As of Wednesday morning, anxious anglers had already started to converge on the Russian and upper Kenai rivers in anticipation of today’s opening. And early reports indicate there will be some fish there, too.
“There’s a lot of fish in the Russian River already, and more moving up,” said Colin Lowe, owner and head guide at Kenai Cache Outfitters in Cooper Landing.
Fishing on the Russian and upper Kenai opened at 12:01 a.m. today. The sanctuary area around the rivers’ confluence remains closed until July 15.
Lowe said the fish being spotted appear to be good-sized, in the 8-pound range.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Assistant Management Biologist Jason Pawluk said anglers’ expectations for opening day should be tempered. Fish and Game conducted a visual survey of area between the powerlines and the ferry on the upper Kenai, and spotted about 1,000 fish in the clear water along that stretch, and another 500 sockeye in the sanctuary area, Pawluk said.
“What that tells us is that the bulk of the run hasn’t gotten there yet,” Pawluk said.
Pawluk said he suspected fishing might be slow for a few days, but the good news is that more fish are on the way.
“Based on our sonar counts of fish over 40 centimeters, we’ve seen a pretty big increase in passage of sockeye-sized fish over past three to four days,” Pawluk said. “The good news is, we think it’s only going to get better, and the run size is looking encouraging.”
Pawluk said one of the best options over the next few days might be to hop in a raft of drift boat at Sportsman’s Landing and float down to Jim’s Landing, or through the Kenai River Canyon, where some of those sockeye might be.
The coho fly still gets the job done for sockeye, Lowe said, and while the area is a fly fishing-only zone, that regulation pertains just to the fly at the end of the line, which may not have a gap of more than 3/8 of an inch between the point and shank. Many anglers will use a fly rod, but just as many will hit the river with a spinning or bait-casting set-up. The limit for sockeye on the upper Kenai is 3 per day and 6 in possession.
While many anglers will be targeting the early run of sockeye, fishing for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden is also expected to be good. In addition to the upper Kenai, many of the Kenai’s tributaries and a portion of the Kenai River below Skilak Lake also open to fishing today.
For anglers chasing rainbows and Dollies, Lowe suggested black, olive and brown nymphs for the start of the season.
“After the first week, try natural fresh flesh fly patterns, to replicate flesh that’s floating in the rivers,” Lowe said.
Anglers are reminded that they are not the only ones attracted to the salmon fishing in the Russian River area. The fish also attract bears, and area managers are reminding people to be aware.
Bobbi Jo Skibo, the Interagency Management Coordinator for Chugach National Forest, said that anglers should have a plan for processing their catch before they start fishing.
“We’re requesting anglers think before they get there as to how they’re going to manage their fish waste,” Skibo said.
Ideally, anglers should carry their fish out whole, process it in an appropriate location and dispose of the fish waste responsibly. Fish cleaning tables are available near the Russian River Ferry. If anglers clean their fish there, they are asked to chop the carcasses into the smallest pieces possible before tossing them into the current. The goal is to prevent the build-up of carcasses that can attract a bear looking for an easy meal.
Skibo recommended people come prepared with bear spray as good back-up plan in the event of a bear encounter. For those who choose to carry a firearm, a restriction on the discharge of firearms except in the case of defense of life and property is in place in the vicinity of the Russian and upper Kenai, as well as trails and campgrounds in the area.
Skibo said that people using firearms as a noise deterrent and shooting into the air, or toward bears, in a crowded recreation area had generated some concerns.
Consult Fish and Game regulations or the Chugach National Forest order for defense of life and property regulations.
On the Kasilof River, fishing for king salmon has been reported as fair to good, according to Fish and Game. Restrictions remain in place in the Kasilof, limiting anglers to a single-hook artificial lure and prohibiting the use of bait. The daily bag limit for kings is one hatchery-produced fish, except on Saturdays when an angler may retain a hatchery-produced or wild salmon. Hatchery fish are identifiable by a healed adipose fin-clip scar. The adipose fin is the small fleshy fin on the back just ahead of the tail.
For anglers wanting to escape the salmon frenzy, fishing the Kenai Peninsula’s lakes continues to be good. Fly fishermen should come armed with a variety of flies to “match the hatch.” Fishing with bait under a bobber, or using small spinners or spoons also are good options. A list of stocked lakes on the Kenai Peninsula may be found under the fishing tab at adfg.alaska.gov. Anglers willing to hike, bike or canoe a little farther off the beaten path may be able to find some solitude in addition to some fish.
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