Sockeye fishing has last gasp

Posted: Monday, August 21, 2006

Don’t pack away those sockeye flies yet, unless, that is, you prefer to fish for sockeye using lures.

Sockeye salmon fishing in the “fly-fishing-only” zone of the Kenai River, just below the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers, which was set to end Sunday, will be extended for two more weeks.

But don’t let the reference mislead you. Starting today, not only can fishermen continue to fish the “fly-fishing-only” area for sockeye, but they can fish with more than just flies. During the extension, fishermen can cast unbaited lures, bare hooks and flies into the “fly-fishing-only” zone.

Finally, the bag limit has increased, raising the limit to six salmon 16 inches or greater in length. The increased bag limit does not include fishermen’s bag limit for humpy (also called pink) salmon, which remains at six per day.

Of the nonhumpy salmon limit, fishermen can keep up to two cohos, but no kings.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released an emergency order announcing the changes last weekend, after the late Kenai River sockeye run exceeded the department’s optimal escapement goal of 500,000—1,000,000 sockeye Aug. 12.

The sonar station tracking the run is at River Mile 19 of the Kenai River.

The “fly-fishing-only” area begins at the Kenai-Russian River ferry and continues downstream to approximately River Mile 73 just above the power lines.

According to the emergency order, a passage rate of more than 238,000 sockeye past the sonar counter between Aug. 5 and Aug. 16 “indicate a harvestable surplus of sockeye salmon may be available” in the “fly-fishing-only” area during the extension.

Fishing in the Russian River and Russian River Sanctuary will remain closed.

The Russian River late sockeye run has met the lower end of Fish and Game’s sustainable escapement goal of 30,000—110,000 fish, but has not passed the upper end of the goal range.

As of Friday night, 73,164 sockeye had passed the weir located at the outlet of Lower Russian Lake.

On Aug. 5, the day the late Kenai sockeye run exceeded the upper end of the escapement goal, 46,260 sockeye passed the sonar counter at Kenai River Mile 19. Since then the count has dropped to a low of 11,187 on Aug. 10, and climbed to a high of 35,547 on Aug. 16.

Landing a sockeye in the “fly-fishing-only” area may require more patience now than during the peak of the run, and fishermen may have to work particularly hard to catch an edible salmon.

While fishermen are still catching sockeye in the area, most are bright red and past their prime, said Dianne Owen, one of two managers at the Russian River ferry.

Starting today, the ferry’s hours are being reduced to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. due to safety issues.

The ferry cannot be run in the dark when ferry operators cannot see and avoid debris floating down the river, Owen said.

The ferry will continue to run until Labor Day.

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