The silver salmon tease the fishermen on the Kenai River.
A few inches away from an angler’s bobber, a silver salmon’s dark back will flick the surface, sending jewel-bright droplets of water into the air. The fisherman lets out a sigh as he keeps walking down the boardwalk, hoping that a less clever salmon will take a snap at the eggs balled up on the end of his hook. He can’t stop too long, though, as the conveyor-belt line of fishermen keeps moving along the boardwalk, with each angler following his bobber down before reeling in and starting back at the top of the line.
Some of the fishermen in Soldotna early Wednesday morning were having good luck hooking silvers from the boardwalk behind the Soldotna Visitors Center, just below the David A. Douthit Veterans Memorial Bridge over the river. Joseph Barba of California had landed both his silver salmon before 7:30 a.m.
Hoisting them up out of the water, the boy asked his father with a smile to take the fish because they were too heavy.
Shortly afterward, several fishermen hooked into fish in the same area, with some netting silvers and others seeing pink salmon.
Silver salmon run in the Kenai River in general from August through October, though fish are coming in all throughout the fall and into the winter. Kenai River anglers are allowed to keep up to two fish 16 inches or longer per day with two in possession until Aug. 31, when the bag limit increases to three per day with six in possession. But after getting the bag limit for silvers, anglers have to put up their gear and can’t fish for the rest of the day downstream of the Soldotna bridge.
Gear recommendations for silvers depends on who you talk to. Some anglers have good luck using eggs and bobbers; others use chunks of halibut or herring, while still others use simple flies or spinners. Tactics depends on river location, too. While the anglers in Soldotna use bobbers and spinners with light weights, the anglers downstream at Kenai’s Cunningham Park — which is in the tidally influenced area of the river — use heavier weights and plugs.
On the eastern side of the peninsula, the annual Seward Silver Salmon Derby is set to kick off Saturday morning. Anglers can start at 6 a.m. Saturday, but not a moment before, said Seward Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cindy Clock.
“One of the policemen fires off a gun (to start the derby),” she said. “We do have a prize for the first fish caught.”
The derby features the regular wide array of prizes — including $10,000 for the heaviest fish caught, $5,000 for the second heaviest and $2,500 for third, as well as prizes for special tagged fish and the top three winners getting the fish’s weight in coffee from Kaladi Brothers Coffee — and runs from Saturday through the following Sunday, Aug. 19. Tickets cost $10 per day or $50 for the whole derby. Prizes will be distributed Sunday at a ceremony held at the Breeze Inn at 3 p.m.
The Seward Chamber of Commerce presells tickets, but anglers still have to get them punched at the weigh-in station near the harbormaster’s office at the Seward harbor to validate them, Clock said.
Fishing for coho salmon has been slow for many anglers in Resurrection Bay, with some reporting success while fishing deeper, according to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game sportfishing report for the area dated Aug. 2. Clock said the silver fishing had been reportedly good early in the season before hitting a lag, according to the local anglers and guides.
“Now they’re starting to come back in,” she said.
Though silver salmon fishing is a highlight of the late summer, there are still other species to angle for. The majority of the mainstem Kenai River is closed to sockeye salmon fishing by emergency order effective Aug. 4, but a small section near the Russian River confluence is still open, as the late run Russian River sockeye numbers are looking good. As of Tuesday, 29,204 sockeye had passed the weir on Lower Russian Lake, significantly more than the 19,440 on the same date last year.
The Kasilof River personal-use dipnet fishery closed Tuesday, but sockeye are still headed up the river in good numbers. Fish and Game doubled the bag and possession limits for Kasilof River sockeye in an emergency order issued Friday, with anglers allowed to have up to six per day with 12 in possession, though no more than two salmon per day and two in possession can be silvers. As of Tuesday, 371,658 sockeye had passed the sonar on the Kasilof River, getting close to the upper end of the optimal escapement goal of 160,000–390,000.
Fish and Game also opened the commercial fishery in the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area — a small terminal harvest area around the mouth of the river — on Wednesday as a way to help control sockeye salmon escapement into the river and provide commercial fishing time.
Trout fishing will also heat up as the summer fades into fall. Fishermen frequently use beads as lures for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden on Kenai Peninsula freshwater. Fish and Game reported the trout fishing on the Kenai River as good to excellent as of Aug. 2.