth with white gums at the base of the teeth on the lower jaw.

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