Swanson offers sweet silvers

Posted: Friday, August 25, 2006

While tourists fishing for king and sockeye salmon rule the rivers in June and July, the last weeks of August are the halcyon days for Alaskan anglers seeking silver salmon.

These splendiferous salmon are to the fish world what pit bulls are to the canine world — powerful, feisty and packing one heck of a bite; and while there are numerous places on the peninsula to fish for silvers, the Swanson River stands out as an off the beaten path to wet a hook.

“It’s a neat area without a lot of angling pressure, just a few locals usually,” said Dave Atcheson, author of “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.”

In regard to the Swanson River, Atcheson said the long drive to Captain Cook State Park to bank fish, and the logistics of planning a canoe trip to float fish, keep many anglers away.

“It’s a good place to get away from everybody,” he said.

Atcheson said the rewards were many, though, for anglers willing to overcome these minor hurdles.

“The wilderness experience is good,” he said.

Small mammals, such as muskrat and beaver; large mammals, such as moose and bears; and a variety of bird life are all common sights on a float trip down the Swanson River.

In addition to wildlife viewing and not standing shoulder to shoulder — as is often the case when silver fishing on many of the more popular salmon streams — the Swanson also allows anglers to see these predatory fish strike.

“It’s so shallow and clear you can see the fish, cast to them and see them chase and strike it,” he said.

Atcheson added that the fish aren’t particularly picky, either. He said bunny leeches and flash flies will work well for fly fishermen, while Vibrax and numerous other bright-colored spinners or spoons will illicit a bite for hard-tackle fishermen.

However, Atcheson said, the shallow and clear conditions that make fishing so fun can also make it difficult since silvers tend to be spooky, particularly in fair weather.

“They’re hard to catch on bright, sunny days,” he said.

Atcheson said this is one reason he likes to canoe the Swanson. He can take his time and use light levels to his advantage.

“Once I find a good spot, I’ll make camp and then fish at dawn and dusk when the light is low,” he said.

Doug Palmer, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said cloudy conditions and rainy days also seem to make silvers more active.

“It seems to trigger them and get them moving,” he said.

As such, this weekend’s weather forecast of possible showers could alone make for decent fishing conditions, but Palmer said anglers better get out there now because this is also the peak of the silver return to the Swanson, based on historical records.

“The two years we counted fish there, 1988 and ‘89, the peak was the last two weeks of August,” he said.

Palmer said the weir, which was located near the canoe pullout just upstream from the Kenai Spur Highway bridge over the Swanson River, counted 23,514 silvers in 1988.

In 1989, 21,841 silvers were counted, but Palmer said this number was incomplete because high water blew the weir out the last week of August.

“We would see a few fish showing up in late June, then they’d be into the hundreds by early August, but the last two weeks is when we would see daily counts of 1,800 to 1,900 fish,” he said.

Palmer said while some of these fish will spawn in beds in the main stem of the Swanson, many others spawn in various smaller bodies of water, such as Sucker Creek and the stream flowing out of Grusku Lake, just to name a few.

While the end of August may be the best time to fish for silvers on the Swanson, it can be a less than ideal time to float-fish for them. This is because water levels are typically so low anglers may spend more time portaging their canoe than actually fishing.

However, with the heavy rains the last few weeks, water levels are reported to be well above average for this time of year and Palmer said anglers shouldn’t have many problems.

For anglers looking to stay a little closer to the central peninsula area, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has reported that silver fishing on the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers remains steady.

Anglers fishing from boats are faring slightly better than their shore-based counterparts, but most anglers can get their two-fish bag limit if they’re willing to put in between two to four hours.

For anglers not exclusively targeting silvers, pink salmon are even more of a sure thing. Fish and Game reported humpies abundant to the point of excess on the Kenai River, with several large fish — many weighing more than 10 pounds — caught in the lower portion of the river.

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