Robin Orth of Colorado Springs, Colo., is surrounded by gulls as he fishes at the confluence of the Russian and Kenai Rivers last summer. Sockeye salmon fishing was good to excellent across the peninsula this summer, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's annual sport fishing report.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Salmon fishing on the Kenai River this summer started and ended with a whimper. In between, however, anglers got plenty of bang for their hook.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist George Pappas last month issued a sport fishing season wrap-up, a report that details the department’s perspective on what turned out to be a fairly productive year for sport fishing anglers.
In its preseason forecast, the department estimated that the early-run king salmon fishery on the Kenai would come in at below average, and that prediction turned out to be on the money. According to preliminary numbers, the early run produced just 12,391 king salmon through June 30, with an estimated escapement of 7,600 fish. That compares with an average run of 16,000. The department did reach its optimal escapement goal of between 5,300 and 9,000 spawners, passing an estimated 7,600 fish upstream to spawn.
Anglers reported slow fishing in the early run, with Kenai River sport fishermen taking just over 3,000 kings about half the annual average. It took guided anglers in the early run an estimated 14 hours to catch a king, while unguided anglers had to spend approximately 27 hours on the water per fish, according to department estimates.
The king fishery began picking up in July, although the run was smaller than expected. Approximately 37,765 late-run kings returned to the Kenai this year, with around 19,000 escaping to spawn. This number is near the lower end of the department’s goal of between 17,800 and 35,700.
Kenai River Professional Guide Association president Steve McClure said the king season was definitely up and down.
“It was sort of a roller coaster year,” McClure said.
Despite the mediocre return, however, anglers were helped by clear water that resulted in catch rates that were reported as excellent at times. For the season, anglers managed to pull in approximately 18,000 kings, 5,000 more than the average annual harvest.
In addition to a lot of kings getting caught, there were some big ones out there, as well. For the season, the department certified seven kings that were in excess of 55 inches of length and seven others were brought in that measured just under 55 inches.
McClure said he’d characterize the king fishing as good, but not overwhelming.
“It was a good year but it wasn’t awesome,” he said.
Sport fisherman Dwight Kramer said he had great success fishing the Kenai, managing to come home with a king almost every trip.
“It was really good,” Kramer said.
As for sockeye salmon fishing, both the number of fish returning to the river and catch rates were strong through the entire season. The department’s preseason forecast was good 3.3 million fish and the actual return was even better. ADFG estimates show that the return ended up at around 5 million fish, with an average of more than 26,000 sockeye coming into the river each day in July.
The department has not yet estimated how many fish anglers caught, but an estimated 1.4 million sockeye passed the department’s sonar site at river Mile 19. With such a large amount of fish coming into the river, it’s estimated that the escapement will come in at more than 1 million fish.
The department even liberalized bag limits for sport fishermen and increased the amount of hours dipnet fishers could go in order to try and get as many fish caught as possible.
“There were times after they raised the limit to six fish when we were limiting out in 15 or 20 minutes,” Kramer said.
Not only was red fishing good in July, but an unusual late pulse of fish hit the river in August, as well. During the first three weeks of August, an estimated 536,000 sockeye poured into the river, a number that has never been approached since record keeping began.
As the fishing season winds down on the Kenai, anglers have reported that things have quieted down significantly. The coho salmon fishery has been reported as slow throughout the season, although the department has not yet completed its silver salmon assessment project.
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