Once on shore, Wellnitz estimated his prize, at top, to weigh roughly eight pounds.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Waking up to the morning paper and a steaming mug of coffee is a ritual for many, but Harold Wellnitz of Kenai has a different ritual at this time of year. He slips into a slicker suit and with rod and reel in hand, Wellnitz heads to Cunningham Park in Kenai to wet a hook in the tidal waters of the Kenai River for a few hours before the first light of dawn.
"I've been coming down around 5 or 6 a.m. and staying until around 8 or 9 a.m.," he said Thursday morning around 8:30 a.m.
Wellnitz was nearing the end of his self-allotted time, but he still had nothing to show for several hours of standing along the muddy riverbank in the cool, spitting rain. He said the fishers with flippers were doing better than those with two feet.
"There's been lots of seals," he said.
Wellnitz had counted more than 50 seals over the past week and said he believes the seals must be chasing something, so even though silver salmon weren't striking fast and furious, he believes fish are coming in slowly but steadily.
"It's hard to tell, but I hope they're coming in," he said.
While he had been soaking eggs on the bottom daily for more than a week, Wellnitz said he only had a few silvers in the freezer, two of which were put there on Wednesday.
"I caught a two-pounder and my wife caught a 10-pounder," he said.
Wellnitz said he was hoping to add to this number on Thursday, but it wasn't looking too promising since only one other angler of the roughly dozen present had landed fish.
"It's not been real good, but fish are getting caught. I saw about six caught (on Wednesday), and one guy got two this morning, though they weren't very big. They looked like two- to three-pounders," he said.
Wellnitz said he had had two on the line on Thursday, but they got away before he could land them.
"They got off right near the beach," he said.
Beginning to believe he may have missed his opportunity to land a lunker for the day, Wellnitz's interest in waiting for a bite was beginning to wane like the morning tide. He checked his watch for the time, but no sooner did he bring his wrist back down to his side and his rod tip began to wiggle and dance.
He grabbed the rod up from its holding sheath hammered into the gravelly bank and began reeling like a madman. Hoping not to let this one get away, he began slugging it out with feisty silver. The fish took a few hard runs, but gave up the fight with minimal aerial acrobatics.
"Looks like about an eight-pounder," Wellnitz said as he bonked the salmon into unconsciousness.
Silvers weighing 10-12 pounds are the average on the Kenai, and larger fish are not uncommon. But with the fishery running a little sluggish this year, an eight-pounder was a welcome sight for Wellnitz. His only complaint was how muddy the fish got on the way in, but he washed it off while putting it on the stringer.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, silvers have now spread themselves throughout the Kenai River, some even showing up as far up as the Kenai's confluence with the Russian River.
Harold Wellnitz of Kenai holds on to his rod as the silver salmon at the other end of the line makes a run Thursday morning at Cunningham Park in Kenai.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
However, with no less than 5,000 sockeye salmon entering the Kenai River daily, and roughly 1,500 passing through the weir at the outlet of Lower Russian Lake, many anglers are still targeting sockeye in the upper Kenai River as a more sure bet over fishing for silvers.
Cumulatively, 861,177 sockeye salmon have entered the Kenai River as of Wednesday, according to Fish and Game estimates. This numbers is just about in the middle of its in-river goal of 750,000 to 950,000 sockeye.
The Kasilof River went slightly over this year. The in-river goal was 150,000 to 250,000 sockeye, but when Fish and Game counting ended almost two weeks ago, 338, 347 sockeye were estimated to have entered the waterway.
Despite the high number, sockeye fishing on the Kasilof is finished for the most part, but the word on the water is that silver fishing from drift boats has been fairly productive. Bank anglers fishing the confluence of the Kasilof River and Crooked Creek also are picking up a few silvers with some fight in them.
Further to the south, slivers still are slow to show in the Anchor River. As of Wednesday, only 215 silver had passed the weir located two miles upstream from the saltwater. By comparison, on this same date last year, 7,528 silvers already had passed the weir.
The Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon on the Homer Spit remains the most reliable location to land a silver this year. Three times the normal amount of smolt was stocked in the lagoon last year, and as a result the bite has been fast and furious. This, combined with a daily bag limit of six silvers, as opposed to two silvers in almost all other locations, has made the drive to Homer worth it for many.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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