An Outdoor View: Future fishing

With the rapid advances in technology we’re seeing now, I’m wondering what fishing on the Kenai River will be like a few years from now. One change we might see is an ability to see in “real-time” where people are catching sockeye salmon.

One of the surest places to find sockeyes is where people are catching them, but unless you actually see it happening, that place can be hard to find. Salmon are a moving target because they’re migrating upstream to spawn. They might pause here and there for one reason or another, but you can’t count on them staying in one place for long.

Sockeyes, unlike other salmon species, seldom bite, but usually are “lined,” or “flossed.” In a way, this is a good thing. It means sockeyes don’t have to be biting. They only have to be located, and to be numerous enough to make the fishing good. Trouble is, at any given time between early June and early August, fishable numbers of sockeyes might be scattered anywhere between Kenai and Cooper Landing.

Over the years, I’ve tried everything to find sockeyes. Fishing reports are of little or no help. A newspaper might tell where fish were caught earlier in the week, but not where they’re being caught right now. Even live radio and TV fishing reports can’t be relied upon if they involve a anyone with a monetary stake in how good the fishing is reported to be.

At present, the best thing that can happen is if someone on the river stops fishing long enough to call you on their cell phone and say they’re catching fish, and to tell you where they are. Unfortunately, in the 40-some years I’ve been fishing the Kenai, I’ve never had that happen. People have called me after they’re through processing their fish and are relaxing with a cold beer, but those calls are seldom helpful.

I don’t know why people are reluctant to call their friends when they get into good fishing. They’re on their cells for everything else. I suppose it could be the similarity to calling for artillery fire on your own position?

It’s a sad situation. Being retired, I’m usually ready and able to chase sockeyes at a moment’s notice, and I live in Sterling, midway up the Kenai. But even with these advantages, I’m usually in the dark as to where sockeyes are being caught. People who are working, or who live an hour or more away from the river have an even harder time finding fish.

I’m thinking that technology might provide the answer. Camera-carrying drones, maybe 10 or so, flying independently of one another, could quickly and easily locate everywhere reds are being caught. To avoid the sky above the river from being crowded with drones, State Parks could lease the river’s air space to a concessionaire who would provide a fish-finding service. For an annual subscription fee, we’d have 24/7 access to the service. A “smart” device would give us a real-time view of everywhere on the river that fish are actually being caught.

Anglers and dip netters would benefit, as would river habitat. Instead of running up and down the river looking for fish, we’d know exactly where we were going and what to expect. We’d burn less gas, create fewer boat wakes, trample fewer river-banks, and cause less traffic on the river and roads. Best of all, we’d vastly improve our chances of catching fish. The only negative I can think of is that, if the fishing didn’t look good enough, we might do something else besides try to catch sockeyes — and that may not be a negative, come to think about it.

What got me to thinking about this was Sunday’s CBS News program “60 Minutes,” which featured a demonstration flight of a swarm of 103 Perdix drones at China Lake, Calif., in October. Watching those drones maneuver independently of human control, even flying in formation, made me a believer. Getting real-time fishing reports from drones is only a matter of time.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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