As another fishing season comes to a close, those of us who are die-hard fishermen and women mourn the thought of that last fishing trip. While 2008 won't go down as the hottest year to fill the freezer, there were some highs worth noting.
The king season on the Kenai started off with fair to good fishing and anglers had a lot of success on a few hot days in early June with early bait, but the second run of kings never really got much better than fair. A weaker than expected sockeye run also resulted in spotty fishing, but if you were one of the lucky ones who hit the run right, there were a few red hot days in the middle of July for dipnetting and bank fishing.
Fishing for sockeyes at the Russian River was good, with the sanctuary opening June 26. If there's a highlight to fishing the Kenai, it definitely was silver fishing. Especially of late, coho fishing has been hot and the fish have not only been abundant, they're huge.
ADFG reports that salmon runs this year across the state were generally weak to fair; returns to Cook Inlet generally followed this statewide pattern, with the exception of a larger than expected return of Kasilof sockeye. Escapements for spawning were close to or within respective sustainable levels.
Off the water, several other successes are worth mentioning. Fishing shutdowns on the West Coast of the U.S. could have resulted in an influx of rookie guides on the Kenai River. But thanks to requirements that all new Kenai River professional guides graduate from the Kenai River Guide Academy, that did not happen. Fishing guide numbers actually took a dip this year, down 16 from the previous year to 380; of note is that only 36 were drift guides (about 9 percent), which is less than half of number who registered in 2005.
For the first time this year, two-stroke motors were banned in the Kenai River in July, and it appears this first step in an effort to improve water quality on the Kenai is paying off. Tests conducted on the river in July showed a two-thirds reduction in hydrocarbons in the river, with all measurements well below the 10 ppb threshold level for hydrocarbons. Most agree that the change allowing 50 horsepower engines on the river was a successful move in addressing concerns over wake sizes.
Several of the special events and programs that Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) organizes or supports were extremely successful. In May, KRSA worked with the Kenai River Professional Guides Association to host nearly 100 wounded military personnel for a day of fishing on the Kenai. A comment by one of these soldiers, that "this was the first day he really felt like he was home" summed it all up.
This was an incredibly positive day where we got a chance to say thank you to these brave men and women for the sacrifices they've made for our freedom. We hope it becomes an annual event.
KRSA, working with Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula, hosted 170 kids in August for the second annual Kenai River Jr. Classic. The morning rain failed to dampen anyone's spirit, and when the sun came out and the fishing got hot just as we hit the river, it was hard to tell if the guides or the kids were having more fun.
Many of the youth might not otherwise have the opportunity to go fishing. Our hope is that some now may be hooked on fishing for life.
In late September, we'll partner with the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce to host 32 businesswomen for the first annual Kenai River Women's Classic. This event will combine two days of silver fishing with networking and professional development activities that we hope will result in a fun and education-filled weekend. Proceeds from this fundraising event will be shared with the chamber's Athena Scholarship, for young women who are pursuing professional business careers.
Habitat restoration and research projects continue on the Kenai River. KRSA helped to complete a handicap accessible walkway at the Soldotna bridge to connect with the newly renovated Classic Fishwalk. At the Russian River, the Stream Watch program continues to provide for angler education in this popular fishery and also adds in protection of important habitat projects on the banks at the confluence.
We're also close to completing an inventory of all of the habitat projects that have been completed on the river. A second assessment study is looking at the effectiveness of past habitat restoration work. When these studies are complete early next year, we'll have solid information on what worked, and what didn't. This will be invaluable as new projects and techniques for preserving the world-class Kenai resource are considered.
Ricky Gease is the executive director for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.
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